Building intermodal facilities to relieve traffic congestion

After examining a new report that Chicago has some of the worst traffic bottlenecks in the country, the suggestion is made not to add lanes to the highways but rather to build more intermodal facilities:

“This is a roadway that has 1950s technology that we are using for 2011 traffic,” said Don Schaefer, executive vice president of the Mid-West Truckers Association. “Aside from a few locations on the Illinois Tollway, there are very few roadways in the Chicago area that are engineered to handle 2011 traffic volumes.”

Adding highway lanes is unlikely to produce the capacity necessary to ease congestion, experts said. A partial solution involves building more intermodal facilities where truck trailers are loaded onto flatbed train cars and transported long distance by rail, then transferred to trucks for the last segment of trips.

One such facility is the sprawling CenterPoint Intermodal Center near Joliet, on the site of the former Joliet Arsenal. But even there, truck traffic is a problem on Arsenal Road leading to Interstate Highway 55.

“The state is building a new interchange to relieve traffic, but today truck traffic trying to get off I-55 southbound is backed up on to the highway,” Schaefer said.

While adding lanes may seem like “common sense,” studies consistently show that this simply encourages more traffic. Think about places have kept adding lanes like downtown Atlanta (I-75 corridor in particular) or the Los Angeles region. Traffic is still an issue during peak times and those roads are already at six or more lanes in each direction.

Intermodal facilities are an intriguing solution. A few thoughts about these:

1. Do most Americans even know what they are? If not, they should as many of their consumer items are routed through these facilities.

2. Part of the reason this article caught my attention is that just last week I drove right by the Centerpoint Intermodal Center which is just east of I-55 and just south of the Des Plaines River. The area was an interesting one: the large facility itself is surrounded by a number of warehouses and distribution centers, including Wal-Mart. When driving a car through such places, I tend to feel out of place as everything is a little bigger: the buildings, the space, the trucks. And yes, the ramp to get on I-55 northbound at Arsenal Road had a long backup of trucks.

Here is some more information on the CenterPoint Facility that just opened in 2010:

The facility will be a central spot where train containers from California, Texas and the Pacific Rim will be delivered for pick-up by trucks moving goods to warehouses and distribution centers throughout the Midwest.

CenterPoint already has an international intermodal facility in nearby Elwood. Combined, the sites will be the country’s largest inland port. In an era of high fuel costs and declining numbers of cross-country truck drivers, the facility is expected to be a more efficient, environmentally-friendly mode of hauling.

A third CenterPoint facility also is planned for Crete.

The $2 billion Joliet development – located on 3,800 acres south of Laraway Road between Brandon and Patterson roads – is the largest construction project in Will County.  It has created about 1,000 construction jobs.

3. What would it take to build more of these? One obvious question is where to put them. This one near Joliet is just outside the Chicago region and there is not much around it: an oil refinery and the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery. Most importantly, there are not a lot of houses nearby. If you tried to build these closer to cities, I’m sure there would be NIMBY issues. Imagine if someone wanted to build a new one near the Circle Interchange in Chicago – residents would complain and the price of land would likely be prohibitive. There are some older facilities embedded in the Chicago region; for example, there is one in Chicago just south of Midway Airport between 65th and 73rd Streets. You can see Union Pacific’s Chicago region facilities here.

But these facilities are needed, particularly in the Chicago region with its radial railroad system and many at-grade crossings. In recent years, the goal has been to relieve some of the rail traffic closer to the city which was behind the fight over whether Canadian National should be allowed to purchase the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern beltline railroad that runs around the city and on which CN wanted to run more freight trains.

0 thoughts on “Building intermodal facilities to relieve traffic congestion

  1. Pingback: A $3 billion funding shortage for relieving Chicago area railroad gridlock | Legally Sociable

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