Civic and business leaders say the St. Louis region has to be ready to capitalize on an expected increase in freight across the United States.
It was the topic of conversation at the St. Louis Regional Transportation Forum on Thursday in Collinsville.
"St. Louis stands in a very good position to expand its capabilities, expand our economy and expand our jobs in the St. Louis region," said John Nations, president and CEO of the Bi-State Development Agency/Metro.
Nations was joined by former Illinois Congressman Jerry Costello, as well as the leaders of the East-West Gateway Council of Governments, the St. Louis Regional Chamber and the Leadership Council of Southwestern Illinois.
They all pointed to estimates that freight shipments across the U.S. will increase 60 percent over the next 25 years.
"If you’ve got that much freight coming in and going out, it could be very much an opportunity for logistics companies to look at St. Louis," Nations said.
The discussion about the possibilities of freight for this region has been going on for several years. The East-West Gateway Council of Governments, along with transportation departments from both Illinois and Missouri, commissioned a study released back in 2013.
The study details the region’s strengths, as well as areas where improvement is needed. That includes addressing two railroad bridges over the Mississippi River that are beginning to constrain traffic.
Costello, who sat on the transportation committee in the House of Representatives for 25 years, said oftentimes rail has taken a back seat when the region thought of economic development.
"We’ve looked at our roads, bridges, highways, airports, but we really haven’t paid attention to freight rail," he said. "We’ve always looked at that as the private sector. But there are enormous economic development opportunities and spin-offs that will help our region."
Costello said paying for infrastructure projects would likely have to come through public-private partnerships, something he said the railroad industry would welcome.
Infrastructure is also something a new St. Louis Regional Freight District will try to address. The district is a result of the 2013 freight study and will be under the umbrella of the Bi-State Development Agency. Nations said an executive director will be named for the district by the end of March.
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