It's called the BNSF Logistics Park and Intermodal Hub Center. The "BNSF" stands for Burlington Northern Santa Fe. The rest takes a bit of explanation. Here's how BNSF describes the concept:
"A Logistics Park is a freight development concept BNSF has pioneered. The first two such facilities in the country were developed by BNSF in partnership with third-party developers near Fort Worth, Texas, and Chicago. BNSF’s Logistics Parks concentrate development of rail intermodal hub centers, where truck trailers and containers are transferred between trucks and trains, with development of adjacent freight distribution and warehousing centers and motor vehicle distribution facilities."
BNSF goes on to note that logistic parks generate thousands of new jobs and eliminate "many of the local truck trips that normally occur between such facilities when they are spread out in a region." For full announcement.
[photo, I spotted a number of for sale signs on farmland in portions of Olathe close to Gardner, where the new BNSF facility will be located]
BNSF has chosen Gardner, in the southwest corner of Johnson County, as the location for its newest logistics park and intermodal center. It has purchased 1,300 acres in what the Kansas City Business Journal called the region's top real estate deal of 2006. The Business Journal reported in December that "by the time developers complete the project, [the project's] total cost is expected to approach $850 million" and some 7,000 jobs will be created.
[photo at the top of this post shows a small part of BNSF's existing "Argentine" rail yard Kansas City, Kansas, a tight fit in a very urbanized area; the new Gardner facility will have much greater capacity, especially in terms of multi-modal and distribution services -- below, a photo of the Gardner site today; as with all photos you can click on it for a larger size view]
The Gardner site is ideally situated. Not only is it on BNSF's expanding main line, but it's adjacent to Johnson County's New Century AirCenter and Interstate 35. It also has plenty of breathing space, something BNSF's exisiting facility in the urban core of Kansas City, Kansas lacks.
The impacts of this mega-project are already being felt -- and are starting to shape development patterns in Johnson County. Mark Coyne, Assistant City Planner for Olathe, Kansas, a huge suburb (population 116,000) adjoining Gardner, told me that "there's a surge in distribution centers in anticipation of BNSF moving to Gardner."
Olathe's current comprehensive plan map has become instantly outdated, as it calls for residential development in this area. This will need to change to be in line with the new reality.
[I'm setting out below a map of Olathe; you can see Gardner in the lower left corner of the map -- the BNSF facility would be on the southwest side of Gardner just off the map; with nearby Interstate 35, the project will likely have enormous impacts on the southern part of Johnson County]
To Mark, the giant new distribution centers will be good for Olathe. He welcomes increasing the city's industrial sector (now about 8% of the city's land). Of course, the revenue benefits to the City will be considerable.
[photo is of a newly built, 400,000 square foot distribution center in Olathe, close to Gardner]
One problem already evident is the impact of numerous at-grade rail crossings on the BNSF main line. As rail traffic has boomed on the line, delays have increased. Olathe is already taking steps to address this by building a series of flyovers (elevating the rail line over key intersections). Much of the cost of this is coming out of the City's coffers. But other communities cannot necessarily match what Olathe is doing.
Carol Whitlock, who chairs both the Johnson County Planning Commission and the planning commission in her home town of Merriam told me how the BNSF cuts right down the middle of Merriam, running over 60 long freight trains a day -- a number expected to rise considerably. The railroad has enormous clout and can "wag any dog they can find," she said. But she also noted the need for cooperation.
Another concern mentioned by Johnson County Planning Director Dean Palos is the fact that K-7, a major north-south highway, is not yet connected to Gardner. This could cause increased truck traffic on heavily travelled Interstate 35. But Palos concurs that the BNSF project will have a profound impact on development patterns.
Kansas City business leaders have been promoting the growth of distribution centers. The KC area already has many such super-size warehouses. With the BNSF project -- and efforts I reported on in an earlier post to promote Kansas City as an inland port of entry -- the number and size of the area's distribution centers will only grow.
And what's driving the explosive growth in distribution centers? Have you ordered anything online or by catalog recently? Have you purchased anything from a national retailer?
p.s., I want to thank the Johnson County planning staff for hosting my visit -- and Planning Director Dean Palos for taking the time to give me a tour of the county. Johnson County's done some top-notch planning work. In fact, just before I arrived the County received a National Association of Counties Achievement Award for its Rural Comprehensive Plan.
From left to right: Paul Greeley, Jeffrey Malotte, Sean Reid, Leslie Davis, Barbara Kanard, Angie Gayheart, Mike Press (County Manager), Dean Palos, Carol Whitlock (Planning Commission Chair), myself, and Jerry Mallory.