Norfolk Southern's plans generate questions in Salem

NW Mailing List nw-mailing-list at
Fri May 4 23:59:22 EDT 2007

More twists and turns regarding an intermodal facility near Roanoke.

Ron Davis

Business owners and residents wonder if an intermodal facility would
swallow their land. One official says no.

By <mailto:cody.lowe at>Cody Lowe

When the news broke Friday that Salem was asking the state to place
Norfolk Southern's proposed intermodal transfer station there, it
took only hours for the rumors to begin flying.

Many of those living and working in "the bottom" -- an eclectic mix
of industrial, commercial and residential lots that borders part of
the Norfolk Southern property -- heard the project would swallow up
their property whether they liked it or not.

"From what I understand, they need 60 acres. That would consume
everything in the bottom," said Gary Thomas, a lifelong resident of
the neighborhood.

He's lived in the same house there for 30 years, half his life, and
run a four-bay auto-repair shop on the same lot for the past 25. He's
been worrying for a week that he is going to lose his home and his livelihood.

"No, no, we're not going to be taking away anyone's property or
anything like that," City Planner Ben Tripp said Thursday afternoon.

Thomas was only partially reassured.

"That makes me feel a little better," Thomas said, "but I have a
little trouble believing it." The city has a reputation, he said, of
"doing what they want to do. ... If it's about sports or taxes or
additional money, they're all for it. Anything else, you can pretty
much forget."

A year and a half ago, Norfolk Southern announced a plan for a
Heartland Corridor project to move freight more quickly and
efficiently from the shipyards of Hampton Roads to the Midwest. It
called for three intermodal rail yards where freight would be
transferred from rail to trucks and trucks to rail.

Besides transporting goods faster, the proposal would take 200,000
trucks off Virginia's highways, planners said. However, interstates
immediately adjacent to the intermodal stations, such as I-81, would
likely see increased truck traffic.

The Salem site had not been considered a viable option largely
because the 12 acres owned by the railroad fall far below the 65-acre
minimum the state and Norfolk Southern said was needed.

The railroad preferred a site in Elliston in Montgomery County.
Residents there, however, have been fighting that idea tooth and
nail, declaring that the traffic would be too hazardous for the
villages clustered along U.S. 11 where trucks would exit from I-81.

Salem officials said they feared the railroad would become so
frustrated by the process that it would move the operation -- and the
jobs it could bring -- out of Virginia.

Tripp insisted Thursday that, as far as the Salem site is concerned,
the only "idea that's been talked about so far is the site the state
and Norfolk Southern have proposed between the railroad tracks from
Colorado Street to [Virginia] 419."

A Norfolk Southern spokesman said last week, however, that his
company and the state would be looking into the possibility of
acquiring additional land around the Salem site.

Whether that will be necessary can't be determined until further
engineering studies are completed, which could take weeks, Tripp said Thursday.

Because the state has a limited amount of money for the project, any
that is diverted to buying land can't be used for construction of
facilities, Tripp pointed out.

"That's why we don't want to get too far outside that area" that NS
already owns. "I don't think the railroad wants to condemn anything,
and I don't think the state wants to. It leaves such a bad taste," Tripp said.

"I'm very optimistic. I think it can be done on the site that Norfolk
Southern and the state have proposed. Or on that and a minimum of
additional land."

Rather than taking privately owned property, the city might be
willing to give up some of the dozens of acres it owns adjacent to
and near the railroad's property, he said.

Chris Morris, who runs Morris Automotive on Indiana Street where much
of that city property is located, said he hadn't heard of any changes
coming with the railroad's proposal.

But for the five years he's been in that location, "I've heard that
at some point in the future the city was going to try to take all
this down there.

"I don't know if the railroad will really affect me," he said. "I
hope it doesn't, but they're going to do what they're going to do.
I'll just have to get by."

Around the corner on Ninth Street, Dallas Hedge of Hedge Metal Co.
said, "I don't think it will affect us." In fact, he said he thinks
anything that will bring jobs to the region and take truck traffic
off the interstates is a good idea.

"I think it will be great."

Jim Yaun, who runs Commonwealth Restoration Services at Ninth and
Delaware streets, didn't hear about the possibility of having the
intermodal site nearby until Thursday -- accompanied by rumors that
it would likely eat up his year-old business.

The prospect of losing his $500,000 investment was distressingly
plausible, he said, considering he figures the city would get far
more tax revenue from the railroad project than from the existing
small businesses there.

Assuming it doesn't eat up his business, Yaun said, the intermodal
facility "probably wouldn't, in all honesty, be a disturbance to us."

Still, residents and business owners like Thomas are unhappy with the
way the proposal has unfolded.

"We have a little community here. We know each other by our first
name. ... You get upset when you think somebody is trying to take
something like that away from you."

"It was all too hush-hush," Thomas said.

Salem's Tripp said he understands people's concerns, but reiterated
that, "We don't want to displace anyone."

His advice to the businesses and residents in the bottom was succinct:

"Sit tight. It'll be fine. Trust us. We're not going to do anything
that would not be good."

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