The federal government plans to make a big investment at a transportation hub in Missouri.  The Southeast Regional Port Authority in Scott City has been awarded a $19.8 million grant through the Department of Transportation.

According to SEMO Port Executive Director Cary Harbison, the funding will go toward the construction of two 12,000 foot long loops of railroad track near the transportation hub.

Harbison says the new infrastructure makes it easier to transfer tons of product from rail cars to river barges, and vice versa.

“There are loops available in St. Louis and down by Memphis, but in our general area this would be the only public loop track facility available, such that any customer can come to us,” Harbison said.

Farmer Kevin Fennewald manages a grain bin complex in southeast Missouri’s Scott County. He says the proposed railway loop at SEMO Port could lower his cost to transport rice and thinks it would, in turn, boost the region’s economy which is mainly driven by the agriculture industry.

“This is an investment that is going to help the agriculture community here compete on that global stage,” Fennewald said. “Because a buyer, they are looking at buying high-quality products at the lowest possible price. We get to sell all of our products here, therefore there is more money to flow through the rest of the economy here in Southeast Missouri.”

Harbison, says the loop track will give SEMO Port the flexibility to unload unit trains, which can have more than 100 cars of one or two products.

From there he says they could put directly onto a river barge which Harbison says is the cheapest way transport goods.

“One barge tow that is 25 barges will hold 45,000 tons,” Harbison said. “That is 3.6 units trains, that is 1,800 trucks. That is why it is more economical.”

Harbison says the local Port Authority moves up to 1.5 million tons of goods each year with all modes of transportation. He is optimistic they can increase that amount by using the loop track.

“And it might be a one-off train. It may develop into a once a month train,” Harbison said. “We hope those customers would continue to utilize us but you never know. I mean one train is one train, and it’s one more train than we have right now.”

Harbison said the Port can start using the $20 million federal grant after they complete the agreement process, which takes about a year.

But the transportation authority has already started grading work where the first sections of loop track will be built.

Missouri U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt and U.S. Rep. Jason Smith, both Republicans, announced the grant last week.

Blunt called it an important investment for the state.

“The Semo Port plays a critical role in our state’s economy, especially when it comes to moving our ag products to market,” Blunt said. “This project will help ensure the Southeast Missouri Regional Port Authority is able to continue building upon the steady growth they’ve achieved over the years.”

Smith said the finished port loop track terminal would provide more efficient transfers between railroad trains and river barge transportation.

“This investment in Southeast Missouri will allow our farmers, ranchers, and workers to move more of their products to market more efficiently and boost the local economy,” said Smith. “I’ve always believed our area is home to the finest farmers and workers in the world, and I’m excited that more businesses will be attracted to southern Missouri as we continue to bring our infrastructure into the 21st century.”

(Missourinet media partner KFVS-TV contributed this report)