CFIRE Research is Helping Shape Marine Transportation Planning and Economic Development Across the State

by Kerri Phillips on January 27, 2017

Wisconsin Port Worker

Wisconsin’s marine freight system is a tremendous asset for both a strong economy as well as a healthy environment in the state. Research coming out of the National Center for Freight and Infrastructure Research and Education (CFIRE) at the University of Wisconsin–Madison is helping multiple organizations and agencies target priority projects as they create and implement plans for the state’s freight infrastructure and economic development. Top among the priority projects identified were the state’s Marine Highways as well as repairs and upgrades to key ports.

Route Comparison Truck vs. Marine Options

The WCPDI report demonstrates that Wisconsin shippers can save money by taking advantage of the state’s maritime highways or by using a combination of truck and ship-based transportation. For example, moving shipping containers along the Lake Michigan coastline has the potential to remove trucks from the congested Interstate Highways of I-41, I-43, and I-94 and reduce costs.

“One of the things our research demonstrates is that our Marine Highway system is vital to supporting the growth we will be seeing in freight across Wisconsin over the next two decades and beyond,” said Ernest Perry, PhD, CFIRE researcher and Principal Investigator of the Wisconsin Commercial Ports Development Initiative (WCPDI). “Investments in our Marine Highways and our ports benefit our state in a number of ways from creating high-value jobs to mitigating the environmental effects of moving freight. Our data show that this is a great place to focus if we’re interested in supporting our manufacturers, producers, and shippers.”

Recently, the WCPDI released its report, “Leveraging our Comparative Advantage, Phase II: Identification and Development of Wisconsin Port Market Scenarios.” Taking a phased approach, the initiative has the goal of increasing freight movement and developing logistics at Wisconsin commercial ports. With this development, the state will see increases in employment and economic development. Additionally, the initiative is creating opportunities for increased cooperation and collaboration among the ports within the state and with ports in neighboring states.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) did not waste any time making use of the data coming out of this initiative. “These findings were incorporated into the state’s freight plan and also will be incorporated into future water transportation planning,” said Sheri Walz, Harbors and Waterways Program Manager at WisDOT.

Other organizations using this information to guide policy and planning include the Upper Mississippi River Basin Association and the Conference of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Governors and Premiers.

This study identified and compared four marine highway corridors on the Great Lakes and Upper Mississippi River with their parallel highway corridors. In all cases, the assessment demonstrates that the marine corridors can provide lower cost service to Wisconsin’s industries, business and shippers. These marine corridors are a critical part of the overall multimodal freight system. Dean Haen, Port Director at Green Bay and President of the Wisconsin Commercial Ports Association, added, “We’re taking a big-picture approach and considering our priorities at the state level, not just as individual port operators. Marine freight options are on everyone’s mind as we work to move an ever-increasing amount of goods.”

According Kathy Heady at WEDC, “with completion of phase II, WCPA, WisDOT, WEDC, DNR, Coastal Management, Department of Ag, and the UW–Madison, along with five participating ports, have formed the WCPA Implementation Working Group. This group will continue to focus on growing Wisconsin’s commercial ports as well as advance collaboration among the participating ports. Ultimately, we are growing Wisconsin’s economy.”

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