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NS to build $90-million center at Charlotte, N.C., airport

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A deal is imminent for a $90-million rail and trucking facility at Charlotte/Douglas International Airport that could bring the region $7 billion in business over the next two decades, the Charlotte Business Journal reports.

 

Norfolk Southern, the city
of Charlotte and several federal agencies are close to announcing a land lease
for airport property to hold an intermodal yard. When complete in late 2012,
the center is expected to be the site of 250,000 container lifts a year, more
than twice that of the current, smaller yard near uptown.

The deal has been 12 years
in the making. "I never thought I would live that long," says Jerry
Orr, aviation director for the city of Charlotte. "We are very close to
wrapping it up."

The idea is simple: Trucks
and trains need a large place with lots of equipment to move shipping
containers from tractors to rail cars and visa versa. But the effort has been
complicated by Norfolk Southern’s effort to put the 200-acre intermodal yard
between the airport runways. A half-dozen federal agencies, the city and the
railroad must sign various agreements to make the project viable.

The eight or so agencies
will announce in the coming weeks that the 280-employee rail-to-road center
will indeed be built. If all goes as planned, the intermodal activity will hum
along within view of pilots and passengers on the western runway within two
years.

Norfolk Southern will
finance the deal with a combination of about $25 million in federal and state
grants and $65 million of its own capital.

The work was worth the
wait, says everyone involved in the project. A study five years ago found the
yard would mean $7 billion in economic impact over 20 years. The Norfolk
Southern facility will ensure that Charlotte will become even more of a
transportation crossroads, says Kenny McDonald, senior vice president of the
Charlotte Regional Partnership. "The impact of the intermodal yard will be
enormous. More companies will be bringing their stuff through Charlotte."

The idea of creating an
intermodal center at the airport was first discussed around 1998. Orr thought
the more than half-mile-wide swath of land between the central and western
runways would be perfect for adding the second and third methods of
transportation to the airport property.

"The airport property
is a logistics center anyway," McDonald says. Where else could NS find 200
acres of leasable land with access to one of its main lines?

Says Orr: "With a
major international airport here along with highway and rail, you have
accessibility to all modes of transportation. It places us at the intersection
of those rivers of commerce."

By 2012, or 2013 at the
latest, the facility’s effect will be an almost immediate reduction in truck
traffic in the uptown area. The current, smaller intermodal center in the NoDa
area requires hundreds of tractor-trailers to exit the interstates and travel
through the north side of uptown. That traffic will move to the airport once
the facility is complete.

The intermodal center will
be built 40 feet below the level of the airport’s newest runway, Orr says. That
allows an unimpeded view from runway to terminal.

The airport had already
taken 10 million cubic yards of dirt from the site to elevate the western
runway above the nearby Interstate 485 interchanges, Orr says. In effect,
putting the intermodal facility on airport land saved a few million dollars.

For NS, the Charlotte
intermodal center is a part of an effort to remove up to 25 percent of the
truck traffic from the southern part of the country, says Rob Martinez,
railroad vice president of business development. That means up to 1.3 million
containers that are now moving on the roads from southern Pennsylvania to New
Orleans and beyond will soon move by rail. The Charlotte intermodal yard is an
important part of that effort, Martinez says.

"We are incorporating
Charlotte as a part of our Southern Crescent Corridor project," he says.
That road-to-rail effort began last year, and the first phase should be
complete by the end of 2012, Martinez says.

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