Panama, the Port and the Intermodal: A Pretty Big Deal

There was a neat op ed in the Baltimore Sun (“Cargo transfer facility well worth state’s investment“) yesterday by MTC Logistics president Harry Halpert.  MTC Logistics, now a huge warehousing and storage operation that “links Baltimore to the world,” grew from a local cold storage company based in Charm City that has been owned by the same family for the last 100 years.

Mr. Halpert wrote about the importance of readying our state and our Port for the opportunities brought by the Panama Canal expansion over two thousand miles away.  This expansion, which we’ve talked about before, means huge (literally) new business through the Port of Baltimore, which is now being deepened for significantly larger ships to come through Panama.

And, somewhere between Baltimore and Washington, a new “intermodal” facility will be located along the CSX rail line to enable freight to be trucked from the Port and placed onto double-stacked trains, sending it out efficiently across the East Coast and – more significantly – opening up new markets throughout the Midwest.

A decision has yet to be made on where that new facility will be built: a long and deliberate federal process has narrowed the list down to just four candidates in the state, two of which are right here in Howard County.  To come from that facility, Mr. Halpert lists “more than 200 new jobs during construction and approximately 7,200 jobs during the first 20 years of the facility’s operation” and “approximately $8.8 billion in cumulative economic benefits by 2034, and nearly $400 million in tax revenues for state and local government.”

According to Mr. Halpert – and news to me – are the environmental benefits to the state: that “the expanded use of rail transportation will reduce long-haul truck traffic and cut the emission of greenhouse gases” for “cleaner and less congested roads” and that “the facility itself will operate in a clean fashion, relying on electric, zero-emission cranes and technology designed to reduce truck idling time.”

This is a pretty big deal.  With the Port of Baltimore expansion to be finished next year, and the Panama Canal widening in 2014, we are approaching what looks to be a new era of transport for the state of Maryland.

I wrote the other day about how I hope Howard County can lead the way here. This is an opportunity – if we take advantage of it – that will have huge impacts for generations to come.  We should all be ready to get involved in this process, if we don’t want to be left behind.



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11 responses to “Panama, the Port and the Intermodal: A Pretty Big Deal”

  1. Drew Roth, Greater Elkridge Community Association Intermodal Committee Chair says :

    This is an opportunity for Howard County to do the right thing by it’s residents and the residents of neighboring counties by working to put the Intermodal facility at the Jessup site on Brock Bridge Road.

    While the intermodal development reduces pollution across the region generally, it concentrates and increases pollution in the immediate vicinity of the intermodal terminal. The right thing to do is to put the Intermodal Terminal at the Jessup site. This site will have the same positive benefits to Howard County and the rest of the region as the other sites, without degrading the quality of life and destroying the property values of our friends and neighbors.

  2. Bernie Trenary says :

    We, the Hanover Woods neighborhood, as well as MANY OTHER locals who are going to be adversely affected by the Intermodal Terminal if it is located at the Hanover site, are already VERY involved in the process but I’m not too sure anyone is paying any attention! It seems WE’RE the ones who are being left behind in spite of a huge effort to make our concerns known. Whatever the benefits to the State of Maryland, it won’t benefit me ONE IOTA if it is built there because I’m gonna find SOME WAY to get as far away from it as possible, and it WON’T be in the FREE STATE!

  3. Doug Kornreich says :

    The information cited above is misleading at best. The Panama Canal is only tangentially related to the Panama Canal expansion. CSX is relocating its domestic rail operations to the intermodal. At the public workshops, CSX employees estimated that 90% of the traffic will be domestic in origin, not shipped by sea through the Port of Baltimore.

    Furthermore all of the sites are not created equal in terms of their benefit to Howard County. The Hanover Road site, other than the Intermodal Site itself will not produce any positive spinoff to Howard County. The room for construction of warehouses, storage yards, truck stops, and the like is not available in Howard County adjacent to the Hanover Road Intermodal Site. All of that development would be in Anne Arundel County.

    If you truly want Howard County to benefit from an intermodal site, the best location would be the Jessup site. That site is adjacent to MD 175 and the warehouse and truck stop infrastructure is already in place in Howard County along with room to build more. Locating the intermodal site at Hanover Road would give the negative impact to Howard County, and the primary benefit to Anne Arundel.

    Third, the job and revenue estimates are just that — guesses at what the world will look like in 2034. Look at the estimates for such projects as the Baltimore Convention Center to see how the projected revenues promised before a project is built inevitably exceed the reality.

    As support for the fact that the primary purpose of the Baltimore-Washington Intermodal facility is not an increase in imports through the Panama Canal, I can offer two citations, both from proponents of the project:

    1. — The article says that the National Gateway Project involves two large intermodal facilities — Chambersburg, PA and North Baltimore, OH. The Baltimore-Washington Intermodal site is not a significant piece of that program, it is for local distribution of items shipped via rail from other parts of the country.

    2. The only reason it is even part of the project was revealed by MDOT in its FAQs — namely to move CSX’s domestic rail operations from the port to make space at the Port to accomodate larger ships.

    FAQ 25 from the MDOT website,

    25. How does the construction of an intermodal rail facility in Maryland relate to the expansion of the Panama Canal?

    The Panama Canal Authority is currently undertaking an expansion project that will effectively double the capacity of the Panama Canal. Completion is expected by late 2014. Once completed, the Panama Canal will be able to accommodate larger container ships originating from Asia that can currently only access west coast ports.

