DALTON, Ga. — North Georgia, Chattanooga and Atlanta must put up matching funds soon if the Georgia Department of Transportation can get its hands on federal money designated for the maglev project from Atlanta to Chattanooga.
Erik Steavens, intermodal division director for GDOT, said his department has to have $3.5 million in matching funds and a spending plan in hand to show the Federal Railroad Administration to receive $13.8 million in federal funding awarded in September.
“They now want us to show that we have the match and get that under agreement by the end of the year,” Mr. Steavens said.
He said GDOT officials hope to get the maglev money before the Federal Railroad Administration shifts its focus to awarding another $8 billion in stimulus money for high-speed rail projects.
Mr. Steavens said GDOT applied for the $13.8 million in October 2008, but the funding announcement took months longer than expected.
Still, he added, “By and large everybody says they’re going to honor the commitment that they made to the project, and they’re excited that the project is moving forward.”
Brian Anderson, president and CEO of the Dalton-Whitfield Chamber of Commerce, said North Georgia counties were asked to contribute.
The biggest commitments came from counties along Interstate 75, including Bartow, Catoosa, Gordon and Whitfield, he said.
“If those four counties stay committed, then we should be OK,” Mr. Anderson said.
He said he soon will send letters to counties about the match.
Whitfield County Commission Chairman Mike Babb said his county plans to honor its commitment “as long as everybody else does.”
But he said Whitfield’s $349,000 matching money wasn’t included in the county’s proposed 2010 budget, so it will have to be adjusted.
Richard Beeland, spokesman for Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield, said the city plans to put up its share of the match because of the project’s importance.
“Even as we are faced with an increasingly tight budget year, we are making every effort we can to find that money,” he said.
Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, chairman of the Georgia Senate Transportation Committee, continues to back the project as a safe and energy-efficient mode of transit.
Maglev technology uses magnets to propel trains forward up to 300 mph. The total project will cost upward of $3 billion, he said.
“This is an expensive project, but we know the price of gas continues to rise, even though it’s a little down compared to where it was a couple years ago,” Sen. Mullis said. “We all know we need to do things differently, more efficiently, and this is here for our taking. I believe this project will be successful.”
BY THE NUMBERS
* $13.8 million: Federal grant for maglev project
* $3.4 million: Matching share from local governments
* $1.15 million: One-third of matching share to be paid by Chattanooga, Atlanta and North Georgia
Source: Georgia Department of Transportation
CORE COUNTY COMMITMENTS
Source: Brian Anderson, Dalton-Whitfield Chamber
THE STORY SO FAR
Georgia and Tennessee leaders have worked toward linking Chattanooga and Atlanta via high-speed rail for many years. The 2005 national transportation bill designated $90 million for maglev projects. Georgia’s Transportation Department in September received notice of a $13.8 million award, including a 20 percent local match to be split among Chattanooga, Atlanta and North Georgia. Funds will be used to help complete an $8 million Tier 1 environmental impact study began in 2007.
Sources: Newspaper archives, Erik Steavens, GDOT