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Why didn’t stimulus money stop at BNSF Edgerton IM Project?

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Competition for the $1.5 billion in TIGER grants awarded Wednesday was grrrrrreat. But the results weren't so great for Kansas, which got skunked, according to a column by Rob Roberts in the Kansas City Business Journal.

U.S. Secretary of
Transportation Ray LaHood was in Kansas City to announce the 51 TIGER
(Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery)
awards. Considering there were more than 1,400 applicants
seeking more than $60 billion, LaHood said, Kansas City was extremely fortunate
to have landed a $50-million grant for its 150-block Green Impact Zone and
related transit improvements.

Across the state line in
Edgerton, however, it was a different story. The Kansas Department of
Transportation’s request for a $50-million TIGER grant to jumpstart a $750-million
intermodal complex in Edgerton did
not make the cut.

In early 2009, BNSF said
that its portion of the Edgerton complex – a $250 million rail-truck intermodal
hub – would be deferred until freight markets recover sufficiently to justify
the construction. But after the TIGER grant program was announced later in the
year, the railroad said it would break ground in 2010 if Uncle Sam picked up
$50 million of the tab.

Subsequently, Warren
Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. offered to buy BNSF for $34 billion. And six
days before the TIGER grants were to be announced, BNSF’s shareholders
approved the buyout.

Not the best timing if
you were betting on a gravy train to Edgerton.

In the wake of the bank
bailouts, $50-million handouts for billionaires aren’t in vogue. But, of
course, no one is saying whether that or Kansas’ status as a red state had
anything to do with its TIGER skunking.

Instead – perhaps because
a new $600-million round of TIGER grants may be coming – officials like BNSF
public affairs director Steve Forsberg are being cordial.

"BNSF greatly appreciates
the consideration given to the public benefits that will be provided by this
project and for the strong leadership demonstrated by all of the public
officials, business and community leaders in the state of Kansas and the Kansas
City region who supported the state’s application (for the BNSF TIGER grant),"
Forsberg said in a written statement after the TIGER awards were announced.

Still, it has to rankle
some local folks that a $105-million TIGER grant was awarded for a project in
Norfolk Southern’s Crescent Corridor. It will help finance construction of two
new intermodal facilities in Memphis, Tenn., and Birmingham, Ala.

Kansas City-area sources
who stand to benefit from the growth of local intermodal capacity also may be
scratching their heads about the $100-million TIGER grant landed by Chicago. It
will finance several so-called CREATE projects designed to reduce rail
congestion. That’s good news for shippers and customers throughout the country
whose goods pass through the Chicago rail yards. But it’s not so good for those
touting Kansas City over Chicago as a distribution site for rail shippers.

Those folks like to point
out that, from the West Coast ports, it takes three days to get freight to
Chicago and another three days to get it through Chicago.

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