Starting tomorrow, truck drivers serving a major intermodal complex in the Chicago area will be able to again use a shortcut after a judge temporarily repealed a local ban on truck traffic on the route.
U.S. Northern District of Illinois Judge Gary Feinerman on June 16 issued a temporary restraining order with respect to the Village of Elwood’s ban on truck traffic on a route connecting to Union Pacific Railroad’s terminal at the CenterPoint Intermodal Center. Another hearing is expected in two to four weeks.
Citing safety concerns, the village late last month passed an ordinance blocking truck traffic on Walter Strawn Drive, near State Route 53. That forced trucks moving into and out of the Elwood side of the 6,500-acre distribution complex to take a longer route, raising costs and limiting how many loads trucks could move daily. The complex — one of the busiest, if not the busiest, land ports in the nation —has 32 tenants include Walmart, Bissell, Cargill, Home Depot and Georgia Pacific.
CenterPoint, APL Logistics and UP struck back by seeking an injunction against the ban. Feinerman found the developer “has a likelihood of success on the merits of several of the claims made in court,” CenterPoint spokesman Jacques Engle said in a statement. By diverting cargo through an interchange at Interstate 55 and Arsenal Road, the village ban would increase congestion, along with safety risks, elsewhere, CenterPoint said.
Despite the legal setback, the Village of Elwood says it’s confident the judge will allow the ban to be reinstated. The hearing “is characterized by a low standard of proof and the plaintiff was not required to supply full facts supporting its argument,” the village said in a statement. More than 8,000 trucks daily cross the Walter Strawn railroad crossing, even though the crossing is only permitted by the state to handle no more than 1,800 trucks a day until 2023, the village added.
The fight over increased truck traffic is hardly contained to the village roughly 40 miles southwest of Chicago. The growth of inland ports — or major distribution complexes with intermodal rail connections — in rural or less developed regions has been boon and curse for some localities. Sprawling distribution centers bring taxes, along with the hope of retail growth, but come with increased traffic and safety risks.
Shippers, particularly agricultural exporters, are watching the fight closely, as they saw the ban increase transit times and cut down on overall supply-chain efficiency. Truck drivers that have been forced to use the alternate route at Interstate 55 and Arsenal Road have seen their round trip times rise from about 30 minutes to two hours, said Mark Schneidewind, manager of the Will County Farm Bureau.
Elwood’s trucking ban, for example, cut one trucking company’s daily roundtrips from five to three, Don Schaefer, executive vice president at the Mid-West Truckers Association, said. The ban also shifted congestion to routes that are already plagued by heavy traffic .
The section of Interstate 55 between Arsenal Road and Interstate 80, for example, is down to one-lane because of construction, and traffic diverted because of the Elwood ban only added to congestion. The Arsenal route on a round-trip basis is about 16 miles longer than the route via Walter Strawn Drive.
Elwood “looked at local safety; they didn’t look at regional safety, though,” Schneidewind said.
The Walter Strawn route also provides shippers with larger efficiencies of scale, as many trucks are permitted to haul up to 88,000 pounds, an 8,000 increase from what they can transport via Arsenal Road. Schneidewind said it would be several weeks before local officials could gauge how much higher weight limits would affect Arsenal Road and then begin issuing permits to motor carriers.
Many agricultural shippers were caught off guard by the ban and are still determining whether to keep using UP’s Global 4 facility, Schneidewind said. Many shippers didn’t think the village would resort to the ban, considering the Illinois Commerce Department was expected to weigh in with its findings on June 17, he said.
Roughly 90 percent of the 22 million bushels grown by Will County farmers is exported, and 80 percent of that share moves through the UP terminal, Schneidewind said. He said the UP terminal handles more agricultural exports than the BNSF Railway terminal that anchors the Eiwood side of CenterPoint Intermodal Center.