published Sunday, March 7th, 2010

Maglev money still MIA


by Kelly Jackson
Audio clip

Jeff Mullis

Audio clip

Erik Steavens

DALTON, Ga. — Some North Georgia leaders say they may not help fund a study to connect Atlanta and Chattanooga via high-speed rail.

The Federal Railroad Administration in September awarded $13.8 million for a maglev study that required a $3.5 million match to be split among Chattanooga, Atlanta and North Georgia counties, according to Erik Steavens with the Georgia Department of Transportation.

He said none of the matching money has come to GDOT to date.

The Dalton area is expected to provide about $349,000 toward North Georgia’s $1.15 million share. Whitfield County Commissioner Mike Babb said the county probably won’t be able to help because of the economy.

“I think reality has set in and, when you’re trying to handle your budgets, when you’re putting people on furloughs, when things as important as your school systems are having to lay off and have furloughs, then this kind of takes a back seat,” Mr. Babb said.

Dalton Mayor David Pennington said the city never committed to funding the project and probably won’t consider it now unless the state contributes. He said he’s concerned the state and GDOT won’t follow through with actually building the rail system.

“It would show to me a commitment from (the state government) if they could get some money from the state budget,” Mr. Pennington said.

State Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, is chairman of the Georgia Senate Transportation Committee and a longtime supporter of the high-speed rail project. He said he’s asking state leaders to contribute about $1 million through bonds.

WHAT IS MAGLEV?

Magnetic levitation uses state-of-the-art electric power and control systems to lift, propel and guide a vehicle over a guideway at speeds up to 300 mph.

Source: Federal Railroad Administration

“I think (interested parties) along the corridor need to have skin in the game too, but hopefully the state can help out,” Mr. Mullis said.

Mr. Steavens said the target to secure the match has moved from the first of this year to fall. By then, he said, GDOT will have completed an $8 million environmental study required before it can use the new federal funding, which is specific to maglev technology.

Brian Anderson, president and CEO of the Dalton-Whitfield Chamber of Commerce, said it likely will take public and private funds to pull North Georgia’s match together.

“I believe we would be missing an opportunity if we allowed this federal funding to go away because of a lack of a 20 percent match,” he said.

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