State investing $40M in Cairo river port

Leaders hope investment can turn southern Illinois into major shipping hub

The state of Illinois is about to invest $40 million into developing an inland river port that officials hope will produce thousands of new jobs and turn the small town of Cairo into a major shipping hub.

Gov. JB Pritzker traveled to Cairo Aug. 4 to announce the project, calling it "a game-changing investment for our transportation and logistics industry right here in Cairo."

"This port project has the potential to represent the very best of our state's future," Pritzker said, "because this is more than just a port. It's also fuel for new jobs and newfound economic prosperity all across this region, a region that's been left out and left behind for far too long."

The spending was included in the capital infrastructure budget approved in May as part of the long-term "Rebuild Illinois" public works program approved in 2019. The plan's funding comes from increased motor fuel taxes and driving-related fees to pay for transportation projects, and a gambling expansion to pay for other infrastructure projects.

Cairo, in Alexander County, is a town of about 2,200 people that sits at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers in the southern tip of Illinois. Approximately 80 percent of all the barge traffic in the United States passes by the city. The area is also connected to three interstate highways and a class 1 rail line operated by Canadian National Railway.

The new port is planned on the Mississippi River side of the city.

The project has been in the planning stage for about eight years, but Larry Klein, chairman of the Alexander-Cairo Port District, said the state's investment means "there's finally a path forward for our success here."

Todd Ely, lead consultant for the port district and president of the Springfield-based Ely Consulting Group, said the state is putting $4 million into the project immediately to complete the design, engineering and permitting phases of the project. It will also help the district in its marketing efforts.

State Sen. Dale Fowler, R-Harrisburg, whose district includes Cairo, said the project is expected to produce jobs and economic activity that will have a ripple effect throughout the region, which includes southeast Missouri and western Kentucky.

"We're going to be hiring a lot of people. And yes, you know, we build it, they will come," Fowler said. "And this is going to create housing opportunities. We're working with housing developers as we speak that are looking at making investment in Cairo to build houses, to build duplexes. There's people buying up property."

Contact Peter Hancock at phancock@capitolnewsillinois.com. Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

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