published Sunday, January 3rd, 2010

Officials wait for maglev funding


by Kelly Jackson
Audio clip

Don Cope

The Georgia Department of Transportation hasn't yet received matching funds needed soon to secure federal money for development of a high-speed rail system between Atlanta and Chattanooga.

Erik Steavens, intermodal division director for GDOT, said he's "hoping to get back with folks at the first of the year to see where we are."

The Federal Railroad Administration awarded $13.8 million in federal funds for the maglev train project in September.

Maglev technology uses magnets to propel trains up to 300 mph.

The money will go toward finishing environmental studies for the project and requires about $3.5 million in matching funds split among Chattanooga, Atlanta and North Georgia.

Mr. Steavens said hopes are to get the money secured before the Federal Railroad Administration begins awarding $8 billion in stimulus money for high-speed rail projects, something that's set to begin in January or February.

Richard Beeland, spokesman for Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield, said the city is planning to provide its share.

Brian Anderson, president and CEO of the Dalton-Whitfield Chamber of Commerce, said a year has passed since North Georgia leaders discussed their $1.15 million match.

Many thought the federal money wouldn't be available, he said, and now they need to move quickly to meet the February deadline.

The largest chunk of North Georgia's match was expected to come from counties along Interstate 75, including Bartow, Catoosa, Gordon and Whitfield.

"I think, in a year's time, given all the economic conditions going on, I don't think anybody's commitment a year ago is written in stone," said Mr. Anderson.

Randall Dowling, Gordon County administrator, said county leaders have "not been updated on the status of the project," but would consider a funding request.

Bartow County Commissioner Clarence Brown said the county's "pretty broke" and probably wouldn't have money for the project.

Mike Babb, Whitfield County Commission chairman, said he's waiting to see what other counties decide to do.

Catoosa County Manager Mike Helton and Commission Chairman Keith Greene did not return calls for comment last week.

Mr. Anderson said there are many different ways counties between Chattanooga and Atlanta could raise their share of the maglev money.

"I think we've got to get back and have that conversation again," he said.

Don Cope, CEO of Dalton Utilities, said he's hopeful North Georgia will fund the match.

"It (the maglev project) would produce an unbelievable amount of economic growth," Mr. Cope said. "There is nothing I can see about the project ... that wouldn't pay for itself and wouldn't be a real boon for Chattanooga, Atlanta and everybody in between."

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