Rincon, the Effingham Industrial Development Authority and others may partner to start finding ways to get access to the IDA’s sprawling Research Forest Tract.
Effingham IDA Chairman Dennis Webb suggested a committee of two IDA members, two Rincon City Council members and two Effingham County commissioners to plan where to put a railroad crossing to enter the Research Forest Tract’s D parcel, which is the closest to the Rincon city limits and bordered by the CSX Railroad line.
“Rincon is very interested in developing both tracts, C and D, and trying to open that area up,” Rincon City Manager Wesley Corbitt told IDA members at their meeting last Thursday.
Accessing the Research Forest Tract from Rincon and Fort Howard Road has been on the IDA’s drawing board for years. Where to put the railroad crossing is one of the issues.
Jeff Netzinger, director of transportation at Hussey, Gay, Bell and DeYoung, advised the IDA that for every new railroad crossing, the railroad wants at least two other public crossings closed. He also said who will make the application for the crossing also needs to be determined and a plan for who is going to own the road once it is built.
“The bottom line is somebody has to sign that application and from what I understand, it has to be the city of Rincon,” Webb said.
IDA member Chap Bennett also pointed out that the road, where it will go across the railroad tracks and who will own it have to be sorted out before an application for an at-grade crossing can be made.
“We have to have certain things put together between the city and the landowner and the county before the application,” he said. “We need to take this to a formal level. We knew good and well when we bought the property we needed county or city help to develop it. We need the support and we have to have infrastructure completed so we can put jobs on the tract.”
What the IDA has envisioned for tract D is commercial and light industrial. There also have been plans to use the Research Forest Tract’s wetlands as part of a recreation and greenspace concept to include several hundred of the 2,577 acres.
The IDA has looked at putting heavier industry in the center of the tract, away from residences and schools, where the property is bisected by a rail line and where the Effingham Parkway was planned to go.
“This piece of property can bring great, great things for our citizens,” Bennett continued. “It can be a game-changer for us and the citizens, for greenspace and for recreation and for jobs created. The only thing we’ve said all along is it’s been a tough economic go. It’s been tough to get those things in motion.
“I’d be for anything that starts the process.”
Netzinger counseled the IDA to put together an outline strategy of the road plan into tract D before taking it to CSX. The company has its own committee that will review and make a decision on an at-grade crossing application.
The IDA also has pondered what it would take to build a flyover road, connecting tract D to Highway 21 and Fort Howard Road. What they may look at is tying the at-grade crossing into a potential flyover, with a rail spur then crossing McCall Road.
“We’ve got to know where that flyover is going to be,” IDA CEO John Henry said. “That’s the million-dollar question for six or seven years now. We’ve got to get that issue resolved before we can go to them and say, ‘this is our plan.’”
CSX will want to know how the plans fit together and what the traffic flow and vehicle mix would be, Netzinger said.
“We cannot be mixing school buses and industrial development,” Henry said. “Those railroad crossings are imperative for us to get right the first time.”
Added Webb: “The first step in the process is we’ve got to get that at-grade (crossing) approved. If it’s not going to be approved, then this whole project is going to have wait until we can get a flyover approved.”
Corbitt said there were ways to accumulate points in the system to get an at-grade crossing approved.
“We want to be a good neighbor for the railroad,” he said. “We could really help in a lot of areas. This is something we could take the lead on. We’re really serious about getting some industry in there and some commercial (development) in there.”
The city recently hammered out a 10-year plan, Corbitt acknowledged, and that includes $500,000 for an at-grade railroad crossing in Rincon.
“The first thing we might do is get a road in there and get water and sewer lines in there,” he said. “It’s hard to compete with a Pooler area that is curb and gutter-ready. We’re really interested in investing in our community. We hope it will bring a lot of business to our community.”
IDA member Charles Hinely was encouraged with Rincon’s willingness to help with access to the Research Forest Tract.
“We haven’t had that kind of cooperation before,” he said.