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On August 15, 2007, FEMA announced their intention to de-accredit the 65-mile St. Louis Metro East levee system protecting Illinois communities in Madison, St. Clair, and Monroe Counties, home to 156,000 residents and over 4,000 businesses.

The region’s leadership recognized that extraordinary measures were necessary to protect this economic asset and the homes and livelihoods of a large portion of the region’s population. A new revenue source was created in 2008 and a regional organization (The Southwest Illinois Flood Prevention District Council) was formed to carry out an ambitious plan to secure the new FEMA accreditation levels and maintain a level of flood protection that has been in place for some 75 years.

In order to achieve the FEMA accreditation standards announced in 2007, additional infrastructure including pump stations, gravity drains, relief wells, landside berms, and cutoff walls were needed to protect against what is known as underseepage (illustrated below).

If the Southwestern Illinois region had done nothing, property insurance premiums would have skyrocketed and placed an enormous financial burden on businesses and residents in the region, making it nearly impossible to attract future development. In a study conducted in 2010, it was found that a business producing $5 million in annual sales, with a mortgage on their $750,000 property, would face an additional insurance premium per year of $52,500! (

Developments like Gateway Commerce Center in Edwardsville, Gateway TradePort in Pontoon Beach, America's Central Port in Granite City, Alton's Center Business Park, the industrial corridor in East St. Louis and Cahokia, and the freight partners and major manufacturers throughout the region would likely have halted further investment, possibly even relocated due to over-burdensome costs and financial strain.

Recognizing the urgency of this situation, regional leaders successfully sought authorization from the Illinois General Assembly to impose a ¼ percent sales tax to pay for any necessary improvements to the levee system and created independent Flood Prevention Districts (FPDs) within each county with the authority to collect the tax. The FPD Council was formed by the three county FPDs as a joint venture to oversee the restoration of the Metro East to protect the lives, property and the economic vitality of the Southwest Illinois region.

Over the last 15 years, incredible lengths have been taken to secure what we get to celebrate this week, the 100-year level FEMA accreditation for all of the Metro East levee systems. The proactive approach by the Metro East communities resulted in reaching the 100-year improvements and accreditation 22 years sooner and at half the cost than pursuing the project through federal funding only. The region has come a long way to achieve this honor, and working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the region is continuing to pursue levee system improvements to achieve the updated 500-year level standards. The actions taken by our region are a text book example of how local communities can take initiative on levee system improvements while working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to produce an optimum result. Above all we have proven our three-county region can come together and act as one to ensure Southwestern Illinois continues to grow and succeed.


Dennis Wilmsmeyer Executive Director, America’s Central Port Dennis Wilmsmeyer has served as the Executive Director of America’s Central Port (ACP) since 2010. Prior to that time, he spent 11 years with the Port, six of those as general manager. He joined the Port team in 1999 after 12 years in transportation planning and project management with the East-West Gateway Council of Governments in St. Louis, the City of Kansas City and a private consulting firm in Missouri. As Executive Director, Dennis oversees a staff of 35, as well as manages an annual operating budget of $9 million. He is responsible for the economic development on 1,200 acres of Port-owned or operated land, in which ACP has experienced $300 million in private investment since 2008.

Neal Langdon Executive Vice President, Arcosa Marine Products Neal Langdon currently serves as the Executive Vice President of Sales at ARCOSA Marine Products. ARCOSA builds tank, hopper and deck barges at their various locations, as well as barge covers and marine components under the Wintech and Nabrico name brands. Neal started his career in the Engineering Department at Nashville Bridge Company in 1980. He has held various positions through the years as the company was acquired by Trinity Marine Products and now ARCOSA.

Ron Tindall President, Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis Ron Tindall is the President of the Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis (TRRA). Ron came to TRRA from Trans-Global Solutions, where he was the company’s Compliance Officer. Prior to that role, Ron spent over 20 years with Union Pacific where he started as a brakeman/conductor/engineer and rose through the ranks, serving most recently as General Superintendent in the Western Region. Ron is known for leading dramatic turnarounds and reducing costs by developing cultures of accountability, problem solving and risk management.

Be sure to check out more from Freight Week STL, with virtual content posted each day between May 24-28, 2021. See here to learn more:

Beyond the 900+ jobs, over 75 businesses, and $1B+ in freight transported by river, rail, and road, the Port also plays a major role in global connectivity, connecting manufacturers and freight intensive operators to the rest of the world, all from Granite City and Madison, Illinois.

You'll see it repeated in our marketing collateral that we have access to four U.S. interstates, six of the seven Class-I railroads, and between our two intermodal harbors we are the Northernmost ice and lock free river port on the Mississippi River.

But what does that actually mean?

Consider all the businesses responsible for feeding, clothing, fueling, and sheltering the world's population. These industries all rely on raw materials to produce everything from the beer you drink, to the pet food you buy for your dog, to the steel in the frame of your Chevy Traverse. The supply chain responsible for manufacturing just about everything starts with river, rail, and road access.

For the most part, just about every major location in the United States has some form of access to the U.S. Interstate system. However, river and rail access is a little more exclusive.

When you manage a freight intensive business, such as a manufacturing operation where you are sourcing raw materials in bulk supply or shipping large quantities of finished product to a single customer, river and rail access is an incredible global supply chain advantage due to the economies of scale achieved with each mode of transportation.

An Introduction to Rail Connectivity

Maybe you make pipes, beams, engineered materials, or some other form of manipulated steel that other manufacturers and builders rely on to produce everything from cars and machinery to homes and skyscrapers.

If your facility only had access to the interstate, your option would be to truck everything to and from your land-locked location, using one truck for a single steel coil.

With rail, up to four steel coils can be placed in one gondola railcar.

Steel coils are just one example. Consider lumber, or liquid and dry bulk materials for food grade products or industrial applications. The average calculation for shipping in bulk is for every one railcar you would need an equivalent of three full truckloads. When you ship in bulk and have access to rail, the cost savings you gain are significant to say the least.

Customers at America's Central Port have access to six of the seven Class-I railroads (the railroads that own 70% of the U.S. rail infrastructure), which means they not only gain a cost-effective transportation option, but they also gain access to every major U.S. international port as well as Canada and Mexico.

The Granite City Harbor at America's Central Port has a direct connection to Norfolk Southern, whereas the Madison Harbor and Port industrial park have connections to Terminal Railroad Association, providing additional access to the BNSF, CN, CSX, UP, KCS, & NS railroads.

Everyone likes options. For bulk shippers, having multiple options to ship freight by rail is an incredible supply chain advantage.

Recognizing this opportunity, America's Central Port has invested millions of dollars into the construction of multiple rail spurs and new rail infrastructure projects. These investments ensure as many of our industrial properties as possible are equipped with rail access, giving manufacturers and freight intensive operators the transportation edge they need.

Moving On To River Connectivity

Beyond rail, let's say you manufacture animal feed and want to expand into the Brazilian cattle feed market. America's Central Port provides a gateway to the Gulf of Mexico, allowing manufacturers to ship in bulk by barge straight to South American markets.

Water transportation is the most energy-efficient and cost-effective method for moving freight. One common 15-barge tow has the same cargo capacity as 216 rail cars, or 1,050 large semi tractor-trailers.

In terms of logistics advantages unique to America's Central Port over other terminals, the Granite City Harbor is the northernmost ice-free port on the Mississippi River, whereas the Madison Harbor is the northernmost lock-free port on the Mississippi River.

Why does that matter?

Anything north of St. Louis tends to freeze during the winter months, blocking navigation, whereas the terminals at America's Central Port are open year round.

As the northernmost lock-free port, America's Central Port delivers the highest per mile efficiency for shipping bulk commodities to the Gulf of Mexico. From the Madison Harbor, shippers gain access to free-flowing water all the way to the Gulf Coast. Whereas if you start in Minneapolis, you have to cross through 29 locks heading South, where each takes an average of 30 minutes to pass through, and that's assuming you aren't waiting in line or delayed by scheduled maintenance.

If we come back to steal fabrication, America's Central Port brings in an average of 350 steel coils each month from Southeast Asian markets like Japan and South Korea. Other common imports include dry and liquid fertilizer from Russia and Morocco.

On the outbound side, about 60% of exports leaving America's Central Port consist of agricultural commodities, such as corn, soybean, and other grains. There's even a dedicated terminal for non-GMO exports. Other outbound shipments include a newly activated container-on-barge service, as well as other bulk and general cargo shipments.

The combination of six of the seven Class-I railroads, as well as two multi-modal harbors, both undergoing constant infrastructure advancements, continue to advance the region's ability to help the United States feed, shelter, and fuel the world.

As part of the recent U.S. Department of Transportation BUILD grant awarded in 2020 to America's Central Port and SCF Lewis & Clark, $15.8 million will be used to make some considerable improvements at both the Granite City and Madison Harbor.

The improvements to the rail infrastructure at the Granite City Harbor, as noted above, will increase total agricultural commodity throughput from the current 5,000 rail car capacity to 10,000 rail cars annually.
The current system at the Madison Harbor only allows for rail or trucks to load at one time. Once the new grain bins are installed, unit trains from six of the seven Class-I railroads, as well as trucks from regional farms, will be able to load multiple types of product simultaneously, significantly increasing the throughput capacity for the Madison Harbor.

When we talk about what makes America's Central Port so great, our rail and river access definitely take the cake, but what brings it all together is we also have incredibly close access to four U.S. interstates and are the grantee of Foreign Trade Zone 31, making the Port an excellent location for warehousing and distribution as well.

We Can't Forget U.S. Interstate Connectivity

Similar to our investments in rail and river infrastructure, the Port regularly pursues opportunities to improve last-mile efficiencies through resurfacing projects and upgrades for development-ready sites.

It might not look like much when you drive by on Illinois Route 3, but behind the gates at America's Central Port lies a massive infrastructure investment helping lead the Greater St. Louis region in global connectivity.


If you're interested in learning more, check out the following panel discussion featuring America's Central Port, Terminal Railroad Association, and Arcosa Marine Products.

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