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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Stimulus funds may help NS complete its Crescent Corridor project

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Norfolk Southern Corp. expects to learn next month whether the U.S. Department of Transportation will provide it with a $300-million stimulus grant as the company works to complete a $2.5-billion rail project, Northern Virginia Daily reports.

The Crescent Corridor is a 2,500-mile rail network supporting the supply chain from Memphis and New Orleans to New Jersey, the most comprehensive public-private partnership for moving freight in the east, the company states on the project's Web site. It is designed to remove trucks from interstates -- an estimated 880,000 in Virginia per year -- while also decreasing annual congestion, crash and maintenance costs by almost $150 million in the commonwealth.

The corridor project includes 300 miles of new passing tracks and double track and new or expanded terminals in 11 markets.

Last year, NS held a public information meeting in Berryville to discuss the project's impact near Berryville, Boyce and Clarke County, and spoke about work that was already under way in Front Royal, Riverton and Gainesville. Residents shared a few concerns regarding obstructions for emergency vehicles and noise.

Since then, the entire scope of the project has been outlined, and next month Norfolk Southern should learn about its request for a $300 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery discretionary grant that it made a few months ago, said Herbert Smith, a government relations representative for the company. If the money is allocated for what would be the corridor's first phase, all federal funds must be expended by 2012, he said.

"This is just the beginning," Smith said.

He added that it was a "pleasant surprise" that this particular grant program was being offered. In return for the grant, Norfolk Southern will pledge to invest another $264 million to corridor improvements, the Website states.

In 2007, Virginia, one of five states that joined in the application for the grant, invested $43 million in a public-private partnership to improve parts of the rail corridor. It has since pledged an additional $24 million for track capacity by 2012, as well as another $36 million in funding to develop access roads and a new terminal near Roanoke, the site states.

Company spokesman Frank Brown said public-private partnerships are key, as Norfolk Southern pays for such benefits as those to the railroad and private sectors get the reward, for example, of cleaner air and less congestion.

Among the project's supporters is Denman Zirkle, executive director of the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation. He views Norfolk Southern's plan as a much stronger alternative to adding lanes to Interstate 81, which would "severely" impact four battlefields between Strasburg and Harrisonburg, not to mention create more safety hazards, he said.

In August, Garrett Moore, the Staunton District administrator for the Virginia Department of Transportation, said there is no widening of the highway in the agency's six-year plan.

Each independent project within the corridor's numerous states will be constructed on operating rail lines or previously acquired rights of way, the site states. Virginia's route enhancement development schedule has design work scheduled to finish by May and the project's completion in January 2012.

Full development of the corridor is expected by 2020.

"We're not trying to eat the truckers' lunch," Brown said. "We do this in partnership with trucks."