Regional leaders agreed to move forward with a plan to form a regional port authority Wednesday at a meeting hosted by the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce.
Creating a port authority could open doors for funding, as regional groups and governments try to build a port in Jefferson City for commercial and military traffic. Chamber and government leaders said the project could open doors for businesses in the area.
In December the chamber announced initial results from a study which determined the feasibility of building a port in Cole or Callaway counties. The port could ferry commodities and goods used in manufacturing up and down the Missouri River.
Two years ago the chamber began the process of trying to get a port project up and running. Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce President Randy Allen said a port could attract more manufacturers and agri-businesses to the area.
"One of the things we have is the river," Allen said. "We need to take advantage of that. If we create this port, it will be a magnet for companies that want to locate near that port to take advantage of all those options."
Jefferson City, Cole County and Callaway County would partner to operate a local port authority. Because the study proved the port makes econimical sense, Allen said, the chamber and county leaders will work together to form a regional port authority.
Cheryl Ball, Missouri Department of Transportation freight and waterways administrator, said the process normally takes about 60 days.
Ball said MoDOT considers several factors, like financing and location of nearby ports, when considering whether to grant approval to new port authorities. The Howard/Cooper County Regional Port Authority near Boonville sits closer than any other port to Jefferson City. Ball said this likely does not pose problems.
"It's quite a ways river miles away, so I don't think you're going to be stealing customers from each other," Ball said.
Funding likely will come through public-private partnerships. Local leaders at the meeting did not know how much money local governments could pay for the project, but said they hope private industries will pay for a portion.
President Donald Trump announced plans Feb. 12 to spend $200 billion in federal dollars on infrastructure projects around the country. Of that sum, half will be spent on grants to build projects. The White House views the grants as incentives for projects that also will receive state and local funding, so these grants can comprise no more than 20 percent of the projects' cost.
Callaway County Western District Commissioner Roger Fischer told the group he hopes they can take advantage of the grants if they become available.
"It's going to be the guys on the front row and ready to go," Fischer said. "I want to make sure we're doing everything we can to be up at the front."
Atlanta-based consultancy firm Cambridge Systematics conducted the feasibility study with the St. Louis firm of Hanson Professional Services. Between December and this month, Cambridge issued a final report narrowing the sites for ports on the Missouri River to two options.
The most favorable location sits in southern Jefferson City, adjacent to the Missouri National Guard Ike Skelton Training Facility and near the Chamber of Commerce's industrial park.
A second option would build ports on the site in south Jefferson City and a site on the Missouri River in Callaway County near the 63 Diamonds baseball complex. Dry bulk commodities would be handled at the south site using conveyor systems. Commodities moved by crane, like those in shipping containers, would be handled at the north site.
Building only the north site will cost at least $54.77 million, Cambridge Systematics said. The combined plan would cost $59.5 million.
Union Pacific runs two rail lines through the area near the south site. The company generally uses the north track for traffic moving through the area, while the south track services two existing local facilities.
A crossover point, which allows trains to switch tracks, exists 15 miles from the south site. Greg Kelhan from Hanson Professional Services said Union Pacific discussed building a new crossover point in the past.
To build this critical piece of infrastructure would cost about $2 million, but Kelhan said the cost could be shared between the developer and Union Pacific.
The study found that in 2012 more than 20 million tons of goods moved to and from the region. Trucks carried 14.4 million tons of goods to the area in 2012, which made up 72 percent of freight moved. Rail accounted for 7.7 percent of goods moved in the area, and waterways accounted for 16 percent of freight movement.
Allen said traveling by water is cheaper than traveling by road. Taking trucks off U.S. 63 and Interstate 70 saves MoDOT money on repairs, he added.
"You get the trucks off the road," Allen said. "It saves money, it keeps the economy going."