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In Jersey, it's about fixing the final mile Aging infrastructure means transportation issues are not limited to the main roadways

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Jim Seber is the CEO and president of Seber Logistics Consulting Inc.
Jim Seber is the CEO and president of Seber Logistics Consulting Inc. - ()

More than 40 years ago, plans were laid to alleviate congestion around Route 206 through the Hillsborough area by adding a bypass. It didn't see any progress until a few years ago, when work began and just as quickly hit a snag, stalling the project again.

Jim Seber, who runs Seber Logistics Consulting Inc., brought this project up as an example of a dividing line between the healthy, transportation-reliant logistics industry in New Jersey and the not-so-flourishing infrastructure the state has been thought to offer it.

Although the bypass project he mentioned is getting underway again with a funding infusion from the Legislature raising the gasoline tax 23 cents per gallon late last year, logistics industry folks such as Seber remain cynical on the topic of New Jersey’s infrastructure.

“Whether it’s the current administration or one that came before — it’s usually the same story,” Seber said. “You look at something like that little bypass that was supposed to be a no-brainer, but here we are — after talking about it first in 1974 — and it’s still not done.

Snow problem
When the East Coast was hit with an unexpected snowstorm right before the turn of spring, the logistics industry relied heavily on contractors to keep its facilities traversable.
Steven Jomides of commercial landscaping management firm Lawns by Yorkshire said the industry makes for some of his Westwood-based company’s best customers.
“These logistics centers are 24/7 operations — and we need to provide safe passage between their buildings, which aren’t always connected,” he said. “So we’re there before it starts snowing and we stay even a while after it’s gone.
“We know they’re demanding, and we’re up to the challenge. Everyone expects these companies to have what they ordered the next day at their front door. We don’t want that not to happen when it snows.”

“The big thing in hauling freight is that final mile, getting the product to the customer or stores, and the transportation matters just as much as the warehousing aspect. And if the roads aren’t properly improved — or maintained, which is important — we’ll have challenges.”

Thom Campbell, chief strategy officer at Capacity LLC, which has a large fulfillment center in North Brunswick and locations across the country, said New Jersey’s infrastructure doesn’t stand out as being well attended to when looked at from a national perspective.

It scores no better or worse than the United States overall on the most recent report card from the American Society of Civil Engineers. It received a D+, which isn’t too far off from where it usually lands.

Campbell said there’s only one reaction someone in the logistics industry should have to that:

“We should all be very, very concerned. … That said, this has not been a huge issue for us as yet, except perhaps in increased transport cost, much of what has been offset by fuel costs.”

Yet, New Jersey as a market is an attractant for logistics companies.

As Michele Brown, CEO and president of Choose New Jersey, said, a company in the logistics industry in the middle of the state can reach 22 million consumers in a two-hour drive and 40 percent of the nation’s consumers within a two-day drive.

She’s also upbeat about improvements being made in the state’s infrastructure, citing the raising of the Bayonne Bridge and the widening of the New Jersey Turnpike as projects that dramatically enhanced local logistics opportunities.

Michael Rofman, leader of the New Jersey Transportation and Logistics Group at Mazars, admits that, although more infrastructure improvements would be welcome, the Turnpike widening was huge for the industry.

“It allowed a greater utilization of assets that can bring more profit and cash flow for the industry,” he said. “It’s not a direct correlation, but it does have an impact.”

But Erik Holck, director of business development and quality at Port Jersey Logistics, said logistics companies also have infrastructure priorities aside from the state’s highways.

“We have an old rail infrastructure that often doesn’t allow us to move high-queue boxcars into the (Turnpike exit) 8A market,” he said. “You can also look at Port Authority and the space they have — they’re still in something of a bind with bigger ships coming in from (the Panama Canal).”

The Port of New York and New Jersey has committed billions to improving its ability to take in increasing volumes in the future and is currently expanding the space in its yards to as part of that.

Rofman said logistics companies in the state are looking forward to those improvements, but that temporary gates set up at the ports during the project have been troublesome in the short term.

“They have some incredible delays right now because of that, creating a truck backup for miles into the port,” he said. “Hopefully, in the near term, they’ll be able to fix that.”

In general, Rofman is more optimistic than most about the state’s infrastructure.

“There are just a few needs we have in the area that can help it become even more of a logistics hotbed,” he said.

E-mail to: brettj@njbiz.com

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