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Ferry study - stock photo of a vehicle transport ferry

A planning study is underway to highlight the importance of an often-forgotten but very important transportation mode: ferries.  Vehicle ferries operate in the St. Louis metropolitan region, but many residents have never ridden them or even thought about them.  

Ferries were once the only method of safely crossing a river.  In St. Louis, many families made their living on transporting horses, mules, wagons, goods, people, and eventually vehicles across a river.  Early ferries used horses or mules on each riverbank to drag a wooden raft back and forth.  These ferries were invariably named after the families, and in St. Louis, the roads that led to the ferry landing still bear the family names today, such as Tesson Ferry, Halls Ferry, Lemay Ferry, and Dougherty Ferry Roads.  Progress and technology brought about bridges to span the distance from one bank to the other, and over time, many of the ferries went by the wayside.  But not all.

Ferries can link two communities on opposite sides of a river and often save 15 to 45 minutes of travel time by not using the traditional roadways or the closest bridge. Ferries can be life-saving in times when quick access to emergencies is necessary, can save commuters hundreds of dollars a year in gas and car expenses, and can connect tourists to a river and river towns such as the Grafton Ferry. They are crucial to the river towns that are served by them, relying on the ferry service for access to daily essentials and tourism.

On the national or statewide scale today however, vehicle ferries are many times an afterthought. In Illinois for instance, ferries are not mentioned in the Long-Range Transportation Plan authored by the Illinois Department of Transportation. The Ferry Study underway hopes to change that, as well as to bring about a spotlight on operations of the ferries working in the State of Illinois.  

There is a wide range of ownership and operation of ferries just within the State.  Some are privately-owned by families who love the river and give it their heart and soul.  Many of these however, can be struggling just to make ends meet.  Boats and deck barges are expensive, and new regulations make it difficult for these private operators to take on other expenses such as the maintenance of the landings on either side of the river, or the roadways leading to them.

Other ferries are operated by the State of Illinois such as Brussels Ferry north of Grafton, or funded by a combination of states, like Cave-In-Rock Ferry between Illinois and Kentucky.  These publicly-funded ferries typically do not lack the resources to make site improvements or take on additional costs, highlighting the large disparity between the publicly- and privately-operated ferries which is one of the goals that the Study hopes to address.

Although ferries are often overlooked in the Midwest, they remain a crucial transportation mode to those who use them.  The Ferry Study to be completed this Summer will address the challenges associated with ferry operations.  

For additional information, contact Christie Voelker at America’s Central Port at

Following two successful visits by high school students to America's Central Port in 2022 and 2023, an idea was generated to create an experimental summer workshop, that would not only introduce teens to the trades but give them real-world hands-on experience.

The idea rapidly transformed into action, gaining the support of the Port's team, Madison County Employment and Training Department, Granite City High School, and the Board of Education. As soon as the Port announced the program, Granite City High School got the word out, and those who responded first were added to the roster.

From Vision to Execution

Structured as a 5-day program, ten students from Granite City High School and the surrounding area, ranging from Freshmen to Seniors, met Monday to Friday from 8 am to 3 pm for one week in June of 2023. A maximum capacity of ten students ensured personalized attention and a one-of-a-kind immersive experience.

The maintenance team at America's Central Port is cross-trained to take on multiple projects across many specializations. Because of this, the Port wanted to make sure the hands-on activities that were chosen reflected the myriad of projects the Port maintenance team tackles any given day of the week.

Project 1: Safety First

Safety isn't just a buzzword. To ensure no detail was overlooked, students were split into pairs and assigned a dedicated maintenance worker. Five staff members from the Port team, including Brian Stahlschmidt, Darrin Jones, Will Moore, Jay Jackson, and Jay Petras, worked one-on-one with each student, an investment the Port found crucial to providing a true hands-on experience. Every day started by discussing the work ahead and challenging students to think along with their mentor counterparts about what tools, materials, and safety requirements are needed to get the job done right, safely, on budget, and on time. In addition, each participant was equipped with a safety pack at the start of the program, containing work gloves and protective glasses, where additional protective gear was provided as needed.

Project 2: Concrete Sidewalk Construction

From tamping a rock bed to pouring and finishing the concrete, and then removing the forms the next day, students built a sidewalk from start to finish. To ensure success in the event of rain, additional sites were pre-prepped with a skid-steer by the maintenance team.

