, Muskogee, OK

February 16, 2013

Transportation options key for port

By Wendy Burton
Phoenix Staff Writer

— Muskogee development officials say V&M TCA is a prime example of why the Port of Muskogee’s ample transportation options are a major attraction to potential industries.

“They came to Muskogee because their plan was to bring in steel from the best steel mills in the world, none in the states,” said Port Director Scott Robinson. “Then, Congress imposed a quota on foreign steel — so here they sat wondering what are they going to do now? So they became a rail shipper.”

Among the transportation opportunities touted by the Port of Muskogee’s Business Development Office are highway access to five major highways within six miles, port access on-site, airport access to Davis Field, and rail access through Union Pacific/Port of Muskogee rail.

“The port, in my opinion, gives you the opportunity to weather market fluctuations such as storms, drought or even a lock failure that may cause an industry to need other transportation options,” Robinson said.

In particular, there’s plenty of opportunity for companies that use rail services to operate, and the port plans to expand its rail capabilities, Robinson said.

The port is seeing an increase in rail traffic over the past year. For the first 11 months of 2012, 4,037 rail cars carrying 373,381 tons of cargo went to and from the port.

That’s a 34 percent increase in tonnage from 2011. In November 2012, 344 rail cars carried 31,497 tons of cargo to and from the port, compared with 300 cars carrying 27,352 tons in November 2011.

“Our rail traffic was up 29 percent last year,” Robinson said. “But it does put stress on our rail system and ability to store cars. So, we thought it best to expand our yard.”

Some of that expansion is already in the works.

In December, the Port Authority Board of Directors voted to seek financing to help pay for improvements to its rail marshaling yard.

Estimated cost of the rail improvements is $505,000, according to an information packet reviewed by Authority members.

The packet said the Authority would be expected to share in the project cost, with 25 percent coming from the port and 75 percent from grants or special financing.

The board is seeking the funding through Community Development Block Grant/Economic Development Infrastructure Financing, Robinson said.

That includes the construction of rail spurs at the port for several companies such as Metals USA, Quality Liquid Feed and Dal-Tile.

“We’ve done it through grants and zero-interest or tax-free loans, matched it with operating revenues where we’ve had to,” he said.

The latest vision for the port is to expand the rail service available for companies there, Robinson said.

“Right now, we can handle a 40- or 50-car train,” he said. “But if we were to receive a 100-car train, it would paralyze us.”

The project announced in December will add another track in the port’s rail marshaling yard to allow it to receive more cars, Robinson said.

But there’s a bigger vision he’d like to see realized.

Improving access to the port by adding rail entry from Oklahoma 16, west of the port, would be a huge project. In addition, bringing more than one rail line out of the marshaling yard and into the port is another big project that would involve modifying the bridge over the tracks to allow more space.

“You’re talking about the biggest picture when you add a rail line under the bridge, the big picture with a track out from Oklahoma 16,” Robinson said. “We’re not constructing that yet. We do have the preliminary design, but we don’t have funding for that at this stage.”

But Robinson said those kind of changes would “give us a fantastic rail delivery system and I think it will lead to a major investment in the properties at the port.”

Reach Wendy Burton at (918) 684-2926 or wburton