Dec. 24--After months of refusing to acknowledge its designs for a Lehigh Valley hub, FedEx Ground has filed plans for a $175 million distribution plant that would bring more than 800 new jobs to Allen Township.
The sprawling 1.3 million-square-foot package sorting center could open as early as 2015 and would become such a hive of car and truck traffic that $25 million would have to be spent to widen several roads around Lehigh Valley International Airport.
According to plans filed with the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission last week, the facility and two nearby warehouses would add 14,000 cars and trucks to the roads, requiring more lanes for Airport Road, Race Street and Willowbrook Road.
With so much roadwork needed, it's a project that seemed to have long odds when New York-based Rockefeller Group proposed it six months ago, but not anymore, said Don Cunningham, executive director of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp.
"It may have started out as a long shot, but they've come so far, so quickly," Cunningham said. "Barring some unforeseen snag, I think this is going to happen. This is a real game-changer."
With its prime location within a day's truck drive of nearly 60 million people, the Lehigh Valley has become one of the nation's top regions for distribution centers, but the proposed FedEx Ground plant would be unlike any of the warehouse facilities that line Interstate 78 and Route 100.
The FedEx plant would process as many as 15,000 packages per hour that would be trucked in from across the region. Once unloaded from the trucks and into the cavernous building, the packages would travel through a cycle of automation, whizzing along conveyor belts and through a maze of scanners as they're sorted by ZIP code and type of freight. Within minutes of their arrival, the packages would be loaded on another truck and delivered to points throughout the United States and Canada.
"There is no warehousing with this. It's strictly product in and product out," said Dave Berryman, chief planner for the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission. "This is a one-of-a-kind animal. It's unique in this region."
FedEx has a much smaller Express shipping center in Bethlehem Township, one of more than 500 such facilities nationwide where local residents can drop off packages.
What Cunningham called a FedEx Ground "megahub" would be one of just 32 regional shipping plants capable of serving several states.
FedEx Ground, based outside Pittsburgh in Moon Township, Allegheny County, is a $10 billion-a-year subsidiary of FedEx created to serve businesses and retailers that want to get merchandise to customers in one to five days, said FedEx Ground spokesman David Westrick. Trucking 5.6 million packages per day from its regional hubs and pickup stations nationwide, it is designed to be direct competition for UPS Ground.
The Morning Call, citing reliable sources, reported in July that FedEx Ground was eyeing 253 acres being sold by the Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority to the Rockefeller Group to raise money to pay debt.
But FedEx Ground refused to acknowledge its involvement until last week, when it filed plans with the LVPC and Allen Township for the site at Willowbrook Road and Race Street, just north of Lehigh Valley International Airport. According to those plans, FedEx proposes a 1 million-square-foot phase one building that would include 1,068 parking spaces for employees and an additional 1,200 spaces for tractor-trailers, vans and equipment.
The L-shaped building would have two finger buildings, where the trucks would deliver and ship packages.
A second phase calls for a 306,726-square-foot building with 1,348 parking spaces and 2,200 spaces for trucks and equipment.
A traffic study filed with the plan estimates that the hub and two nearby warehouses projected to open in 2017 and be occupied by to-be-determined tenants would add more than 14,000 vehicles to the roads -- including about 7,500 created by the FedEx plant. About 1,800 trucks and more than 12,000 cars per day would pass through, according to study performed by the Pidcock Co., Allentown.
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