October 14, 2002
JOLIET (Oct. 14)–As flashbulbs popped and politicians orated, the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway today opened its mammoth new intermodal ramp just outside Elwood, six miles southwest of Joliet on the former Santa Fe Railway main line and deep within a huge new distribution complex.
“It has taken over seven years, negotiations with over 50 governmental agencies, and more than $250 million to make the largest multi-modal industrial park in the Midwest a reality,” said Mike Mullen, president and chief operating officer of the site’s developer, CenterPoint Properties. “CenterPoint Intermodal Center is now–by far–the largest, most efficient and ultimately lowest-cost distribution location in the Midwest.”
One reason for the long lead time and complex governmental efforts needed to bring the facility on line was that the site had to be converted from its original use as a military weapons plant to a civilian function.
Known as the Joliet Arsenal, the 23,500-acre property was decommissioned when the Cold War ended and its ownership transferred in 1996 from the Department of Defense to the Department of the Interior.
Most of the site was set aside for restoration on the original prairie that greeted the pioneers who settled the area in the early 19th century. It is now known as the Midwin Tall Grass Prairie Preserve.
But the 1,300 acres nearest the highway and railway was made available for industrial/commercial development, and in August 2000 the Department of Defense transferred it to CenterPoint. And a long and complex environmental cleanup had to take place before either of the new functions could go forward.
The railroad’s part of the development, a 621-acre intermodal ramp and classification yard formally known as BNSF Logistics Park–Chicago–is expected to become a transportation powerhouse because its planners positioned it to exploit three advantages:
Customer convenience–Instead of standing alone, Logistics Park is situated within CenterPoint’s 2,200-acre distribution complex. Warehouses and distribution centers will be located adjacent to the ramp, enabling distribution companies to bring inbound merchandise containers directly from the railroad to their truck docks over an uncongested, privately owned road system that does not require using local streets. When the goods move out of the warehouses to customers, trucks will exit from the project directly onto adjacent I-55.
Access to integrated BNSF system–The site is located alongside the Santa Fe Railway’s historic “Transcon” route connecting Chicago with Kansas City, Southern California, the San Francisco Bay area and Texas. But thanks to the 1995 merger of the Santa Fe and the Burlington Northern, BN main lines are now physically tied into the Santa Fe via a new connection built where the two railroads’ main lines cross at Galesburg. Thus, this one-time Santa Fe location also can be accessed from such major BN origins as Seattle-Tacoma, Vancouver and Denver, making it a target for shipments from the entire Pacific Coast and even Canada.
Room to work, room to grow–Prior to Logistics Park, BNSF intermodal trains were forced to maneuver through Metra commuter trains and crosstown yard transfer jobs to reach small, congested inner-city yards such as Corwith and Cicero. Trucks bound to and from the older ramps lost precious minutes battling their way through local street traffic. Logistics Park is located outside the Chicago Switching District, enabling intermodal trains to terminate their runs earlier and transfer their loads directly to the region’s circumferential expressways and tollways.
“It really represents a new age in the way it transforms an ex-military property into an instrument of economic growth,” said Stacey Zolt, a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Richard J. Durbin, whose office spearheaded the effort to bring about the arsenal’s conversion. “This facility has the potential in the short term to create 8,000 jobs, and long-term we’re talking about even more.”
Ms. Zolt said that she was with Sen. Durbin when he arrived at the opening ceremonies by helicopter from Springfield.
“We got to see the whole thing from overhead and it was just magnificent,” she said. “It has the potential to transform the economy of the region. It will decrease truck traffic on local streets and provide businesses with the efficiencies they’re looking for when they ship their goods.”
Also present at the opening were U.S. Rep. Jerry Weller (R-Ottawa), Elwood Mayor Robert Blum, State Rep. Mary Kay O’Brian (D-Coal City), State Rep.Jack McGuire (D-Joliet), and State Sen. Larry Walsh (D-Joliet).
“They turned a white elephant and a Superfund waste-removal site into an economic winner,” said UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo after attending the grand opening. “We don’t know yet how many of those new jobs are going to be railroad jobs, but BNSF says the new facility increases their Chicago-area intermodal capacity by 400,000 lifts per year and they’ve got an option on another 200 acres which will give them space for an additional 800,000 lifts. That strongly suggests that this carrier will have to operate more mainline trains as well as switching jobs to service this huge new demand.”