WELD COUNTY — Governmental, economic-development and private-sector representatives are taking part in a three-day, invitation-only event beginning Monday to learn more about BNSF Railway Co. Inc.’s plans for a massive new intermodal facility in Weld County.
“BNSF Railway — Riding the Rails — From the Rockies to the Plains” is organized by Fort Worth, Texas-based BNSF, alongside Upstate Colorado Economic Development and the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp.
Participants — including site selectors from around the country — will learn more about BNSF’s plans for an intermodal facility and industrial park, to be located south of Hudson and northeast of Lochbuie, in unincorporated Weld County. The project will be located along BNSF tracks that run along the east side of Interstate 76.
The project is expected to include up to 20 million square feet of space, potentially generating 10,000 to 20,000 direct and indirect jobs, said Brian McBroom, Lochbuie town administrator. It is separate from BNSF’s 430-acre Logistics Center Hudson, located on the north side of the town.
“It’s going to be one of the biggest economic-development projects in the state once it gets going,” McBroom said. “It has a huge impact, so it’s very positive for that part of Weld County.”
McBroom, who ends his tenure with Lochbuie on Wednesday, taking over as Greeley’s community development director on Thursday, said the project will turn the Hudson/Lochbuie area into “an epicenter of logistics.”
“It’s a powerful economic engine, no doubt,” he said.
BNSF has not responded to questions emailed by BizWest.
BizWest first reported plans for the facility in 2021, when BNSF filed 10 eminent-domain lawsuits to purchase land needed for the 2,700-acre facility. Those cases have been winding their way through Weld County District Court, with BNSF acquiring or in final negotiation for the parcels.
Eminent domain is a process through which governments — and railroads — can obtain private property and convert it for public use.
Tour months in the making
Lindsay Van Meter, BNSF’s regional manager for economic development, outlined the train trip in a Jan. 30 email to Bryce Lange, Hudson’s town administrator.
“We are planning a train trip that will start at the Logistics Center in Hudson on Tuesday, June 20, go through Denver, Colorado Springs, Pueblo, La Junta, through Kansas and end at the Logistics Park in Kansas City on Wednesday, June 21,” Van Meter said. “We will be hosting several site selectors and will have some local/regional EDO representation from Colorado and Kansas as well on board. The purpose of the trip is to network and showcase some of BNSF’s strategic rail sites in the territory (i.e. Logistics Center Hudson). I think it would also be great for you to get to see our Logistics Park in Kansas City as that’s the vision for our Weld County Logistics Park …”
Invitation-only tours of the existing Hudson Logistics Center, as well as the separate site of the planned intermodal facility, will take place Monday, followed by a special, overnight train trip Tuesday to Edgerton, Kansas, to view the Logistics Park Kansas City Intermodal Facility. Guests will return by air at their own expense on Wednesday.
BNSF’s description of plans
The Kansas City facility has been touted as comparable to what is planned in Weld County and includes capacity for 14.4 million square feet of industrial and warehouse development.
A November 2020 email from a BNSF official to the Hudson town administrator outlined the plans for a Weld County intermodal facility as they existed at the time:
“BNSF Railway has long range plans to construct an Intermodal Facility and Logistics Park near the towns of Hudson and Lochbuie on the east side of Interstate 76 in Weld County,” wrote Andy Williams, BNSF’s executive director of public affairs. “The Intermodal Facility will allow for the movement of intermodal containers from rail to truck for transport to regional destinations. The logistics park is a warehouse development that will support the intermodal facility by locating distribution centers nearby to create a streamlined supply chain. BNSF has acquired 1,400 acres of 2,700 needed to support the development. BNSF is participating in conversations between the Colorado Department of Transportation, Weld County and other local stakeholders on a possible new interchange at County Road 8 to accommodate new traffic in the area. The two new projects are separate from Logistics Center Hudson north of town.”
BNSF broke ground on the 430-acre Logistics Center Hudson in February 2019. The rail-served property is on just east of I-76 and includes sites “for customers who wish to ship via individual railcars as well as unit train sites for customers who ship entire trainloads,” according to a 2020 BNSF press release. “The available sites are customizable to meet customers’ needs. In addition to gaining access to the BNSF network, businesses that locate at Hudson will also have easy access to Interstate 76.”
But Logistics Center Hudson will pale in comparison to the much-larger intermodal facility to the south.
