St. Louis Regional Freightway sets its sights on growth

Assembling a barge tow on the Mississippi
Assembling a barge tow on the Mississippi
Assembling a barge tow on the Mississippi

Strategically sited along the Mississippi River, the St. Louis Regional Freightway (STLRF) is actively positioning itself as a premier national and international hub/gateway in the center of the nation.

According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, data shows that the St. Louis Regional Ports system – the critical hub of the Freightway – has the second highest concentration of port facilities per mile of all inland U.S. ports and has maintained a top ranking as the “most efficient inland port district in the U.S. in terms of tons moved per river mile.”

With no desire to rest on its laurels, the 70-mile-long regional port network has comprehensive infrastructure plans in the works and funding being generated to maintain its position on the nation’s busiest inland waterway. 

Established in 2014, the Freightway has focused on the expansion and modernization of cargo-handling facilities along the so-called 70s Corridor, which includes Interstate 70 and portions of Interstates 170, 270, and 370 – critical inland routes dotted with major industrial and logistics sites. 

Respectively, they serve as end-users of the cargo or as distribution centers for cargo moving to points throughout the U.S. Midwest.

Along with its key position on the interstates, the region is served by six Class I rail lines and has vital access to international destinations via import/export points for ocean-borne container and bulk shipping and container-on-barge services.

The St. Louis region alone handles more than 386 million tons of inbound and outbound freight annually and is the nation’s third highest volume multimodal center, while ranking as the largest freight hub among comparatively sized cities in the region. 

Figures supplied by STLRF and the Bi-State Development Group note that the region has more skilled workers employed in manufacturing and supply-chain industries than all similarly sized cities in the Midwest. 

Industries along the corridor, the data shows, account for nearly 200,000 jobs with manufacturing the largest industry along the corridor at 11.8 percent of total employment. That includes companies like General Motors and Proctor & Gamble. 

The Freightways 2024 Priority Projects List report includes 26 projects totaling $7.2 billion; almost $2.7 billion of those projects are already funded and under construction or partially funded and expected to start construction or design within the next few years. 

One of the most significant of its goals was accomplished with the fall 2022 completion of the $222 million replacement of the Merchants Bridge, a rail link connecting Missouri and Illinois near downtown St. Louis. 

It had been the region’s highest priority infrastructure project since 2016. 

“The Merchants Bridge is one of those few locations in the St. Louis area where rail can cross from one side of the Mississippi River to the other, so any delay in that vital link had a follow-on effect up and down the network,” said Joe Torp, industrial development manager for Norfolk Southern, one of the Class I rail carriers that serve the region.

Jumping at another opportunity, Freightway officials announced in March the availability for the development of a 300-acre Mississippi River intermodal port complex at Herculaneum, Mo.

The site includes two miles of river frontage, a 200-acre buffer, and ready access to the Union Pacific Railroad network and Interstate 55. Owned by the Doe Run Co., the site recently received zoning approval for development.

Mary Lamie, St. Louis Regional Freightway Executive Vice President of multimodal enterprises for Bi-State Development
Mary Lamie,
St. Louis Regional Freightway Executive Vice President of multimodal enterprises for Bi-State Development

Building and growing the new Herculaneum river port “is a unique and unprecedented opportunity,” said Mary Lamie, head of the St. Louis Regional Freightway and executive vice president of multimodal enterprises for Bi-State Development. 

Few inland port sites available for new development, she said, “have the infrastructure and ease of access to both rail and highway as this site.” 

Lamie, a registered professional engineer in both Illinois and Missouri, was named to lead the St. Louis Regional Freightway in 2016. 

With more than 25 years in the transportation industry, she earned her undergraduate degree in civil engineering from the University of Missouri, Columbia and holds a master’s degree in civil engineering from the Missouri University of Science and Technology.

“The site’s 30,000 linear feet of Class I rail operated by Union Pacific, along with the less than two-mile distance to Interstate 55, make it ideal for movement of goods nationally and internationally,” said Lamie.

“Having another strong waterfront asset like the Herculaneum Port site opens the St. Louis area market up to even more opportunities to attract new and exciting business and industry,” she added. 

The site includes existing industrial services for water, gas, and electricity with the complete remediation of a former smelter site located on the property scheduled for completion later this year.

The Jefferson County (Missouri) Port Authority – part of the STLRF coalition – has cooperated with various Jefferson County agencies to develop a master plan for the Herculaneum site.

The goal, they say, is to create a river port facility and logistics site that allows industrial users to leverage its multimodal access along the Mississippi River with easy accessibility to both Interstate 55 and rail networks. 

The site has been designated as a new port district with the county working to increase the regional movement of both export and import cargoes over the coming years. 

Port district zoning, tailored to align with the industrial history and future potential of the site, allows for primary uses conducive to port operations, as well as the utilization of port district incentives under the statutes and mandates laid out by the State of Missouri Port Authority. 

Such incentives include the issuance of bonds, the implementation of real estate tax abatement and sales/use tax exemption on building materials, and the authority to levy sales taxes or special property tax assessments to reimburse project costs related to infrastructure and other eligible expenses within the port district.

“Dating back over 200 years, the Herculaneum Port site has long been an economic driver in Jefferson County and throughout the region,” said Jim McNichols, executive director of the Jefferson County Port Authority. 

“With the opportunity to add capacity for local transportation demands and create new jobs and investments, the future of this port looks as strong as its past,” he said.