Wednesday, October 14, 2009

States ask $300 for rail improvements along I-81 corridor

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A coalition of states is seeking $300 million in federal stimulus funds to improve rail lines and terminals in an effort to reduce truck traffic on congested Interstate 81, The Associated Press reports.

Transportation Secretary Pierce Homer told a conference dealing with the I-81 corridor that increased movement of freight by rail is the key to reducing congestion on the 855-mile highway that runs north to south through six states.

The federal grant, if approved, would go toward $2.1 billion in needed improvements to the existing network of intermodal terminals where freight is transferred between trucks and rail cars. Virginia needs to spend $500 million, Homer said, and has invested about $110 million.

Completion of these improvements could result in a 15 percent reduction in the number of trucks on I-81, according to documents the transportation secretary provided. Truck traffic currently accounts for 23 percent of the traffic on the 325 miles of the interstate that pass through Virginia.

Other members of the coalition seeking the grant are New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, though I-81 does not run through the latter three states.

The relationship among the states is tricky, Homer said. The intermodal terminals are appealing because they would create jobs.

"We've got rare consensus among competing states," Homer said.

He said he'd like to see the federal government have a role in the initiative to maintain a competitive balance between the states.

The coalition seeking the grant is one of several that Virginia has joined in an effort to address I-81 congestion.

The state, as well as Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and Pennsylvania, have formed a public-private partnership with Norfolk Southern Railway to improve the rail network. The states along I-81 have agreed to coordinate planning for highway and rail improvements.
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