POSTED ON MARCH 23, 2011:
Plains, Trains and Automobiles -- and Ships
Bartlett administration seeks federal grant for creation of intermodal transportation facility
Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr.'s administration is awaiting word on the fate of an application for a $2.7 million federal grant that would be the first step in the creation of a planned intermodal transportation facility north of Tulsa International Airport that would take allow the city to combine all the forms of transit it has available -- air, rail, truck and barge traffic.
The planned facility would be a staging area for the freight transported by those various means of transit, providing for a quick and easy transition from one to another and allowing for the more cost effective movement of goods and services, according to Chris Benge, the mayor's director of intergovernmental and enterprise development.
"We would like to take advantage of this great asset, the Port of Catoosa ... and tie it to the international airport by rail and with the use of highways in close proximity to create a logistics center, if you will, that can place Tulsa in a position to be an attractive location for moving goods and product," Benge said.
The mayor said the potential impact of such a facility on the local economy could be tremendous.
"Tying all those forms of transportation together is crucial to our future economic development efforts," he said.
The time to begin that process has arrived, according to the mayor.
"It's a long-term project that would take several years to put together, and we're wanting to start right now," Bartlett said. "We own a certain amount of land around the airport that's not being used, adjacent to the intermodal system, and it could be developed into an industrial park, and warehousing and distribution point."
That kind of activity would provide an economic boost to a part of the city that needs it, the mayor acknowledged.
"Exactly," he said. "Northeast and north Tulsa, along with west Tulsa, are the areas we're focusing on for economic development. If you can imagine any and all aspects of energy-related manufacturing in Tulsa, being able to locate those in that area gives us a great opportunity."
The site the Bartlett administration has targeted for the center straddles North Mingo Road on the north boundary of the airport and is bisected by a South Kansas and Oklahoma Railroad Line. It is just minutes from U.S. 169 and the airport, while the Port of Catoosa -- the largest inland port west of the Mississippi River -- is a mere five miles away.
"You would theoretically be able to connect air with waterway, with highway and rail," Benge said.
The impetus for the creation of the center, Benge said, is, of all things, the ongoing deepening and widening of the Panama Canal, which is scheduled for completion in 2014, making that waterway available to larger container ships. Asian trade goods that now are shipped to busy American West Coast ports before being transported elsewhere by air, rail and highway soon may be targeted for other destinations.
"Some experts believe that it may be more cost effective, once the Panama Canal is finished, to move the goods around to the Gulf (of Mexico) and to the East Coast," Benge said, explaining that shipping goods by waterway on larger vessels helps lower the per-unit cost. "We would hope, if that occurs, that that will make a place like the center of the country -- where you can move barge traffic up into the center of the country, connect it by air, rail, highway -- even more attractive. That's kind of the big picture thought in all this."
Administration officials got a glimpse of what such a facility might look like recently when they traveled to Miami at the invitation of U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., the chairman of the House Transportation Committee., to see that city's intermodal transportation center. Bartlett said he was very impressed with the facility, which is much larger than the one planned for Tulsa.
Benge said plans for the facility remain at the preliminary stage, but if Tulsa receives the $2.7 million federal grant it has applied for, work will begin. The money would cover the cost of pre-construction engineering work, as well as the purchase of the land. The city is exploring other grant opportunities, as well, he said, including federal rail money.
"We already have the ability to purchase the land," Bartlett said. "If we do receive the grant, that would start us on the process of engineering work and allow us to make some decisions on the design. I think we have a good chance to accomplish that."
Administration officials also are pursuing legislation this session that would allow for the creation of a multi-county authority that would help with the financing of the project. Such an authority might be responsible for overseeing the operation of the facility, though that decision likely wouldn't be made for some time, Benge said.
He declined to estimate the cost of the project.
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