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American Shipper

Ports of Olympia and Tacoma reach pact on regional rail, distribution center

Ports of Olympia and Tacoma reach pact on regional rail, distribution center

   The Port of Olympia and Port of Tacoma commissions have voted to adopt an agreement to form a strategic partnership to improve regional rail system capacity, establish a center for warehousing and distribution and create a major south Puget Sound employment center, the ports announced Tuesday.

   The agreement calls for the two ports to cooperatively purchase, plan and develop a South Sound Logistics Center on a 745-acre site in Thurston County, along Interstate 5. The vision for the land – located south of Olympia near Maytown, Wash. – may include facilities designed for handling the growing volume of international and domestic cargo, moving through the region via truck and rail, the ports said.

   “This land provides a strategic opportunity for our two ports, and our entire region, to work together to create additional rail capacity and efficiency through the south Puget Sound and the entire state,” Port of Olympia Commission President Steven C. Pottle said. “Freight mobility and the economic benefits of maritime commerce do not end at county lines. We must work together regionally to improve our transportation system.”

   The property is a former industrial site that now has permitting in place for gravel mining. The property is near rail tracks used by BNSF Railway, Union Pacific Railroad and the Mountain Division of Tacoma Rail, a division of Tacoma Public Utilities.

   According to the ports, the objectives of the joint project include: expediting regional and statewide movement of goods; improving freight movement on rail, as well as local and interstate roadways; increasing the capacity and operational efficiency of both ports; improving rail service and access for both ports; and stimulating private investment in industrial, manufacturing and office facilities.

   Container traffic through the Puget Sound region is projected to grow from its current level of 4.2 million TEUs to more than 8 million TEUs by 2015. Breakbulk cargo volumes, which have grown significantly over the past five years, are expected to double within the next 20 years, according to a Washington Public Ports Association 2004 freight mobility study.

   “Numbers like this underscore the need for creative regional solutions to handle increased freight volumes and continue to keep South Sound competitive in an international arena,” Port of Tacoma Commission President Connie Bacon said in a statement.

   The proposed South Sound Logistics Center will provide a centralized, rail-served location for manufacturers, distributors and cargo handlers. Co-locating businesses that use the state’s rail and highway networks at this center means that trains and trucks can avoid multiple stops every day at widely dispersed business locations to receive or deliver rail cars or trailers. Instead, those businesses will be served at one location.

   “The result is less time spent by trains stopping and starting on the main rail lines,” said Bacon. “Reducing the time spent moving cargo from one point to another increases available cargo handling capacity throughout our transportation system.”

   The two ports entered into a Memorandum of Understanding in July 2006 that authorized the Port of Tacoma to conduct feasibility studies to acquire the necessary rights to purchase the site. With approval by both port commissions, the Port of Tacoma is now authorized to close escrow and acquire the site.

   The Port of Tacoma will be responsible for the initial cost of due diligence and conceptual planning, and it will purchase the property, estimated at about $20 million. The Port of Olympia will lead conceptual planning, land use and permitting, consulting with local stakeholders and identifying market opportunities.

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