The Rickenbacker Initiative

Rickenbacker Airport becomes America's multimodal inland port

“The railroad needs more intermodal capacity here in Columbus because the demand is there for it. More importantly, we wanted to be a part of a bigger project called the Heartland Corridor.”

The Heartland Corridor

Instead of having to bring goods from off ships at Norfolk up through Pennsylvania and across northern Ohio, by creating the Heartland Corridor, the railroad can take a couple days off the shipping time, says Roberts.

The Heartland Corridor already existed, but it is a single-stack rail line that is forced to take longer routes ... the Corridor project goal was to spend some $250 million raising bridges and lowering track so that trains could operate double-stacked. The Corridor goes across Virginia, through southern West Virginia, and north through the LCK Intermodal Terminal to Chicago; the project was completed a year ago.

The $68.5 million Intermodal Terminal occupies some 175 acres and has the capacity to handle more than 250,000 containers and trailers annually. Six trains daily — four between LCK and Chicago and two between LCK and Norfolk — serve the terminal, which is considered one of the largest integrated logistics complexes in the U.S.

The airport was able to get some $30 million in federal funds for the terminal; the railroad matched the other half and managed the construction. The project was completed in 2008.

A related effort is scheduled to occur in 2014 — the Panama Canal Project. The canal will be widened and deepened so that large container ships out of Asia can come through the Panama Canal up to the East Coast of the U.S. and not have to stop in the West Coast as they do now.

“So 2014 will be another significant milestone for us … the Corridor is now opened double-stacked, the rail intermodal facility is built on-airport, the collective leadership in our business community and our regional planning commission is in place, and we’ve all been working together to improve major roadways around the airport,” explains Roberts.

A multi-modal solution

“The thing that many of us on the airport side didn’t appreciate or understand is … you do not usually see cargo moving between an airplane and a train,” relates Roberts. “So when we talk about multi-modal and having an intermodal facility … it’s having all of these capabilities in one location.

“We got 1,000-acres of land approved from FAA for release … that is the seed to start a development called the Rickenbacker Global Logistics Park, the brand name for our industrial development.”

The arrangement with the airport developer is like a joint-venture, she adds. “We brought the land to the table; they develop it and market it, and then we sell it off.

“Most airport managers may tell you that you don’t want to sell off your land — from an industrial development standpoint, the buildings never had a higher value than when they are first completed and have 100 percent tax abatement, etc. … so by selling them off, we get our land money up front, the developer gets its cost of building, and then we have a provision to get 30 percent of what’s left.

The intermodal terminal was the key piece that differentiates the airport from any other airport that can handle air cargo, remarks Roberts. “Our geographic location, the state of Ohio, is ideal for logistics and distribution … then you put a rail-truck facility adjacent to major highways and two main rail lines, and now we have double-stack clearance to the deepest seaport on the East Coast.”

In terms of community engagement in the initiative, “The role is very big now. Initially we helped drive it because it was on our land and we were the catalyst to get it started,” says Roberts. “There was an economic impact study done that said roughly 30,000 jobs would be created over 20 years; getting community support, both local and Federal, was critical.”

Lease arrangements

The airport authority negotiated a long-term lease with Norfolk Southern and gets a commission based on the volume of containers that move through it.

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