Magee: Funding high-speed-rail study shouldn't be an issue

Magee: Funding high-speed-rail study shouldn't be an issue

April 27th, 2010 by David Magee in News

I have plenty of sympathy for cash-strapped counties in these difficult budgetary times.

But I'm also getting a little tired of short-term government problems excusing the type of long-term valuable planning and investment that can be the solution to economic woes.

Specifically, I'm talking about the North Georgia counties that suddenly say they can't or won't pay their parts for matching-grant funding needed to get the proposed high-speed maglev rail line built from Chattanooga to Atlanta.

Finally, the region is at the cusp of seeing this ambitious dream done, and we can't have it delayed because of a lack of promised regional funding required to begin the federal government's environmental impact study of the route -- arguably the most important step to date.

If the study is not complete when money designated in federal transportation plans becomes available, the work could move from the front of the funding line.

Because the train will benefit counties along the route, Gordon, Whitfield and others apparently committed funding through nods from officials that weren't official actions. That means these counties really promised nothing, since governments technically speak only through in-meeting voting. Most of us also understand, though, that when leaders talk about such critical, large-scale projects, conveyance of intent is as meaningful on the get-it-done front as an official vote.

So the pertinent parties said, "Hey, yes, let's get this done." But now Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield and others involved are having to push and plead with a sense of urgency, since Whitfield and Gordon counties are backing off their pledges and citing the obvious -- a lack of money.

Here's the rub, though. Tight economic conditions strongly suggest funding the rail impact study is more important than ever. Today's problems won't be tomorrow's if the region bands together and brings to fruition the most significant piece of infrastructure development possible for the future.

Nothing else -- and I mean nothing -- can have such an immediate and long-lasting economic effect on the Interstate 75 corridor running from Atlanta to Chattanooga as a high-speed rail line.

So when counties along the line that made promises began to waver, I began to question their long-term problem-solving vision.