The Northwest Indiana Regional Logistics Council, a newly formed group of more than 20 manufacturing and logistics industry representatives from eight local counties, is on track to help the state identify transportation bottlenecks across the region.
According to the latest Annual Highway Report, which is compiled by nonpartisan public policy group the Research Foundation, Indiana ranks first in rural interstate pavement condition but 22nd in its overall highway performance and efficiency.
David Holt, vice president of operations and business development for Indianapolis-based Conexus Indiana, the state’s advanced manufacturing and logistics initiative, said congestion likely hurt the ranking and Northwest Indiana will play a part in staking claim to a higher spot.
“Northwest Indiana is extremely important because it’s a major thoroughfare for rail and truck traffic for the center of the country,” Holt said.
“You are absolutely right there in the middle of everything. We have to relieve congestion so we can move things faster and more efficiently. The current delays there affect the rest of the entire state. We need to fix those things to make it better for residents and other users.”
Members of the council include representatives from businesses such as ArcelorMittal, Schille Transportation Services in Remington, Reliable Transportation Specialists in Chesterton, Steel Transportation Service in Gary and CR England in Burns Harbor.
The council, which next meets this month, is currently identifying local problems and Holt expects it to identify potential priorities not identified at the state level within a year.
On the state’s list, perhaps the most significant logistics problem currently is the condition of the Soo Locks in Sault St. Marie, Mich.
“They are in jeopardy of catastrophic failure which is scary,” Holt said.
Currently, barges enter Lake Michigan through Lakes Huron and Superior. If the locks would ever fail, barges would not have access and commodities, such as iron ore, would have to be trucked or railed through Chicago.
There is significant traffic congestion along Interstate 65 and I-80 as well as on the rail lines, he said.
“Commuter trains use freight rails and sometimes commuters get priority over freight which creates inefficiencies,” Holt said. “The rails don’t move when they should move.”
He said there have been discussions about getting more business into smaller area airports such as Porter County Regional.
Also identified at the state level is the Illiana Expressway, which would relieve congestion on Interstate 80/94, U.S. 30 and I-90; developing the Kingsbury multimodal facility to increase freight movement through Indiana; and expanding I-65 with additional lanes throughout Indiana.
There were also discussions about U.S. 30 being reconfigured as a freeway-like access highway without any stoplights between Fort Wayne and Valparaiso. Interchanges would have above road roundabouts so motorists wouldn’t have to stop.