Mayor Ron Littlefield said Friday the time has come for Georgia counties that pledged money on a high-speed rail corridor to pony up -- and fast.
"We've got to the come-up-with-the-money stage," Mr. Littlefield said.
Almost a year and a half ago, officials in several counties along Interstate 75 committed to contribute almost $3.9 million as a match for a $13.8 million federal transportation grant. The grant is to be used to pay for an environmental study on proposed routes of the high-speed rail, or maglev, from the Atlanta airport to the Chattanooga airport.
However, several counties have not paid the money, and the likelihood of doing so this year is not high, said Alvin Long, chairman of Gordon County's Board of Commissioners.
"I would love to see the maglev train, but that's not the question," he said. "The question is, 'How do I afford it?'"
In today's economy, it is hard for counties to come up with the money, said Mike Babb, chairman of the Whitfield County Commission.
Whitfield County pledged $349,000.
"It's going to be hard to meet what was promised two years ago," Mr. Babb said. "I don't believe at this time we have the $300,000."
BY THE NUMBERS
* $13.8 million: Total federal grant for high-speed rail environmental study
* $3.9 million: Total local match requested from local governments
* $1.3 million: Separate amounts requested from Atlanta, Georgia and Tennessee
Source: Georgia Department of Transportation
STORY SO FAR
The Georgia Department of Transportation is in the midst of an environmental impact study on a proposed high-speed rail, or maglev, corridor from Atlanta to Chattanooga. To complete the study by the end of the year, officials want to raise about $3.9 million in matching funds. Several counties pledged last year to pitch in but now say they cannot pay. The maglev missed out on $1 billion in federal funding divvied out just a few months ago for high-speed rail projects, officials said.
Steve Bradley, Bartow County, Ga., administrator, said there have been reports that his county promised money for the rail study, but that's not true.
"We have never pledged any funds, and we're not planning to provide any funds," Mr. Bradley said.
A group of elected and transportation officials met Friday morning at Chattanooga City Hall to discuss how they can get funding from all the entities that pledged money.
There were no easy answers.
The money is needed to help complete the study so the maglev plan could be in contention for $2.5 billion that the federal government plans to spend on high-speed rail next spring.
"There's a huge sense of urgency," Mr. Ferguson said.
Mr. Littlefield said the study was on the edge of a "tremendous opportunity for a significant grant." He said he would not let the opportunity "slip away" as long as "he could help it."
He said his strategy for getting the counties to meet their financial obligations is simple.
"You ask them to ante up," he said. "Time is of the essence."
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