NEWS AND TRIBUNE
NEW ALBANY —
As work ramps up on the Ohio River Bridges Project, a newly formed logistics initiative is focused on advancing transportation-related projects for the region’s benefit.
The Southeast Regional Logistics Council is a partnership between One Southern Indiana and Conexus Indiana, the state’s advanced manufacturing and logistics initiative based in Indianapolis. The council’s aim — which was unveiled Tuesday — is to “identify and advance local infrastructure projects, public policies and workforce development needs to strengthen the region’s logistics sector,” 1si announced in a news release.
One project in the council’s crosshairs is the under-construction bridges work that will add new interstate lanes connecting downtown Louisville to Southern Indiana, as well as Louisville’s east end to Utica.
Uric Dufrene, executive vice chancellor of academic affairs at IU Southeast, applauded the initiative’s regional vision.
“To maintain a competitive economic development position, regions must be proactive and look ahead with respect to infrastructure needs,” Dufrene said via email. “1si and Conexus are being proactive in the identification of asset needs critical for the entire region.
“The development of this council also recognizes the regionalism aspect of growth,” Dufrene added, “and the importance of all counties working together.”
Other projects identified by the council that need completed include:
• The construction and redesign to the Olmsted Locks [the locks that feed from the Ohio River to the Mississippi River], which represent a significant infrastructure improvement that impacts the movement of waterborne freight through Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio;
• Expansion of Interstate 65 to three lanes; and
• A freeway-like connection from Madison to I-65.
“Southeast Indiana has major logistic infrastructure assets with the benefit of proximity to large cities in Ohio and Kentucky, and our goal is to protect and grow those assets in order to continue to grow our logistics industry and our position as the ‘Crossroads of America,’” David Holt, vice president of operations and business development for Conexus, said in a news release.
Chris Jones, president of J & J Pallet Corp. in New Albany, is on the frontlines of the area’s logistics grid. He has been an outspoken critic over officials’ plans to use tolls as a way to finance the bridges project. When the tolls become active in 2016, Jones expects to pay an additional $140,000 annually to do business, with box and panel trucks having to pay $5 per crossing over the Ohio River. While Jones said the council, which encompasses a 15-county area, including Clark, Floyd and Harrison counties locally, is a good idea, he’s more microfocused on the region.
“I think it’s a little widespread. At this point in time, I’m more focused on the bridges project,” said Jones, adding that he plans to rally local support to keep the tolls issue at the forefront of officials’ minds. “I feel like local people in the logistics industry are being directly affected by these tolls and their voices need to be heard in a unified manner.
“I don’t feel like the toll board took that into consideration,” Jones added. “I don’t think they’re being fair about it.”
It’s an important economic development issue, as well, with the logistics industry in Southeast Indiana employing about 13,700 people with an average annual salary of $50,000 per worker, according to the release.
The council, which is chaired by Doug Prather of Seymour-based Ranger Enterprises, held its first official meeting last month and is charged with developing a regional logistics strategic plan to strengthen the movement of manufactured projects through the region, state and world, according to the release. Components of the plan will be folded into a statewide logistics plan spearheaded by the Conexus Indiana Logistics Council.
“1si is thrilled to partner with Conexus Indiana to give our businesses a voice in the statewide logistics plans as they relate to the needs of Southeast Indiana,” Wendy Dant Chesser, president and CEO of 1si, said in the release.