PORT CANAVERAL, Fla. -

Barges loaded with bulk cargo such as fertilizer, sand, wood pellets and petroleum products could be on the Indian River destined for a new “inland” port near Titusville as early as next summer.

A $23 million project to connect Port Canaveral to the Florida East Coast Railway in north Brevard County is expected to create about 100 jobs and eliminate at least 24,000 truckloads on State Road 528, according to Local 6 news partner Florida Today.

“One of the goals is to get trucks off the streets to help decongest some of our highways,” Port CEO John Walsh said. “It would alleviate some of the stress on State Road 528 and Interstate 95 by moving product via barge.”

Port Canaveral, one of the busiest cruise passenger ports in the world, wants to expand its cargo operations. It estimates that using barges to link up to rail lines would increase bulk cargo through the port by nearly 15 percent.

The port is seeking a $14.25 million federal transportation infrastructure matching grant to pay for equipment related to barge-rail operations, such as loading equipment and conveyors.

The Florida Department of Transportation will contribute $3 million. FEC and port terminal operators Ambassador Services and Blue Water Terminals will provide $5.75 million for the project, according to the grant application.

The project would create 249 temporary jobs during construction and up to 110 permanent jobs afterward, according to an analysis by Cambridge Systematics Inc.

Community leaders believe the project could attract more business and jobs to north Brevard.

“An inland port will create a commerce hub and expand opportunities for business creation, retention and attraction in North Brevard,” Canaveral Port Authority Commission Vice Chairman Jerry Allender said.

Brevard County Commissioner Robin Fisher appreciates the port’s efforts to diversify as north Brevard looks to other industries after the loss of thousands of space jobs at the end of the shuttle program.

“We get enough of these things and we will start replacing some of the job losses we had,” Fisher said. “We have the infrastructure people need and it really makes a lot of sense.”

Material would be loaded on rail cars and transported by barge between the port and the Orlando Utilities Commission power plant facility south of Titusville.

There, the rail cars would be offloaded onto new rail tracks that would link with FEC’s existing lines just west of U.S. 1.

Walsh estimated nearly 100 rail cars a week laden with bulk cargo would initially travel from the port to the inland port.

The Florida Department of Transportation would have to approve the rail crossing at U.S. 1, where the rail cars would cross in the early morning hours, according to Walsh.

The 13-mile trip would include more than three miles through the barge canal on the north side of SR 528.

The canal, designed to be 15 feet deep, is currently only 9 feet deep in some spots, according to port estimates. The barges need 12 feet of draft to navigate. The Army Corps of Engineers would dredge and perform maintenance for operation through the canal.

“The barge canal was designed for this purpose,” said Walsh, who stated that the port doesn’t plan to run the barge operation and is seeking contractors that would be paid a fee for moving the cargo.

The inland port would give North Brevard access to the sea and allow Titusville to boast another mode of commercial transportation.

“We already bill ourselves as quadramodal,” Titusville Mayor Jim Tulley said. “We’ve got air, rail, space and highway modes of transportation.”

The current south Titusville transportation hubs include:

• FEC rail lines, including the Norfolk Southern Railway terminal for trailers and container carriers.

• Upgraded Interstate 95 interchange.

• Space Coast Regional Airport, where Rocket Crafters plans to be part of a major space port.