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The Port of St. Louis

October 2, 2009 Economy, Local Business, Transportation 10 Comments

We all know that St. Louis owes its existence to the Mississippi River.  We’re all well aware of our interstate highways and most of us are aware of the railroads that are an integral part of our urban fabric.

What turned out to be somewhat of a surprise to me, as a newcomer, was just how big a role the Mississippi continues to play in our local economy.  Part of it is “out of sight, out of mind”, part of it is the low profile many of its users keep.  But the statistics are pretty impressive  – the port extends for twenty miles, with 16 public terminals and “over 100 docking facilities”, there are no locks or dams between here and New Orleans (unlike going upriver), and it’s the “third largest inland port in the Midwest.”

Unique resources like this are where we can differentiate ourselves from our economic development competitors, and I’d like to see more of a push to do so.

– Jim Zavist


Currently there are "10 comments" on this Article:

  1. samizdat says:

    St. Louis was also home to St. Louis Ship, which once built many of the diesel tows plying the river. They went under about 20 yrs ago. The big tows, BTW, have twin 4000hp engines driving them.

  2. Mike Baldwin says:

    I love to go down in the morning and evening to watch the river traffic and hear the horns.

  3. Tim E says:

    Jim, From my understanding the Port of St. Louis has an TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grant application seeking $50 million to rebuild port docks at the foot of the N. Market Street, I believe. The idea is to introduce containerize shipping by barge on the Mississippi between New Orleans and St. Louis. I believe Mayor Slay posted on it also. Essentially, containers would come off a ship at the Port of New Orleans and transferred to barges for shipment to STL before going on rail or truck. Its an interesting concept, First, waterborne traffic is the most economical way to move freight. Second, their is some distance between STL and New Orleans to take advantage of these cost advantages. Third, Barge companies need a way to grow traffic. Fourth, shipping companies are always looking for back hauls on these containers. Lot of it is bulk, low value goods – grains, scrap, etc. Cost is more important then ontime delivery for these products. Containerize traffic on barges seem likes a niche that might fit well for St. Louis. As your post notes, St. Louis existence owes it to Mississippir River.

    More importantly, Containerize shipping and the current infrasctructure is changing from mainly Port of LA/Long Beach continually growing to an anticipated shift to Gulf Coast and East Coast ports when the Panama Canal expansion opens. This is on top of increased capacity of Canadian and Mexican facilities/ports that have come online in recent years. What is happening is that port facilities from Houston to Norfolk have expanded. In the meantime, railroads are building up their infrastructure to/from those ports to places like Chicago (Both BN and UP will soon have huge logistical parks up and running, CN & CP both are expanding as they also have direct access to Chicago from Canadian west coast ports), Columbus (NS heritage corridor project), Memphis (CSX Crescent corridor project), and even Kansas City (KCS railroad has a direct connection to Mexican west coast port facilities and designation as an inland port for customs, BN proposed logistical park), etc. What is not happening in all this is St. Louis, we have already been left behind in terms of Rail shipments and this is having an adverse affect in attracting distirbution and other manufacturing activities. Instead, we will need to find ways to increase shipping on the Mississippi to be competitive (as well as secure a China Air Hub).

  4. Brian Boeckmann says:

    Thank you for recognizing and mentioning this topic. And interesting and informative comment Tim E.

    Yes for many it seems “out of sight, out of mind”. Question… why is this?

  5. Ben says:

    once the Crystal City and Herculaneum port district gets going in Jefferson County along with improvements in STL City the STL region will be a truly major hub of inter-modal rail/river traffic

  6. Dole says:

    I know this post is about river traffic, but St. Louis is also an official “port of entry” into the customs territory of the United States, with most of the import activity arriving at Lambert Airport.

    To elaborate further upon the comment above by TIM E, imports could arrive at the Port of New Orleans and betransported in bond and be “cleared” in St. Louis.

  7. b says:

    I am the king of half baked ideas but this one takes the cake.

    Stl area river commerce is grain, coal and oil AND in that order. Grain probably takes up over 50% of that number-just guessing. Rail traffic over the river is minimal at best. No capacity. Dump stuff on one side of the river and you have to get it to the next.

    Dump it on the east side of the river and where do you go with it? Chicago and Indy? Any farther and it’s easier to distribute through th east coast.

