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Monday, May 10, 2010

Joliet intermodal project touting itself as a 'recession buster'

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The industrial city within a city is taking shape on the south end of Joliet. Ill., the Herald-News reports. CenterPoint Intermodal Center-Joliet -- a 4,000-acre, $2-billion project that is changing the landscape of a once rural edge of the city -- will begin to become a working industrial center in the coming months.

Construction started in late summer 2008. Nearly 1,000 workers have been building roads and bridges, laying 35 miles of rail, and even creating 175 acres of new wetlands in a development that is in its first phase.

The fruits of those labors are showing. A new truck route, connecting the intermodal yard with Interstate 55 with the aim of steering semi-trailers away from regular traffic, should open in early June. The Union Pacific-Joliet Intermodal Terminal, the anchor of the project where trains and trucks will meet to move cargo, is on schedule to open by August. And, the shell of the first CenterPoint industrial building -- a new distribution center for the Stepan Co. chemical plant nearby -- is up.

"This is our flagship project," Jeremy Gray, project manager for Oak Brook-based CenterPoint told city officials and residents who went along for a recent bus tour of the development. It's the largest ever done by CenterPoint, twice the size of the intermodal center in Elwood just to the south.

Motorists can get a good feel for the project by taking a drive along the new truck route when it opens sometime in early June. The southern end of the route, an intersection at Arsenal and Baseline roads still under construction, is scheduled to open then. The road combines sections of Patterson, Millsdale and Baseline roads to create a route from the Union Pacific intermodal yard to Interstate 55. The idea is to keep trucks off of Route 53 and other local roads. Keeping trucks on the path may be a challenge, however.

Tim Vanderhyden, supervisor of Jackson Township where CenterPoint Intermodal Center-Elwood is located, said trucks often stray off designated routes there.

"They're not allowed on local roads, but they're sneaking all the time," Vanderhyden said.

The new road is one of $180 million worth of public improvements being done by CenterPoint. The company also has dug a new city well, is building a lift station for the storm sewer system and will build a water treatment plant.

CenterPoint likes to call the Joliet project a "recession buster," Gray said, noting the 950 construction jobs created since the development started. Another 14,000 or so jobs are projected for the future. CenterPoint wants to develop 17 million square feet of industrial space. So far, it has the Stepan building, which is 250,000 square feet at Baseline and Millsdale roads. The Stepan building is a small version of what CenterPoint expects to build in the future, although the economy will be a factor.

"The other ones we'll put up will be a lot bigger," Gray said. Future buildings should be at least 500,000 square feet and go beyond one million square feet, he said, but added, "if this market cooperates with us."

Deals are in the works, he said. The opening of the Union Pacific-Joliet Intermodal Terminal -- projected for August -- should make a difference. The 785-acre intermodal yard is the central feature and main selling point for the development.

CenterPoint Intermodal Center-Joliet is designed as a "closed campus," meaning a company that locates there has warehousing, rail access and container management all within one place. The closed-campus concept also is supposed to create some separation from residential neighbors. Berms have been built, and a screening wall now is being constructed along Laraway Road.

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