Bullet boosters trust in Atlanta

Bullet boosters trust in Atlanta

March 8th, 2011 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

Richard Brown

Richard Brown

Bullet train supporters believe they'll gain the financial support of Atlanta for more study to link the Georgia capital and Chattanooga by passenger rail.

Joe Ferguson, who heads the rapid rail initiative for Chattanooga's Enterprise Center, said Monday he thinks $250,000 is coming from Atlanta.

Ferguson told the center's board that Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has spoken positively about the project. Ferguson said Atlanta's commitment could come as early as this week.

Board member Richard Brown said it's key to have Atlanta on board.

"It sends a signal that it's a unified proposal," he said.

Atlanta's mayor could not be reached for comment Monday.

Ferguson said the Federal Railroad Administration has earmarked $13.8 million for more study of the Chattanooga-Atlanta project. A $3.9 million local match is needed, he said.

Ferguson said Chattanooga and Georgia state government have each anted up $1.3 million. He said he's looking at Atlanta, Georgia Power, TVA and the Tennessee Department of Transportation to put up the remainder.

While Georgia Power has a new chief executive, the company has indicated it will chip in if TVA does, the Enterprise Center official said.

"TVA is seriously considering joining the party," he said. "I'd like to think the chances are strong we get TDOT's $250,000."

TVA President Tom Kilgore met recently with Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield to discuss the rail project, TVA spokesman Scott Brooks said.

"It will be evaluated along with our other economic development initiatives," Brooks said. "We don't know exactly how long that process might take."

The money will be used for a study of station location and design along with purchasing land for the route's right of way, Ferguson said.

An existing environmental study of the corridor is expected to be finished by the end of the year, he said.

Last month, President Obama called for a six-year, $53 billion spending plan for high-speed rail nationally. The president's fiscal 2012 budget includes $8 billion for high-speed rail next year.

However, Florida Gov. Rick Scott decided to forego $2.4 billion earmarked for an Orlando to Tampa link. Scott was worried the line wouldn't make money and stick Florida with making up operating costs.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich has said he'd reject money for high-speed rail, too.

Ferguson said he didn't know where the rejected money will go. "We've got our hand up. We'd love to have that money."

The Atlanta-Chattanooga line likely would run parallel to Interstate 75 and is estimated to cost $5 billion to $6 billion.

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleisch-mann, R-Tenn., didn't address high-speed rail funding in remarks to the Enterprise Center board Monday. But Fleischmann lauded the center for helping bring together parties in the district.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.