ROCKY MOUNT, N.C. (WNCT) – The railroad is a major part of the history of Rocky Mount, with tracks running through the heart of downtown.
However, the impact trains have on the economy has diminished in Rocky Mount and across eastern North Carolina as well.
That could soon change due to the new CSX Carolina Connector. It’s scheduled to be built on a stretch of empty land just a few miles north of Rocky Mount.
CSX originally planned to build a cargo hub south of Raleigh in Johnston County, but it was scratched after landowners opposed the prospect of being forced to sell their property.
News of the facility is encouraging to many, including the Edgecombe County town of Princeville, which is still recovering after Hurricane Matthew.
It’s “definitely something I think that would impact us — bringing jobs to the area or just Edgecombe County,” said Daniel Gerald, Princeville city manager. “It’ll be a great impact to us. And it will also help rebuild our community.”
Excitement is also growing in urban areas like Greenville.
“This is as big an economic engine as a potential military plant in a region in the state,” Thomas said.
Even in rural parts of the East, like Martin County, the facility brings great expectations.
“I hate to use the word ‘game changer,’” said Jason Semple, president/CEO of Martin County Economic Development Corp. “But this will be the most significant event that we’ve had since the four-laneing of 64. And that’s an awfully big statement.”
The $270 million dollar facility will be located on about 500 acres of land, east of Highway 301 in Edgecombe County.
Only the second terminal of its kind in the CSX network, it’s expected to bring 300 high-paying jobs.
“This facility will be a hub for CSX’s intermodal network in the South, just like our terminal in North Baltimore, Ohio, is in the North,” said Kristin Seay, CSX corporate communications manager. “Containers will be transferred in on trucks and trains. They’ll be transferred to other trucks and trains by wide-span electric cranes that are nearly silent and then shipped for outbound delivery to their final destination.”
That’s good for the immediate area near the terminal. What’s even better is the project could eventually create 13,000 related jobs state-wide, with many of them likely to reside in eastern North Carolina.
“The critical radius is about 75 to 100 miles within proximity of that facility,” said Semple. “So if you are within 75 miles then that gives you a distinct advantage in terms of cost. And so the long-term opportunities for us in Martin County in terms of job growth are tremendous because that bullseye is where companies are looking.”
Major companies have opened location close to similar CSX facilities.
“For example, in Winter Haven, Florida, and the surrounding areas we’ve seen Amazon, Walmart; other supercenters come close to that area to use the terminal,” said Seay.
Because of that, optimism is running high all across eastern North Carolina. Whether that is in Edgecombe County:
“Hopefully, this is something that will turn into a hub of opportunities for economic development,” said Gerald.
Or in the East’s largest city:
“If you’re a citizen in Greenville or in Pitt County, this will mean jobs for you and also for your family for decades going forward,” said Thomas.
Its affects will even be felt down that four-lane U.S. Highway 64 in Martin County.
“For global companies where logistics are huge part of their cost, this puts a bullseye right on eastern North Carolina,” said Semple. “And this gives us a tremendous opportunity and for the next ten years to really take advantage of that.”
“We’re fortunate to have such great partners at the state and local level,” said Seay. “And we’re committed to developing a terminal that Rocky Mount and the state of North Carolina can be proud of.”
Another potential benefit — CSX predicts 270,000 fewer trucks will be traveling across North Carolina once the terminal opens.
Crews are doing assessments and surveying the boundaries of the site.
Construction is set to begin toward the end of 2018, with the facility up and running by the end of 2019.