West Virginia’s state government owes it to its citizens to try to save an intermodal facility in Wayne County from the auction block.
It’s true that the Heartland Intermodal Gateway facility in Prichard hasn’t lived up to its billing. In fact, it has fallen well short of expectations.
Some of the fault can be placed on the site itself.
Designed as a hub for loading shipping containers from trains to trucks and, eventually, barges, the facility was going to need a lot of money for massive next-phase projects. For instance, at the facility’s location, the Big Sandy River is too narrow to accommodate barge traffic. A multi-million dollar project to fix that was part of the plan, but it never got off the ground.
But some of the blame for what has happened at Heartland Gateway falls at the feet of state officials who didn’t act quickly enough to find an operator for the site years ago.
Legislators and officials in Cabell and Wayne counties will tell you the site was ready to open well before 2015. Even after opening, the facility was never properly marketed.
Another factor that hindered the facility before and after it opened was an attempted takeover of the intermodal facility’s chief client, Norfolk Southern Railway, by Canadian Pacific Railway. The buyout fizzled in 2016 but still hurt business in Wayne County, as Canadian Pacific made it clear it had little interest in the project.
It’s no wonder the state is losing money on the facility as it stands.
As has been reported in the Gazette-Mail, West Virginia sank $18 million into this $32 million project, and now is expecting to get $1 million to $2 million from it at auction. That’s not fair to the legislators and local officials who worked for well over a decade on a project they thought could truly shift the economy in the western part of the state, and have ripple effects throughout all of West Virginia. It’s not fair to the citizens who could benefit from such a bolstered economy.
True, some projects just don’t pan out. But they certainly won’t if they’re never given a chance to succeed through competent marketing, operation and usage. Hopefully, Norfolk Southern will agree to meet with legislators to see if there’s a way to salvage this project, and do it right this time.