Priority Projects: Missouri and Illinois Revamp the 70s Corridor

Priority Projects: Missouri and Illinois Revamp the 70s Corridor
March 4, 2024 Jerry Vallely
photo of I-70 with cars on the interstate and interstate signs visible

By Mary Lamie

Many aging interstates and bridges running through the bi-state St. Louis region are getting an overhaul, thanks to continued investment along a 70-mile transportation corridor running from Foristell in southeast Missouri to Marine in southwestern Illinois.

Dubbed the “70s corridor,” it encompasses Interstate 70 and portions of Interstates 170, 270 and 370. These roadways are well-traveled by motorists and those moving freight to key industrial and logistics sites along the corridor and throughout the St. Louis region.

The St. Louis Regional Freightway was established in 2014 to create a regional freight district and advance infrastructure projects to support freight movement through eight counties in Missouri and Illinois that comprise the St. Louis metropolitan area, and works with public and private partners on its Freight Development Committee to identify high priority infrastructure needs in the region and advocate for funding for them.

The committee is comprised of industry leaders representing manufacturing, logistics, industrial real estate, workforce development, economic development organizations, academia, all modes of transportation, Illinois and Missouri Departments of Transportation and the East-West Gateway Council of Governments.

Almost $2.7 billion in projects on the Freightway’s Priority Project’s List are currently under construction or partially funded and expected proceed within the next few years, including major improvements on I-270 and I-70.

I-270 Improvements

One priority project involves the 24-mile, I-270 outer belt corridor, running from I-70 in north St. Louis County to State Route 157 across the Mississippi river in Madison County, Illinois.

This is a key connector for Illinois and Missouri residents and one of the region’s busiest freight corridors — home to national manufacturers, suppliers, and distributors.

In Missouri, it serves major freight generators, such as the Hazelwood Logistics Center, within and near St. Louis Lambert International Airport.

In Illinois, I-270 feeds directly into the Lakeview Commerce Center, Gateway TradePort, and Gateway Commerce Center, three of the region’s largest and fastest growing logistics parks.

The I-270 corridor offers easy access to major destinations in Illinois including the Conoco Phillips Refinery, America’s Central Port, and Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis’ Madison Yard.

More than 25 million square feet of new industrial space hit the market over the last five years, and the epicenter of this construction boom is the northern I-270 corridor. Commuter and freight traffic along this corridor has grown significantly and this trend will continue.

The ability I-270 has to absorb this traffic will play a major role in the speed, efficiency, and cost to move freight throughout the region. Safety concerns along the interstate also must be addressed.

Approximately $1.35 billion in improvements have been identified, and in a remarkable show of bi-state unity, the Missouri and Illinois departments of transportation (MoDOT and IDOT) have committed to funding more than $1 billion of those improvements, to date.

Adding Capacity and Improving Connections

One of the largest I-270 projects underway is the new, $496 million Chain of Rocks Bridge over the Mississippi River. The project, being led by IDOT in partnership with MoDOT, will replace the existing bridge – constructed in 1966 and now serving nearly 45,000 vehicles daily, 20% of which are trucks – with a dual structure featuring three traffic lanes and 10-foot shoulders on each side.

MoDOT is also reconstructing an interchange at Riverview Drive and I-270 into a diamond interchange to accommodate the new bridge.

Also on the Missouri side of I-270, between I-70 and the Mississippi River, improvements estimated at $320 million are addressing the aging and deteriorating infrastructure and outdated highway design, along with congestion, safety, mobility and accessibility concerns.

The work includes reconstruction of multiple interchanges, improved connections, and reconstruction of selected segments of the outer road. Travel lanes are being added to the most heavily traveled segments. The I-270 North Project was completed in December, and it comprised of $278 million of this work.

Several projects are planned in Illinois, including:

  • Widening I-270 in Granite City and reconstructing the interchange and replacing the bridge at Illinois Route 3. IDOT’s fiscal year 2024 – 2029 Highway Improvement Program includes $101.9 million in funding for both projects.
  • Reconstruction of the I-270 interchange at Illinois Route 111 and Chain of Rocks Road in Pontoon Beach serving the region’s largest and fastest growing logistics parks. The $20.5 million project is funded, in part, by a recent $17 million grant from the Illinois Competitive Freight Program.
  • IDOT has also committed $86.7 million in funding for a bridge repair and ramp replacement project on the section of I-270 just east of Route 111 in Pontoon Beach.

