Archive for Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Council briefed on intermodal

November 21, 2007

Skip Kalb thinks the Gardner Intermodal can mean growth for Baldwin City in whatever way the community wants, but he doesn't think it will mean a huge increase in truck traffic on U.S. Highway 56.

Kalb, a native of Baldwin City who works for BNSF Railroad, is in charge of the massive intermodal complex that will be built southwest of Gardner and is expected to be open in 2009. He's often questioned about what the 1,800 trucks that will be leaving the railway yard everyday will mean to traffic here.

"We don't see a flood of trucks coming this way," Kalb told the Baldwin City Council at its Monday meeting where he'd been asked to give an update on the project. "We just don't see it."

Kalb said BNSF had a study done on where the traffic would go from the 1,000-acre shipping hub that will produce those 1,800 trucks a day. Trains will deliver the cargo to the center and it will then be loaded onto semi tractortrailers for the next leg of its journey.

"I'm often asked, 'what about trucks going west?'" said Kalb. "The study shows that less than 1 to 2 percent will go west and 90 percent will go north and south."

The intermodal complex will create around 13,000 jobs, he said, but the vast majority of those won't be railroad jobs. They will be jobs with the numerous and massive warehouses that will be built on the site. The railway part of the project takes up about 400 acres with the other 600 acres used for warehouses, he said.

Kalb said it's important for Baldwin City to review and solidify the comprehensive plan for the city to insure the growth from the project is what the community wants. The city's comprehensive plan has just been updated and is up for adoption at the Planning Commission's Dec. 13 meeting. It is available online at

"You're in a unique position," Kalb said. "Do you want some light industrial, do you want high-end residential?

"You will have opportunities, no doubt," he said. "I have no doubt there will be residential home sales."

Kalb also filled the council in on why the intermodal is being built near Gardner. BNSF's biggest business is intermodal traffic, with grain and coal hauling providing the lion's share of the rest. Massive amounts of cargo are shipped into the port area near Los Angeles and BNSF then brings it to the Midwest.

"China is the biggest factor with a huge amount of business as the primary driver of goods into the U.S.," he said. "Secondly, it's what's going on in the trucking industry with the cost of fuel. There's a driver shortage, too."

Kalb said that Kansas City is the second largest rail hub, trailing only Chicago. However, in pure tonnage, Kansas City is the largest. He said that BNSF handled 5.5 million intermodal units in 2006 and that continues to go up.

"This is what is driving us to expand," he said, citing truck concerns with fuel costs, driver shortages and traffic congestion. "We don't create any freight, we just move it."

As for why Gardner was chosen, there were numerous factors, but he listed five main reasons.

  • Proximity to Kansas City
  • Adjacent to BNSF mainline
  • Near Interstate 35
  • Available land in configuration for intermodal
  • Available land for economic development

Where the project stands now is waiting on a 4004 permit from the Army Corps of Engineers to move a creek that's in the 1,000-acre tract of land. It will be rerouted out of the area and improved.

There are also other improvements that need to be made, such as enlarging the interchange onto I-35 at Gardner and other road work. Eventually, it's expected that north/south routes will be improved allowing for easier access to K-10 to the north and another connection with I-35 to the south, he said.

Aside from the 13,000 jobs created, the intermodal is projected to pump billions of dollars into the state's economy, he said. Kalb said studies have shown a fiscal impact for the state at $1.7 billion at $87.5 million per year; $1.4 billion to Johnson County at $72 million per year; and $69.2 million to Gardner at $3.46 million per year.

"Gov. Sebelius has called this the largest economic development program in 45 years in the state," said Kalb.

He said that BNSF is making the project as "green" as possible, such as the switch away from diesel operated cranes to take the containers off the rail cars to electric cranes. That will reduce diesel use in the rail yard, he said.

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