At the Crossroads

Utah an Important Transportation Hub

Gaylen Webb

March 1, 2011

On any given day, thousands of tractor-trailers travel Utah’s interstates, moving freight from California to Chicago and beyond, or from Canada to Mexico. In fact, Utah highways have the highest percentage of truck traffic in the nation, according to Daniel Kuhn, railroad and freight planner for the Utah Department of Transportation.

“Utah is the crossroads for freight traffic traveling to and from the East and West Coasts on Interstate 15, Interstate 70, Interstate 80 and Interstate 84,” he says. “The State’s primary freight highways are a vital component of North America’s food and agricultural products distribution network. Much of the product shipped from growing areas in the West pass through Utah enroute to population centers in the Eastern U.S. and Canada.”

But Utah is known for more than its great interstate system. Indeed, the state’s destiny as the “Crossroads of the West” was actually sealed on May 10, 1869, when the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads were joined at Promontory Summit in Utah. In the 141 years since the driving of the Golden Spike at Promontory, Utah’s rail systems, highways, pipelines and international airport have made the state a global gateway for the distribution of goods and services, as well as an essential hub in the distribution system to the Western United States.

Utah’s geographic location in the West, relative to the nation’s highway and rail corridors, creates a tremendous economic advantage for businesses located in Utah, in terms of manufacturing, warehousing and distribution. Indeed, says Kuhn, “The resulting concentration of freight carriers and warehousing makes Utah very attractive to manufacturing and distribution businesses.”

Moving Product
Jeff Edwards, president and CEO of the Economic Development Corporation of Utah, says the ability to get product to market quicker and at a lower cost is a huge factor in business location and expansion decisions. Utah offers many logistical advantages including its data infrastructure. Utah’s broadband infrastructure is unrivaled anywhere in the U.S.  “The combination of our location, solid infrastructure, young workforce and business-friendly environment make the State an unparalleled place to do business,” he adds.

In 2008, Sephora U.S.A. opened a new, 312,000-square-foot Western distribution center in Salt Lake City. During the site selection process, Sephora looked seriously at sites in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and California, but selected Utah because the state had it all together: collaborative government and business leadership, a great transportation system, high-speed data connections, close proximity to the Salt Lake International Airport, the availability of a quality labor force, lower costs of doing business, a vibrant city center, quality of life and a beautiful, scenic environment.

Other major companies to recognize Utah’s logistical prominence include Specialized Bicycle, Wal-Mart, Procter & Gamble, Reckit Benckiser and Amer Sports.

Today, trucking is the primary source of freight movement through Utah, followed by pipelines, heavy rail and air freight. Seven major long-distance highway freight routes converge along various points on Interstate 15 in Utah, affecting freight flow across North America. Other primary freight corridors in Utah include U.S. Highways 89, 40 and 6.

For logistical reasons, many large refrigerated truck companies maintain terminals along Utah’s Wasatch Front. One such operation is C.R. England, North America’s largest refrigerated truck operator and one of the foremost trucking companies in the world. C.R. England trucks average approximately 10,000 trips per week while serving points in Mexico and all of the lower 48 states.

Surprisingly, pipelines are Utah’s second-largest mode of shipping (by weight). Utah is home to 19 different pipeline operators and an extensive network of more than 4,500 miles of pipe, delivering products such as crude oil, refined petroleum products, propane, carbon dioxide and phosphate rock slurry to end points that would otherwise require transportation via approximately 2,164 trucks, according to the Utah Department of Transportation’s Planning Division.

Utah is strategically located at the center of Western America’s railroad network. In fact, six major routes of the Union Pacific Railroad converge at Wasatch Front rail yards and refueling terminals. BNSF Railway provides limited service to Utah via trackage rights over Union Pacific rail lines between Colorado and Northern California.

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