Rail upgrades will help businesses

STEUBENVILLE — A $30 million project to improve a 30-mile stretch of rail line from Dilles Bottom to Mingo Junction will help existing and future businesses, said Evan Scurti, Jefferson County Port Authority executive director.

In June 2018, the Ohio Rail Development Commission received a $16.25 million grant through the U.S. Department of Transportation Infrastructure for Rebuilding America program to be used toward Norfolk-Southern mainline improvements as well as rail yard investments at Mingo Junction. The project proposal included a significant match of $14.5 million from Norfolk-Southern, illustrating the company’s commitment to our area’s industrial future, Scurti said.

The ORDC will soon be under contract with Norfolk-Southern, allowing the improvements to be made along the 30-mile stretch of mainline rail, Scurti said.

The project includes rail line rehabilitation, bank stabilization at select locations on the line, yard improvements at Mingo Junction and grade-crossing improvements at crossings along the line, he said.

Scurti said the project was successful against more than 100 other small projects, being one of 26 total projects selected for a total of $1.5 billion of funding.

“The project is exciting as it will help both existing customers and development properties along the line ensure the rail service they are accustomed to continues unabated,” said ORDC Project Development Manager Tom Burns.

The project builds on ORDC’s already strong relationship with the economy of Eastern Ohio, Scurti said.

Within the last five years, ORDC has approved three grants totaling $625,000 of state investment into rail service projects directly tied to job creation and site improvements along the river corridor in Jefferson County, Scurti said.

“The funded improvements will prepare our county for even greater forecasts of rail traffic as major investments like the ethane crackers and the JSW steel mill become economic drivers in the region,” Scurti said.

“Several Jefferson County companies are currently preparing for rail-related expansions, thus the project comes at a perfect time for our economy. The largest private investment currently under way, JSW’s forecast of approximately $500 million of near-term investments into its Mingo Junction mill, is directly tied to quality river and rail transportation services,” Scurti said.

John Hritz, president and chief executive officer of JSW USA, said, “The $16.25 million grant is critical to strengthening the railroad network in Mingo Junction. As a result of this grant, JSW USA is confident that Mingo Junction will have the robust logistics and supply chain infrastructure required to facilitate our growth and commitment to the region. JSW USA’s investments in Ohio will create hundreds of high-paying jobs, bringing much needed investment to the area. Ultimately, railroad infrastructure improvements in Mingo Junction will serve as a key driver for economic growth and in restoring the region’s status as a dominant manufacturing community.”

Adjacent to the JSW mill is the former Mingo Junction football stadium, owned by FeX Processing.

Scurti said FeX has plans to expand operations into the stadium site.

The investment proposal will be highlighted by new rail spurs to support the growing business, he said.

“We are encouraged by the investment in rail infrastructure in the Ohio Valley. This demonstrates the state of Ohio is forward thinking and pro-business. FeX chose the Mingo Junction area for significant investment in developing an expanded scrap yard for this reason,” said Doug Schaefer, FeX Processing’s vice president and chief financial officer.

Scurti said the port authority will continue to work with these and other businesses in Jefferson County that are exhibiting growth plans tied to the industrial and energy renaissance happening in the Marcellus/Utica shale region.

“Additionally, the port authority will focus in 2019 and beyond on its own site redevelopment projects in order to prepare more quality, shovel-ready sites along the river/rail corridor. The rail project and many macroeconomic trends are positioning our county for a strong forecast of industrial investment proposals in the years ahead. Focusing on site preparation to accommodate complex, fast-paced industrial site selection projects is a critical component of economic development agencies in this environment, and we look forward to the community’s input as we embark on more of these projects.

“The port authority would like to thank the leadership teams at ORDC and Norfolk-Southern for their collaborative work in making this critical infrastructure investment project a reality. Jefferson County will benefit from it for generations to come,” Scurti said.