Celadon says inland port would be economic boon to state: Putting customs clearing here would speed crossings

January 16, 2006

Celadon Trucking plans by the end of April to install global positioning satellite devices on 1,350 of its trailers, an application of technology that could pave the way for an inland cargo port in central Indiana.

Tom Glaser, president of one of the largest trucking lines hauling goods between the United States, Mexico and Canada, plans to urge state economic development officials to build a multimodal port in Indiana that would include Mexican and Canadian customs-clearing facilities. Officials would inspect, certify and seal goods bound for their countries-with the GPS transmitters providing assurance at the border crossings that the doors remained sealed.

Currently, trucks from Indianapolis-based Celadon and other firms can wait hours or even days to clear Mexican customs at the border. Idle trucks don't make money.

Such expedited shipping could make the Indiana port popular to transfer goods from all over North America that arrive via truck, train and maybe even airplane.

"What this is doing is creating an inland port," Glaser said. "It's going to create jobs, it's going to remove congestion away from the border. ... This is very much in the formative stages right now."

State officials did not respond to requests for comment. However, Glaser's vision dovetails with efforts by Mayor Bart Peterson to extend cooperation and commerce opportunities with Mexico.

"We, too, are very intrigued by this idea, especially because we have a Mexican Consular office here and one of our targeted industry clusters is logistics," Deputy Mayor Steve Campbell said.

Glaser's idea isn't exactly original.

Kansas City plans to open a Mexican customs clearing facility in May, which officials say would be the first Mexican clearinghouse within the United States.

The project is part of Kansas City's existing "SmartPort" complex. Celadon will serve as the guinea pig for the GPS system planned for Kansas City. One of its semi trailers equipped with the device will run between Kansas City and the border town of Laredo, Texas.

Although Kansas City touts an ideal location geographically, Glaser figures Indiana is actually better situated.

"Where's the population [centered]? East of the Mississippi," he said. "Nobody's idea can't be improved upon."

The idea of a creating a giant rail-truck hub in Indiana goes back years. In 2003, the General Assembly gave the Indiana Port Commission the green light to develop such a facility but never provided funding. Currently, the commission operates three maritime ports-in Burns Harbor, Jeffersonville and Mount Vernon.

Proponents of such a facility have pointed to possible sites near Chicago and at an existing rail yard in Avon.

Indiana has the nation's ninth-largest rail system and has the most interstate highways of any state. Indianapolis International Airport is the site of FedEx's second-largest U.S. hub.

Indianapolis could use a boost from such a facility to develop its logistics industry, said Robert Cooksey, an expert in supply-chain management at Indianapolis-based Wolf Technical Services.

Despite a proliferation of warehouses in recent years, the state by some estimates ranks 64th in logistics nationwide, Cooksey added.

"Tom's idea is fantastic," he said of Glaser.

Glaser said such a port also would provide opportunities for Indiana technology companies to develop new and improved GPS systems and other technology used to manage an operation as complex as a port.
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