Ports Of Indiana Wins Approval For First Container Port Serving Chicago On Lake Michigan

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  • In a landmark decision, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has granted approval for a proposal from Ports of Indiana to establish the first international container terminal on Lake Michigan at Burns Harbor.
  • This move paves the way for a revolutionary new shipping route, creating the first all-water option for ocean vessels to deliver cargo directly to the bustling Chicago metropolitan area.

Strategic Location for Economic Growth

The Burns Harbor terminal is situated in northwest Indiana, offering a prime location within sight of the Chicago skyline and conveniently placed within the Greater Chicago Metropolitan Area. Currently ranked as the 25th largest U.S. port, Burns Harbor handles a significant volume of cargo (25 million tons annually), generating an impressive $16.6 billion in economic impact each year. Chicago itself boasts the third-largest population in the U.S. (9.6 million) and serves as a major hub for the nation’s intermodal container market. Presently, all containerized goods destined for Chicago travel exclusively by rail or truck.

Transformational Potential and Development Timeline

“This approval represents a critical step forward in our long-term vision to establish a container terminal at Burns Harbor and introduce a completely new supply chain for international container shipments,” declared Ports of Indiana CEO Jody Peacock. He acknowledged the project’s potential for transformative economic opportunities in the Midwest but emphasized the time required for development. While Burns Harbor is currently equipped to handle containerized cargo, regular container shipping services will have to wait until CBP facilities are fully operational, likely by 2026.

CBP Approval Details and Infrastructure Development

The CBP’s approval letter confirms the agency’s determination that Ports of Indiana’s project justifies the need for a dedicated CBP container cargo examination facility at Burns Harbor. The project entails infrastructure construction by Ports of Indiana, encompassing a CBP office, equipment, furnishings, supplies, large-scale non-inspection equipment, radiation portal monitors, and security measures meeting CBP specifications. Construction and installation are anticipated for completion in 2025.

Challenges and Opportunities: A Modern Port System for Indiana

“This venture presents significant challenges alongside substantial opportunities,” remarked Ryan McCoy, Port Director at Ports of Indiana-Burns Harbor. “While limitations exist for Great Lakes shipping due to a shorter season and smaller vessels, the potential benefits of handling containers are immense. Granting access to ocean carriers could diversify supply chains, alleviate transportation bottlenecks, and ultimately reduce the carbon footprint associated with shipping to and from the Midwest.”

The Indiana Container Initiative: A Commitment to Progress

The Ports of Indiana Commission recently approved a resolution establishing “The Indiana Container Initiative,” formally solidifying the organization’s dedication to pursuing the development of container shipping facilities at its ports and other strategic locations throughout Indiana. Notably, Cleveland and Duluth are currently the only U.S. Great Lakes ports handling container vessels, with Monroe, Michigan, also seeking CBP approval. Burns Harbor’s addition would create a network encompassing the largest metropolitan area on the Great Lakes, offering shippers a wider range of container terminal options.

Building Partnerships for a Sustainable Future

Ports of Indiana has already secured memorandums of understanding with potential partners and garnered letters of support from other Great Lakes ports and over 35 government officials, businesses, and trade associations. “We are actively engaged with several businesses expressing strong interest in utilizing a regular liner service to Burns Harbor, and initial container projections are promising,” stated Ian Hirt, a maritime consultant collaborating with the port to develop container business. “This service is likely to be a niche offering specialized amenities like refrigerated containers or eco-friendly options. It also has the potential to alleviate congestion and enhance supply chain reliability.”

Looking Ahead: Partnering for Success

As facility planning progresses, Ports of Indiana officials are actively seeking potential partners and customers to propel the project forward. They plan to engage in select partnerships to solidify initial development plans, quantify projected volumes, and establish a scalable terminal appropriately sized to meet present and future demands.

About Ports of Indiana

Ports of Indiana, a statewide port authority, operates three ports situated on the Ohio River and Lake Michigan. Established in 1961, the organization functions as a self-funded enterprise dedicated to fostering Indiana’s economic growth by developing and maintaining a world-class port system. It also serves as a statewide resource for maritime affairs, international trade, and multimodal logistics.

About the Indiana Container Initiative

Approved by the Ports of Indiana Commission in June 2024 (Resolution 24-01), this initiative authorizes and directs Ports of Indiana to vigorously pursue the development of international container terminals. It encompasses acquiring necessary regulatory approvals, making significant investments, seeking additional funding (grants and public-private partnerships), exploring international best practices, and forming partnerships and collaborations.

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Source: portsofindiana