Dubuque applies for grant for $8.4 million harbor improvement project

The city of Dubuque is partnering with a commodity management firm to spend $8.4 million on improving the city’s railroad and port infrastructure.

Partners involved in the project intend to improve the city’s rail and river shipping capabilities at Dove Harbor, located south of Kerper Boulevard.

Project partners intend to upgrade previously inoperable rail track, install new rail equipment, renovate an existing storage shed to increase capacity and relocate rail track to support direct supply transfers from trains to river barges. The improvements would increase the harbor’s shipping capabilities, along with providing more direct access between river barges and rail freight.

Dubuque City Council members last week voted to support applying for an Infrastructure for Rebuilding America transportation grant, a federal program for national and regional transportation projects. Dubuque officials plan to request $5 million for the project.

Chandra Ravada, director of transportation and planning with the East Central Intergovernmental Association, said the project stems from a wider study conducted by the organization examining the railroad and river infrastructure in the tri-state area. The study revealed that significant infrastructure improvements could be made to increase the capacity and efficiency of bulk product transportation.

“We found that a lot is being done on infrastructure, but not that much is being done on the river,” Ravada said. “One of our findings was that the port should be looked at and improvements should be made to make room for more freight to come through the community.”

While the city is applying for the federal grant, the remainder of the costs of the project will be covered by Gavilon Grain LLC, which operates out of Dove Harbor and provides storage, handling, transportation, marketing and distribution of feed, food and fuel to customers and suppliers across the globe.

“Gavilon is considering making potential improvements to the facilities and operations in Dove Harbor, including updates to rail,” the company said in a written statement. “Gavilon’s hope and goal is to allow us, our producers and customers to find added efficiencies within our roles in the global food supply chain.”

Ravada said Gavilon would be the primary beneficiary of the project, with the upgrades allowing the company to increase its capabilities for transferring fertilizers and other products from river barges to freight trains.

Ravada said construction on the project is anticipated to begin sometime in 2022 and be completed by sometime in 2023. He noted that engineering and design work still needs to be completed for the project.

City Council Member Ric Jones said the project brings with it great potential to improve the city’s port infrastructure.

“We move a ton of stuff out of the harbor every year,” Jones said. “If we can get Dove Harbor in premier shape, it could really help in opening up Dubuque to the rest of the world.”