Charlotte’s Intermodal Hub

Airport teams with industry, other groups to create a multimodal hub of the future


The result was a highly strategic evaluation of the opportunities and challenges for the airport’s growth. The visioning process revealed a number of key findings:

  • CLT’s location near two main Interstates had potential connections to future transportation system lines — a planned rail system, a planned outer loop Interstate, and the main north-south Norfolk-Southern railroad line from Atlanta to the Northeast;
  • CLT could have rail access to three of the East Coast’s major seaports (Savannah, Charleston, and Roanoke);
  • there were significant areas of vacant land adjacent to the airport;
  • the airport’s location on the west side of the city was in close proximity to a sizeable underutilized labor force;
  • major office and industrial concentrations, including freight forwarding operations, were located near CLT;
  • the airport’s many domestic airline connection opportunities were a strong factor in recruiting businesses to the Charlotte area.

A comprehensive, integrated assessment of airport facilities, both airside and landside, revealed that CLT had untapped freight capacity, with significant expansion capability. Further, the airport had enough space, especially if combined with adjacent vacant properties, to develop even more passenger and freight capacity. However, looking into the future, the airport would also need to expand its communications capabilities in order to compete in the 21st century.

Competitive Positioning

Another analysis determined CLT’s competitive position in relation to other airports. At the time, with 120 direct domestic flights but only a few direct international flights, Charlotte was a one-stop city domestically but a two-stop city internationally. Airports that have good domestic and international service become a key element in the competitive advantage of a region, but airports like CLT that have limited international connections (severely restricting international air freight opportunities) need to develop a competitive advantage.

The visioning team sought a way to counter this limitation and still take advantage of the shift in trade patterns, including more diversified trading routes and altered ocean rotations, bringing more goods from South China and Southeast Asia.

During the visioning, it was realized that the large amount of undeveloped land around the airport could be developed by businesses with complementary uses (freight forwarding companies, postal operations, Customs, etc.). The pattern of truck and rail terminals and ancillary services could be repositioned to consolidate them around the airfield, making them an integral part to trade functioning at the airport.

Aligning with this idea was another — modal integration. CLT could take advantage of rail, road, and sea links while building up a concentration of ancillary service industries to become a multimodal hub core for the larger development area. This would provide a unique opportunity to project Charlotte forward and to produce a different kind of facility, one unique to the U.S., and even the world. It could change the traditional way of moving goods, and take the airport’s role in market access, in linking global and national trade flows, to a new level.

Instituting a Plan

A Strategic Development Plan was prepared based on several key goals that would enable the airport to remain competitive in the growing global economy, most important of which were to:

  • build CLT into the type of integrated multimodal hub which would effectively compete for global trade by linking together air, rail, communications, and power; and
  • position Charlotte as the fourth major logistics hub on the East Coast of North America by consolidating all major logistics functions at the airport to increase efficiency and reduce urban truck transfer traffic.

To achieve these goals, it was clear that the airport would need to emerge as a key foundational element for regional economic development. By linking all modes of transportation with ancillary services, relevant government agencies, and other related facilities, the airport could serve as a 21st Century transportation hub, anchoring the region in the emerging global network.

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