Heartland Corridor construction begins
The Heartland Corridor construction is getting under way.
Work has begun to raise tunnels in Virginia and in southern West Virginia between Antler and Gordon, according to Norfolk Southern Corp., which has been working with local, state and federal government officials on the project.
Meanwhile, the state of West Virginia has received the results of a survey about the economic impact of the corridor on the state. But officials are still about six months away from a decision about whether changes are needed in Prichard to make way for the intermodal facility planned there.
The Heartland Corridor project involves improvements in railways between the Virginia coast and Columbus, Ohio, so that trains can carry more goods. Tunnels will be raised so that trains can carry double-stacked containers. The public-private partnership also will include construction of three intermodal facilities for easier transfer of containers between rail, roadways, rivers and airways. One is planned for nearby Prichard, while two others are planned for Roanoke, Va., and Columbus.
Officials hope it will be completed in 2010.
National benefits are that it would create a quicker route for businesses that need to ship, cutting about 200 miles from the route they travel now, officials said. It also would mean more goods moving by rail rather than highways, decreasing congestion on the highways, as well as air pollution.
An economic impact study was conducted by Global Insight on West Virginia's portion of the Heartland Corridor -- including the raised tunnels for double-stacked containers and the intermodal facility in Prichard.
It suggested that the Prichard facility could create 700 to 1,000 new jobs in West Virginia and eventually bring about $12 million in annual savings for shippers into and out of West Virginia, said Patrick Donovan, director of the West Virginia Public Port Authority.
"Freight transportation is the backbone of America's commerce, and the nation's economy has transitioned from a manufacturing economy to a trading economy. The goal today is to move goods quickly and cost-effectively into, out of, and through the U.S. and to allow any community or industry to be served by freight to or from anywhere in the world," the study says.
The results of the study indicate that a $30 million investment in the Prichard Intermodal Terminal will generate a statewide benefit of $47 million to $69 million by 2025, it said.
Those are conservative estimates, Donovan said. For one thing, it only considers West Virginia, because West Virginia paid for the study. But parts of Kentucky and Ohio will benefit from the project as well, he said.
The economic impact of the facility in Prichard should spill into an egg shape around the Interstate 64 corridor. State Sen. Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, thinks the region will see more like 1,500 to 2,000 jobs as the years go by. Front Royal, Va., has an intermodal facility that has brought in 5,000 new jobs over the past 15 years, Donovan said. That facility is larger than the proposed center at Prichard, but thousands of jobs is a realistic projection, he said.
It's all about the businesses that will settle around the intermodal facility, Donovan said. They expect distribution centers for stores like Wal-Mart or Home Depot to pop up.
"What you'll see is a traditional warehouse distribution center, about 500,000 to 750,000 square feet under roof and about 350 full-time employees making $18 to $22 an hour," Donovan said. "It's a pretty decent job. You don't need a college degree."
Those jobs will include drivers and warehouse workers.
Plymale said the economic impact study is encouraging.
"And the next session, I want to make sure we're putting a package together from Senate Bill 569 last year," he said. "How do you make sure we're completing the Prichard facility by 2010?"
Senate Bill 569, approved by the General Assembly in 2007, provides $4.3 million per fiscal year through 2016. This first fiscal year, $2.15 million was allotted, but the following years, the full $4.3 million will be provided, Plymale said. Norfolk Southern has already put $49.5 million of its own money into the tunnel clearance project, with a $90 million match in federal funds. The tunnel clearance project is estimated at $151 million, Norfolk Southern says.
In Prichard, the focus right now is on an environmental impact study.
About 100 people turned up at a meeting in July to learn about how the project would affect their daily lives -- whether it would increase train traffic significantly and whether properties will be acquired. Plymale said at the time that Norfolk Southern has donated 78 acres to the port authority, and the authority already has 20-plus. But it hasn't yet been determined if that land will be a sufficient footprint for the intermodal facility, which would sit between the river and the train tracks.
"Once the studies are complete, we should do an update on that, but it's premature to do that now," he said.
The facility will be owned by the state port authority, but it's likely to be a public-private agreement, Donovan said.
Meanwhile, the Wayne County Economic Development Authority will prepare a resolution to begin road improvements for 8.1 miles of U.S. 52 from Kenova to about a mile past Prichard at Hammonds Bottom. It should all be four lanes to accommodate traffic near the facility, Plymale said.
"When we have all the facts, we'll go full speed ahead on a campaign to get 52 upgraded," said Bob Trocin, executive director of the West Virginia Economic Development Authority. "We intend to meet with Legislators and federal representatives. We're going to establish a letter writing campaign and encourage people to write because that's the best source of encouragement, though I think all our state senators and delegates know what the need is."
Most of the reaction that Plymale has heard from people in the Prichard area about the intermodal facility has been favorable, Plymale said.
"From an area standpoint, from the Chamber of Commerce to labor and all groups, they've all been encouraged by the fact that we could have the potential for these kinds of jobs," he said.
"I spend a lot of time in the Prichard area and know a lot of people there, and they're all anxious to see something happen there. They have questions in their mind: Will this really happen? The answer is yes."