Sunday, March 22, 2009

Atlanta to New Orleans rail line in danger...because of Alabama?

Posted By on Sun, Mar 22, 2009 at 4:43 PM

Alabama, home to Space Camp and not much else, lacks the cash to fund plans for a proposed New Orleans-Atlanta high-speed rail line. The proposed route, which could potentially receive federal funds as part of President Barack Obama's proposed rail network, would be served by trains operating at 110 mph.

From the Birmingham News:

The chairman of the Southern High-Speed Rail Commission says Alabama's refusal to pay its dues to the organization could cost the Deep South a shot at a high-speed train that would run from New Orleans to Atlanta.

Preliminary work to plan for the line already is complete in Louisiana and Mississippi, Alabama's partners on the commission, said Chairman Richard Finley of Birmingham. But Alabama - a member of the commission for 26 years - refused to pay dues after 2007, and Finley contends that is standing in the way of the Southeast getting a high-speed corridor.

"The problem is the state of Alabama is blocking us," Finley said. The state owes $120,000 to the commission for its dues for 2008 and 2009.

That's depressing, especially since the article says that, if it were funded, the rail line could begin operation in three years. And it looks like Alabama's not entirely to blame.

[Alabama Department of Transportation] Director Joe McInnes said his department stopped paying the dues when he became director in 2003. "This department, by law, builds roads and bridges," McInnes said. "We do not build railroads, airports or waterways."

He said he also was concerned because neither Georgia nor Texas joined the Southern High-Speed Rail Commission.

So Georgia, whose state transportation agency is not only underfunded but also facing the chopping block by Gov. Sonny Perdue, is also blocking progress? (Keep in mind the Southern High-Speed Rail Commission is different from the Southeastern High-Speed Rail Corridor coalition, of which Georgia is a part, that's planning a Washington, D.C-Charlotte rail line. Extending that route to Atlanta and Macon was recently called "feasible.")

If you're the head of this commission and trying to fund just the study for this project — which, once built, could potentially generate hundreds of millions of dollars in economic development for your state — what do you do? You go local, and you enlist the help of Mayor Shirley Franklin, who promises to visit every city along the proposed route, spray mind-control potion from the trademark "flower" on her lapel, and save the day.

In light of the [Alabama]'s refusal to fund the commission, Finley said he is looking to raise money for the dues and the study from individual cities along the rail route and from companies that do business with the railroads.

He said that even though Georgia is not a commission member, Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin has agreed to help to complete the rail line from the Alabama border to Atlanta.

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