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$5M state investment in Metro East airport project creates jobs, local leaders say

Seen from afar, equipment and pickups sit behind piles of dirt on a construction site at the airport.
Derik Holtmann
Belleville News-Democrat
Construction is underway on a ground run-up and compass calibration pad at St. Louis Downtown Airport. The addition will accommodate more than 500 yearly aircraft maintenance tests that require the operation of engines at high power on the ground for several minutes.

Editor's note: This story was originally published in the Belleville News-Democrat.

Illinois is investing $5.4 million in a construction project at St. Louis Downtown Airport in St. Clair County.

Gov. JB Pritzker, state legislators, mayors and other officials gathered at the airport Thursday to spotlight the investment. Local leaders say it has created new high-tech manufacturing jobs and will add to the airport’s economic impact in the region.

St. Louis Downtown Airport is located partially in Cahokia Heights and the village of Sauget.

It is owned and operated by Bi-State Development, an economic development agency for the St. Louis region. Bi-State Development also operates MetroLink and MetroBus and the Gateway Arch tram system, riverboats and helicopter tours.

St. Louis Downtown Airport serves customers on private flights, as well as flight school students. Aircraft and helicopter maintenance also takes place at the airport.

The $5.4 million state investment is going toward a project that creates a place at the airport to perform aircraft maintenance tests, which require running an engine at high power on the ground for several minutes.

Engines in modern aircraft can cause blast damage more than 1,600 feet away when they are running at full throttle, according to information provided by Bi-State Development. The new maintenance testing location will be 1,850 feet away from other parked aircraft.

Construction on the project started last year and is expected to finish this summer.

The airport’s largest tenant, business jet company Gulfstream Aerospace, is adding 140 new jobs at the airport as a result of the project.

The St. Louis Downtown Airport’s economic impact for the region was estimated to be more than $422 million in 2019, according to an Illinois Department of Transportation analysis.

The state agency takes jobs into account, among other factors. The $422 million figure includes an estimated $105 million in employee compensation, plus $13 million in visitor spending on food and other costs.

Bi-State Development President Taulby Roach said during Thursday’s news conference he thinks the airport’s economic impact is more like $450 million today with the new jobs and construction.

Plans are underway for anew terminal at the airport as well.

In March, a federal bill allocated a $2.5 milliongrant from the Federal Aviation Administration to the airport to help it reconstruct and modernize its terminal building, which was built in the 1980s. The total cost of the project is estimated at $4.2 million, according to Bi-State Development.

The project will bring the terminal into compliance with current building codes, including Americans with Disabilities Act regulations, and it will decrease excessive energy usage from its heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.

State funding for the aircraft maintenance testing project comes from the Rebuild Illinois Capital Infrastructure Plan, which is supported by increased transportation costs, including higher state gas taxes and vehicle registration fees.

During the governor’s visit Thursday, he highlighted other metro-east transportation projects that are getting Rebuild Illinois funding:

  • $163 million to relocate Illinois 3 from Riverpark Drive in East St. Louis to Monsanto Avenue in Sauget.
  • $6 million to resurface Illinois 157 from Illinois 3 to Louise Avenue in Cahokia Heights.
  • $74.3 million to reconstruct Interstate 255 from Illinois 15 to Illinois 157.
  • $531 million effort with Missouri to build a new Interstate 270 bridge over the Mississippi River with other corridor improvements.
  • $96 million for extending MetroLink from Scott Air Force Base to MidAmerica Airport.
Behind a podium, with the St. Louis skyline behind them, JB Pritzker and Christopher Belt shake hands.
Derik Holtmann
Belleville News-Democrat
Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker and State Senator Christopher Belt, D-Swansea, shake hands during an announcement for improvements to St. Louis Downtown Airport.

Lexi Cortes is a reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

Lexi Cortes is an investigative reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.