TDOT awards $2 million to Washington County for industrial railroad connectivity

Zach Vance • Updated Jan 22, 2019 at 6:09 PM

The Tennessee Department of Transportation has awarded Washington County a $2 million Competitive Rail Connectivity Grant, according to state Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, who helped secure the funding.

The money will be used to create a rail spur for East Tennessee Railway to serve existing industries in the county that now lack connectivity. A spur is a secondary railroad track used to load and unload railcars without interfering with other railroad operations.

East Tennessee Railway is a five-mile short line railroad that interchanges with CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern. The railroad transports various commodities, including chemicals, food and feed products, forest products, steel and scrap.

“This is a sizable investment in Washington County that will have a tremendous impact on our local economy and lead to additional job creation,” Hill said in a press release.

“I am grateful to our Department of Transportation for their partnership and for allocating these resources to Washington County. It was an honor to support our local leaders in securing this competitive funding.”

Northeast Tennessee Economic Partnership CEO Mitch Miller and Development Director Alicia Summers worked with East Tennessee Railway to submit the grant application in December.

“This is a grant that will actually allow (East Tennessee Railway) to make improvements to their existing rail line in Washington County,” Miller said.

“Basically, it’s going to allow them to built a spur along the North Broadway Street area, and it will give them more ability to bring in raw materials to serve existing industries along that line.”

Once built, Miller said the spur could induce manufacturers in Johnson City to make capital investments and ultimately create more job opportunities.

“Being able to expand on their service is going to open up more opportunities, because that line goes all the way out to Johnson City Chemical and can service some of those industries in and around the Eddie Williams Road area. Especially as you go into South Johnson City, there’s some additional sites around there that are industrial, as well,” Miller said.

Hill said he became aware about the need for a railroad spur after meeting with American Water Heater officials. 

“They let it be known that they would possibly, possibly be able to expand, or at the very least, update some of their processes by having the additional rail spur,” Hill said.

TDOT’s Competitive Rail Connectivity Grant program seeks to strategically expand rail access and opportunities within Tennessee to benefit cities and towns through job creation and capital investments by industries that require rail access.

Hill said expanding railroad accessibility enhances the marketability of available industries sites and reduces highway and bridge maintenance costs by diverting heavy freight from highways to railroads.

The grant will require a $200,000 match. Miller said $100,000 for the match will be requested from the Johnson City Commission and Washington County Commission.

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