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Ports of Indiana post big 2021 cargo increase

The Ports of Indiana handled more than 11.2 million tons of cargo in 2021, representing a 33.6% increase from 2020. The past five years’ shipments (2017-2021), including the hard-hit pandemic of 2020, have totaled more than 58.7 million tonswhich set a new five-year high for the three Ports. In comparison, the previous five years’ shipments (2012-2016) totaled $49.1 million tons.

Both Burns Harbor and Jeffersonville achieved their highest shipment totals to date. In the history of Ports of Indiana, more than 259.8 million tons have been shipped using its three Ports.

Major cargo increases in 2021 for the Ports of Indiana overall included a rebound in coal (213%), salt (141%), steel (40%), grain (39%), minerals (23%), oils (21%) and limestone (20%). Additional increases included coke and project cargo such as wind turbines.

“The Ports of Indiana recovered very well after a down pandemic year,” said Ports of Indiana chief executive officer Vanta E. Coda II. “Burns Harbor and Jeffersonville had their best tonnage years ever thanks to our core businesses growing, a steady economy and new shipment opportunities taking advantage of our world-class infrastructure and value-add partners.”

On Lake Michigan, the Ports of Indiana-Burns Harbor handled 3.39 million tons in 2021, up nearly 50% compared to 2020 and reached its highest annual shipment total since it began operation in 1970. (The second-highest year was in 2014.) The past five years’ shipments (2017-2021) totaled 13.77 million tons.

Limestone was up 92% from the previous year. Steel shipments continued to grow by 67% compared to 2020. Project cargo, including wind turbines and mega storage tanks, was down compared to its best year in 2020, but remained well above all other prior years.

The Ports of Indiana-Jeffersonville on the Ohio River handled 3.22 million tons, up 21.6% compared to 2020 and reached its highest annual shipment total since it began operation in 1985. (The second-highest year was in 2015.) Salt was up (59%) from 2020, while grain was up (49%), adding more than 1 million tons. Steel also increased (21.6%).

A $10 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant initiated substantial changes in Jeffersonville a few years back. The grant provided partial funding for $24 million in infrastructure enhancements that has added nearly four miles to the port’s existing 11-mile rail network. The project will enhance and overhaul the railroad infrastructure and intermodal capabilities throughout the entire port. The project is in the final stages and will officially be completed this spring.  

Also on the Ohio River, the Ports of Indiana-Mount Vernon handled 4.65 million tons, up 32% from 2020. Coal shipments were up 241%, especially in the third and fourth quarters meeting export demand, yet down considerably compared to prior years. Salt (143%), minerals (73%), grain (90%), steel (32%) and fertilizer (21%) were all up in 2021. A large grain crop with strong prices prompted producers to invest in fertilizer, resulting in an increase for both products. A rebound in manufacturing drove steel coil volumes up. (Burns Harbor photo by Brad Cavanagh)