Friday, July 17, 2009

Alabama rail relocation bid advances

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Metropolitan Planning Organization members approved spending $25,000 in hopes of eventually gaining millions to relocate about seven miles of Norfolk Southern tracks in Colbert County, Ala., local newspapers report. The board hired engineering firm Barge Wagner Sumner & Cannon to prepare a grant application that, if approved, would fund the estimated $80-million relocation project. Funds would come from the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program. The federal program is funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

City and county officials have discussed the need to relocate the tracks away from high-traffic areas in the county. Some city officials say delays and safety concerns created by the railroads tracks have stifled economic development opportunities and are causing stores to lose business. MPO member and Tuscumbia Mayor Bill Shoemaker, who is a former Alabama Department of Transportation engineer, said the railroad relocation discussion has been going on for about two decades.

The most recent cost estimate for relocating railroad tracks that wind through Tuscumbia, Sheffield and Muscle Shoals is about $80 million. Before the recovery act was approved, local governments had no means of paying for the project.

Jesse Turner, director of Transportation Planning for the Northwest Alabama Council of Local Governments, said the $25,000 includes a $5,000 match from Colbert County, Sheffield, Tuscumbia and Muscle Shoals. He said the relocation project must be approved by the Alabama Department of Transportation.

The federal program, which is known as TIGER, makes $1.5 billion available for large road and bridge projects, passenger and rail freight, public transportation and port infrastructure. Allen Teague, a preconstruction engineer with the Alabama Department of Transportation, said the state plans to submit five projects to be considered for a TIGER grant.
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