Freight plan could bring jobs, road improvements to region

By Bob Pieper for Chronicle Media

Among the technological advances is development of electronic and autonomous trucks — which could soon allow shipment of goods in freight-train-like “truck platoons” along Interstate highways — and the rapid growth of and direct-to-consumer delivery. (Photo courtesy of Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure & the Environment)

As tech magnate Elon Musk was introducing Tesla’s new electric semi-truck at a Nov. 17 Silicon Valley press conference, St. Louis-area business and political leaders at the East-West Gateway Annual Meeting were discussing how the U.S. Department of Transportation’s new, updated National Freight Strategic Plan could help bring such transportation innovations here. 

And how the Illinois Department of Transportation’s proposed new Illinois Freight Plan could help position Metro East as an internationally recognized port alternative to Chicago. 

Originally released by the USDOT at the beginning of this decade, the National Freight Strategic Plan outlines a comprehensive, coordinated, nationwide system for the transfer of finished goods and commodities, encompassing surface transportation, railroads, navigable waterways, and air freight service. 

Its goal: provide the transportation infrastructure for a changing U.S. economy accommodating increased internet-based commerce, new high-tech industries, and intermodal shipping. 

The IDOT Illinois Freight Plan outlines how the Prairie State will fit into that national freight strategic. Most other states have issued similar freight plans. 

Both USDOT and IDOT initially released freight planning documents several years ago, both are now being revised to reflect a variety of economic developments, workforce trends, technological advances and new funding issues that could affect the commercial transportation system. 

Among them: Anticipated development of electronic and autonomous trucks — which could soon allow shipment of goods in freight-train-like “truck platoons” along Interstate highways — and the rapid growth of and direct-to-consumer delivery. 

“Illinois serves as the transportation hub of North America. It’s important we have a reliable infrastructure system to support the freight industry, which moves nearly $3 trillion of goods into, out of and through Illinois each year,” said Illinois Transportation Secretary Randy Blankenhorn. 

Illinois could benefit more from the national freight plan than virtually any other state, IDOT officials say. In addition to a central location, Illinois has more miles of Interstate highway, railroad tracks and navigable waterways than most other states, as well as a number of freight airports. 

Chicago, with its strategic location on Lake Michigan is bound to remain Illinois’ premier global port, IDOT says.  

However, Madison and St. Clair counties rival — and in a couple of cases even surpass — Chicago-area counties in fright volume statistics. 

Metro East is a key component in a St. Louis Regional Chamber plan to revive the St. Louis area economy through development of a major national shipping and distribution hub. 

Trucking and freight distribution industry jobs pay an average of around $48,000 a year, the draft IDOT freight plan notes. 

Randy Blankenhorn, Illinois transportation secretary, said “Illinois serves as the transportation hub of North America. It’s important we have a reliable infrastructure system to support the freight industry, which moves nearly $3 trillion of goods into, out of and through Illinois each year.”

However, shortages of properly trained labor as well as deteriorating infrastructure could hamper development of freight-related industry, the IDOT draft emphasizes 

The freight plan could ultimately help determine how and where funding is allocated to address both of those issues. 

The NFSP outlines an American Primary Highway Freight System (PHFS) — basically sections of existing Interstate or state highways — that connect major, land, air, waterway and railroad terminals and can thereby provide the national framework for the routing of both raw martials and finished goods across the nation. 

The Illinois component of the national highway freight system, totaling more than 1,619.48 miles, consists of 29 interlinking highway segments, including sections of I-64, I-70, I-55 in Metro East. 

It also includes 32 USDOT-recognized PHFS Intermodal Connectors — freight yards designed to transfer cargo between modes of transportation — and the sections of local streets and state highways around them. 

The USDOT recognizes four intermodal connectors in Metro East:  

  • Gateway West in Madison County in East St. Louis, including parts of 159th, West, 157th, Park, and Halstead streets; 
  • Gateway Western Intermodal Yard in East St. Louis, including the nearby segment of Illinois 3; 
  • Rose Lake Intermodal Yard, in Fairmont City and Washington Park, including nearby parts of Collinsville Road and Illinois 203; and 
  • The Union Pacific Motor Freight Intermodal Yard in East Carondelet, encompassing parts of nearby Main Street. 

Complementing the PHFS, in each state will be systems of Critical Urban Freight Corridors — public roads in urbanized areas that provide access and connection to the PHFS and the interstate with other ports, public transportation facilities or other intermodal transportation facilities. 

Also augmenting the PHFS will be a system of Critical Rural Freight Corridors — rural roads and highways that provide access a grain elevator, an agricultural facility, a mining operation, a forestry facility, an intermodal freight terminal, an international port of entry, or other significant air, rail, water, or other freight facilities. 

IDOT is currently generating its list of urban and rural freight corridors, according to the draft freight plan. 

The draft Illinois freight plan identifies 18 “truck traffic bottlenecks” that should be corrected to accommodate growing freight traffic in 18 in Metro East, including:  

  • A three-mile section of westbound U.S. 40 in Bond County; 
  • A mile-and a-half section of Belt Line Road in Alton; 
  • A half-mile section of southbound Illinois 111 (Godfrey Road) in rural Madison County; 
  • Sections of eastbound and southbound I-70 in rural Madison County; 
  • A section of eastbound and westbound Illinois 143 (Landmarks Blvd.) in Alton; 
  • A 0.2-mile section of Illinois 203 (Nameoki Road) in Granite City 
  • A 0.4-mile section of northbound Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Drive in East St. Louis; 
  • Westbound sections of I-64/I-55/I-70 approaching the Mississippi River in East St. Louis; 
  • A 2.2-mile section of northbound Illinois 63 in St. Clair County. 
  • A 1.8-mile section of northbound St. Clair Ave. in East St Louis; and 
  • Approximately two miles of Stolle Road, eastbound and westbound Stolle Road in Dupo Medium. 

To address such problem roadways, IDOT is looking to the federal Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, which authorizes $305 billion, over fiscal years 2016 through 2020 for highway, motor vehicle safety, public transportation, motor carrier safety, hazardous materials safety, rail, and research, technology, and statistics programs. 

Under the act, the Federal Highway Administration awards FASTLANE Grants to “Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects (NSFHP)” on a competitive basis, as well as well as other grants for that meet criteria established under the act’s “freight formula.” 

However, IDOT officials acknowledge they will have to act promptly win federal funding for road improvements under the FAST act. The first two rounds of funding under the act have already been awarded. Priority is given to projects which all preliminary work has been completed and construction and begin within 18 months.  





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