Logistics council advances biz interests on projects

August 30th, 2013

News Coverage:

Logistics council advances biz interests on projects

New organization represents 13-county area

Posted: Friday, August 30, 2013 12:00 am

By Doug LeDuc

A new group has formed with the help of Conexus Indiana to make sure business and economic-development concerns are considered along with traffic congestion and safety when decisions are made about the region’s transportation issues and infrastructure.

The Northeast Regional Logistics Council held its first meeting on Aug. 22 after forming in June with membership from a mix of more than 30 logistics and advanced-manufacturing employers as well as officials involved in economic development for the 13 counties NRLC will serve.

The council is needed because “oftentimes with respect to infrastructure projects, interstate or roadway projects, rail, airport or water projects, there’s been a list put together — it’s out there — and (success) depends on who is leading a particular effort,” said Katy Silliman, vice president of regional initiatives for the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership.

“Historically, most of this has been done on a county-by-county level, and everyone has been competing with one another and whoever speaks with the loudest voice may at times have been the one to win out.”

The council will examine all of the transportation infrastructure projects in the region and apply a uniform standard of evaluation to them.

It also will recommend priorities for them based on their importance to advanced manufacturing and transportation business growth, as well as economic development at the county, regional and state level.

For example, development of a four-lane, limited-access highway between Fort Wayne and Warsaw already has support of the Conexus Indiana Logistics Council because the project would connect in Warsaw with two other four-lane, limited-access highway projects the state council wants to see spanning most of the width of Indiana.

Conexus, the state’s advanced manufacturing and logistics initiative, established its Conexus Indiana Logistics Council with statewide membership to deal with issues and projects that affect all of Indiana.

The Hoosier Heartland Highway the state council favors would replace State Road 25, a rural, two-lane highway built from Lafayette to Warsaw during the 1930s.

With the U.S. 24 Fort to Port highway completed last year, trucks on the new highway would be able to haul freight between Lafayette and Toledo, passing Fort Wayne, Columbia City and Warsaw.

The state council also would like to see completion of a similar four-lane, limited-access highway along U.S. 30 from Valparaiso to Fort Wayne.

A shorter project of a regional nature is a four-mile extension of Interstate 469 west to U.S. 24 at Roanoke, which would pass the General Motors Co. plant, the Vera Bradley Inc. complex and the Silverado Industrial Park.

“We’re hoping every potential project that exists today can be identified by that information. Once you put together those kinds of economic impact profiles, you can give projects an apples-to-apples comparison,” Silliman said.

A project would not need to be in more than one county to have an impact on more than one county. Examples of that would be projects that improve interstate highway access to a community with more than a little employment or improvement to widely used air or rail transportation resources.

For example, development of an intermodal facility could be a small but an important part of a regional transportation plan, said Patrick Dooley, vice president for airport development at Fort Wayne-Allen County Economic Development Alliance.

Economic-development officials have studied for almost a decade the potential for a facility of that nature in Fort Wayne, he said, which would combine rail freight and trucking, almost like an inland port.

An intermodal facility could require an investment of $20 million to $25 million, he said. Noting that it would be in competition with nine other intermodal facilities, Dooley declined to elaborate on any planning for one he said Fort Wayne economic-development officials have discussed with Norfolk Southern.

The Northeast Regional Logistics Council will be among six similar regional councils Conexus has helped establish.

David Holt, vice president of operations and business development for Conexus Indiana, said a project proposed for one region of the state can help another.

An example of that would be Fort Wayne benefiting from the completion of Interstate 69 to Evansville, which he said “gives you that route from Canada to Mexico.”

The 13-county region served by the Northeast Regional Logistics Council includes Adams, Allen, Blackford, DeKalb, Grant, Huntington, Jay, LaGrange, Noble, Steuben, Wabash, Wells and Whitley counties.

The Conexus Indiana Logistics Council’s infrastructure task force is chaired by Andy Brooks, president of Fort Wayne-based Brooks Construction Co.