Joe Ferguson leaving Enterprise Center, rail project

Joe Ferguson leaving Enterprise Center, rail project

September 15th, 2012 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

EPB Chairman Joe Ferguson.

Photo by John Rawlston/Times Free Press.

MATCHING MONEY

$1.5 million - Georgia Department of Transportation

$1.3 million - Chattanooga

$250,000 - Atlanta

$250,00 - Tennessee Department of Transportation

Source: Joe Ferguson

After about a decade steering Chattanooga's high-speed train efforts, Joe Ferguson says he's ready to let someone else take the throttle.

Ferguson is leaving Chattanooga's Enterprise Center, which he led for three years before becoming director of special projects and focusing on the bullet train.

"It's timely to move out," he said, adding Georgia and Tennessee officials are awaiting the OK from the Federal Rail Administration to start drawing down on $13 million for more study of the venture.

Ferguson said the next step is to specifically map the route and station locations for the envisioned Atlanta to Chattanooga rapid rail line.

Wayne Cropp, who heads the Enterprise Center, will fold the high-speed train into his duties. He foresees the bullet train coming about with strong public-private participation.

"Public-private partnerships are the way to go in the future," Cropp said. "Private investment with government leadership is the way we need to go."

Ferguson, 78, said he plans to remain as chairman of EPB and active at the power distributor, and he added that high-speed rail "is going to happen. It's a matter of time."

He said the next step in finalizing the route between Chattanooga and Atlanta could take about two years.

"A lot can happen," Ferguson said when asked about funding and the federal government's budget issues. "The main thing is to get all the mandatory requirements behind us."

The rail project has the local $3.3 million in matching money needed for the federal grant for the Georgia Department of Transportation.

Ferguson noted that both GDOT and the city of Atlanta chipped in matching funds for the first time.

He said he is proud of the level of support Chattanoogans have shown the project. Ferguson said he has seen decision-makers come around to support it, though some had to ride bullet trains in Germany and China.

His biggest disappointment is that the project hasn't moved along faster, he said. Officials view the train as a long-term effort.

Former Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, when he was speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives from Georgia, helped secure initial money to study the idea in the mid-1990s.