Intermodal center ready to start shipping

Scott Swanson

Roger Nyquist drove down a newly paved strip of asphalt paralleling Interstate 5 just north of Albany last week, pointing out a row of railroad tracks running alongside the freeway.

Nyquist, chair of the Linn County Board of Commissioners, was taking a reporter on a tour of the new Mid-Willamette Valley Intermodal Center, located at 3251 Old Salem Road NE, near Millersburg City Hall and almost directly across from Weyerhaeuser’s Albany Distribution Center.

A Union Pacific train had just rumbled past on one of a pair of newly constructed parallel tracks positioned between the freeway and the edge of the approximately half milelong MVIC.

“We pursued this facility and built this facility so manufacturers and the natural resource industries would have another shipping option to get their products to consumers,” Nyquist said, gesturing at the new construction and a line of yard hustlers and bomb carts – specialized trucks equipped to transport containers. A rubber-tired gantry crane rolled by.

Nyquist described the newly constructed MVIC “a proactive attempt to give folks another option to keep their shipping costs down.”

The $35 million facility was funded with a $23.5 million grant from the Oregon Department of Transportation, and $12.5 million from Linn County. The project began in 2017 when the Oregon Legislature approved HB 2017, a $5.3 billion package funded by taxes and fees, aiming to finance congestion-reducing projects, highway and bridge improvements, transit projects and more around the state.

The benefits of the new facility, which Nyquist said should be operating by December, is to reduce traffic congestion, improve highway safety, reduce highway maintenance costs, reduce air emissions and provide jobs and economic benefits to taxpayers, according to a statement issued by the Linn Economic Development Group, which built the MVIC.

He said the goal is to have a facility in which a truck’s container can be unloaded and either temporarily stacked by the gantry crane or immediately loaded on a railroad car.

“Hopefully, they’re from gate-in to gate-out in less than 30 minutes. It isn’t just the drive time back and forth that we hope to save people; it’s the time in the queue, waiting to be unloaded and waiting to be loaded.”

He added that the goal is also to keep trucks from having to make trips without containers.

The facility also includes electrical support for refrigerated containers and air systems.

According to operators, the facility will eventually offer additional container storage, chassis pool, expanded container and

chassis maintenance. Estimated annual container volume will exceed 40,000.

Project Manager Don Waddell said the first containers are expected to arrive in the next few weeks.

“Shippers will be informed when shipping lines will accept bookings from MVIC,” he said.

The cost of constructing the MVIC included redevelopment of the 64-acre site, formerly occupied by an International Paper containerboard mill that closed in 2009, and for necessary equipment to operate the facility, including a reachstacker, a large fork truck, and automated gates.

The county bought the 192-acre former mill site in 2019 for $10 million, then later sold 64 acres for $9.16 million in to the Linn Economic Development Group, an affiliate of the Albany Millersburg Economic Development Corporation.

LEDG applied for the ODOT grant.

The MVIC will be operated by ConGlobal, headquartered in Darien, Ill., which also operates a container depot in Portland.

The Union Pacific Railroad will service between the facility and Northwest Seaport Alliance marine terminals in Seattle and Tacoma. Ocean Network Express has committed to provide containers and vessel services, and several other ocean carriers, along with a number of local trucking companies, are expected to commit soon, according to an LEDG statement.

The MVIC’s purpose is to provide a facility where businesses can both receive and distribute their products by rail, an alternative to “having to ship them by truck clear to the Seattle-Tacoma area,” Nyquist said.

“What’s that route look like 20-30 years from now? From Olympia to Seattle, you could easily envision that I-5 being a parking lot.

“The more it costs to ship goods to people who ultimately use those, the less competitive we are in competing for those sales.

And so this is a proactive attempt to give folks another option to hold their shipping costs down – so they can stay competitive, and they can pass those profits on to the employees who make it all happen.”

Nyquist noted that Lebanon was also interested in establishing a transfer center, but county officials lined up behind the Albany location because of the former paper mill’s immediate access to the freeway and the railroad line.

“Ultimately, we wanted this to come to Linn County and this selection was largely location-driven,” he said. “The proximity to I-5, right on the UP mainline – so you put your best project forward and hope you’re successful, and in this case it worked out.”

The MVIC property also includes an 80,000-square-foot warehouse, which formerly was used to store paper – “a lot of paper,” Nyquist noted.

“We’re talking with a number of trucking companies interested in this place,” he said, adding that area grass seed growers import seed stock from overseas that has to be quarantined for inspection at Sea-Tac. “They would like this to become a USDA inspection site, but there’s a lot of details to be worked out.”

There have been a lot of details along the way through the entire project, he said.

A major one was a fuel pipeline that ran perpendicular to the freeway and the railroad line to a tank farm located just north of the MVIC. It took time, but developers were able to negotiate and build the new tracks over the line after encasing the 14-foot-deep pipe in cement, which it had not been.

Nyquist predicted the new facility will benefit Linn County well into the future.

“Our region has a long history of producing products that are beneficial to people around the world, from 2x4s to the food people put on their dinner plates,” he said. “This intermodal facility increases the likelihood that producers of those products will have ample transportation access to those markets which use them long into the future. We are grateful to all involved who have helped make this happen.”