Proposed Midwest River Port aimed to bring jobs, economic opportunity to Illinois, Iowa

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ILLINOIS (WMBD) — Lawmakers are joining forces to make the Midwest more attractive for the agronomy.

Congressman Darin LaHood (R) IL-18 and Congresswoman Cheri Bustos (D) IL-17 are joining a bipartisan group of lawmakers trying to solidify one regional port along the Mississippi River.

“That’s gonna help us with marketing, attracting more agro-business to the area. We think it makes a lot of sense with the amount of the volume of products that get shipped down the Mississippi and Illinois River,” Rep. Darin LaHood (R) IL-18 told WMBD.

“Our inland waterways are critical to delivering tons of goods to market each year and supporting the hard work of our agricultural producers,” said Rep. Cheri Bustos (D) IL-17. “This local economic driver provides our region with a competitive edge and is critical to our transportation infrastructure.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers received resolutions from eight counties — six from Iowa and two from Illinois — to create a statistical boundary called the Mississippi River Ports of Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois.

“We’re processing that request. It’s likely that it’s subject to approval,” said Thomas Podany, Director of the Waterborne Commerce Statistics Center. “Once it goes through the approval process, it would be ready for publication for this year’s annual data publication.”

Peoria County Farm Bureau Manager Patrick Kirchhofer said more economic growth along river systems helps Illinois farmers.

“The Midwest is blessed with two excellent river systems, the Mississippi and the Illinois. Anytime we can get product or economic growth on those river systems it’s going to help our local economies,” Kirchhofer said.

Kirchhofer said barges are arguably the most efficient way to transport products.

“A barge will hold around 50,000 bushels. One train car will hold around 3,500 bushels of corn. A truck is around 900-100 bushels. If you can get 15 barges in one barge tow, that’s around 750,000 bushels that just one bar tow can transport up and down the river,” Kirchhofer said. “It’s much more environmentally sound too to transport our product by river system.”

Kirchhofer said creating a major port on the Mississippi River would be beneficial to farmers in Western Illinois and Eastern Iowa. According to the Iowa Department of Transportation, one barge has a cargo capacity of 1,500 tons, 52,500 bushels, or 453,600 gallons of product.

A list of measurements and comparisons can be viewed as such:

  • A 15 barge tow can carry 22,500 tons, 787,500 bushels, and 6,804,000 gallons.
  • A train’s jumbo hopper car can carry 100 tons, 3,500 bushels, and/or 30,240 gallons.
  • A 100 car unit train filled with grain can carry 10,000 tons, 350,000 bushels, and/or 3,024,000 gallons.
  • A large semi-truck can carry 26 tons, 910 bushels, and/or 7,665 gallons.
  • One barge is equivalent to 15 jumbo hoppers or 58 semi-trucks.
  • A 15 barge tow is equivalent to 2.25 100 unit trains or 870 semi-trucks.

Kirchhofer said barges are also much more efficient when it comes to their length. A 15 barge tow is .25 miles long, and 2.25 100 car train units are 2.75 miles long, and 870 large semi-trucks are 11.5 miles long bumper to bumper.

For months, locks and dams along the Illinois River have been closed down for construction. Kirchhofer said this has caused some Peoria and Tazewell County farmers products to get trucked over to the Mississippi River.

“And then loaded onto barges there down to the Gulf of Mexico,” Kirchhofer said.

LaHood said he’s meeting with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers next week to further discuss the issue. LaHood and Bustos joined Congresspeople Abby Finkenauer (D-IA) and Dave Loebsack (D-IA) in sending a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers requesting the port be considered.

The letter said this new regional port would is a “critical component” of the Corn Belt Ports.

“Access to inland waterways is critical to the economic viability of our communities in Central and West-Central Illinois,” LaHood said.

“Inland waterways allow small businesses farmers, and manufacturers to export commodities around the world and keep them competitive in the global economy. Establishing the Corn Belt Ports as a statistical area in western Illinois and eastern Iowa will facilitate greater regional coordination that will raise the region’s global profile and bolster economic development. I am proud to join this effort to strengthen economic opportunities along waterways in the Tri-State Region.”

“We must do everything we can to invest in water-transportation infrastructure, support our river communities and open up new opportunities for private investment,” Finkenauer said. 

“The Mississippi River is a national treasure, and an essential transportation route for moving our agricultural products into national and international markets. I’m proud to lift up the voices of Iowa’s local communities and join my colleagues from across the river in supporting this important designation.” 

“Recognition of existing ports in the heart of the Corn Belt makes the multi-state region more globally visible and competitive,” former Rock Island District Commander Robert A. Sinkler, COL, U.S. Army (Ret.) said. “The bipartisan leadership behind this initiative gives a big boost to realizing the value of the region’s multi-modal transportation infrastructure to the nation and the global marketplace.”

The purpose of creating a Mississippi River Ports of Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois (MRPEIWI) Port Statistical Area is to highlight the importance of the region in transporting goods. If approved, the Waterborne Commerce Statistics Center (WCSC) would report data for the MRPEIWI and demonstrate that it ranks in the top 100 ports in the United States, by tonnage moved. 

The proposed MRPEIWI consists of existing ports and terminals along the Mississippi River between Iowa and Illinois from river mile 361.5 in Keokuk, Iowa to river mile 580 in Dubuque, Iowa. MRPEIWI would encompass 50 existing Iowa barge terminals and about 20 existing barge terminals in Illinois. 

Currently the Peoria Lock & Dam is set to reopen on Sept. 30.

Starved Rock Lock & Dam is set for Oct. 29. You can see the schedule for all lock and dam closures on the Illinois River here.

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