County should deliver solid planning for trucking hubs

Bartholomew County is well positioned to serve as a regional hub for transportation and logistics, particularly along the U.S. 31 corridor in the northern part of the county.

That’s where R&L Carriers of Wilmington, Ohio, plans to park a $30 million cross dock facility just north of Indiana Premium Outlets on County Road 800N. The site in German Township is literally just down the road from where Old Dominion Freight Lines opened a 60-door terminal earlier this year.

R&L is an established trucking and logistics force with a fleet of more than 21,000 tractors, and the county should approve its request for tax abatement. R&L projects its proposed 150-door terminal will create 79 full-time jobs by next summer with the expectation of growth in future years. These will be good jobs with an average annual salary of $53,000, the company says, so the county’s approval of tax abatement looks to be a sound investment whose returns will keep rolling on.

Our proximity to Interstate 65 and our same-day access to roughly two-thirds of the population of the United States make us attractive to trucking and logistics operations. Located as we are within an easy ride to the economic and logistics powerhouses of Indianapolis, Louisville and Cincinnati means more of these projects will be coming down the pike.

The county should recognize this eventuality and plan for it with some forward thinking right now.

Officials should re-examine development standards to balance the need to move freight with quality-of-life values the community desires. We can facilitate the near certainty of more trucking operations, but we should also have certain expectations.

Long-term road and public infrastructure improvements will be needed to accommodate big rigs and provide easy access to I-65 and the industrial parks where terminals will be located.

At the same time, commercial, retail, agricultural and residential neighbors must be protected.

Right now, the county’s zoning ordinance expressly exempts “the operation of motor vehicles for the transportation of personnel, material or products” from meeting general industrial standards. That means the county cannot regulate trucking operations for smoke, noise, odor, vibration or a host of other potential nuisances that other industries can be held accountable for under the code.

Bartholomew County deserves better than that, especially when it’s as predictable as the sunrise that there will be more trucks on the horizon. The Indiana Department of Transportation counted more than 27,000 vehicles traveling U.S. 31 north of I-65 during a 24-hour period in August 2019, and an annual daily average of more than 23,000 vehicles that year. That number seems sure to grow.

Anyone who’s driven on I-65 can see out their windshield how vital logistics and transportation are to our region’s economy and, indeed, the global supply chain. Our region is known as the Crossroads of America, and transportation undeniably powers much of our economy.

But our region also is known for its innovative spirit, forward thinking and quality of life. We can meet those expectations by encouraging responsible development that fosters the needs of transportation and best serves the public.

Our county leaders need to be driving this. They should take a fresh look at the zoning ordinance, and what our future expectations should be for major transportation facilities. It’s the only roadmap we have to steer responsible development.