HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- An intermodal terminal is expected to add nearly 1,800 new jobs to Wayne County when finished in early 2015.
The truck-rail transfer terminal, currently under construction on a 100-acre site between the Big Sandy River and Old U.S. 52 in Prichard, will provide most of the state with a link to international markets.
Equipment at the facility will take 20 and 40-foot overseas cargo containers and transfer them between railcars and tractor-trailers. The terminal will also feature industrial and warehouse space in addition to the intermodal transportation access.
The new shipping option will allow West Virginia businesses to take part in an increased flow of consumer goods between hubs in the East Coast and Chicago.
Patrick Donovan, director of maritime and intermodal transportation at the Rahall Appalachian Transportation Institute in Huntington, estimates more than 5,000 companies within a 125-mile radius could benefit from the new facility.
"This is a huge deal," Donovan said. "With the state's natural gas expansion and coal activity, and with cracker plants moving into the area, this intermodal terminal would aid in the transport of those chemicals and goods...I'm envisioning a rebirth of manufacturing, and this terminal would be advantageous for area manufacturers."
Donovan has been working on this project for more than a decade.
It all started with a commodity-flow study in 1999. RTI's study examined existing intermodal transportation infrastructure in West Virginia, as well as the impediments for shipping containers to and from the region.
"We knew our region was at a competitive disadvantage because we didn't have access to the global market," Donovan said. "There's an added cost to transportation when moving goods to and from our region, which hinders area manufacturers."
West Virginia does not currently have an intermodal terminal in the state, making it more expensive for area manufacturers to import and export goods/commodities.
"Without an intermodal terminal, it's $450 to $500 more expensive to ship goods in and out of our region," he said "Our widgets are not even in the market anymore."
A 2001 RTI study examined the need for double-stack container transport along the Norfolk Southern Heartland Corridor that runs through Southern West Virginia. The study identified Wayne County as an ideal location for an intermodal terminal.
The forthcoming terminal, which will be named the Heartland Intermodal Gateway at Prichard, is part of a larger Heartland Corridor initiative meant to boost rail access between the Midwest and Virginia ports.
In 2004, the Projects of Regional and National Significance program, which provides funding for high-cost projects of regional importance, awarded $90 million in funding to the Heartland Corridor initiative. The initiative was led by Norfolk Southern, RTI and other port partners.
The money was approved to examine tunnel clearance issues and commerce enhancement opportunities within West Virginia, Virginia and Ohio.
The funding was negotiated between the three states' port authorities to allow the entire $90 million to be spent in West Virginia.
With money in hand, Norfolk Southern "raised the roof" on the state's 23 rail tunnels to accommodate trains hauling double-stacked cargo containers.
In 2007, the state Legislature passed a bill that created an Intermodal and Rail Enhancement Fund and allocated $4.3 million a year for the fund.