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CHICAGO — A new shipping route potentially could eliminate a million semi-trailer trucks a year from Northwest Indiana highways.

Supply Chain Solutions announced at the Rail Supply Chain Summit 2017 in the Union League Club in downtown Chicago it was launching a new cross-lake shipping route after being awarded the first marine highway designation on Lake Michigan.

The Maritime Administration will encourage freight to pass between the Port of Milwaukee and the Port of Muskegon in Michigan, which the Rail Supply Chain Summit Founder Mary Elisabeth Pitz said has the potential to greatly reduce the amount of truck traffic on the Borman Expressway passing through Northwest Indiana while en route from Michigan to Wisconsin, or vice versa.

“It's the first marine highway designation for Lake Michigan,” Supply Chain Solutions CEO Leslie “Les” G. Brand III said.

The route would launch at the end of summer and restore intermodal service to the Port of Milwaukee, a competitor with the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor.

The company is pitching the maritime route across Lake Michigan as a more efficient alternative than sending semi-trailer trucks through Chicago's congestion. It would give midwestern manufacturers an alternative to trucking goods on the Borman, part of Interstate 80/94, one of the busiest stretches of highway in the country.

“The congestion doesn't just come with orange cones,” Brand said. “It's year-round and especially bad in the winter. This gets past the pinch point of Chicago.”

Lake vessels that can travel up to 17 knots per hour would carry cargo directly across the width of Lake Michigan, instead of south and all the way around the southern shore.

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“According to our modeling, there will be significant cost-savings,” he said.

Supply Chain Solutions estimates that ships consume only 30 percent of the fuel of trucks, and the cross-lake route would reduce emissions, wear and tear on roads, and accidents.

It was the biggest announcement made Wednesday at the seventh annual Rail Supply Chain Summit on logistics and transportation issues, where industry leaders from across the country convened.

Speakers included Great Lakes Basin Transportation Founder and Chairman Frank Patton, NIPSCO Economic Development Director Don Babcock and Anacostia & Pacific Co. President and CEO Peter Gilbertson, whose company provided locomotives, crews and crew-towing trains to help NIPSCO rescue 5,500 stranded passengers in January, where an ice storm struck the Region.

They talked about best practices, such as having access to highways, railroads and waterways. Large distribution centers, for instance, have cropped up around Joliet because of the quality of the infrastructure, Plaquemines Port Executive Director Maynard J. "Sandy" Sanders said.

"When you can bring all modes of transportation together, that's where distribution centers will go," he said.

The Rail Supply Chain Summit also honored Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Rex Richards, who supported Pitz when she was starting it up in 2011.

“From the start, he supported my vision,” she said. “Richards continues to do so, as he is deeply committed to economic development in Northwest Indiana, especially in Valparaiso and Porter County. In gratitude for the support Richards provided and continues to provide, I want to thank him and acknowledge his steadfast cooperation.”

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