Freight could lift NWI job, economic prospects
Projects from across Northwest Indiana including the proposed Illiana Expressway and an intermodal facility in Kingsbury rose to the top of the pile in a poll of transportation experts conducted at a freight workshop in Portage on Monday.
About 30 railroad representatives, real estate developers, transportation officials and others took part in the morning-long workshop at the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission. NIRPC is looking for ways to support rail, truck and water-borne freight projects in its 2040 Comprehensive Regional Plan.
“There was a consensus that, yes, we do need a freight vision for Northwest Indiana,” said NIRPC Executive Director John Swanson as Wednesday’s meeting wrapped up.
The workshop focused on findings in a freight study by consultant Cambridge Systematics, much of which focused on the huge increases in freight volumes expected to be moving through Northwest Indiana and Chicago in the next 25 years.
From 4 million to 16 million more trucks per year will roll on Northwest Indiana and Chicago roadways by 2035, according to the report. And up to 200 more trains per day will run on the region’s railroad tracks.
That growth is already starting as the economy continues to rebound from the recession, according to Chuck Allen, superintendent of Norfolk Southern Corp.’s Chicago Transportation Coordination Office.
“One of the major things we are seeing right now, there has been significant rail growth in the last 12 months,” Allen said. “We are seeing an economy that is strengthening and coming back.”
Current congestion on rail tracks and roadways were responsible for the workshop picking a number of other top projects, including coming up with priority locations for rail/roadway grade separations and continuing to move forward with Chicago’s CREATE program for reducing rail congestion.
The workshop also identified several needed policy initiatives, including making local officials aware of the economic benefits their communities derive from the freight industry and streamlining permitting processes for transportation facilities.
Although the region derives huge benefits currently from the freight industry, much of it is limited to getting raw materials and manufactured products in and out of industrial facilities. The report and workshop attendees both pointed out those benefits could be increased if some of the freight that currently passes straight through the region stopped for distribution to other modes of transport.
LaPorte County continues to work with railroad company CSX Corp. on establishing a facility to do just that at the Kingsbury Industrial Park, according to Matt Reardon, of SEH Consulting. A plan by ICS Logistics for a $50 million cold/storage distribution center is on hold but the railroad is now working with another company, Providence Logistics, to develop an intermodal facility there, Reardon said.
FREIGHT MOVES NORTHWEST INDIANA
Freight generating industries and how many people each employs in Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties:
Transportation and warehousing: 11,101
Wholesale trade: 8,668
Mineral extraction: 223