|By Linda F. Jarrett
Positioned near the geographic and population center of the United States, St. Louis holds a coveted position as being the place to do business. Lying within 500 miles of one-third of the U.S. population and within 1500 miles of 90 percent of the North American population, St. Louis is, indeed, perfectly centered and remarkably connected.
When you can reach that many people in a short amount of time, it is no wonder that that 19 Fortune 1000 corporations have made the St. Louis metropolitan and
surrounding region their HQ home. As a further testament to the St. Louis infrastructure system, over 125 companies have chosen the Gateway City as the place to put their distribution centers.
|Our geographic location puts us at an advantage.
James Pennekamp, former executive director of the Leadership Council of Southwestern Illinois
“Our geographic location puts us at an advantage,” says former executive director of the Leadership Council of Southwestern Illinois James Pennekamp. “Commodities, whether bulk-like minerals, petroleum, coal, agricultural products, a lot of those are shipped by barge, while consumer products go by truck or rail, the really high value product is best shipped by air because of timeliness, short window on need. You have all of that coming together here.” Pennekamp is now Special Assistant to the Chancellor for Regional Economic Development and Executive Director, Uni-versity Park, SIUE Inc.
But is geography enough? Michael DeCola, vice president and chief financial officer for Mississippi Lime Company, says, “My general comment is that the overall infrastructure needs a lot of work. But being in the middle of the country, St. Louis is an important crossroads from a highway standpoint,” he says.
DeCola says his company moves “between 30 and 40 percent” of their
product by barge, a quarter by rail and
the balance by truck.
Les Sterman, director of the East-West Gateway Coordinating Council, says, “Given the configuration of our interstate systems and railroads, a lot of traffic does
converge on St. Louis, and most of it goes through. While there aren’t as many railroad yards as there used to be, a lot of truck traffic is coming through here and in an increasing volume.”
So, how do others perceive the transportation infrastructure situation in St. Louis?
A MAJOR JUNCTION
With four major interstates running through the metropolitan district, and four inner ring freeways, St. Louis has .883 miles of freeway miles per capita, the fourth largest in the nation.
|• I-44 links St. Louis to the Southwest
• I-70 runs from the east to west coast.
• I-55 connects St. Louis with southern
• I-64 begins in St. Louis to the middle
“I think the infrastructure is what fuels the area more than anything else, and our needs far exceed our resources,” says Bill McKenna, president of Jefferson College and member of the Missouri Highway Commission. “The current road system is over taxed. We need more money for mass transit, as well, so we can get more people to use it.”
However, at 17 cents per gallon, Missouri’s gas tax rate ranks near the bottom, and that’s what fuels our transportation program.
McKenna says out of the 17 cents gas tax, cities and counties get “between 25 and 30 percent. MoDOT (the Missouri Department of Transportation) divvies it out, we get about 12.5 cents for every gallon sold that we can use on roads and bridges.”
When, in November 2004, voters passed Amendment 3, also known as the “Smoother, Safer, Sooner” Amendment, they gave
the Missouri Department of Transportation
a vote of confidence to the tune of $1.7 billion to repair Missouri roads and bridges over the next several years. The St. Louis region will receive $170 million.
Tom Barta, executive vice-president of Fred Weber Inc., says that while Missouri has been rated in the lower 10 percent of road and bridge conditions recently, the passage of Amendment 3 has resulted in a near term improvement in roads and bridges. “MoDOT has done an amazing job, particularly in resurfacing and pavement restoring in this area, but there has to be more funding for MoDOT in the future.
“In Illinois, the governor has just announced a $3 billion infrastructure improvement program,” Barta says “A good portion would go to transportation-related issues right across the river.”
Additional revenue for infrastructure improvements would help the region maintain its competitive position.
Mike Collins, president of the pharmaceuticals division of Mallinckrodt/Tyco Health-care said that getting the proposed Mississippi River Bridge built is a top priority to the region essential to improving the
St. Louis infrastructure.
St. Louis has .883 miles of freeway miles per capita,
the fourth largest in the nation.
“You ask how if affects business,” he says. “Mallinckrodt has a 45-acre site adjacent to the river, and we’d like to be able to attract good employees, not just from
St. Louis and St. Charles, but also from Illinois, and it is needed for the economy and moving goods which can affect people’s businesses.”
|We find that
transportation and trucking companies coming into the areas for deliveries are finding it an
efficient place to
Dennis Schoemehl, president of
Logistics Management Solutions
Dennis Schoemehl, president of Logistics Management Solutions, says that today’s infrastructure in St. Louis is “quite good. We find that transportation and trucking companies coming into the areas for deliveries are finding it an efficient place to do business, especially compared to Chicago, where the population is so dense and congestion is worse. We find that in St. Louis, trucks can get in and out much quicker.”
Everyone agreed that the improvements to the Highway 40 corridor from Spoede Road to Sarah Avenue, scheduled to begin later this year, are crucial to improving the area’s infrastructure for the future.
“That is one of the major thoroughfares,” Schoemehl says. “It’s important to drive through the city and make deliveries and pick-ups without losing time.”
ROLLIN' ON THE RIVER
The Port of
St. Louis, the third largest inland port in the nation, sits at the confluence of the Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois rivers, and extends 70 miles along the shoreline of the Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois rivers. The various districts that come under the port move over 32 million tons a year.
