Joe Urban | Sam Newberg, Urbanist

Logistics Centers – Inland Ports

Dateline: 4:50 pm November 24, 2008 Filed under:

One of the highlights of my summer was a helicopter tour of the CenterPoint Intermodal Center in Elwood, Illinois. Covering 2,500 acres, CIC-Elwood, as is it called, is one of the largest integrated logistics centers in the country. It includes an intermodal terminal for the transfer of containers from train to truck, and 8 million square feet of distribution warehouses. You can read more about it at the ULI Case Studies website, but you’ll need a subscription to do so.

It was a gorgeous June morning. I met representatives from CenterPoint Properties at their Oak Brook offices in suburban Chicago. Our helicopter was waiting in a vacant lot one block away. We boarded and took off, following Interstate 55 to the southwest towards Joliet and CIC-Elwood, which is just to its south.

The scale of large logistics centers (known as “inland ports”) are best viewed from the air, and I didn’t need convincing. At 2,500 acres, you can understand why. You can view my photos from the tour of CIC-Elwood here on Picasaweb.

In addition to CIC-Elwood, I toured the Alliance Texas logistics hub in Fort Worth earlier in the year. Logistics centers are quite amazing places. They play an increasing role in the worldwide supply chain. As manufactured goods are imported in to the United States in containers, they typically arrive by ship. Los Angeles/Long Beach is our biggest port. There, they are transferred to rail (one gallon of fuel moves one ton of freight over 400 miles by rail, versus around 100 miles by truck) and brought to mid-continent logistics hubs to be warehoused or transferred directly to truck.

The largest “inland ports” include CIC-Elwood and Alliance Texas. They are located near major freight rail lines, interstates, population centers, have foreign trade zone status, and include an intermodal terminal for the rail to truck transfer. Most of all, they are huge, over 1,000 acres in size. This allows for the intermodal terminal, container storage, truck parking, and massive warehouses, which often average 1 million square feet in size.

The names on these warehouses read like a Fortune 500 checklist: Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola, Kraft, JCPenney, Motorola, Ford, and the list goes on. If you purchase a manufactured good, chances are it was transferred through an inland port.

In my research, I came across some great resources on inland ports. The Allen Group, which is developing an inland port south of Dallas, has a great website with interactive maps showing major trade routes, partners, shipping routes, rail lines, interstates. If you like maps, you’ll love the Allen Group website. Also, Heitman, a consultancy, has assisted several clients developing inland ports and are experts on the topic. They published a paper in February 2007 describing inland ports. Read the February 2007 Heitman Perspectives here.

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