NORTH BALTIMORE, Ohio — Describing CSX Transportation’s expanding capability to carry containerized freight to and through its 500-acre terminal near here as “the inland version of widening the Panama Canal,” Vice President Joe Biden said Wednesday that the railroad’s National Gateway project is a prime example of federal infrastructure funds promoting private-sector profitability and jobs development.
While CSX used no public money to develop the $175 million terminal just west of North Baltimore in Wood County’s Henry Township, related clearance-improvement work in eastern Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia was paid for in part by $98 million in federal funds, as well as state funding, Mr. Biden said during an afternoon address at the facility.
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“Without TIGER, there would be no National Gateway,” Mr. Biden said, referring to the Transportation Improvements Generating Economic Recovery grant program that, in its $1.5 billion first year, included slightly more than half the $183 million CSX budgeted to raise bridges and enlarge tunnels along a route linking North Baltimore with another new terminal southwest of Harrisburg.
The federal grant leveraged $180 million in state funds and $500 million in CSX investment, the vice president said. Similar improvements and expansion of transportation facilities across the country is needed to help American manufacturers compete globally and create good-paying jobs for middle-class workers, he said.
Infrastructure improvement “means good jobs coming home, and brings private-sector investment off the sidelines,” Mr. Biden said.
Future stages of CSX’s National Gateway remain to be built. Among projects in planning and development stages is enlargement of a 4,000-foot tunnel under part of southeast Washington that is expected to cost more than $100 million but is on the primary CSX route between the Midwest and ports in Virginia and the Carolinas. The location of a new intermodal terminal in Baltimore, meanwhile, is the subject of ongoing controversy there.
All of the bridge and tunnel improvements are intended to allow CSX trains to carry full-size domestic freight containers stacked two-high on specially designed flat cars, which significantly increases capacity on trains of similar length compared with single-level trailers or containers.
Norfolk Southern, CSX’s primary competitor in East Coast-Ohio markets, has already completed a similar clearance project between Norfolk, Va., and Columbus, where low tunnels in the mountains of Virginia and West Virginia were a particular problem.
Citing initial skepticism about the Obama Administration’s economic-stimulus efforts during the 2008-09 national economic slump, Mr. Biden said the $48 billion spent on public works projects under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has been vindicated. But even with the success of projects like National Gateway, “there’s still this sort of myth out there that somehow investing in infrastructure is wasteful,” he said.
Mr. Biden spoke after taking a brief tour of the terminal that included a visit to its simulator training facility for crane operators, followed by a motorcade and walking pass near the terminal’s five huge wide-span gantry cranes used to sort about 2,000 container loads of freight on a typical day.
Most are transferred from one railroad car to another, but about 120 per day are trucked to or from nearby shippers, and that traffic is expected to grow as logistics-dependent businesses move in nearby.
Mr. Biden said the CSX terminal is helping area firms compete in a global economy. He cited a reduction in transit time to East Coast ports for appliances built at a nearby Whirlpool Corp. factory in Findlay from one week to two or three days because of improved intermodal service.
While cheap labor overseas has been a factor in the decline of American manufacturing, “old infrastructure” also is to blame, the vice president said before briefly pitching a proposed $50 billion program to improve railroads, bridges, canals, ports, and airports throughout the United States.
“When you create profits for companies, they hire people for decent middle-class wages,” Mr. Biden said. “That’s why companies choose to locate where there’s the most modern infrastructure.”
U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) said Mr. Biden’s North Baltimore visit — which followed recent speeches at the ports of Baltimore, Charleston, S.C., and Savannah, Ga., and advances an upcoming vice presidential trip to the Panama Canal — shows northwest Ohio’s importance as “an important node” in the national transportation network.
“He has always been a man for the rails, and for transportation. He gets it,” Miss Kaptur said.
U.S. Rep. Bob Latta (R., Bowling Green) said 60,000 manufacturing jobs are in northwest Ohio because of the region’s rail, road, air, and port facilities, and enhancing those assets creates “great potential to keep doing what we do.”
“We want to make sure that not only in Ohio, but across the country, we have a competitive system out there,” Mr. Latta said.
CSX has announced interest in expanding the North Baltimore terminal, but the railroad’s grant application for $21 million in additional TIGER funding to cover half of such a project’s expected cost was turned down in September.
Rusty Orben, CSX’s director of public affairs, said in May that without the grant, the expansion wouldn’t occur because CSX’s available funding would only buy “half a loaf.” But Carla Groleau, a CSX spokesman, said Wednesday the company is “still considering our options” for expanding the North Baltimore facility.
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