HERCULANEUM, Mo. – New developments in a plan to ease the supply-chain crisis by hauling shipping containers through the St. Louis region via the Mississippi River. The plan for a new container port in Jefferson County has taken another step forward.

The Missouri Legislature has earmarked $25 million to help transform Herculaneum’s existing small port, which is now used primarily for loading sand onto barges.

According to Jefferson County officials, the $25 million is about half the amount needed for Phase 1 of the project, which will include three large new cranes for loading and unloading new river vessels, specially designed to haul shipping containers on the river.

The vessels can handle much larger loads than barges, trucks, or trains. Shipping costs are much lower. Shipping times are much shorter. One river vessel replaces nearly 2,400 semi-trucks, according to Jefferson County Port Authority President Derrick Good.

“Our farmers can save up to 60% of their shipping costs from the Midwest to the Far East,” Good said.

The money from the state is one of multiple new developments in a larger plan impacting multiple states along the river.

The new Port at Plaquemines near the mouth of the Mississippi River in Louisiana is now under construction. Container ships would eventually head there through the Panama Canal, easing supply-chain issues at overcrowded ports on the U.S. coasts.

Also, the construction of the first four container vessels for the river has just gone out for bids.

Smaller vessels able to navigate the river’s locks and dams north of Herculaneum could carry containers to St. Louis and beyond, also accessing ports on smaller rivers, like Kansas City on the Missouri River and Joliet along the Illinois River, Good said.

Jefferson County officials are looking for the new port’s first new customers.

County Executive Dennis Gannon called these the biggest developments, by far, in the close to 50-year history of the small port.

“Once you start thinking about the Panama Canal and the ability to bring in larger vessels onto the Mississippi River and up the river, that’s really where the discussion started happening (7 years ago)…through the process, it looks like there’s more of a vision that it can happen now,” Gannon said.

“We’re looking for those manufacturers, retailers, the businesses out there that can really save some money with this. We need to hear from them because we need to start getting those cargo commitments,” Good said.

Container shipping could up and running at the Herculaneum port by fall 2024, he said.