Dennis Wilmsmeyer, general manager of the Tri-City Regional Port District in Granite City, IL, said, “Our facility itself is about a mile long and handles
approximately 3.5 million tons of product per year.”
However, the production of grain in foreign countries has had a negative impact on the movement of goods here, he says.
To offset that decrease, the general cargo market has continued to grow.
“We have U.S. Steel here locally,” Wilmsmeyer says. “And we’re continuing to export a lot of their product out of our facility by barge.”
The river system is critical to our business as well as the region,” DeCola says. “It doesn’t get as much attention because most of the public does not see the river as important. They see trucks on the highway or railroad crossings, but there is not nearly enough capital invested to handle both volume and maintenance issues.”
THE RHYTHM OF THE RAILS
St. Louis has always enjoyed the reputation,
as being a rail hub
for the country and
that has not changed. The Burlington Northern Santa Fe, CSX Transportation, Kansas City Southern, Norfolk Southern, and Union Pacific each maintain a key presence here.
According to the June 2005 issue of Inbound Logistics, the St. Louis region
handles approximately 10,000 rail cars per day, contains over 30 rail yard facilities and more than 40 lines going to all
sections of North America.
“St. Louis is a cross-road for rail transportation,” DeCola says. “And we have dire needs in the area of improving rail infrastructure. It’s an area that needs a lot of work, but the rail system in this country is not as good as it was years ago.
“Rail companies have to spend money and we have to give them a reason to do so,” he says. “And that happens with us and other companies talking to them.”
State Senator John Griesheimer, (R-26) says that “around 45 trains a day” come to St. Louis, and that number will increase to 60 within the next year.
“At some point,” he says, “We will have to address the rail needs of the area, but the
problem is money. We have looked at the possibility of trying to do a bond issue to help relieve congestion for the railroads, but right now we don’t have the money to help them as we need to.”
Griesheimer says that two major
congestion points in eastern Missouri cause delays that have affected getting freight
and goods in and out of St. Louis. “If
you couple that with the problems
we’re having with barge traffic as far
as getting agricultural products from
farms to markets, that’s a grave concern. Again, it takes money and right now, that’s
a scarce commodity.”
TIME TO SOAR
Most agreed that while Lambert-St. Louis Internat-ional Airport had been strug-gling the past couple of years, its status is growing.
“While it might be perceived as a negative,” Collins says, “the airport is definitely going positive. It was pretty ugly when American first cut back, and while no one likes flying the smaller planes, I believe the airport is doing a good job.”
DeCola agrees. “We’re not nearly as vital of an air corridor as we once were, and
I think we’re still dealing with how to
right size our air assets. But we’re clearly heading in the right direction in terms of getting St. Louis into the 21st century of air transportation.”
Lambert is currently completing a
$1.2 billion runway expansion, which will be
completed on time and within budget, according to Airport Director Kevin Dolliole. This expansion, features a third parallel runway west of the existing airport, and will allow simultaneous landings in bad weather. More expansions are planned to enhance air cargo capabilities.
Move over, air service has grown at a steady pace for the past two years, with over 380 daily flights to 84 non-stop destinations at Lambert.
Efforts are now underway to put together a regional systems plan to look at the region’s aviation assets—at Lambert, MidAmerica, Spirit, St. Louis Downtown, and Regional—as a complimentary virtual system for both passengers and air cargo.
The business community is placing an increased
priority on enhancing
the region’s infrastructure, finding new ways to
generate resources, and treating infrastructure as an interconnected system—through the Private Sector Infrastructure Council
at the RCGA.
Collins says he would “sum it up by
saying there has been real progress with the roads, the possibility of getting Highway 40 rebuilt, and the progress at the airport. The challenge will be getting the Mississippi River Bridge rebuilt and, eventually, improving I-70 across the state.”
Wouldn’t it be nice for people coming to St. Louis, whether by air, bus or rail, to know that they could have access to all other modes of transportation to get around St. Louis City and County?
In two years, when the new St. Louis Gateway Transportation Center, AKA Multi-Modal Center, opens, they will. With ample parking and good highway access, visitors, both business and tourists, will find getting around the area much easier.
After being on the drawing boards for almost 20 years, ground breaking for the $22 million center located at 14th Street between Clark Street and I-64, will take place this spring.
Tom Shrout, executive director of Citizens for Modern Transit, says, “This will provide a person arriving in St. Louis an opportunity to change modes of transportation very easily. Those arriving at Lambert can take MetroLink to this station, and then transfer to a Greyhound bus or Amtrak. Essentially every mode of transportation will come together at that location.”
Financing for the facility came from a variety of sources, according to Marjorie Melton, president of the the City’s Board of public service. “MoDOT, instead of giving us money, is extending Spruce Street to access the center. Other contributions came from BiState, the Federal Highway Administration, Amtrak, and an enhancement grant.”
Greyhound Bus has also made an investment in their part of the facility.
Hired by the city to be the consultant for the project, John Roach says that the City’s willingness to help fund the center “is something for which Mayor (Francis) Slay deserves a great deal of credit. He believed in it when a lot of people didn’t.
“This is some thing we’ve needed to do for a long time,” he says.
Jacobs Engineering Inc. and Kennedy Associates Inc. were designers and architects for the project. K&S Construction is the general contractor.
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