The North Carolina Department of Transportation plans to continue its evaluation of CSX’s request for $100 million toward a Johnston County intermodal project even though a spokesman for Gov. Pat McCrory said on Jan. 26 the proposed rail hub “does not appear to be a viable option.”

NCDOT Rail Division director Paul Worley told Carolina Journal on Friday that his office would evaluate CSX’s request using the Strategic Mobility Formula the state uses to rank transportation projects. Worley said the final list of projects selected for funding would be released in March.

The proposed 450-acre project site is located northeast of Selma, just outside the city limits, adjoining an existing CSX rail line. The facility would allow CSX to shift more container freight shipments now using only trucks to a combination of trucks and rail.

Announcing the rail hub Jan. 14, McCrory said, “over time the project could bring 1,500 statewide jobs to North Carolina and provide an estimated $329 million in public benefits to the state.” Soon after, the affected landowners learned that CSX threatened to use eminent domain to acquire property if landowners didn’t want to sell.

After an emergency closed-session meeting Jan. 20, less than a week after McCrory announced the project, the Johnston County Board of Commissioners issued a statement opposing both the project at the current location and the railroad company’s threats to seize property if needed.

In response to CJ’s request for information on the job creation claims associated with the project, Worley’s office shared a report titled “Project Scorpion: Evaluation of a Proposed Intermodal Terminal (CCX).” Since the announcement, officials have referred to the project as Carolina Connector, or CCX.

Worley said DOT paid for the report, which was written by WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff, a Montreal-based engineering consulting firm with an office in Raleigh. The 91-page report is dated October 2015 with revisions in January 2016. It also is marked “DRAFT.” Worley said the report probably would be updated before it is finalized and used in the evaluation process for state funding.

Worley said that in June 2014, when CSX brought the project to the Rail Division, the company said it would need the state to contribute $100 million to the $271-million project.

“We will continue conversations with CSX. We will see if they come up with other sites. Whatever they come up with, we will evaluate it,” Worley said.

The Rail Division’s mission statement says: “Since 1977, the Rail Division has focused on the safe and efficient movement of people and goods on North Carolina’s railroads through freight, passenger and safety programs, supporting job creation and economic growth.”

Worley said the report did not address the possibility of eminent domain for the project. “We are not at that point,” he said, adding that he was unaware if eminent domain remains an option. “I don’t know. I am not an attorney.” He also said the Rail Division never has been involved in a project of this magnitude.

The report stated that CSX had conducted a study demonstrating the benefits of a North Carolina facility to the state and the broader U.S. economy. The CSX study concluded numerous benefits would result from the project, including:

  • Direct intermodal rail access and new service offerings.
  • Savings in logistics costs.
  • Reduced truck traffic on Interstates 95 and 85.
  • Greater potential access for state ports.
  • Over 1,500 new direct and indirect jobs in North Carolina.

After receiving the CSX study, Worley said NCDOT determined that it should commission an independent assessment of the facility and hired WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff to conduct it.

The conclusion: “The proposed CCX terminal in eastern North Carolina would prove to stimulate economic growth and reduce the adverse impacts of truck transportation producing significant benefits to the state. Increased employment and associated economic benefits would be a result of terminal construction, terminal operations, and local logistics and manufacturing development. The favorable economic impact would be complemented by benefits associated with the reduction in truck traffic including reduced pavement damage, congestion, emissions, and motor vehicle accidents.”

Job estimates unclear

While McCrory, CSX, and most media outlets have said the project would create 1,500 jobs, the Project Scorpion report details much smaller numbers. (See page 35.)

The report estimated that the project’s direct, indirect, and “induced” jobs — jobs attributed to local businesses from the spending of employees and customers of the rail hub — would total 452 by 2019 and 632 by 2035. The report then compared those estimates to estimates from CSX’s report. CSX estimated that direct, indirect, and induced jobs would total 538 by 2018 and 788 by 2035.

In a telephone interview, Worley and officials from WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff could not explain where the 1,500 job figure used by McCrory and most media outlets originated. They also acknowledged the study did not account for lost jobs that would occur in the trucking industry if the project proved to be as successful as the study predicted.