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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Mississippi eyes port, rail expansion

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Gov. Haley Barbour wants Mississippi to create a transportation hub in Palmer's Crossing to handle increased container traffic from the Port of Gulfport, the Hattiesburg American reports. But area residents say they'll need to hear more details before they consider the proposal a good fit for their community.

The new hub would help handle the increased container traffic generated from a $1 billion expansion of the Port of Gulfport.

The governor told the Sun Herald editorial board the project is unprecedented for the state.

"Any type of economic development is welcomed here in Hattiesburg," Mayor Johnny DuPree said. "We look forward to the prospects of having more jobs available to those in the Pine Belt."

DuPree said he's awaiting more information on the governor's proposal.

"Obviously it would mean a huge economic boost not just for Palmer's Crossing - we could definitely use it - but for the state as a whole," Councilman Henry Naylor said.

But some Palmer's Crossing residents said they are reserving judgment on the proposal until they see more details.

"In Palmer's, we're always the last to get any information," said Frankie Benton, president of Concerned Citizens of Palmer's Crossing Neighborhood Association. "We're going to call our own meeting and ask them what's going on because we don't know."

Barbour told the Sun Herald that a $5.25-billion expansion of the Panama Canal, which could be complete in 2014, would create many new opportunities for the port, which could handle a large portion of container traffic, much of which is currently sent to the West Coast, and then shipped by rail to the rest of the country. Barbour said the West Coast ports were often congested, and before the recession ships sometimes had to wait several days to get a berth.

Barbour supports creating a large intermodal transportation yard at Palmer's Crossing because that's where the container cargo that comes into ports at Gulfport, Mobile and New Orleans would be sorted and then shipped elsewhere.

One advantage to the site is the fact that Norfolk Southern railway out of New Orleans, the Canadian National out of Mobile and the Kansas City Southern out of Gulfport all run through that area and its close proximity to Interstates 10, 59 and 55 would be beneficial for trucking.

The Palmer's Crossing intermodal facility might look something like one near Chicago, which has heavy rail traffic, Barbour said. CenterPoint Intermodal Center is on about 2,500 acres, including a 770-acre intermodal yard. The Illinois project represents a $1 billion investment and the company said it could create as many as 8,000 jobs there, according to the CenterPoint Web site.

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