by Joan Tupponce
Norfolk Southern Corp. is contemplating its next move in developing an intermodal rail yard in Montgomery County after a recent Virginia Supreme Court ruling allowed the project to proceed.
“Our next step will be determined by market conditions,” says Robin Chapman director of public relations for the Norfolk-based railroad company.
In 2006, Norfolk Southern announced a partnership with the state Department of Rail and Public Transportation to build a $35 million facility in the Elliston area of Montgomery at which freight would be transferred between trucks and trains. The state agreed to assume 70 percent of the cost of the intermodal facility using funds from its Rail Enhancement Fund.
However, Montgomery residents living near the 60-plus acre site were concerned the facility would increase local truck traffic and harm the rural area near the Roanoke River. “We are not against economic development in Montgomery County but we are concerned that the proposed location is not in the right place for that type of development,” says Craig Meadows, the county administrator. “That is why we took the steps that we did.”
In 2008, Montgomery filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s funding of the project. When the lower court rejected the suit, the county appealed to the Virginia Supreme Court. That court ruled against Montgomery in November. “We are disappointed in the court’s decision, but we respect it,” Meadows says.
The proposed Elliston facility is part of the Heartland Corridor project. In addition to building the intermodal facility, the rail project involved increasing clearances in 28 tunnels through West Virginia and Virginia to allow for double-stack trains.
Once built, the intermodal terminal is expected to employ 15 people. Proponents believe it will remove 150,000 trucks from Virginia’s roadways annually, a change that would help reduce highway maintenance, gasoline consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
The facility also is expected to give long-haul trucking companies a more efficient means of transporting merchandise from the Port of Virginia to the Midwest. “The terminal would make it easy for companies in the area to have access to world markets,” says Chapman. “It encourages economic development in the Roanoke area.”
Meadows points out that the Elliston facility is “relatively small as intermodal facilities go, Most are 100-plus acres.” The county isn’t sure how much development will result once it’s built.
Montgomery, however, plans to support whatever development the intermodal facility brings. “The county wants to see growth,” Meadows says. “We’re just concerned that it wasn’t the right spot.”
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