    The Port of Baltimore is undergoing several improvements including the installation of “super cranes” and the construction of a 50-foot berth that will make it one of just two Ports on the east coast that will be able to accommodate these larger ships. CSX’s relocation of its domestic rail operations will make way for planned future expansion at the Port. CSX will continue to operate its international freight rail business at the Port of Baltimore.

    In short, the Press release you are quoting is not giving all of the information. Before you support placing the intermodal site in the Howard County sites, check out what’s really going on. The Hanover Road site is not appropriate for an intermodal at all, and putting it there would not significantly benefit Howard County.

    • columbia2.0 says :

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Doug. The information in this blog post was taken from The Baltimore Sun article, not a press release.

      • Doug Kornreich says :

        Not to nitpick, but an op ed written by an interested party is not a news article. The “facts” cited in the op ed are not vetted by the editorial board of the newspaper. The op ed is the opinion of Mr. Halpert, and should be treated as such. That is why I deemed it, perhaps a little glibly, a press release.

  4. wordbones says :


    I couldn’t agree with you more. I just hope that it lands in one of two finalist sites in Howard. Mr. Kornreich is incorrect when he asserts that “Locating the intermodal site at Hanover Road would give the negative impact to Howard County, and the primary benefit to Anne Arundel.”

    Rail traffic will still increase through the backyards of those homes in Hanover but the county will not benefit from the increased economic benefits, both from an intermodal terminal and the existing 9 million square feet of distribution space in that area.

    While I empathize, somewhat, with Messrs. Kornreich, Trenary and Roth, the fact remains that the site in Hanover is, and has long been, zoned for heavy industry. They made a choice to live in an industrial area and now they are faced with the consequences of that decision. The M2 zoning designation has always been reserved for some of the dirtier businesses that are none the less vital to a community. In the end, an intermodal terminal may be one of the more benign uses they could find for a neighbor in such a heavy industry zone.


    • Bernie Trenary says :

      I don’t want your empathy, Dennis, and BE CAREFUL what you hope for!

    • Doug Kornreich says :

      @ Word Bones —

      You either misunderstand or conveniently ignore the negative impact of the intermodal site. You indicate the issue is rail traffic — “Rail traffic will still increase through the backyards of those homes in Hanover”. The issue is the operation of the actual intermodal facility 24 hours a day, seven days a week with large, noisy cranes, lights, loading and unloading containers. And then there’s the trucks, which TO START would be 300-600 trucks per day. With diesel fumes from all of those idling trucks, not to mention the noise and congestion from those trucks. Those impacts are decidedly different whether the intermodal site is place in Jessup or Hanover Road.

      The large amounts of undeveloped land near Hanover Road are in Anne Arundel County. The only way the project would even be viable would be if the interchange at 295 and Hanover Road were built. That would make it even more likely the warehouse development, truck stop development, etc. will fall primarily to Anne Arundel County. Yes there is some empty warehouse space that was built in Howard County, but there is little room for adjacent growth in Howard County (except maybe if the Oxford Square land were repurposed). The room for growth is off Dorsey Run Road which would be much more accessible to the Jessup site as well as the existing infrastructure to handle the trucks at 175 and Route 1.

      So yes the negatives are much higher if it is plaed at Hanover Road, and more of the benefit would fall to Howard instead of Anne Arundel if it were placed in Jessup. There are more negatives and fewer positives at Hanover Road.

      Doug Kornreich

  5. Drew Roth, Greater Elkridge Community Association Intermodal Committee Chair says :

    The fact that the Hanover site is zoned industrial does not make it better than the Jessup site.

  6. Bernie Trenary says :

    We waste our “breath” with this character! He is HELL-BENT on seeing the facility built at Hanover. Our concerns don’t interest him at all and he will find fault with anything we say. I DO believe he stands to profit from its construction here in light of his occupation! Let’s voice our concerns to someone who REALLY MATTERS!

  7. C. Weatherly says :

    I have a great idea…lets demonstrate connectivity, transportation, and diversity…in the spirit of James Rouse’s vision, ”…provide a real City” by moving the intermodal site next to “The Mall” as a part of the downtown Columbia project.

    James Rouse, “To provide a real City – not just a better suburb, but a comprehensive balanced community…” This would produce many jobs for people of all income levels. This move would “be very open, racially-to provide the full institutional life of cities…”

    James Rouse, “To respect the land…” so the intermodal site is not zoned for downtown Columbia, zoning in Columbia has changed to meet the interests of business in Columbia, why not again?

    James Rouse, “To provide the best environment for the growth of people…” If Columbia is going to be true to its vision, Columbia must provide blue collar Earl the opportunity to work alongside white collar Chad.

    James Rouse, “Our fourth goal was profit.” This was also Mr. Rouse’s “primary objective.” How do the goods sold at “The Mall” get there and how/ where is all the waste generated by “The Mall” go? The cheapest and most efficient means is railway.

    Rail could also connect Baltimore and Washington D.C. increasing more people to buy and consume…more diversity, more jobs, more profit, more tax for Howard County.

    I am for diversity; however, those that talk about diversity want it…right up until it impacts their vision/ version of diversity..or property value.

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