Seven miles east of Baldwin City, in Edgerton, the focus these days is on trains and trucks, as the BNSF Railway begins operating its $250 million intermodal freight facility.
But in Baldwin City, local leaders are betting houses are what the facility will produce for the southern Douglas County community of about 4,500.
"The million dollar question certainly is what it will bring here?" Baldwin City Administrator Chris Lowe said of the facility, which at about 1,500 acres is slated to be one of the larger rail yards and trucking centers in the country. "Our City Council has really wanted to know the answer to that over the last couple of years.
"For Baldwin, I think it primarily will be rooftops."
Lowe estimates it is only about a 15-minute drive from Baldwin to the facility, and he thinks there will be a significant number of workers at the facility who will be interested in Baldwin's school district and the community's small-town atmosphere.
Railway officials have projected that about 7,400 jobs will be produced in the immediate area around the logistics center, which has large amounts of land set aside for private warehouses and trucking companies.
"Even if we only get five percent of those people, that's pretty significant," Lowe said.
Thinking about houses rather than industry, though, is a shift from what leaders were thinking just a few years ago. Lowe said City Council members have struggled with whether to invest in a new business park to try to attract companies that want to be next to the facility, which is officially dubbed Logistics Park Kansas City.
"The more I talk to economic development professionals, none of them seemed particularly enthused about industrial development locating in Baldwin as a result of the intermodal," Lowe said. "I think most of the commercial and industrial development is going to happen right next to it."
Greg Williams, president and CEO of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, said he believes Lawrence likely is too far away to directly benefit from the intermodal facility. Baldwin City has a chance to attract a second tier of businesses that want to be close to the facility but not pay the premium prices to be right on site.
"It may be close enough, but it is hard to say," Williams said. "But I definitely think Baldwin could experience a real uptick in residential. They are very close from a residential standpoint."
Here are some facts and figures about Logistic Park Kansas City, according to BNSF Railway and state of Kansas officials:
• The railroad portion of the facility encompasses 433 acres, but the entire park checks in at 1,550 acres.
• The development is just north of Interstate 35 and the new $36 million Homestead Lane interchange.
• The $250 million intermodal facility has more than 1,800 parking spaces and six 8,000 foot tracks to accommodate trains while they load and unload.
• The facility features a "biometric driver identification system" and digital cameras to record images of containers, chassis and tractors for security purposes.
Part B of the million dollar question floating around Baldwin City is: How many semi trucks and trailers will now be traveling through the community as a result of the new facility?
The basic numbers can get scary. BNSF projects that the facility initially will offload 500,000 truck containers per year, with a plan to expand to 1.5 million containers in future years.
U.S. Highway 56 runs right through Baldwin City.
"I think people are concerned about the truck traffic, and rightly so," Lowe said. "But I think it may be less than people fear."
Lowe said he's seen studies from BNSF that shows the bulk of the freight coming into the center will have destinations to the north and south. How much comes west on U.S. Highway 56 is still an unknown. But certainly there will be an increase, Lowe said. He noted that the Kansas Department of Transportation in recent years has spent $4 million on bridge projects near Baldwin.
"They think something is going to be coming down the highway at us," Lowe said.
Williams, leader of the Lawrence chamber, said distribution companies are among the businesses that Lawrence hopes to land in the future, due to the city's position on Interstate 70 and the new connection to Interstate 35 via the recently improved U.S. Highway 59.
But he said the intermodal facility in Edgerton is unlikely to be a big selling point in trying to attract those distribution companies to Lawrence. In some regards, the facility will represent added competition for Lawrence because the project's first phase reportedly will accommodate up to 8 million square feet of warehouse space.
"There will be an awful lot of activity occur in a very small geographic ring surrounding that development," Williams said.
But he said Lawrence is still well positioned to attract several different types of manufacturers, and he said the presence of an intermodal facility in the region could be a factor that would tip the scales in the favor of Lawrence when it is competing against other communities outside the region.
Plus, Williams said it is likely the project will create a bit of a rising-tide-lifts-all-boats effect.
"The project is mammoth," Williams said. "It will have a tremendous impact on the whole region. The facility is world class, and Kansas City will receive a lot of interest from companies because of it."