In front of the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission, Washington Area Chamber of Commerce President Mark Wessels talked up the importance of the passenger rail’s impact on Washington tourism.
“The St. Louis Business Journal publishes a list of chambers from around the entire St. Louis Metro area which is seven Missouri counties, the city of St. Louis and eight Illinois counties, and for many years we have been ranked number two on that list,” he told commissioners. “The reason we are so high is because of the number of activities we are involved in. There are a lot of activities going on in Washington all the time. One of those that we have taken the lead in over the last dozen years is tourism.”
Wessels stressed the importance of rail infrastructure as vital to Washington’s continued economic growth.
“Over the last five years Missouri ridership has increased over 70 percent,” he said. “In Washington, it has been over 90 percent. Last year we saw a 15 percent increase in ridership.”
The importance of those numbers resides in the number of visitors passing through the city of Washington.
“Our job is to market this area for tourism purposes,” said Wessels. “Along with the increase in ridership we also saw an increase in persons coming into our visitor’s center. Once we get them in the visitor’s center, we get them looking at our pamphlets. We know that 25 percent of our visitors hop off that train. We also know that 11 percent of those visitors will choose to stay a night or two in our town. That is when things start happening with our tourism, when we get people to stick around.”
An effort is being made to encourage visitors to use the Amtrak service. When legislators ask why Amtrak should be funded, Wessels has an answer.
“I say not only should it be funded but it should be expanded,” he told commissioners for the reason stated.
Commissioner Joe Carmichael said the commission is very supportive of rail but it is limited in the action it can take.
“A majority of the money we are allowed to spend is designated to highways even though our vision is much broader than that,” he said. “We have to go to the legislature to get the rail money.”
Wessels is not alone in his desire to see more resources going toward rail services.
“I would like to see more funding for rail and air in the state and allow us as commissioners to have the funding to support the broad mission in the Missouri Constitution,” said Carmichael.