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From Site Selection magazine, January 2023

The Shape Of Things To Come

Infrastructure investments drive momentum in the Midwest.

by Gary Daughters

llinois Gov. JB Pritzker is happy to point out that his state was ahead of the federal government in making generational investments toward infrastructure development. Pritzker, who was re-elected in November, spearheaded “Rebuild Illinois,” a $45 billion capital improvement project approved by the Illinois legislature during the first months of his first term in office. In August, Gov. Pritzker announced that under Rebuild Illinois, the Illinois Department of Transportation had made more than $8.6 billion in improvements to some 4,422 miles of highway and 412 bridges.

“Since I signed our historic, bipartisan infrastructure program into law,” he said, “Rebuild Illinois has undertaken a massive transformation of our state’s transportation systems.”

And not just that, Pritzker boasts, but now that funds are flowing from the $550 billion federal Infrastructure Act, Illinois, he contends, owns a commanding position for associated funding by already having laid the groundwork for specific road, rail, airport and port projects. The Infrastructure Act, state officials say, has allowed the state to expand projected spending by $4 billion.

“Because we passed Rebuild Illinois two-and-a-half years before, we are actually shovel-ready,” Pritzker said, “We’re in a position to do much more and more quickly.”

Under the year-old Infrastructure Act, Illinois has banked $73 million toward the state’s single most conspicuous transportation project, the $7.1 billion modernization of Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, the world’s fourth busiest. That project recorded a milestone in November when Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg travelled to Chicago to announce that — after a four-plus year environmental review — the ambitious renovation had received final clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration.

“Chicago’s transportation infrastructure,” Buttigieg said at O’Hare, “is what makes this city an economic powerhouse of global importance.”

We’re in a position to do much more and more quickly.”

— JB Pritzker, Illinois Governor

Projects analyzed under the FAA review include new terminals and concourses, on-airport hotels and airfield and taxiway improvements. With the federal green light, construction is set to begin this spring on two satellite concourses that are to provide more than 1 million sq. ft. of gate and amenity space. The new configuration, said Mayor Lori Lightfoot, will dramatically expand the airport’s ability to accommodate aircraft of all sizes.


A $2.2 billion Global Terminal, scheduled to open in 2028, is to merge domestic and international traffic, allowing passengers flying globally to connect without cross-terminal bus rides. Native Chicagoan Jeanne Gang, a MacArthur “Genius” Fellow, conceived the Global Terminal’s Y-shaped design by merging concepts that enhance passenger flow while paying tribute to one of Chicago’s signature features.

“Like the confluence of the branching Chicago River, the design’s three volumes converge in a central hub that establishes a vibrant new neighborhood in the heart of O’Hare campus.”

A New Age of Passenger Rail

As the rail hub of the Midwest, Chicago also is the nexus of a long-term blueprint to dramatically expand passenger rail service — readily available along the East Coast — across the U.S. heartland. The burgeoning Midwest Regional Rail Plan, produced by the Federal Railway Administration (FRA) and the eight-state Midwest Passenger Rail Commission, imagines streams of high-speed trains departing hourly from Chicago’s Union Station to destinations as far east as Pittsburgh and all the way out to Fargo, Omaha and beyond.

As intriguing as it may sound, do not hold your breath, for the ultimate end-product is a 40-year dream with a projected price tag of up to $162 billion. The plan envisions a 3,000-mile passenger rail network consisting of “pillar corridors” radiating out of Chicago with endpoints in Minneapolis-St. Paul, St. Louis, Indianapolis and Detroit. Trains would run as fast as 125 miles per hour. A “hub and spoke” layout would serve to incorporate destinations as far-flung as Sioux Falls, Des Moines, Milwaukee, Green Bay, Madison, Carbondale, Dayton and Cleveland.

Chicago’s Union Station, which currently serves close to 40 million passengers each year, would be expected to handle many more as the plan unfolds. National and regional partners including Amtrak, the Illinois Department of Transportation, the City of Chicago and the Michigan Department of Transportation applied for $251 million in federal funding under the Infrastructure Act to support the $418 million Union Station Access Project, which would expand passenger capacity and relieve track congestion. In August, FRA announced a $3 million grant to complete the design process for planned renovations to Union Station’s concourse, which serves Amtrak and the Chicago region’s Metra commuter rail system.

“With this federal funding,” said Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, “we can take the next step in Union Station’s revitalization.”

An Expanded Role for the Rivers

Billions of federal, state and private dollars are meanwhile pouring into ports and related development projects along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers in places like St. Louis and Kansas City. The investments coincide with ambitious efforts to develop an inland maritime supply chain to reduce stress on the ports of the East and especially West coasts.

“Given the supply chain disruptions we’ve been seeing, there is no question that shippers need alternatives,” says Mary Lamie, executive director of the St. Louis Regional Freightway.


The Global Terminal at Chicago O’Hare is to open in 2028.

Courtesy: Studio Gang

Last year, the Missouri legislature earmarked $25 million toward transforming an obscure port at the town of Herculaneum, just south of St. Louis, as a strategic link in a planned inland network that would deliver raw goods and other products between the heartland and the Gulf of Mexico via speedy, LNG-powered barges. Anchored south of New Orleans, that network would include river ports at Kansas City, Joliet, Little Rock and Memphis. APM Terminals, which operates a global ports network, is developing a multi-modal hub in Louisiana’s Plaquemines Parish, near the mouth of the Mississippi.

Port KC is eager for a piece of the action. Mark Coulter, the development agency’s vice president and general counsel, says a marketing study by KPMG revealed the Kansas City port as second only to Chicago in the Midwest as the final delivery point for inbound river cargo.

This is a generational project, 50 or even 100 years.”

— Mark Coulter, Vice President, Port KC

“Nobody exactly knew how much freight was coming in and out of Kansas City,” Coulter told a forum last spring. “Being second to Chicago kind of surprised us. We need to be sure that we’re well positioned so that Kansas City is not a holdup in the supply chain. Being at the tail end of it is just as important as the beginning of it on the coasts.”

Port KC is in the advanced planning stages for another of the Midwest region’s most ambitious infrastructure projects, its sprawling Missouri River Terminal, envisioned as a massive intermodal port on the 415-acre site of a former steel mill. The site, which enjoys close proximity to Interstate 35 and Class I railroads, received a recent boost in the form of a $10 million planning grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The final price tag, officials say, is likely to be in the range of a half-billion dollars.

“We’re looking out more than the next investment cycle,” says Coulter. “This is a generational project, 50 or even 100 years. The grant is giving us the opportunity to kick it off and to eventually help attract the big dollars we are going to need.”

Gary Daughters
Senior Editor

Gary Daughters

Gary Daughters is a Peabody Award winning journalist who began with Site Selection in 2016. Gary has worked as a writer and producer for CNN covering US politics and international affairs. His work has included lengthy stints in Washington, DC and western Europe. Gary is a 1981 graduate of the University of Georgia, where he majored in Journalism and Mass Communications. He lives in Atlanta with his teenage daughter, and in his spare time plays guitar, teaches golf and mentors young people.


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