published Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

Local funds in place for Chattanooga-Atlanta rail plan

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    Phyllis Stephens asks a question about a map of a proposed high speed rail line in this 2010 file photo.
    Photo by Andy Johns /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

It took close to three years, but matching money finally is in place for a federal grant to help advance the proposed Chattanooga-to-Atlanta high-speed rail project.

“This is the first time I’ve been able to stand before a group and say, as of this time, we have that matching money,” Joe Ferguson, who heads the rapid rail initiative for Chattanooga’s Enterprise Center, told local officials Tuesday.

The $3.3 million local match will draw down a $13.8 million maglev grant for the Georgia Department of Transportation. The money will be spent to speed up the environmental assessment and study routes and the location and design of stations for the rail line.

Ferguson told the executive committee of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County/North Georgia Transportation Planning Organization that U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told him recently that the money should still be available despite federal withholding of some money because of budget shortfalls, a move known as “recision.”

Georgia applied for the grant in December 2008, but assembling the local match proved a stumbling block when North Georgia counties along or close to the possible Interstate 75 route said they couldn’t afford to contribute.

The initial plan called for Chattanooga, Atlanta and North Georgia to put in one-third of the match. In the end, the Georgia Department of Transportation kicked in $1.5 million and Chattanooga gave $1.3 million. The Tennessee Department of Transportation and Atlanta contributed $250,000 apiece to fill the pot, Ferguson said.

He said a group of Atlanta property owners called the Cumberland Community Improvement District has given $875,000, the first private investment in the project.

Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield said in a telephone interview the delay wasn’t unexpected, given the economic squeeze most local governments are experiencing.

“We knew going in it was a long-term project,” he said, but making that connection to Atlanta will benefit the region for decades.

The dream is a high-speed rail network linking Chattanooga and Atlanta then northward to O’Hare Airport in Chicago and southward to Savannah, Ga.

Ferguson said some of the maglev grant money could be used on corridor presentation and possibly on developing a multistate rail authority now that Kentucky has expressed interest in the project.

The “linchpin” of the project is the Chattanooga-Atlanta line, but a recent feasibility study by the Arcadis engineering group found “no environmental showstoppers” in the Chattanooga-Nashville leg.

Chattanooga resident Stephen Harper, who was in the audience Tuesday, questioned Ferguson about the route and equipment for the high-speed rail link. He asked if the planners had considered a route along U.S. Highway 27 rather than I-75, saying it would cost less and serve more local residents.

He also asked whether steel-wheel trains such as the TGV in France have been considered alongside the much more expensive magnetic levitation technology.

Ferguson said those questions are part of the draft environmental study now under way and that no decisions have been made. But he said that, of 17 routes studied, the I-75 corridor is the top choice to date.

Afterward, Harper said the project planners aren’t adequately considering local needs.

“People call us the Choo-Choo city all over the world and we don’t have a passenger rail station,” Harper said. “We need to plan.”

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about Judy Walton...

Judy Walton has worked 25 years at the Chattanooga Times and the Times Free Press as an editor and reporter focusing on government coverage and investigations. At various times she has been an assistant metro editor, region reporter and editor, county government reporter, government-beat team leader, features editor and page designer. Originally from California, Walton was brought up in a military family and attended a dozen schools across the country. She earned a journalism degree ...

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LadyJ said...

About time. Maybe now we can relieve the congestion on I-75!

August 17, 2011 at 11:05 a.m.
brickerjenkins said...

This morning I read two articles back-to-back: this one (on the Chattanooga-Atlanta Rail Plan) and one titled "Is Democracy As We Know It On the Way Out?" The decision-making and "study" process described in "rail plan" article is a good example of the undermining of democracy by the corporate community and their allies in governments that are supposed to represent the people and guard our interests. How many people in the region know what "maglev" technology is? How many want to see I-75 torn up for years for a maglev "solution" when an existing corridor exists that would be less expensive to develop and serve more people? Studies in Europe attest to the destuction of accessible public transportation networks and social fabric triggered by overreliance on high-speed technologies; planned by corporate-dominated bodies, many high-speed systems there are too expensive for the "average person" to ride, while the systems most people use are allowed to deteriorate and even disappear. That's why 400,000 people travelled from all over Europe to a small town in Italy last month to protest a planned tunnel linking Italy and France. Four hundred thousand! Their demands were for accessible transportation and democratic process. Doubtless our leaders and experts will tell us that what's proposed along the I-75 corridor will "promote development." Probably we all want that. Before we buy into their solution, however, let's ask "what kind of development and for whom?" We need a truly democratic process to determine what should be built, where, and for whose benefit.

August 17, 2011 at 1:51 p.m.
thrillgore said...

Brickerjenkins, there have been several open forums to discuss the Phase 1 plan of the HSGT, there will more than likely be more. A schedule will be posted at if you're interested in following.

August 17, 2011 at 4:52 p.m.
rolando said...

How can high-speed rail benefit local communities? Are there to be stops at every town and burg along the right of way? How high-speed is that?

Sounds more like a con-game with the location of the way stations a done deal to a select few -- and the land already bought up. The fix is in.

This will be a continuous drain on the economy with absolutely no practical benefit except for the developers -- another "bridge to nowhere".

If you insist on this, take out the two fast lanes on each side of I75, add two slow lanes on the outside, and build the "track" right down the middle. Pedestrian walkways over i75 with nearby parking will service riders [presuming there will be riders].

In any case, any stop between Chattanooga and Atlanta will kill the "high speed rail" BS. That's like flying between here and there with 12 take-offs/landings along the way...and calling it non-stop.

August 17, 2011 at 5:28 p.m.
fechancellor said...

Another tinkle into a leaky bucket that will never be filled.

August 17, 2011 at 10:56 p.m.
antle said...

High speed rail won't stop in every town. Cost efficiency of HSR goes up when the trains stay at high speeds, which means that it will travel directly from Chattanooga to Atlanta. Local communities will benefit from the increased frequency of business travel between these corridors and a mode of transportation that is cheaper than flying. Maglev technology is however significantly more expensive than steel-wheel HSR technology, so a shift in planning should be made there.

August 18, 2011 at 12:02 p.m.
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