Even though the administration of Gov. Pat McCrory has called the controversial proposal by CSX to build a railroad terminal in Johnston County near Selma “not viable,” the rail giant continues pursuing the project as one component of a larger plan to buy out entertainment attractions along the Interstate 95 corridor between Washington, D.C., and northern Florida, Carolina Journal has learned.
The Johnston County proposal, known as the Carolina Connector, reportedly would cover 450 acres and serve as a cargo hub linking containers brought by rail from coastal ports to the highway corridor, where some containers would be transferred to trucks. The project drew media attention when several landowners in the project’s footprint told reporters that CSX officials had threatened to use eminent domain if they would not agree to the company’s offers to purchase the property.
A Jan. 26 statement by McCrory spokesman Graham Wilson said the administration would work with the company to pursue “alternative sites.”
But CSX has shown no interest in other locations. The Carolina Connector is not the only project CSX is considering along I-95. Based on documents CJ has obtained, CSX and the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, aka the JAX Chamber, plans to acquire and then demolish several venues in the I-95 corridor, including one at the Selma site.
The documents say the purpose is to shift entertainment-related tourism closer to the railroad company’s headquarters in Jacksonville, Fla.
“It is the goal of the company and the JAX Chamber to ensure that tourists seeking entertainment and attractions along the I-95 corridor make as few stops as possible between Virginia Exit 177C [the George Washington Parkway exit] and Florida Mile Marker 362 [the Jacksonville International Airport exit],” a CSX document marked “Confidential” stated.
The documents list four attractions for acquisition and destruction: the Kings Dominion theme park near Ashland, Va.; the Roanoke Rapids Theatre (formerly the Randy Parton Theatre) in Roanoke Rapids; the Farm, a small entertainment venue within the Carolina Connector’s proposed location in Johnston County; and the South of the Border tourist attraction near the North Carolina-South Carolina state line.
“Based on the JAX Chamber’s economic model, removing these competing attractions from the northern portion of the corridor will boost the economy of Northeast Florida by $16.5 billion annually and create 2,700 jobs in the region. The company’s cost of land acquisition, particularly if some of the cost is offset by state and local government incentives, will pale in comparison to the economic development the region and the company will enjoy. Our goal is to obtain as much support from governments outside Florida as possible to reduce our capital outlays and risk.”
One CSX employee, who asked not to be identified, said one attraction in particular had been a problem. “The damn Pedro and all his signs have cost Florida and Jacksonville in particular millions of dollars over the years,” he said. “Yankees spend all their money on novelty items made with cypress, like outhouses and roach killers, and they don’t spend as much down here.”
The Carolina Connector project has an anticipated cost of $272 million. CSX documents say the project would not be viable without $100 million in funding from the state of North Carolina.
Publicly, CSX has compared the Carolina Connector proposal to other rail hubs the company owns in Pennsylvania and Ohio, but company officials also have confirmed that those projects did not require eminent domain and did not receive significant state subsidies.
Parting Shot is a parody loosely based on events in the news. This parody appeared in the February 2016 print edition of CJ.