Wednesday, July 21, 2010

NS ready to break ground on Memphis terminal

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Norfolk Southern is about to clear the final hurdle needed to begin work on its Rossville intermodal terminal, where cargo containers will be transferred between trucks and trains, The Memphis Daily News reports. The Norfolk, Va.-based railroad, which is preparing to formally break ground on the massive $112-million project, will unveil the federally mandated environmental assessment that was recently approved in preparation for the facility.

As part of that process, the Tennessee and Mississippi departments of transportation, along with the Federal Highway Administration and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, will host a join National Environmental Policy Act hearing Aug. 2. The public will have a chance to comment on the approved EA before the document is finalized and work on the facility can begin.

Norfolk Southern is developing the yard, dubbed the Memphis Regional Intermodal Terminal, on 570 acres of land it bought from insurance mogul William Adair in a recently annexed section of Rossville. The railroad is looking to increase capacity in the Memphis area as part of its $2.5-billion "Crescent Corridor," a 2,500-mile network of rail lines stretching from the Southeast to the Northeast.

With only a small facility near the Mid-South Fairgrounds called Forrest Yard, Norfolk Southern had been looking to expand its intermodal capacity in the area for a few years. The new facility, slated to open in 2012, will be able to accommodate more than 327,000 containers and trailers annually, and more than 2,000 parked containers and trailers on chasses.

Highlights from the 360-page EA include details on the terminal's physical infrastructure, which will feature tracks connecting the yard with Norfolk Southern's main line that runs parallel with Tenn. 57; six 4,500-foot-long pad tracks and 34,500 feet of supporting track within the yard; paved areas where 2,200 trucks can park; and administration and maintenance buildings.

The EA also mentions the alternative sites that Norfolk Southern said it considered for the terminal, specifically land north of Tenn. 57. That property, called the "Windyke" site, would have placed all truck traffic on that 57 instead of U.S. 72, the highway that will absorb all truck traffic under the current plan.

According to the EA -- as well as numerous other parties, including the Wolf River Conservancy -- the environmental impact of the chosen site will be far less than Windyke, which sits close to the Wolf River.

Despite the railroad's and government's claims that the Adair site will create a smaller environmental footprint than the Windyke site, some residents are leery. And if next month's public meeting is anything like the preliminary environmental hearing held last fall, officials from TDOT, MDOT and Norfolk Southern are in for some heated exchanges.

In October, a restless crowd of more than 50 crammed into the Bank of Fayette County in Piperton and peppered officials from TDOT and AMEC Earth & Environmental, the project's environmental consultant, with questions about the terminal. Residents took issue, as they have since the project was formally announced a year ago -- and even since it was uncovered by The Daily News in early 2009 -- with the facility's size and volume, as well as its potential for unprecedented noise and light pollution in South Fayette County. Despite their concerns, the project appears to be on track, as does a neighboring development in conjunction with the terminal.

Adair, who owns about 3,000 acres of surrounding land, is building an access road that will link the intermodal facility to U.S. 72 in Marshall County, Miss., and he also has begun work on a mixed-use development called Piperton Hills adjacent to the yard. The sprawling residential and commercial subdivision is about to get off the ground, with Adair's company, WCA Land & Development, wrapping up work on a water treatment system and preparing to perform site work for the community's first single-family homes.

As for the EA, it was approved by the Federal Railroad Administration July 8.

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