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ST. LOUIS – FOX 2 has learned a solution to the supply chain shortage may lie, in part, on the Mississippi River.

There’s a new plan to send shipping containers from the Panama Canal, through the Gulf of Mexico, and into a port in Jefferson County about 30 miles south of St. Louis.

It has suddenly become more than just wishful thinking.

We live in a shipping container world. They crisscross the Midwest by train and truck but that’s not necessarily working out all that well.

“To get a container to here you’ve got to bring it in through (Los Angeles, CA),” said Derrick Good, president of the Jefferson County Port Authority.

The Mississippi River is an underutilized shipping superhighway. It’s time to rethink the business model.

“The Mississippi River is quickly becoming more important than it’s been in 100 years,” said Senator Roy Blunt (R-Missouri).

“Things that have happened now: the Panama Canal has expanded; they can bring larger ships through there. The Port at Plaquemines is on its way,” Good said.

That port is near the mouth of the Mississippi River outside of New Orleans.

Container ships would head there from the Panama Canal. A Florida company has designed new river vessels. A larger version would have a capacity to ferry 2,375 20-foot shipping containers (nearly 1,200 40-foot containers). A smaller version could carry 1,700 20-foot containers (about 850 40-foot containers).

This port in Herculaneum now used for loading sand onto barges would be the final stop for the larger vessels. The first vessels would begin operation in 2023.

“When you go much further north of us, you’ve got bridges, locks, and dams. You’ve got all these obstacles,” Good said. “That’s why really we’re about as far north as this project can go. Then there’s smaller vessels that can leave from here and go all the way up to Minnesota, Pittsburgh, out past Kansas City.”

A 30-day trip by barge could be cut to 10 days, he said.

Containers could be off-loaded onto trains and trucks along the way, allowing merchants to completely bypass those backed-up ports on the East and West coast and still reach the heart of America.

Naysayers may hear the “Panama Canal” and “Jefferson County” in the same sentence and say, “come on!”

It all comes down to location, according to Missouri Governor Mike Parson.

“One of the things we’re really focused on is those ports, those rivers. We knew long before even COVID hit and the situation we’re in now, that they were going to be a plus,” Blunt said.

“A good portion of that could grow air cargo, as well, because some of that may need to go places quickly or further than an 8-9 hour drive,” said Rhonda Hamm-Niebruegge, director of St. Louis-Lambert International Airport.

“This really could change the world,” Good said.

It could also change the region’s landscape far beyond the port in Herculaneum with infrastructure improvements for trucks, railyards, ports, locks, and container storage facilities.

There’s money for all of that in the recently passed trillion-dollar infrastructure bill, Blunt said.