The intermodal facilities in Will County serve as North America’s largest inland port with $65 billion worth of products in over 3 million containers transported in 2016.
As a result, Will County’s freight transportation system is the economic gateway to the Midwest and national economies. How we got here is not too hard to understand.
The Chicagoland area has always been a crucial transportation hub for national and international freight moved by water, rail, truck, pipeline and air. Manufactured goods, food and commodities such as steel, chemicals and grain have historically been mainstays of the regional economy.
With the advent of e-commerce and the click economy, Will County has emerged as the Midwest’s leader in consumer order fulfillment. We have land, interstates, Class A railroads, access to markets and supportive communities.
What else could Amazon need?
A modern, well maintained transportation system that safely transports goods and workers and protects the environment and quality of life for Will County residents is what Amazon and all our employers need and deserve.
While the explosion of transportation, distribution and logistics activity in the county has produced billions of dollars of new investment, tens of thousands of jobs and millions of dollars of new taxes it has put a lot of pressure on our transportation infrastructure.
The amount of freight moving into, around and through Will County has grown exponentially since 2002, when the BNSF Intermodal Center opened in Elwood, followed by the Union Pacific yard in Joliet. Since then, over 100 million square feet of new industrial space has been built in the county. Thousands of tractor trailers travel our local roads daily not built to handle this volume.
That is why the Will County Center for Economic Development (CED), Will County government, the Illinois Department of Transportation, the Will County Governmental League, the Three Rivers Association of Realtors and others have joined together to prepare the Will County Community Friendly Freight Mobility Plan.
The public and private sector leaders in Will County have created what is one of the best local economic development stories in Illinois today, but if we don’t plan we will put all of this at risk.
The Freight Mobility Plan has multiple components: What is the current state of freight movement in Will County today and what are the impacts on our community; what do we want the future state to look like (and how do we get there); what are the challenges and opportunities for the regional workforce in the freight industry; and how do we measure performance of the entire freight system now and in the future. The goal of the study is to protect and improve the quality of life in Will County while creating the environment for business and industry to thrive.
None of this will be easy.
But all of it is worth it. The CED and its partners are committed to a strong economic future for Will County that will benefit many generations to come.
To learn more about the Will County Community Friendly Freight Mobility Plan visit: http://www.willcountyfreight.org
• John Greuling is president and CEO of the Will County Center for Economic Development.