The Association of American Railroads defines intermodal rail as “the long-haul movement of shipping containers and truck trailers by rail, combined with a truck or water movement at one or both ends. Intermodal combines the best attributes of different transportation modes to yield an efficient, cost-effective total movement. Intermodal transports various goods Americans use daily — from many products on a retailer’s shelves to industrial and agricultural goods such as auto parts and grain.”
With 32,500 miles of track, BNSF touts itself as the largest intermodal railroad. The company has been investing heavily in intermodal facilities nationwide, including a 4,000-acre intermodal and industrial hub in Surprise, Arizona, northwest of Phoenix, and an intermodal expansion in Chicago.
BNSF in January announced plans to invest $3.96 billion in 2023 for capital improvements, including maintenance work for track and equipment. The company in October 2022 announced plans to spend more than $1.5 billion on an integrated rail facility in Southern California.
Hudson or Lochbuie for annexation?
McBroom and Bryce Lange, town administrator for Hudson, said it’s unclear whether BNSF will seek to annex the intermodal facility to Hudson or Lochbuie or to keep it in unincorporated Weld County.
Both communities have been working to update or amend their comprehensive plans, with each eyeing the land that will include the intermodal facility.
In a February email to Mark Thomas, manager of the North Front Range Metropolitan Planning Organization, Hudson planning director Jennifer Woods expressed concern about a revised planning map submitted by Lochbuie.
“Please note we have a comprehensive plan amendment underway and one of the policy directives is to push our growth management area out to our 3-mile boundary,” Woods wrote. “It would be difficult for the town to acknowledge this plan without incorporating our land use plans, which include most of the areas that Lochbuie is claiming east of 1-76. We understand this is a planning tool for Lochbuie, but unfortunately, it directly conflicts with our current planning efforts. If we were to”approve” it we would essentially be cutting off our own nose from a growth-enterprise and future land use perspective.
“BNSF is a huge landholder in this area and without knowing which jurisdiction it is annexing into, any promise to serve at this point is premature,” she added. “It would be detrimental for the town to acknowledge this plan without formal annexation proceedings to determine which municipality will serve it.”
But McBroom said “there’s no official growth boundaries in that area for either community. There’s no agreement between Lochbuie and Hudson that clearly defines the dividing line between the two communities’ future growth limits. It looks as if both communities can serve the intermodal facility and the adjacent logistics park with water and sewer.
“That’s usually the determining factor,” he added, “which can serve it with water and sewer, and it looks like both communities could. So BNSF is doing its own due diligence and trying to decide what works best for it.”
McBroom said he’s met informally with Lange a few times, “and certainly we both agree it has great potential benefit to the region, and the two communities don’t intend to fight over it. We’re in the very early stages of working together to put our best collective foot forward.”
Lange told BizWest that annexation to one of the towns is the preferred option, rather than the project remaining in unincorporated Weld County. The two towns have discussed some form of revenue-sharing, he said.
“We’ve looked at it. I think it’s still on the table,” he said, “I think, ultimately, Lochbuie and the town of Hudson think that it should be in one of our two towns. It shouldn’t remain unincorporated. There’s just too much impact on our infrastructure.”
A new interchange
BNSF also has been working with Weld County and the Colorado Department of Transportation on a possible new interchange at I-76 and Weld County Road 8. The plans fall under the Colorado Department of Transportation’s “Policy Directive 1601.0 Interchange Approval Process.”
The Weld County Board of Commissioners agreed in 2021 to serve as the applicant for the 1601 process, working on behalf of BNSF, with the costs of the study to be borne by the railroad.
The interchange is considered essential for BNSF, providing easy access to truck traffic using the intermodal facility.
“Certainly having the right entrance to 76 was key to them,” McBroom said.
BNSF also is looking at improvements to the interchange at I-76 and Weld County Road 2.
“Both of those interchanges will be essential to get all those trucks on to 76 and headed on their way just as quickly and efficiently as possible,” McBroom said.
Attention shifting to Weld County project
Lange said BNSF has been focused on its Phoenix-area project while moving forward with land acquisition and infrastructure needs in Weld County.
“I think BNSF, just like any big corporation, they’re very hurry-up-and-wait,” he said. “So as soon as they do shift the focus to Hudson, they’re gonna be in a hurry mode. They’re gonna be trying to figure out their transportation plan. They’re going to be trying to figure out where they’re getting water and sewer from. So I think in the next year or two, they’re really going to be shifting focus from the Phoenix facility to our neck of the woods. So I think it’ll be, ‘the race is on’ in the next year.”