Project 3: Wood Stud Wall Construction

The Port set up shop in one of its off-market commercial spaces where students could construct a wall as though they were building within a real commercial space, not just a classroom. The project included framing, basic electrical placements for lights and plugs, sweating copper pipes, setting a toilet and a p-trap for a sink, and drywalling. At the end of their work, all students were able to turn on the lights they had wired.

Project 4: Residential Walk-Through & HVAC Maintenance Overview

To appreciate the significance of their handiwork, students toured an apartment to see an example of their finished work, as well as understand additional home-related maintenance tasks, such as heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems.

Project 5: Wood Stud Wall Demolition

In order to provide the full experience of wall construction, the last project the Port organized to round out the week was hands-on demolition. Supervised and instructed on how to do so in a safe and controlled environment, students got to use a number of power tools and equipment to demo the walls they built earlier in the week.

Additionally, throughout their week, students were given the opportunity to weld and operate a backhoe, two skills in high demand in the manufacturing and construction industry.

Beyond the projects that were facilitated for each student, tenants of America's Central Port like KB Pods, which manufactures modular kitchens and bathrooms, and River's Edge Terminals, which manages petroleum products for customers around the world, provided tours of their facilities to provide a behind-the-scenes look into what it's like to work for a trades-based employer. SCF Lewis and Clark, the barge and river terminal operators, also provided a talk and overview of career paths that have the potential to earn over a six-figure income through various trade-related paths within the river transportation sector.

Inspiring Future Success

The program was conceived to take ten young individuals and give them the confidence to consider a career in the trades. The outcome went far beyond that.

Parents were amazed when their children were up early and ready to go to "work" each day. They were eager, showed enthusiasm, and weren't mopey or dragging their feet at home during that full week. Several parents asked if the program could last all summer long because of the drastic change they saw in their children. Port maintenance staff learned to become teachers, and everyone learned that with a little patience, training, and one-on-one attention, young students have the gift to give back more than we ever dreamed.

IL Route 3 Project: Seeking expert teams for roadway planning & design concepts. Deadline: Oct 25th.

Illinois Route 3 is a phenomenal asset for the Southwest Illinois region. This four-lane transportation corridor stretches from the McKinley Bridge to Alton, Illinois. It is closely connected to six Class-I railroads, multiple Mississippi River terminals, residential communities, countless employers, and thousands of acres of development-ready sites.

Recognizing the importance Illinois Route 3 plays to our region, the Port is pursuing a planning study that will identify improvements to be made to an 8.5-mile stretch between the McKinley Bridge and Interstate 270. This particular segment of Route 3 serves more than 17,000 vehicles per day and is a Main Street for the communities of Venice, Madison, and Granite City. However, the corridor's condition does not reflect its pivotal role. The roadway lacks identity, is littered with trash and weeds, has a crumbling median and guardrails that are in need of replacement, contains strange, unused road sections, and has a 22-foot wide lane at one location. Speed is also of concern, and numerous bad traffic accidents have occurred due to motorists running red lights or driving well more than the posted speed limit.

In an effort to enhance the roadway’s image for the communities it serves, increase safety for all modes of transportation, and create a stronger sense of identity to the 8.5-mile stretch of roadway from the McKinley Bridge to Interstate 270, the Port is looking to select a top-ranked team with experience in transportation planning, urban design, placemaking, and civil engineering.

Creatively upgrading the image of Route 3 is a prominent requirement of this Study. Accordingly, the Port will be seeking Teams with the following skills:

  • Experience with large-scale, highway-speed sculptures and other artistic design

  • Experience with traffic calming measures for a mix of trucks and cars

  • Experience with corridor planning and placemaking

With the goals of traffic-calming and placemaking, a primary part of the planning study will be the identification of sites for large sculptures to be purchased/placed in quarter-mile increments along the route, as well as the identification of what local theme each sculpture should represent. The study will also identify roadway and wayfinding improvements to be made to promote safety for a mix of cars and semi-trucks and corridor identity. The study will also include renderings, anticipated costs, and potential funding streams. The selected team will be responsible for:

  • Conducting stakeholder meetings to define the project needs and solicit input

  • Reviewing traffic data to determine baselines for average traffic volumes and speed

  • Identifying solutions to be implemented by local communities, agencies, and IDOT

  • Identifying themes for 28 sculptures to be located along the highway, their location, and providing renderings of proposed sculptures

  • Identifying corridor needs and the potential for placemaking opportunities

  • Outlining cost estimates of the proposed improvements, as well as potential grants or funding streams to make the improvements

Interested applicants should submit their proposals by Wednesday, October 25th to You can also learn more by visiting the plan-room page by clicking here.

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