Boise & Garden City

Boise wants to make it easier to unload freight trains here

This overhead photo shows the location of six city-owned parcels, totaling 275 acres, south of Gowen Road that Boise leaders hope will be the location of a facility where, among other uses, trains and trucks transfer their loads.
This overhead photo shows the location of six city-owned parcels, totaling 275 acres, south of Gowen Road that Boise leaders hope will be the location of a facility where, among other uses, trains and trucks transfer their loads.

A city of Boise-owned tract near the Boise Airport offers a combination of benefits for industrial uses that is rarely found near cities of any size.

The 275-acre parcel is zoned for all industrial uses, located within two miles of two interstate interchanges, close to the airport, 15-20 minutes from Downtown and close to fuel pipelines.

“It’s such a good piece of property,” city spokesman Mike Journee said. “All of the elements are right there.”

The city hopes commercial real estate firm Cushman and Wakefield can find a private developer willing to build a “transload” facility where a full-size, 100-car train could be loaded and unloaded to and from shipping trucks. In addition, the property could someday become the center of a larger industrial park featuring uses such as storage, assembly or manufacturing of inbound goods and bailing or other consolidation of outbound recyclable materials and other freight.

Such a project has been a goal of the city, private industry and economic development leaders for years. Those people believe it could attract new businesses to the Boise area and, just as importantly, help the ones that are already here.

Here’s why:

When trains deliver freight to Boise from other states or regions, rail giant Union Pacific sends it on its line south of the city to a junction near Nampa, where it’s dropped off.

From there, Boise Valley Railroad, a division of Kansas-based rail firm Watco Cos., sends the Boise cargo on a line that the city owns and the company manages. The rest of the Union Pacific train continues on to its destination, say Salt Lake City or Portland; it picks up the Boise cars later, on its way back through the Nampa junction.

This scenario adds time and cost — and not just for the Boise businesses receiving and sending cargo. It also means the train isn’t taking a full load to its final destination, which reduces the railroad company’s profits.

Some worry that Union Pacific could decide that serving Boise isn’t worth its time or trouble. Even if the railroad does continue sending goods to and from Boise, it could price the service higher than sending them by truck, which is usually a more expensive option.

That would force businesses to rely exclusively on trucking to move freight in and out of the city. Higher costs would hurt the businesses’ competitiveness — a major reason economic experts in Boise want to see a large-scale transload facility near the city.

The process of seeking a private partner for this type of facility is just beginning. There’s no telling what kind of partnership might arise and whether the city would own the land or sell it, Journee said.

The 275-acre tract is made up of six parcels ranging between 18 and 70 acres apiece. Any or all of them would be available for development related to the transload facility.

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