So I got on a CSX fix over the weekend.
The CSX/Sunrail battle of the past few years drew a lot of attention, and I tried to follow it as closely as possible. Of course, being a native of Lakeland, I have serious concerns about how much train traffic will increase through downtown with the new Intermodal Terminal being built in Winter Haven.
At the same time, I recognize that it will bring new jobs and an increase in tax revenues to Polk County as a whole, specifically Winter Haven. But over the weekend I got curious as to just how big of an impact the site will have.
CSX has been saying that the terminal will bring 6,000 jobs to the area, 2,000 of which will come directly from the entire industrial park, including the terminal, and another 4,000 that CSX says will come indirectly (from more development nearby in a proposed industrial park, economic growth in the area, etc.).
(Note: Thanks to Billy Townsend for helping me clarify above that the 2,000 projected jobs are from the entire park and not just the terminal).
So even though the new terminal will bring increased train and truck traffic to our region that could be a drain on our infrastructure and lifestyle, it will bring jobs. But will it bring the number that CSX says it will bring?
I tried researching in a lot of areas, from FDOT reports on rail in Central Florida to multiple stories from The Ledger and the News Chief. It was becoming hard to track down any kind of origin of these job projections or any kind of data to support them.
Then I came across an old blog post from the Tampa Tribune from back in 2007. Ironically, it’s written by my current Lakeland Local colleague Billy Townsend, who was covering this story and others in Polk County for the Trib.
What’s interesting is that back then, CSX was projecting a total job creation of 8,500 as opposed to the current 6,000. They still say 2,000 will come directly from the terminal, but the indirect job projection has gone down. Not really a surprise considering the state of the economy now as compared to then, but it demonstrates why I get nervous about these types of projections. No one really knows what kind of impact this thing will have. It could indirectly create 10,000 jobs or zero, and it’s all subject to things that are outside CSX’s control.
Of course, that doesn’t really matter to CSX. They get their new terminal no matter what, but I’ve worried from the beginning that the negative consequences of the terminal have been severely downplayed while the job creation has been highly touted.
Billy hit on my suspicions of the job projections back in 2007 (and I would guess he feels about the same today). Here’s part of his post:
(The indirect job projections) are far more theoretical. CSX labels them as “employment outside the park.” They are either employees of suppliers for companies located in the park, or “employees whose work depends on income generated directly or indirectly at the park.” CSX uses restaurant and convenience store workers as examples of that second group.
I’m always nervous when restaurant and convenience store job projections are included in something like this. I know the employees at the terminal and planned industrial park will need to eat and buy gas somewhere, and hopefully this does lead to lots of new jobs in multiple business areas. But I don’t know that we should be expecting that type of job creation, especially as our economy is still struggling.
Billy also pulled out another projection that I hadn’t seen before, and that I haven’t figured out whether it’s changed. Here’s another excerpt:
Our next number is 1,150. That’s the number of daily truck trips onto State Road 60 that CSX expects the first phase of the project to create. Winter Haven city planners say that should not affect the level of service on State Road 60. They were not required to – and didn’t – project impact on U.S. 27 or U.S. 98 (Bartow Road). Those two highways are virtually the only logical way for a truck to get from S.R. 60 to the Polk Parkway or Interstate 4. Several stretches of U.S. 98 are considered failing today.
The construction taking place on U.S. 98 right now will hopefully improve its ability to handle this new load of freight traffic, but I don’t know what the plans are for U.S. 27. Again, there are going to be some benefits from the terminal, but we can’t forget about the other effects on our infrastructure. This will require cooperation and coordination from multiple communities in Polk County to make sure the benefits are maximized for all and the drawbacks are minimized.
The issue of train traffic through Lakeland is a different issue, and one I plan to try to research more. Anyway, thanks to newspaper journalist Billy for providing some good background on the CSX issue that’s still relevant today.