Multimodal freight system planning not likely to affect Columbia

Published 10:52 am Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Multiple planning agencies are partnering to draft a Regional Freight Mobility Plan for eastern North Carolina,

Angela Welsh of Hertford, Albemarle Rural Planning Organization (ARPO) director, announced April 13.

Hauling Tyrrell County produce and products to distant markets, and getting cargo delivered here, was almost exclusively by water until 1907, when the Norfolk Southern Railroad connected Columbia to the nation’s rail network.

Twenty years later the highway between Plymouth and Columbia was paved, and trucks began to take a greater share of the freight business while water-borne hauling slowly faded away. Large-quantity deliveries of gasoline and other petroleum products, as well as stone for highway base, continued by barge through the 1940s.

The railroad tracks between Mackeys and Columbia were removed in the early 1950s, by which time boat deliveries were but a memory, and trucks became the exclusive deliverers into and out of Tyrrell County.

The proposed eastern North Carolina plan will “identify, develop, and support the multimodal freight network” within the identified planning area, Welsh explained.

The plan will cover NC Department of Transportation Divisions 1 [the northeast], 2, 4 and a portion of Division 3.

ARPO is partnering with other planning organizations, NCDOT, economic development professionals, commercial rail providers, airports, ports, and possibly out-of-state transportation professionals, Welsh stated.

The plan is needed because recent laws emphasize freight planning at the national, state, and regional levels.

Welsh was recently informed that ARPO will receive Federal Highway State Planning and Research funds for this initiative.

On February 26, the ARPO Board approved the required matching funds.

A draft of the plan is expected to be complete for distribution and public review in the late 2019 with final plan adoption by participating organizations in early 2020.

Will Columbia get a railroad again? Not likely. The tonnage of produce grown in Tyrrell County and destined for distant markets, and the enormous cost of complying with environmental regulations, do not justify laying a rail line 22 miles from Mackeys to Columbia again. An airport and boat-barge dock are equally unlikely.