Every time that planners in Joliet and Will County move to enhance the river traffic component of the area’s freight-moving realm, it means jobs.

More jobs to hoist barges up the rivers and canals, more jobs unloading cargo and more railroad and trucking jobs to move the cargo to its ultimate destination.

That’s the easy reason to support the annexation of 138 acres near the Des Plaines River that’s likely to be passed by the Joliet City Council this month. The more subtle reason is that every project added to Will County’s growing intermodal operations only reinforces that the county is becoming a major center of commercial transport one step at a time.

Centerpoint Properties, the company that will operate the proposed rail-barge cargo interchange, has been acquiring land in the Elwood-Joliet area since 1999 and owns about 6,400 acres, including the 800-acre BNSF intermodal center in Elwood, which opened in 2002, and a similar 835-acre center in Joliet that’s owned by Union Pacific and opened in 2010.

The tonnage of barge traffic on the Des Plaines River, measured at the Brandon Road Locks near Joliet, fell to a decade low 10.7 million tons in 2011. Those totals could point back up.

What difference should it make to citizens how a shipper gets its raw products to market? Because barges cost 59 cents per mile to operate, trains cost $2.53 and trucks $5.35. Seen from a different perspective, barges can tote a ton of cargo 514 miles on a gallon of fuel. For trucks, it’s 59 miles. Fewer gallons of fuel also mean less pollution.

For a region area already alarmed about choking truck traffic, every shipment carried by barge and shifted to a train means fewer trucks using local highways. Plus, industries that use barges typically pay wages that are higher than average.

Each success in mass transport makes the next investment more sustainable. The incremental growth of these intermodal centers bolsters the economic underpinnings of Will County and surrounding areas, including South Cook County, and bodes well for the future.

It appears that an ever-increasing portion of the nation’s merchandise and raw materials will pass through Will County for many years to come. It’s not just cargo. It’s progress.