(Updated at 5:25 p.m., February 18)
Vice President Joe Biden will be joined by past and present top federal transportation officials on Wednesday when he stops by Granite City to promote the five-year anniversary of the passage of the federal stimulus measure.
In Granite City, Biden is expected to highlight the spending on port improvements along the Mississippi River that were made possible by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which was aimed at stemming the economic downturn underway in early 2009.
Biden is to be joined by Secretary of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and former Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood.
America’s Central Port received about $14.5 million from the stimulus to help build South Harbor. That’s a shipping hub for agricultural goods and other commodities that’s expected to open later this fall.
Dennis Wilmsmeyer, the executive director of the port, says the stimulus played a big role in making the project happen.
“Without that funding that government that the government made available, we wouldn’t be where we are today and getting close to construction and completing construction of this facility,” he said.
He said Biden and Foxx's visit to the port "sends a message across the country that the administration certainly realizes that transportation investment and infrastructure investment in this country is very important."
The late-morning event comes as Illinois transportation officials are focusing on the Granite City-to-St. Louis leg of the high-speed rail project through Illinois, also partly funded with federal stimulus money. A public hearing on the plan is scheduled later this month in East St. Louis.
Biden’s visit also could have a political component because he is a possible Democratic candidate for president in 2016 – and Illinois is the home state of the current occupant of the White House, President Barack Obama.
Members of the region’s Young Democrats have been invited to attend Wednesday’s visit. Elise Miller -- a member of the St. Louis Young Democrats' board -- said her group is using e-mail and social media to get people to the rally.
Biden is also expected to call for more funding of the nation’s transportation infrastructure. And Miller says she’s hoping Biden provides some insight into what the administration will do next."
"Post-stimulus package, there’s been a lot of great work done in terms of jobs growth. But especially in St. Louis, there’s still a lot of work to be done,” Miller said. “And so one thing I do look forward to Biden hopefully speak about is his plan for the next few years just to continue that economic growth and any ideas that he and the Obama Administration have for the future.”
Biden was last in Missouri in 2012 for a summer stop in Kansas City to campaign for Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. The vice president was last in the St. Louis area in 2011, when he joined Gov. Jay Nixon to visit tornado-damaged areas in St. Louis County, including Lambert-St. Louis International Airport.