Johnston County’s loss is the Twin Counties gain, thanks mostly to the efforts of Carolinas Gateway Partnership officials.

CSX announced plans in January to build a $272 million trains-to-trucks terminal in Johnston County, but residents there revolted, fearing heavier traffic and land grabs. While towns like Selma and Four Oaks were caught up in a drawn-out conflagration over the terminal’s location, one man in Edgecombe County heard opportunity knocking.

Norris Tolson, president and CEO of the Carolinas Gateway Partnership, asked CSX to look at a site in Edgecombe County. The railroad giant took a gander earlier this year but didn’t like the property. It needed a longer stretch of land to make the terminal work.

Tolson rolled up his sleeves and went to work. He found property in Edgecombe County he thought could work, but the land was across from N.C. Wesleyan Collage along U.S. 301. Tolson went straight to Wesleyan President Dr. Dewey Clark.

“If it was going to be a problem for the college, then we weren’t going to move forward,” Tolson said Tuesday afternoon during a sit-down interview at Carolina Gateways Partnership’s Falls Road office.

Clark, a former logistics executive, understood the positive impact of the proposal right away and became an early advocate for the project, Tolson said.

“The real difference between Johnston County and Edgecombe? The Johnston County folks don’t have Norris Tolson,” said Don Williams, the executive committee chairman at Carolinas Gateway, the only public-private economic development agency representing two counties in North Carolina.

Tolson’s background includes time as the top state administrator for three separate departments: Commerce, Transportation and Revenue. He also represented Nash, Edgecombe and Wilson counties in the N.C. House.

While fighting continued in Johnston County, Tolson and the Carolinas Gateway Partnership began optioning Edgecombe County properties.

Once enough land was in hand to make the deal possible, Tolson made his move. He presented CSX officials with traffic counts and drive times showing the Raleigh area is too congested. He said he showed CSX that trucks can get from Rocky Mount to downtown Raleigh in 41 minutes. Tolson said Rocky Mount was strategically located at Interstate 95 and U.S. 64, designated as Future I-87, and two hours from busy sea ports in Wilmington and Norfolk, Virginia.

The Carolinas Gateway Partnership has 710 acres optioned to buy. The facility will be around 500 acres with expansion expected within the first couple of years of operation, Tolson said.

“We fought to bring the Carolina Connector to Rocky Mount not only because the terminal will create permanent, high-paying jobs, but also because this positions the Twin Counties and all of Eastern North Carolina as a major transportation hub for the entire region,” Tolson said. “Rocky Mount has a proud heritage of being a railroad town, and we’re grateful to have CSX as a partner to expand upon their existing presence in the city and build a new, state-of-the-art terminal in Edgecombe County.”

Original article can be found at: