Infrastructure plan needed to avoid economic gridlock
We’ve all been stuck in gridlocked traffic – it’s frustrating, especially when you’re rushing to make it to work or an important meeting on time.
But imagine you’re stuck while hauling more than a thousand tons of cargo, trying to make a tight delivery schedule. And imagine if the cause of this ‘traffic jam’ wasn’t typical rush hour congestion or a minor fender bender, but a catastrophic infrastructure failure.
This was the situation that confronted dozens of barges on the Ohio River on an otherwise tranquil Sunday morning, September 27th, when one of the doors on the Markland Locks came unhinged and stalled traffic on the river. They waited more than 20 hours while an auxiliary channel was opened. The Markland Locks are located near Vevay, Indiana, about 25 miles east of Madison; they accommodate more than 55 million tons of freight every year.
Even with the alternate route open, it’s taking barges three times as long to navigate through Markland as the locks are repaired. Lockmaster Gary Birge called the incident his “worst nightmare” and “catastrophic.” Army Corps of Engineers officials were unsure how long repairs would take; the Corps recently gave the 40-year-old Locks a ‘D’ rating during a regular assessment for corrosion and cracking.
The incident at Markland isn’t just about a temporary inconvenience to shippers. It’s a warning about the importance of investing in our infrastructure for our broader economic health.
Indiana is a leader in the transportation of goods – our ‘Crossroads of America’ slogan is more than just marketing fluff. We’re located within a day’s drive of 75% of the U.S. and Canadian population and businesses. We’re ranked 1st in the nation for interstate highway access, 9th in rail miles and 14th in cargo moved by water, with three quality maritime ports (two on the Ohio River and one on Lake Michigan).
This adds up to a sizable logistics industry; Indiana ranks among the top ten states in per capita logistics jobs. Our distribution strength also supports our manufacturing industry, giving these companies the ability to quickly and efficiently get their products to customers across the country and around the world. So preserving our status as a logistics juggernaut must be a critical economic priority. We can’t afford to simply coast on our geographic advantages – we have to proactively invest in our infrastructure assets.
To that end, Conexus Indiana, the state’s logistics and manufacturing initiative, has embarked on the development of a statewide logistics strategic plan. The plan is being put in place by a group of 35 statewide industry executives representing all facets of the logistics and manufacturing industries – air, rail, trucking, infrastructure, warehousing/distribution and service firms – and has already identified opportunities and challenges Indiana faces in ensuring the continued flow of goods that originate and terminate in Indiana and add value to the logistics industry.
In fact, Conexus Indiana has identified decaying locks and dams on the Ohio River as a serious threat. With the disaster caused by the broken gate at the Markland Locks, it’s clear we need to think ahead to prevent future incidents and protect our waterways as commerce corridors for the state.
After all, when one cog in the supply chain wheel breaks, the effects are felt broadly – not only by the producers of these goods who depend on the waterways as a means of transportation, but also by all those who touch their products in the supply chain.
Later this year, Conexus will issue this report addressing the state’s logistics strengths, opportunities and challenges; not just for waterborne freight, but rail, highway, and bringing these modes of transportation together as an integrated system. A solid roadmap for our logistics industry is essential to avoid economic gridlock, and squandering a critical competitive advantage for Indiana.
David Holt is Vice-President of Operations and Business Development for Conexus Indiana, the state’s advanced manufacturing and logistics initiative.