Work is expected to begin this year on creating one of two new railyards at the Burns Harbor port, one segment of a $20 million expansion project there, the chief executive officer of the Ports of Indiana said Thursday.
“It’s No. 1 on our to-do list. We’re close to going out for bids for the east side railyard,” CEO Vanta E. Coda II said before speaking at a Northwest Indiana World Trade Alliance breakfast meeting held at Avalon Manor Banquets in Hobart.
Coda has been in his position since July 2018, having previously served as executive director of the Duluth Seaway Port Authority.
Coda said expansion projects at the Burns Harbor and Jeffersonville ports will be his main focus for the next three years.
The Burns Harbor project received a matching $9.85 million U.S. Department of Transportation FASTLANE grant in August 2017 to help pay for the expansion of the Lake Michigan port’s infrastructure, which will enable the port to increase its cargo handling capacity and multimodal capabilities.
Planned enhancements at Burns Harbor include the creation of two new railways, one on the east side and one on the west side, the addition of 4.4 miles to the port’s 14-mile rail network and construction of a new 2.3-acre cargo terminal with multimodal connections for handling cargo transfers between ships, barges, rail cars and trucks.
Improvements to the west dock include extending a retaining wall and paving a dock apron and a new 6-acre truck marshaling yard that will relieve congestion along port roads.
Coda said he expects the 49-year-old port to have another good shipping season this year, adding there are plenty of jobs available, some of which pay about $70,000 a year.
“The economy is still seen to be very good. The projection of steel consumption, which is the real driver at the port, is projected to have a 1.1% growth, which comes off a good year last year,” Coda said.
While wind turbines and large tanks used for producing beer at Chicago area breweries have propelled the total tonnage that has gone through the Burns Harbor port in recent years, Coda said he doesn’t know of a wind project in the area for which the port can compete at the current time.
“The beer tank shipments are sometimes a surprise,” he said.
He said there are positions available for rail workers, truckers and ancillary positions within the maritime industry, as well as desk jobs.
“Sadly, only 1%-2% of millennials are making transportation and logistics their career choice,” he said.
Asked if the proposed Gary intermodal facility at Buffington Harbor would have any effect on the Burns Harbor port, Coda said he’s not clear what Gary’s plan is for the site, adding he’s focused on the ports’ own infrastructure needs.
Ian Hirt, director of the Burns Harbor port, said the Lake Michigan port has taken strides in environmental stewardship. It’s part of a voluntary environmental compliance program called Green Marine and is acting as a conduit with its tenants to clear air and reduce diesel use through its relationship with South Shore Clean Cities.
Hirt said the port would also be helping with clear air with its new truck marshaling yard. He said the yard will have a lounge for truck drivers that they can go to instead of sitting in their idling trucks waiting in line to be
loaded or unloaded. He said there are sometimes 10 trucks waiting in line, with their engines running.
“They will be able to turn off their engine and go to the lounge. There will be an app that will let them know when their trucks are ready to unload,” Hirt said.
Coda said the Burns Harbor port is the only one of the three Indiana ports that handles international shipments, is primarily a steel campus, and handles about 9,000 rail cars, 75 ships, 350,000 trucks, 375 barges and 200 Great Lakes vessels a year.
The other ports in the Ports of Indiana system are in Jeffersonville and Mount Vernon.