Johnston County

Proposed CSX container hub in Johnston County would have a broad economic reach in NC

The economic impact of a $272 million cargo facility proposed for Johnston County would extend from central North Carolina to the coast, state and local leaders said Thursday.

CSX said it plans to build a 450-acre intermodal railroad terminal on Interstate 95 that would become an East Coast hub for cargo containers that travel on ships, trains and trucks.

Dubbed CCX, or the Carolina Connector, the freight center is expected to serve the growing Raleigh metropolitan market, attract new employers to Eastern North Carolina and stimulate shipping traffic at the Wilmington port.

“We’ve been waiting years for intermodal rail service to return to the Port of Wilmington, so this is an absolute game changer for us,” Paul Cozza, CEO of the State Ports Authority, said by email. “It is further advancing the governor’s 25-year vision in terms of intermodal service and will generate jobs and economic development throughout Johnston County and the State.”

The terminal, to be built between Selma and Micro, will use robotic cranes to transfer shipping containers between trains, and between trains and trucks. CSX says the project, which could be completed by the end of 2019, will create 300 construction jobs and could spawn 1,500 jobs across the state in coming years.

Based in Jacksonville, Fla., CSX plans to spend $150 million and is seeking $100 million from North Carolina’s State Transportation Improvement Program, which funds highway and other transportation projects.

“We are excited about developing infrastructure within North Carolina that makes the state’s ports more competitive, lowers transportation costs for business, and promotes reliance on freight rail, the most fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly form of land transportation,” Louis Renjel, CSX vice president of strategic infrastructure, said in a news release.

The CCX hub is expected to handle everything from agricultural products to consumer goods.

“It’s essentially an inland port,” said Chris Johnson, Johnston County’s director of economic development. “It’s absolutely massive.”

N.C. Department of Transportation officials will evaluate the intermodal terminal project in coming weeks and determine its eligibility for the state program, which uses objective data to rank transportation project priorities. It would be the first rail project to win major state funding in DOT’s capital program, which was previously limited almost exclusively to highway projects.

Trucks and trains

“The CCX will maximize both public and private investments for economic development and job creation, precisely what was envisioned when I worked with the General Assembly to develop the STI law and scoring process,” Gov. Pat McCrory said in a prepared statement.

CCX will be several times larger than the state’s busiest rail intermodal freight facilities in Charlotte and Greensboro.

“We believe it will be the largest one on the East Coast,” said Paul Worley, DOT Rail Division director.

Intermodal shipping puts cargo in containers that travel long distances stacked high on ships or double-stacked on rail cars, and finally on trucks that deliver the goods to retail distribution centers, factories and other destinations.

“Everything is becoming containerized – that’s the standard,” Worley said. “These containers come from different parts of the country, including the Port of Wilmington. You pull trains into the terminal, you swap boxes from one train to another, and you make up new trains that they dispatch to other parts of the country.”

DOT planners expect that 60 percent of the containers will arrive at CCX on trucks for transfer to the CSX “A” rail line, which parallels I-95 running up and down the East Coast.

“It really plugs Eastern North Carolina into this major national CSX network,” Worley said. “You have 40 to 50 trains a day going through this north-south corridor now.”

The new rail facility is likely to reduce or slow the growth of long-haul truck traffic, because it will offer a less expensive shipping option for long distances, he said. But it could stimulate more short-distance trucking for shipments moving between CCX and points in the Triangle and central North Carolina.

CSX points to its Northwest Ohio Intermodal Transfer Hub as the best glimpse into what Johnston County can expect. That terminal, which opened in 2011, handles 900,000 containers each year. Local leaders think the Carolina Connector could surpass that number.

“When you look at our community on a map, you see that everything a facility like this needs is right here,” Selma Mayor Cheryl Oliver said in a news release. “This is a really good omen for all of Eastern North Carolina.”

Already, food-service company Sysco and medical-device maker Becton, Dickinson and Co. have large distribution centers in Johnston County.

Johnston County is giving CSX a standard economic incentives package, said Johnson, the economic development director. The county will forgive real estate taxes for seven years and personal property taxes for five years, which he said would be worth $6 million to $7 million.

“Johnston County’s I-95 corridor took a tremendous hit in the mid-1990s, as we lost textiles, manufacturing and tobacco,” Johnson said. “Now other industries will be looking to Johnston County because of this property. We’re ready for the wave of growth this will bring, and I think the ancillary jobs this creates will be the greatest benefit.”

Drew Jackson: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdrewjackson