CMAP Report Highlights Need for Coordinated Rail Infrastructure Policies in Chicago
A new report by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning calls for strategic public-private partnerships for infrastructure, innovation, and workforce in support of the growing industry that affects more than a quarter of all jobs in the region.
Available at www.cmap.illinois.gov/freight-drill-down, Metropolitan Chicago’s Freight Cluster: A Drill-Down Report on Infrastructure, Innovation, and Workforce builds on recommendations included in the GO TO 2040 comprehensive regional plan, which in October 2010 was adopted unanimously by leaders from across the seven-county region. The new CMAP analysis looks at freight as an industry “cluster” — local groups of interdependent firms linked through their buyer-supplier relationships and need for particular resources, including labor pool and technologies.
Freight demand is expected to double nationally in the next 20 years according to the report, which emphasizes that our region’s competitiveness will depend on coordination among freight carriers (truck, rail, water, air), public agencies (State of Illinois, counties, municipalities, CMAP), and civic organizations. It describes three implementation action areas:
- Infrastructure. In partnership with industry and civic leaders as well as state and local government officials, CMAP plans to carefully evaluate the feasibility of a Regional Freight Authority to increase coordination of what is currently a “disparate system that can focus only on isolated infrastructure improvements rather than region-wide initiatives.” Additional infrastructure actions include exploring innovative financing (for example through targeted user fees as recommended by GO TO 2040), prioritization of projects based on regional benefit, and increased coordination of local land-use decisions that affect freight.
- Innovation. The CMAP report says innovative methods and technologies can be spurred on by targeted public-sector support, including economic development assistance and freight-related research. Innovative trends that offer local industries a competitive advantage include supply-chain management, intelligent transportation systems, fuel efficiency and alternative fuels, and intermodal operations.
- Workforce. The report promotes collaboration between employers, community colleges, and workforce training providers to help educate and train workers for freight industries. To support the effort, CMAP will soon launch a jobs data portal in conjunction with its MetroPulse regional indicators site.
Freight is integral to metropolitan Chicago’s economy, which boasts the second largest U.S. freight cluster. According to the report, between a quarter and a third of all freight in the U.S. originates, terminates, or passes through the metropolitan Chicago region. Growth of freight employment here is outpacing New York City and Los Angeles, the nation’s first and third largest clusters. Over the past decade, northeastern Illinois freight employment has grown 7 percent, significantly more than the overall regional economy’s growth of less than 1 percent over the same period.
“Because the freight cluster is based on our region’s strategic central location, it creates jobs that are especially resistant to being shipped overseas,” said Randy Blankenhorn, CMAP executive director. “Across the seven counties of metropolitan Chicago, over a quarter of all jobs are in industries directly tied to freight, yet congestion threatens to undermine this competitive advantage. It is vitally important that the region speak with one voice on freight matters that are integral to our economy and quality of life.”
Freight’s economic impact goes beyond core transportation industries. The report describes how expansion or contraction of local freight industries can substantially affect other areas such as manufacturing, wholesale trade, and retail trade. It emphasizes support for the region’s CREATE freight rail program, which is a top priority of CMAP and GO TO 2040.
Metro Chicago, already among the most congested regions, will add more than two million people and a million jobs by 2040. Over the same period, the CMAP report says, an anticipated billion tons of additional freight will move through the region, for a yearly total of about 2.4 billion tons — a two-thirds increase compared to present levels. The report states that, without coordinated regional action, the resulting congestion will significantly impede the flow of freight and travelers alike.
“Our region is the intermodal epicenter of the U.S., but we can’t take that for granted” said Mike Grace, vice president of intermodal division for Mi-Jack Products, a Hazel Crest-based company known internationally for making innovative machinery to handle freight containers. “Innovation is at the heart of our freight cluster, which also depends on a skilled workforce and the infrastructure necessary for moving goods efficiently. Partnerships between industry leaders, government units, civic groups, and educators will be key to maintaining metropolitan Chicago’s position in an increasingly competitive global freight system.”
Less-congested regions such as Memphis and Kansas City are poised to capture freight industry from Chicago. Carriers in Memphis have invested over $500 million in upgrading or constructing tracks and new intermodal facilities. Four intermodal logistics parks have recently been opened or significantly upgraded in Kansas City.
CMAP and its partners have also been pressing for a clearly defined national vision for freight. Although the recently passed federal MAP-21 transportation reauthorization bill does not include a stand-alone freight program, it does establish the need for a National Freight Policy and allows for a larger federal percentage to build eligible freight projects.
“While MAP-21 pays more attention to freight compared to past federal authorizations, it still paints an incomplete picture of the nation’s freight systems,” Blankenhorn said. “As that U.S. vision takes shape, it is especially important for regions like ours to increase coordination, which is essential for preserving metropolitan Chicago’s status as nation’s preeminent freight hub.”
The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) is the comprehensive regional planning organization for the northeastern Illinois counties of Cook, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry, and Will. By state and federal law, CMAP is responsible for producing the region’s official, integrated plan for land use and transportation. The agency’s innovative GO TO 2040 planning campaign develops and implements strategies to shape the region’s transportation system and development patterns, while also addressing the natural environment, economic development, housing, education, human services, and other factors shaping quality of life. See www.cmap.illinois.gov for more information.