2019 Highlights: A Freightway Year in Review

2019 Highlights: A Freightway Year in Review
December 27, 2019 Jerry Vallely
Saint Louis Regional Ports

The St. Louis Regional Freightway has compiled a summary of the major developments in 2019 that either elevated the St. Louis region’s global status as a world-class freight hub or will help to advance the region’s position as the country’s freight nexus in the year ahead.

“From mega projects breaking ground and global companies choosing to invest here, to newly formed partnerships that strengthen the bi-state region’s role in national and global supply chains, there was much to be excited about in 2019,” said Mary Lamie, Executive Vice President of Multi-Modal Enterprises for Bi-State Development, which oversees the St. Louis Regional Freightway. “Even more exciting, however, is the future positive impact we expect on our region.”

While Lamie notes there were dozens of announcements or developments that contribute to the organization’s optimism for the future, the St. Louis Regional Freightway narrowed its list to focus in on just a sampling of the most significant that relate to the region’s freight network or infrastructure. Following is a look at some of the highlights: 

Investments in Priority Infrastructure Projects Top $1 Billion

It is difficult to tally up every infrastructure project that was funded or under construction in 2019, but based on the St. Louis Regional Freightway’s tracking, more than $1 billion in critical projects are moving forward. These projects have been identified as priorities for the St. Louis region by business and industry leaders in the private sector, in addition to local and state officials, the Missouri and Illinois Departments of Transportation (DOT) and the East-West Gateway Council of Governments Board of Directors. These projects are supported by combination of state and federal funding and private investment and include:

  • MoDOT’s $278 million project to overhaul an eight-mile stretch of Interstate 270 – its largest project in a decade. An additional $84.5 million was allocated for work on I-270 in Madison County, Ill., as part of IDOT’s annual Multi-Year Improvement Program. These add to $500 million in work already underway on this major logistics corridor to meet growing needs of manufacturing and logistics companies that use the corridor and do not see the Mississippi River as a barrier.
  • The $222 million project to replace the 129-year old Merchants Bridge, a vital artery across the Mississippi River and one of the nation’s primary east-west rail corridors serving the nation’s 3rd largest rail hub. The new double track bridge will help move freight faster, cost-effectively and more reliably, providing an alternative to more congested rail regions like Chicago. The project is being funded by the Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis.
  • The new $59 million Interstate 255/Davis Street Ferry Road Interchange in St. Clair County, Ill., which will play a key role in facilitating growth of Union Pacific Railroad’s intermodal yard by reducing travel times and lowering transportation costs.
  • Projects included in Missouri Gov. Parson’s just announced Cost Share Program, including $4.7 million to improve Route A serving the GM Wentzville Assembly Plant and to add an additional lane on I-70 in O’Fallon, Mo., to provide additional capacity and improved traffic flow at freeway bottleneck locations.

Industrial Real Estate Sector Thrives

The St. Louis region’s industrial sector continued to shine in 2019, with new data underscoring the dramatic recent growth being fueled by the availability of space and speed of delivery, an available, job-ready workforce, and exceptional freight assets. Examples include:

  • Manufacturers of all sizes continue to invest in the region, led by General Motors which will invest $1.5 billion at its Wentzville facility, retaining 4,000 jobs. Boeing Co. has announced a $70 million expansion of its missile and munitions plant in St. Charles, Mo., and expanded its operations at MidAmerica St. Louis Airport in St. Clair County, Ill., the designated test site for Boeing’s MQ-25TM Autonomous Air Refueling Platform. Melton Machine & Control Co., announced a new 42-acre campus in Washington, Mo., where it will manufacture equipment for the automotive industry.
  • Since 2014, more than 25 million square feet of new industrial space has been constructed or is currently under construction in the St. Louis, Mo. region, and more than 75% of that represents buildings topping 250,000 square feet. Much of this construction has been focused on the north Interstate I-270 Corridor that spans two states.
  • Amazon opened its first Missouri distribution center in St. Peters, Mo., at the growing Premier 370 Industrial Park. Fenton Logistics Park in South St. Louis County – site of the former Chrysler plant – reached 648,411 square feet of completed space. In North St. Louis County, Aviator Business Park is adding 640,182 square feet of speculative distribution space. NorthPoint and Exeter entered the Metro East market, each adding a building topping 500,000 square feet.

St. Louis Region’s Position as a World Class Logistics Hub Enhanced

Since 2015, the St. Louis Regional Freightway has been elevating awareness of the region’s incredible freight assets, which include being home to one of America’s largest inland ports; four interstates with national access; five airports with capacity, and six Class I railroads. As the region continues to move up in key rankings and distinguish itself based on other unique factors, it garnered nearly $518,000 in regional and national media coverage during the calendar year.

  • The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reaffirmed that the St. Louis region’s port system remains the most efficient inland port in the nation, and it moved up to become the second largest inland port system in terms of tonnage moved in 2018.
  • A 15-mile section of the Mississippi River in the St. Louis region delivers the highest level of grain barge handling anywhere along the Mississippi River. Now, thanks to a new partnership between the St. Louis Regional Freightway, 39 North and World Trade Center of St. Louis, this “Ag Coast of America” is expanding and leveraging the region’s leadership in agriculture technology (agtech) research, production and transportation to address global food security concerns.
  • 2019 also saw the St. Louis Regional Freightway forge a partnership with the Port of Savannah which has identified the St. Louis region as a key import/export market to which containers can consistently be distributed by rail at a lower cost for shippers. Meanwhile, efforts to deliver new Container on Vessel service to transport freight along the Mississippi River and its tributaries continue to gain steam, with the St. Louis region set to serve as a key terminal.

Region Welcomes Expanded Presence of Global and Growing Corporations

Bayer’s $60 billion merger with Monsanto in 2018 made Missouri the number one state in the nation for Foreign Direct Investment; and 2019 saw additional commitments from global companies and growing domestic firms.

  • Bunge recently announced plans to relocate its global headquarters from New York to the St. Louis region as it seeks to leverage the agriculture production and distribution concentrated in this area and the Mississippi River and its tributaries. 
  • Bayer AG announced this past summer that it would be moving 500 agtech jobs to Creve Coeur, Mo., where the company plans to invest $164 million to expand and improve its facilities.
  • Fast-growing Benson Hill Biosystems is building a new headquarters in the 39 North district in Creve Coeur, Mo.

“The level of cooperation and commitment from this region that includes two states and over 15 counties is unprecedented and is contributing to many of the successes the region enjoyed in 2019,” said Lamie.