Jacksonville port needs nearby intermodal facility to compete

Jacksonville Business Journal - by Mark Szakony

The Port of Jacksonville is trying to maintain its competitive edge over Savannah, Ga., by dredging the St. Johns River, but it could all be for naught without construction of an intermodal shipping station near the new ship terminals.

An intermodal container transfer facility near Dames Point would give shipping customers better accessibility to rail lines, thus giving them cheaper transport costs. Itís the third piece of the puzzle for the port to realize its full potential, with deepening the river channel and surrounding road improvement as the other pieces.

The Port of Savannah has a near-dock intermodal facility serving the Norfolk Southern Corp. rail line and another facility servicing the CSX Corp. rail line. The Port of Charleston in South Carolina is also pursuing one.

Having an intermodal facility attracts not only shipping customers who are interested in getting their goods and materials into Northeast Florida, but also those wanting to gain access to the Southeast and Midwest, said John Koch, director of CSXís international sales and marketing.

TraPac Regional Vice President Dennis Kelly said although he isnít aware of an intermodal facility that is used by two competing railroads, he hopes that CSX and Norfolk Southern will be able to share the facility. TraPac runs the new container terminal at Dames Point.

The site of the intermodal station has yet to be chosen and funding estimated to be between $100 million and $120 million has yet to be pledged. Part of the reason for the uncertainty is that it isnít known when there will be enough cargo coming through the TraPac Container Terminal and Hanjin Shipping Co. Ltd.ís yet-to-be built terminal to make the facility viable.

The international trading slump has made it more difficult to determine when enough cargo will flow through the Dames Point terminals, especially since the Hanjin terminalís completion has been postponed to as late as June 2013.

The intermodal facility wonít likely open before 2014, since thatís when the larger ships able to pass through the expanded Panama Canal are expected to call on the port.

The process of planning, permitting and building the terminal is expected to take about two and a half to three years. Containers from Dames Point go through CSXís intermodal facility near Interstate 295 and Pritchard Road, which is about 20 miles from TraPacís terminal.

Norfolk Southernís intermodal facility near Old Kings Road and U.S. Highway 1 is about 14 miles from Dames Point. Jeff Heller, assistant vice president of Norfolk Southernís intermodal marketing group, said if his company wonít be able to access the proposed intermodal facility, the company will find a way to stay competitive with CSX.

There is also the question of where the intermodal facility could be built. Kelly said the facility would be most efficient if it was a mile or two from the Dames Point terminals. Jacksonville Port Authority Executive Director Rick Ferrin said the authority has three potential sites for the facility:

n About 15 acres in a triangular tract created by State Road 9A to the east, New Berlin Court to the west and New Berlin Road to the south. The space, which could be expanded to up to 25 acres, isnít the best fit for an intermodal facility because itís triangular.

n About 30 acres available in a rectangular tract between the terminal and State Road 9A.

n Between 40 and 50 acres available near the JEA Northside Generating Station, which is east of State Road 9A and north of Heckscher Drive. The property would have to be obtained from its owner, the city, Ferrin said.

There was earlier discussion about possibly building an intermodal facility at Cecil Commerce Center on the cityís Westside, but its rail accessibility isnít considered good enough, said Ron Barton, Jacksonville Economic Development Commission executive director. Cecil Fieldís distance from Dames Point would make the cost of trucking containers to and from the facility too costly.

If 8,000 containers passed through Dames Point annually, The Grimes Cos. estimates it would cost about $71.6 million more in trucking costs than it would if the intermodal facility was three miles away from terminals. Grimes is a local logistics company with a trucking division.

Ferrin said if the intermodal facility was built on authority property, he would seek federal and state funding for port investment and also money set aside for reducing emissions caused by trucking.

Kelly said it wasnít known whether TraPac would contribute money to the project, but the company is building an intermodal facility at its terminal at the Port of Los Angeles.



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