Infrastructure Technology Institute
Moving the Goods – Freight in the Chicago Region was the focus of the Third Annual William O. Lipinski Symposium on Transportation Policy, sponsored by ITI on November 2, 2009.
Chicago is critically important as a national freight hub, particularly for rail and especially intermodal freight. Keynote speaker U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood emphasized this point in his opening remarks: “Chicago as our rail hub – it is an American priority, a non-partisan priority.” He observed that the safety and energy efficiency of railroads mean that resolving Chicago’s freight issues supports the Department’s Transportation Livability Initiative - a federal initiative to help communities across America grow in ways that ensure a better quality of life.
One-third of the nation’s rail and truck cargo passes through the region, and it has been a dominant freight center for nearly a century. This pre-eminence as a hub brings the region a high level of national and international connectivity for goods movement, supporting local industries, markets, and jobs. At the same time, this role brings challenges, in the form of congestion on all modes, delays as freight is interchanged among railroads and between rail and truck, and consequent problems of safety and air pollution. Thus, freight issues in the Chicago area are of both local and national concern.
While Chicago faces numerous freight issues and challenges, there have been many improvements, and more are on the way. Michael Burton, CEO of C&K Trucking, pointed out that Chicago has been a “black hole” for intermodal freight. The city effectively imposes a two-day penalty on through-containers, and there are 11,500 trucks moving containers and trailers in and out of Chicago rail yards each day. However, operational improvements that have decreased rail yard dwell times; equipment and technology upgrades, plus better blocking and scheduling of freight trains, have improved service quality over the last several years.
The Canadian National Railway purchase of the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway, while controversial, is also likely to improve regional freight operations by shifting some freight movements to the edge of the city, relieving some central city congestion on the railroads and at grade crossings. Daniel Elliot, Chairman of the U.S. Surface Transportation Board (STB), reminded participants that this acquisition comes at the expense of some increased grade crossing congestion in certain suburbs – by as many as 23 trains per day in some places. These impacts are being monitored by the STB, which will publish performance reports monthly and quarterly on its Web site. Chairman Elliot stressed that it will be important for the railroad and public agencies to work together to mitigate and manage these impacts.
Participants at the symposium spent much time discussing CREATE, The Chicago Region Environmental And Transportation Efficiency Program, which is intended to provide substantial congestion relief when its various components are completed. It will separate rail and highway traffic, as well as rail freight and rail passenger services. CREATE is a collaboration between the Class I railroads serving Chicago and federal, state, and local governments.
Joseph Szabo, Federal Railroad Administrator, said that CREATE will “establish a national model for rail integration” as it upgrades corridors, grade crossings, and signals, and streamlines other operations. US Representative Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) reported that it has been difficult to get the message of the value of CREATE across to the public, but the social, economic, and environmental benefits of the project will be significant. Six projects are already underway under the CREATE umbrella, and the Illinois State Capital Bill promises another $300 million for the project. Rep. Lipinski reminded participants that it is important to build support for CREATE at all levels.
Railroad consultant Norman Carlson emphasized the need to educate the public and policy makers about the importance of freight to the economy of the nation and the region, and to use that as a basis for growing support for CREATE.
E. Hunter Harrison, then-Chairman of Canadian National Railway, also talked about congestion in the Chicago region. He suggested that additional railroad mergers may provide a cheaper way to clear up congestion, increase capacity, and promote coordination and cooperation in the Chicago region.
Several speakers addressed the need for a national transportation policy to guide planning, investments, and the development of a financing strategy. Professor Hani Mahmassani, Director of Northwestern’s Transportation Center, pointed out that the European Union is ahead of the United States in this respect. There, the priority is to move more traffic by rail, reducing truck dominance to achieve social and environmental benefits.
A national plan would provide the basis for coordination and collaboration across federal transportation agencies, the 50 states, and the private sector to deliver a more integrated and sustainable freight system that ensures our economic competitiveness. Administrator Szabo reported that the Federal Railroad Administration is currently developing such a plan, which integrates passenger, freight, and intermodal rail transportation, and connects to the safety, livability, competitiveness, and sustainability initiatives of the federal government.
Speakers on the concluding panel addressed the national balance between truck and rail. Both James LaBelle of the civic interest group Chicago Metropolis 2020 and Paul Nowicki, vice president of the BNSF Railroad, discussed the introduction of road pricing as a source of much needed funding for the highway network, as well as to provide incentives to shift more long-haul freight to rail. Beyond the environmental and energy benefits, such a shift would reduce the burden on aging highway infrastructure.
As they focused on freight, speakers and the 250 participants at the Lipinski Symposium addressed the needs of both private and public freight transportation infrastructure – the CREATE project to relieve both rail and road bottlenecks, rail network integration through mergers and acquisitions, and the importance of maintaining and renewing aging freight infrastructure to protect capacity and reliability of services, ensuring the economic vitality of the region and the nation.
The David F. Schulz Award for Outstanding Public Service in Transportation and Infrastructure is presented every year at the William O. Lipinski Symposium on Transportation Policy. This award commemorates the lifelong commitment of David F. Schulz (1949-2007) to transportation infrastructure. The founding Executive Director of Northwestern University’s Infrastructure Technology Institute, Schulz was an articulate spokesman and advocate for transportation throughout his career as a public servant, elected official, university leader and teacher.
The Schulz Award honors individuals or groups for technical or policy innovations of transportation or infrastructure, or for public policy leadership in calling attention to problems in transportation or infrastructure.
The 2009 award was presented to key collaborators from five different agencies who worked to create the new I-35W St. Anthony Falls bridge in downtown Minneapolis. This bridge replaces the structure which collapsed on August 1, 2007.
This infrastructure disaster took 13 lives, and over 140 injuries. Destruction of this key link – carrying over 140,0000 vehicles each day – was a major disruption for the city, region, and state, imposing traffic delays and congestion affecting both passenger travel and the logistics operations in the upper Midwest. With incremental transportation costs estimated to be at least $400,000 per day, quick restoration of this major Mississippi River crossing was a priority, but rebuilding a bridge of this scale, in the middle of a major city, is a long and complex task. The new St. Anthony Falls Bridge was opened for traffic 414 days after the old bridge was lost. And the result is spectacular – a work of art and technology that is designed to last 100 years.
It features a segmental concrete box girder design that facilitated rapid and high quality construction and that benefits from high performance concrete.
This was a design-build contract in which Minnesota DOT implemented extraordinary measures to facilitate efficient communication between the owner, the stakeholders, the regulatory agencies, and the design-build team.
Despite the speed of the effort, aesthetics were a key part of the proposal evaluation process, and that is apparent from the result.
Incentive payments to reward timely, and early, completion were offered – and earned – tied to the cost of diverted traffic.
Every step was compressed, worked progressed day and night, quality control was stepped up, and a landmark collaboration among all parties delivered a land mark bridge, pulling off an amazing infrastructure success.
This project is a model for rapid infrastructure restoration that recognizes the high costs of infrastructure disruption and responds with creativity, commitment and coordination. It is a model of what can be done when the right resources are brought together. ITI Director Joseph Schofer presented the award to the team, and Jo Ann and Bobby Schulz (David Schulz’s widow and son) attended the presentation.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation, represented by John Chiglo
Figg Engineering, the designer, represented by Linda Figg
The Federal Highway Administration, represented by Romeo Garcia
Flatiron-Manson Joint Venture, the contractor,
represented by Peter Sanderson
The City of Minneapolis,
represented by Jon Wertjes