The state’s advanced manufacturing and logistics initiative Conexus Indiana is re-routing its roadmap for the future of the “Crossroads of America.” The organization’s statewide logistics plans have, since 2010, viewed Indiana’s infrastructure through a singular lens. However, recognizing unique needs in every corner of the state, Conexus is now issuing six separate regional plans—and letting the Hoosier business community be its voice.
“[The regional plans] aren’t necessarily what a city or town says it needs; it’s not a local elected official saying, ‘I need this road,’” says Conexus Vice President of Operations and Business Development David Holt. “This is a businessperson who says, ‘We need a bypass around here…so our trucks don’t have to stop every five minutes and damage the city streets.’”
The six plans were developed by regional logistics councils throughout the state, with local business leaders making up the vast majority of the roster in each area: northwest, north central, northeast, central, southwest and southeast.
Conexus says because Indiana is a manufacturing-intense state—one of only a few that exports more than it imports—maintaining and improving the logistics infrastructure is paramount. The organization says 75 percent of the U.S. and Canadian populations is within a day’s truck drive of Indiana, and the Hoosier state ranks first in the nation in interstate access and ninth in rail miles.
“These plans represent the thoughts of the local business leaders who live in this world of logistics and move all of our products,” says Holt. “These business leaders tried to figure out where are the bottlenecks, where are the inefficiencies, where are the problem areas we need to fix to make sure we can move our products the fastest, most efficient and at the lowest cost.”
For example, the north central council, which encompasses several counties in the South Bend area, identified U.S. 31 as its top priority. The regional team advocates to complete the transition of U.S. 31 to a four-lane, full access-controlled freeway between Indianapolis and Benton Harbor, Michigan.
“We’ve had tremendous improvements; 20-mile bypasses finished around Kokomo and around the south end of South Bend, which has already cut about an hour of travel time between South Bend and Indy—and frankly, eliminated lots of accidents and stoplights,” says North Central Regional Logistics Council Chairman John Phair, who is also president and chief executive officer of Holladay Properties.
“It’s not quite finished, and that’s our number one goal—to get it finished and make it an interstate all the way from the Michigan border to Indy.”
In another corner of the state, southeast Indiana, widening existing four-lane rural segments of I-65 to a minimum of six lanes emerged as a top priority, as well as reconstruction of the Olmsted Locks and Dam to reduce tow and barge delays “through the busiest stretch of river in America’s inland waterways.”
While Conexus’ overall strategy uses a regional approach, the organization says one issue is consistent statewide: work force. Each region wants to expand Conexus’ Hire Technology program to help swell the pipeline of logistics workers. All six regions also expressed a need to quell the shortage of truck drivers, barge captains and airline pilots.
With the regions’ strategies now “on paper,” Conexus says “it’s all about implementation.” Each region is identifying three things that can be achieved quickly to progress toward bigger goals.
“In the end, are all of these projects that we identified going to happen? Probably not,” says Holt. “However, there are some things that were identified that need to happen in the future, and we think this is a really good starting point. It allows the state to look at this long-term, and hopefully, it will be a good goal line for the state to get to.”
Holt says the plans represent a long-term “goal line” for the state.
Phair says upgrading U.S. 30 and connectivity of the Indiana Toll Road are two other priorities in north central Indiana.