Business owners hear report on possible inter-modal facility

KINGMAN – Following a presentation by city staff members on Monday, a few local business owners said they learned a little more about a proposed inter-modal freight facility but still have a lot of questions they need answers to before endorsing such a project.

“Is the focus of this for rail or as a distribution hub? A distribution hub creates more jobs. Rail takes jobs,” said Bill Riley, owner of Thermo King West and a member of the Arizona Trucking Association.

An inter-modal facility is a transfer station where containers of goods are moved amongst freighters, airplanes, trains and trucks. They vary in size and function, so the questions about a proposed facility near Kingman include who, what, where, when and how much.

The answer to why is simple: it would create upwards of thousands of new jobs and become an economic engine for the region, Kingman Economic Development Director Jeff Weir said Monday.

Last week, Weir and Special Projects Manager Rob Owen toured two inter-modal facilities that showed them the range of options. The Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway organized the tours in Fontana, Calif., near Los Angeles, and in Elwood, Ill., just south of Chicago.

The railroad company does not operate the facilities but is a major component along with airfreight, trucking and shipping companies.

The Fontana site covered 38 acres and was used as a trans-loading facility where containers were brought in from the coast, unloaded and redistributed. The Illinois site was a much larger multi-function facility with 850,000-square foot warehouses built on more than 1,000 acres, Weir said. It is the largest of four similar facilities around Chicago, and operators told Owen and Weir that it would meet capacity in 2010. The facility runs 24 hours a day and is expected to handle 1.2 million containers next year.

“The BNSF people told us they need more and more of these and they really think our location is great,” Weir said.

The city hired TransCore, a consulting firm in Scottsdale, to produce a report laying the foundation for what such a project would require. Thus far the firm has conducted a survey of existing infrastructure and land use and a survey of federal programs for potential funding sources.

“The representatives of the FHWA (Federal Highway Administration) had mentioned freight, and trade is one of their mandates they’re looking at nationwide, and this certainly has caught the attention of the feds,” TransCore engineer David Chambers said.

Government agencies would most likely fund the entire project because they would not want to give an unfavorable advantage to one or a few private companies, Chambers said.

The next step for the city would be to fund a feasibility and implementation study. Weir said the city could receive grants to fund at least part of the study if not all of it. Before the involved parties determine costs, they have to decide on what kind of facility would work, he added.

The feasibility study would prove Kingman to be the ideal site for a facility and the implementation portion would determine how large it could be and what specific functions it would serve, Chambers said.

To this point, no part of the project has been set in stone.

“If it’s too expensive, we’re not going to do it,” Weir said. “We have to deal with what we have.”

The ideal location for the facility would be along I-40 south of downtown Kingman between Griffith Road and the Nucor steel plant, Weir said.

The facility would not need to be built along existing freeways and rail but would simply need easy access to them. The Kingman Airport would need to be included in the project as well. However, there might not be enough land surrounding the airport to build out an inter-modal facility without stifling the growth of the industrial park.

Kingman Airport Economic Director Bob Riley suggested creating intermediate goals while waiting on the funding for the study.

“I think we’re beyond feasibility and into implementation now,” he said.

Weir said he plans to talk with representatives from county, state and local federal agencies about what funding opportunities are available.

Terry O’Hara, western division director of Central Trucking Inc., said he’d like to see the project progress slowly because Kingman lacks the number of qualified drivers needed.

“Qualified drivers and mechanics in this area are in dire straights,” he said. “As the town grows there’ll be more experienced and better trained drivers.”

He added he wants to expand his business beyond the 60 trucks he operates now but it will take time to find qualified people.