Transportation leaders say there’s an “infrastructure bonanza” on the banks of the Ohio River in southeast Indiana—a project involving two bridges, one river port, a massive available industrial site and a specially-designed road that will connect the critical parts. State and local business partners recently broke ground on the first phase of a $30 million project to build a heavy haul road connecting River Ridge Commerce Center in Jeffersonville to the Port of Indiana-Jeffersonville. On paper, the project may not look like much—simply a road—but local leaders say it’s the key that will finally turn the ignition on two major economic engines.

The initial phase of the heavy haul road—now underway— stretches from the new I-265 Interchange to Highway 62, running through the River Ridge Commerce Center. A second segment to be built later will connect the port to the same I-265 interchange.

“The ability to link a leading inland waterway port facility to a 6,000-acre commerce center is a significant opportunity that simply doesn’t exist anyplace else,” says Port of Indiana-Jeffersonville

Director Scott Stewart.

The port and River Ridge currently have no direct link; trucks must maneuver between the two using a state highway, then I-265 for a short period. While open to the public, the new road is designated a heavy haul corridor, because it will be an extra-wide, two-way direct connection designed to meet specifications for oversized loads, such as steel coils or other raw materials; of the 28 companies at the port, about half are involved in steel processing.

State leaders estimate River Ridge has a $1.3 billion overall economic impact in Indiana, but are even more excited about its potential. Of the center’s 6,000 acres, 5,000 are still available. By contrast, the port’s largest open parcel of land is 140 acres.

“[River Ridge] has a certified mega-site with about 1,400 usable acres—and the new heavy haul road comes to that site,” says River Ridge Development Authority Executive Director Jerry Acy. “That means we can accommodate a heavy industrial manufacturer or large assembly plant—something that could require provisions of metal products. There’s a metal campus at the port and [the new road] would be a very convenient and direct route to come from the port to River Ridge.”

Stewart describes direct access to the waterway as “a second-to-none asset.” Adding fuel to the “infrastructure bonanza,” the port recently landed $10 million in federal funding to begin a project it’s been hungry for: a rail connection to River Ridge. The grant will help the port add nearly four miles to its existing 11-mile rail network and construct more than a mile of rail toward River Ridge; the center currently has an outdated rail line, but the two sites are not connected.

Stewart says the heavy haul road provides the right of way to eventually connect the port and River Ridge by rail. In the meantime, the grant will enable the port to double its cargo-handling capacity; the Port of Indiana-Jeffersonville logged its highest quarterly freight volume ever in the first quarter of 2015.

“The road, the rail and the water infrastructure connected to the port,” says Stewart, “it’s going to be the most significant thing economically to happen to the region in a very, very long time.”

The heavy haul corridor is expected to open hand-in-hand with the new East End Crossing in October. While great excitement surrounds the series of developments, Acy cautions much work remains to bring River Ridge up to pace.

“There are challenges to build out our internal infrastructure to complement all the other infrastructure being constructed in the region,” says Acy. “We’re in the process of rebuilding all the road and utility systems that were associated with the ammunition plant that was built back in the 40s and 50s. So, it’s not like a clean slate; we have a tremendous amount of demolition to remove old buildings and facilities.”

While leaders describe River Ridge as still being “in the early innings,” the heavy haul corridor is expected to be a home run for the region that will initiate a game-winning strategy in southeastern Indiana.

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