“Fueled by historic partnership between MoDOT and IDOT, necessary upgrades are being made along the I-270 corridor, and these projects are a testament to the strength of the continued collaboration that is helping to add capacity and redundancy to the St. Louis region’s world-class freight network,” said Brent Wood, president of Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis (TRRA) and chair of the St. Louis Regional Freightway’s Freight Development Commitment.

Michael Vanderhoof, planning bureau chief for IDOT, talked about the importance of partnerships in advancing infrastructure projects during an August Rail Freight Tour hosted by the TRRA and the St. Louis Regional Freightway.

“The work TRRA and the Freightway are doing is critically important to how we are building success with these programs,” Vanderhoof said. “The Freightway has done a great job keeping us informed of what’s going on in the private sector, so we can work together to develop partnerships to go for funding, and that’s what this is all about.”

I-70 Improvements

Multiple improvement projects are also coming to the I-70 corridor, stretching from I-64 in Wentzville, Mo., to the Stan Musial Veteran’s Memorial Bridge, which carries traffic into Illinois.

In the St. Louis region, I-70 is an important link for freight due to the proximity of major corporations, industrial areas, and St. Louis Lambert International Airport. Manufacturing is the largest industry along the corridor at 11.8% of total employment, largely due to large companies like General Motors, Boeing, and Procter & Gamble.

The I-70 corridor in the St. Louis region also is an integral part of the High-Volume Domestic Agriculture Highway corridor, one of 17 corridors recognized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It is one of the most important highways for investment to support the U.S. agriculture industry, moving the largest volumes of freight.

Additionally, many of the St. Louis region’s highest activity industrial parks are located along this stretch of I-70. Various intersecting arterial corridors rely on truck access to I-70 to serve six industrial zones and several large industrial real estate sites.

I-70 handles more than 36,000 trucks daily, and 70% of the St. Louis Region’s industrial occupiers are located within a 10-minute driving time of the 70s corridor.

Running through St. Charles County, St. Louis County and St. Louis, much of this 47-mile I-70 corridor experiences moderate to heavy congestion during peak hours. Planning is underway to enhance east-west freight mobility along the corridor by providing more capacity where it is needed most, while reducing congestion and associated vehicle crashes.

Critical safety and congestion issues will also be addressed through interchange, bridge, geometric curve, and parallel road improvements. Total cost for improvements is estimated at $863 million, with almost half of that secured.

I-70 Priority Projects with Funding

A third traffic lane will be added in both directions of I-70 for 20 miles between Warren County and Wentzville Parkway. The project also will address what was ranked as the number one bottleneck location in the St. Louis region in 2016 by rebuilding I-70 from Wentzville Parkway to west of I-64/Route 161 in St. Charles County. Improvements will be made to the s-curve at the Norfolk Southern Railroad Bridge.

The $242 million project is part of a $2.8 billion budget bill, signed by Missouri Gov. Mike Parson in June 2023, that will add a third lane in each direction of I-70 for almost 200 miles between Wentzville and Kansas City.

Construction along a six-mile stretch of I-70, from Cave Springs Road to Fairgrounds Road in St. Charles County began in 2022 and will wrap up this summer.

The $62 million project is funded jointly by MoDOT and St. Charles County through a cost-share agreement. It includes new bridges at Cave Springs and Zumbehl roads that can accommodate new single-point urban interchanges and new ramps and overpasses. A new outer road between Fairgrounds Road and Route 94 is also being constructed.

Additionally, a $133 million project to reconstruct the interchanges at I-64 and I-70 has received partial funding of $93 million and is in the engineering phase.

Three additional projects along I-70 totaling $420 million remain unfunded but are still high priorities for the region.

Ed Hassinger, deputy director and chief engineer for MoDOT, addressed the state’s commitment to the various projects moving forward during the recent Rail Freight Tour. “Our governor and our legislators have infrastructure on their mind, and they are putting their money where their mouth is,” he said.