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As I See It > February 2011

Edgerton has always been a railroad town in the truest sense. If it weren't for the railroad coming through in the late 1800s, the town would never have existed.

During the pioneer days of Johnson County, Lanesfield, a community with about 100 people at the time, and the small town of McCamish, cropped up near the current Edgerton. The Santa Fe and Oregon trails split nearby, making the location ideal for an outpost.

In 1870, Judge David Martin laid out a town on his farm land. Martin named the town Martinsburg, but the next year saw the Santa Fe Railroad come through town, the Edgerton Depot built, and the town renamed Edgerton.

Settlers from Lanesfield and McCamish moved to what would become the more prosperous Edgerton to be closer to the railroad. Both towns then vanished as viable communities as the railroad passed them by.

Churches, mills, and stores quickly sprang up around the depot, and in 1883 Edgerton was incorporated with a population of about 350 and a downtown with three general stores, a hardware store, two drugstores, four agricultural implement stores, and two hotels.

The development of railroads played an important role on both sides of the state line in the Kansas City metro. Edgerton, Kan., and Edgerton, Mo., shared similar beginnings as railroad towns. Both were named after men closely connected to the railroad. Edgerton, Kan., was named for David Martin Edgerton, credited as the chief engineer of the Kansas Pacific Railroad's track construction. (The Kansas Pacific became part of the Union Pacific Railroad in 1880.) The railroad magnate also helped develop the metro's first cable streetcar system. Edgerton, Mo., was named for Henry Edgerton, a lawyer for the railroad's financier.

For the most part, the glory days of the railroad in Edgerton have long come and gone—but 2011 finds Edgerton preparing to return to its railroad past with a promising future. The catalyst is construction of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railways intermodal freight facility.

For the most part, intermodal transportation has always been around in Johnson County, elsewhere in Kansas, and across the nation. Whenever freight was unloaded from a horse-drawn wagon and reloaded onto a rail car, in a sense that was intermodal (movement of the same cargo using two or more modes of transportation).

Intermodal transportation has evolved into the systematic movement of goods across multiple modes of transport. Now, rather than unloading a wagon and putting boxes onto a train, the entire wagon is rolled onto a flatcar and the freight is shipped that way. Of course, the "wagon" is now a truck trailer or ship container, loaded onto rail cars by massive cranes.

Plans for the intermodal facility in southeast Johnson County have been discussed, and sometimes cussed, for more than two years. The process has involved all levels of government—the City of Edgerton, Johnson County, the State of Kansas, and the federal government—along with public/private partnerships with BNSF and The Allen Group.

The decision to move forward with the project—while difficult and not without its critics—was ultimately the right choice for Edgerton, the Johnson County community, and the state.

It's a big investment. Kansas and Johnson County have invested about $32 million in necessary road improvements, including 191st Street and the new I-35 interchange at Homestead Lane to 199th Street, because it is a smart, environmentally friendly, cost-effective infrastructure improvement.

In addition, the Kansas Department of Transportation has agreed to provide a $35 million grant to BNSF from the state's Rail Assistance Program. The grant will be repaid from the state's utilities sales tax, generated on the intermodal facility and a separate warehousing and distribution complex.

It's ready to go. Construction on the new $250 million, 443-acre intermodal shipping facility is scheduled to start by early spring. The project will take about three years, with completion targeted for late 2013.

The project brings new jobs. The builders have a commitment with BNSF to hire at least 85 percent of an estimated 660 construction workers from the Kansas City area, to hire employees and subcontractors at the prevailing wage, and to use minority and disadvantaged business enterprises for a significant amount of the work.

That's not all.

Construction of the separate $500 million, 7.1 million-square-foot logistics park, which will be developed by The Allen Group on about 560 acres, is expected to begin by the second quarter of 2011 and take 10 to 15 years to build. That means more jobs and more economic development.

The complete project is expected to create about 8,700 jobs.

The intermodal facility finally is seeing the light at the end of a long tunnel. It will keep Johnson County on the right track for decades to come by creating economic development opportunities and business growth, generating revenue, and providing environmental benefits in the near and distant future.

And it opens a new chapter in Edgerton's proud railroading history.