Senate discussion panel eyes Metro-East transportation projects

By Bob Pieper For Chronicle Media

State Sen. Martin Sandoval

A major program of Metro-East transportation infrastructure projects dominated the first-ever meeting of Illinois Senate Transportation Discussion Panel, Feb. 6, on the campus of Lindenwood University in Belleville.

The panel convened just as the Southwestern Illinois Trade and Investment Council (SITIC), in collaboration with the International Trade Center at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (ITC-SIUE), launched its first Export Needs Assessment Survey. The council hopes the survey results will encourage more Metro-East businesses to begin using the area’s growing transportation infrastructure to export their products.

State Sen. Martin A. Sandoval (D – Cicero), panel chairman and chairman of the Illinois Senate Transportation Committee, praised the efforts of Metro-East business and political leaders to revitalize the Metro-East economy through transportation infrastructure improvements.

The Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois, a regional business consortium, is spearheading a drive for an ambitious program of regional transportation system upgrades, centering largely around development of intermodal systems to facilitate freight transfer between railroads, river barges, over-the-road trucks and aircraft.

Backers believe the increased intermodal capacity could establish the Metro-East as a national and even international freight hub.

“I respect the mission and values of the Leadership Council and will continue to support this region’s multi-modal transportation efforts, as they can serve as a model of how to strengthen and stabilize our economy by uniting a region for growth,” said Sandoval.

Leadership Council officials, like Executive Director Rhonda Sauget, believe their plan will provide an economic one-two punch for the region. Millions of dollars in transportation construction projects will provide an immediate boost in short-term employment across the area, they say.

The improved transportation infrastructure will then, over the long run, foster the growth of exporting and distribution businesses which will provide a new and prosperous economic base for Metro-East.

“This event and our partnership with Senator Sandoval is a huge step in the right direction for the economy of our region, as we continue to grow our multi-modal strengths to benefit the long-term economic growth in Southwestern Illinois,” said Sauget.

The proposed Metro-East transportation system upgrades are in line with a major national infrastructure improvement effort, supported by President Donald Trump as well as both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, proponents note.

However, the inclusion of Metro-East projects in such a federal infrastructure program is not assured, Leadership Council members acknowledge. Neither is the matching-share funding that would likely be required under such a federal program, at both the state and local levels.

Last month’s panel discussion centered largely on projects scheduled to begin in 2017:

  • The widening of I-270 between Illinois 111 in Madison County and Lilac Avenue in Missouri,
  • The upgrading of Lenox Railroad Tower at Mitchell in Madison County,
  • The relocation of Illinois Route 3 in St. Clair County,
  • The new I-255/Davis Street Ferry Road Interchange in St. Clair County, and
  • The Falling Springs Road/Illinois 3 Railroad Bypass in St. Clair County.

In addition to State Sen. Sandoval, the panel included Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary Randy Blankenhorn, St. Clair County Chairman Mark Kern, Madison County Chairman Kurt Prenzler, Sauget, President of the Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis Mike McCarthy,  Southern Illinois Transportation Enhancement (SITE) Committee Chair John Langa, SCI Engineering President Mark Harms, Executive Director of the St. Louis Regional Freightway Mary Lamie, Director of MidAmerica St. Louis Airport Tim Cantwell, and  Executive Director of America’s Central Port Dennis Wilmsmeyer.

The online, 28-question SITIC/ITC-SIUE Export Needs Assessment Survey, launched late last month, is designed to determine what southwestern Illinois-based manufacturers need to begin or enhance their exporting, according to Silvia Torres Bowman, ITC-SIUE director.

“Our council’s unique role is promoting and increasing trade and investment activity in the region, and raising awareness of global exporting and foreign trade investment as a means of creating and maintaining economic stability and growth in southwestern Illinois,” said Bowman. “We are conducting this survey to hear from business owners and managers who are seeking entry into foreign markets.”

The council, in particular, is hoping to assist small- to medium-sized businesses that may not have the resources to identify foreign export markets for their products.

To access the survey, visit All businesses that are involved in exporting goods or services are strongly encouraged to participate in the survey, Bowman said.

All responses collected will be strictly confidential and will only be shared in aggregate form, Bowman added. The survey closes March 27.





— Senate discussion panel eyes Metro-East transportation projects —