Wilmington could reap significant benefits if a proposed $272 million intermodal freight rail hub is built in Johnston County, state transportation officials said Thursday.
Specifically, the project would have a major impact on the state’s ports and rail systems, state transportation secretary Nick Tennyson said in a news release from Gov. Pat McCrory’s office.
Earlier Thursday, rail freight carrier CSX announced plans to develop a “major freight rail infrastructure project” in Johnston County that the company says will spur economic development in the region and “help position eastern North Carolina as a major transportation logistics hub.”
The proposed intermodal rail terminal, the Carolina Connector, or CCX, “will be a state-of-the-art facility that will create distinct competitive advantages for North Carolina businesses and ports while serving the metro-Raleigh area – one of the South’s largest and fastest growing markets,” a news release from Jacksonville, Florida-based CSX stated.
CCX would link the Port of Wilmington with businesses from the Piedmont to the coast, transporting shipping containers over the nationwide rail network, the governor's office release stated.
Word of possible improvements in the transportation infrastructure, coupled with the Port of Wilmington's plans for an enhanced connections to Charlotte, makes for an "exciting time for the N.C. State Ports Authority," ports spokesman Cliff Pyron said Thursday.
“This is a game-changer for the North Carolina State Ports Authority. Enhancing our freight movement statewide is key to growth,” Pyron said in an email. "Specifically, in the next four months we expect to have premium shuttle service from the Port of Wilmington to the Charlotte Intermodal Facility which will provide the Port of Wilmington with unprecedented reach into the greater Charlotte market. We will be working with CSX to secure new rail and intermodal cargo volumes and to grow business."
The "premium shuttle service," Pyron explained, is a unit train intermodal rail service that would operate weekly from the Port of Wilmington directly to the Charlotte facility.
"Between our on-going infrastructure investments and today’s announcement pertaining to improved intermodal service, the Authority is well positioned to have another great year,” he added.
CSX said it is already contacting property owners in Johnston County to secure options on land east of Selma and close to Interstate 95 where the proposed facility would be built, according to the release.
The company says it plans to provide $150 million of the project's estimated $272 million cost, according to Louis Renjel, CSX vice president of strategic infrastructure. Renjel said Thursday that his company’s decision to go ahead with the project is contingent on securing $100 million in infrastructure investment funds through North Carolina’s Strategic Transportation Investment (STI) process. The remaining funds, roughly $22 million, would come from “other infrastructure and investment programs,” according to the CSX release.
The project “will strongly compete in the STI," Tennyson said in the governor's office release.
Renjel said it will likely be several months before his company gets definite word as to the availability of funds from the state.
The terminal would spur economic development in eastern North Carolina, according to the CSX news release, which said the company forecasts more than $329 million in public benefits for the state over 30 years. "The construction of the terminal is estimated to create 250 to 300 short-term construction jobs. Over time, up to 1,500 long-term jobs will be created statewide as a result of this development," the release stated.
If the project goes forward, it could spur development in the area near Selma, Renjel said. He cited examples of what has happened at other intermodal hubs, where major have built regional distribution centers nearby. CSX would likely also work with regional trucking firms which would transport some goods from the intermodal hub to their final destinations, he said.
"We used to compete with [trucking companies]; now we partner with them," Renjel said.