    And what’s coming in any way? Grain? Nope. Coal? Nyet Oil? Yep. They’re bringing the oil up, refining it across in IL and MO gets to reap the benefits.

    To look out at the river and wonder how to make a buck off the river is like taking a step back in time 150 years ago.

    Bundle up and break out your coonskin caps because unless we have an “Independence Day” scenario, it ain’t gonna happen.

    Figure out a way to start and/or process and/or complete the cultivation of grain/coal while in progress from Stl to ports up and down the river and you’re in biz.

    Dam it. Flood Illinois and create tourism jobs in MO.

  8. Joe Borough says:

    I always wanted a marina on the riverfront damming it could boost and beautify the riverfront but I don’t think flooding the eastside is the answer. I’m still hoping to build the rams a new stadium on the east riverfront. Would it be possible to do both? Wouldn’t want a soggy field.

    Also what would happen to the wild life in the Mississippi? …is there any wildlife there?

    I agree w/ b though. I think the river is already tapped for transporting goods. Or maybe I haven’t thought hard enough about it. I do like the idea though but I’m having trouble seeing the picture.

  9. Tim E says:

    I agree that the river is tapped with transporting commodities. What neither b or myself have is the numbers to prove if this half baked or not. In other words, how far a container once its off a barge can go before it loses the cost advantage. More importantly, barge lines have absolutely no experience in dealing with the multiple players in getting the container freight to delivering the container at the doorstep.

    But some one is putting numbers or has to these ideas. Maybe they aren’t even close to being competitive. Maybe the are. My guess is that the numbers don’t jive for shipping/barge lines without the Feds putting up the infrastructure. However, the Feds just might do that to give the barge companies/river traffic a piece of the pie if they want to give it try. Second, Corps of Engineers will spend up to 14 billion for 100yr flood protection for New Orleans. Getting a few more containers to go through New Orleans instead of Houston or Port of Alabama onto eco freiedly barges (relative to trucking and raill movements) to help justify all that flood protection money might look good for this administration. With infrascture in place, it is relatively minor up front cost to retrofit some barges and make a few runs.

    Heck, for all know is that Port of St. Louis is fishing in hoping for the Feds to pay for rebuilding their docks. Moving containter freight sounds a lot more appealing then a imported coil of steel from an odd barge or two.

  10. Med says:

    Well, speculation abounds on this concept. Tim has it right. In order for St. Louis to become the premier inland port in the U.S., not to mention eventually the world, the federal government will have to take controll of the port system, especially north of downtown St. Louis and in East St. Louis. The current players are small potatoes looking out for their own interests AND INTEND TO KEEP IT THAT WAY. A massive 3-4 billion dollar port-intermodal complex in these areas would have massive reciprocal implications for the Arch/River areas including wharf development, a world class marina system hooking into the Greenways project south of the stadium. PRODUCE ROW SHOULD ALSO BE INCORPORATED INTO THIS PROJECT AND BECOME COMPLETELY REBUILT WITH REGIONAL MARKET SHARE. The intermodal port systerm would be the largest inland system in the world. St louis IS THE PREMIER INLAND PORT IN THE U.S., NOT CHICAGO, K.C., OR THE LIKE. St. Louis is the ‘Daddy’ of the river traffic. The massive construction docks and inland harbor systems traversing both sides of the river into one cohesive system would be a first of its kind. Dozens of barges serviced at once, with ‘rim’ commercial, industrial warehouse development. Hall street would be jam packed with new transpotation distribution outlets. Highway and service road inlays, not to mention the incorporation of the rail systems into this SUPER PROJECT. It would be the talk of the United States and beyond. I’ve already contacted Claire McCaskill concerning the immediacy of the situation to introduce federal legislation to get it out of the concept stage. The controll must get out of these petty, fragmented and self seeking ‘little’ port dock systems and their gainsaying politics. Without this port system done according to these methods, the Arch grounds and any significant development concerning Marinas’ or water development will flounder and eventually get done on a compromised and significantly ‘backwater scale’, as usual in this town. It can be the talk of the ‘Port Intermodal’ world. Thousands of permanent jobs and thousands of construction jobs………..which will never happen if the small time operating river cronies would control it. They are to be bypassed and TOLD WHAT TO DO BY THE FED COMMISSIONERS, WHICH I WOULD SUSPECT IS THE WAVE OF THE NOT TO DISTANT FUTURE.


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