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Planning the Delta’s future

The Delta Regional Authority has completed work on its multimodal transportation plan for the region. The task of compiling this plan fit perfectly into the DRA’s designated role as a planner, coordinator of resources and advocate for the 252 counties and parishes we serve.

The task was mandated by Congress in the 2005 national highway act. The newly released multimodal transportation plan complements our Delta Development Highway System plan, which was completed last year. You can find both the multimodal plan and the highway plan by clicking on the “Programs To Advance The Delta” section of our website at www.dra.gov.

When the DRA was created by Congress in 2000, one of the investment priorities outlined was the transportation infrastructure of the region. With the help of state departments of transportation, the Federal Highway Administration and local stakeholders, the Delta Development Highway System plan was compiled first. It identified 3,843 miles of highways slated for improvements at a cost of $18.5 billion. We estimated that completion of the system would result in annual economic benefits of $3.5 billion. Next, we began work on the multimodal transportation plan. During the past year, thousands of hours were devoted to compiling this plan. Eighteen meetings were held across the region, and input was received from more than 500 key players.

Multimodal transportation has long played an important role in our economy. The navigable waters of the region’s rivers and a network of wagon, rail and later trucking ports were a lifeblood of the nation’s north-south connections. For the Delta to advance in today’s just-in-time business environment, we must develop an even more efficient intermodal transportation network. Particularly critical will be modern facilities and equipment that can accommodate containerized cargo.

In putting together the multimodal transportation plan, we first identified the assets and needs for highways, bridges, intelligent transportation systems, freight rail, passenger rail, waterways, ports, locks and airports. Then, we made a number of recommendations designed to improve the region’s multimodal transportation system. Our report is a definitive one because of this intense outreach effort. We also received guidance from the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Committee’s “Transportation for Tomorrow” report, which was released late last year. This effort provided guiding principles for our recommendations: safety; efficiency; congestion reduction; economic development; energy concerns; and, environmental concerns.

More than $200 billion in investments will be needed during the next 25 years to ensure the efficient movement of people and goods in the Delta. This region has become a vital cog in the world logistics and distribution network. The report shows why making these investments will be necessary as our country competes in the increasingly complex global economy of the new century.

As noted, the Delta Development Highway System plan and the multimodal transportation plan complement each other. A fundamental element of the region’s future economic development will be a safe, efficient road system. We’ll continue to work with federal and state transportation officials in an attempt to secure long-term funding for the planning and construction of major corridors. We’ll also coordinate with them to overcome technical, financial, legal and political barriers. And we’ll provide assistance to local governments so they can construct the links necessary to connect industrial and business sites with important highways.

Also critical to the long-term growth of the region will be access to dependable and affordable energy resources. We’re committed to helping ensure that this region and the nation have enough energy to meet current and future needs. The effort must include traditional fossil fuel sources such as oil, gas and coal along with sources such as nuclear, biofuels and renewable energy. In fact, we’re establishing a renewable energy task force to advise our board.

We’ve already done work in the energy field. In April 2007, the DRA released a detailed study that identifies places in the region where oil refineries could be located. An oil refinery hasn’t been constructed in the United States since 1976. After a stringent evaluation process, we listed several counties and parishes as possible sites for modern refining facilities. That study also can be found at www.dra.gov.

While you’re visiting our website, be sure to also take a look at the recently released strategic development plan for the Delta. It ties the highway plan, the multimodal transportation plan, the refinery study and all of our other planning efforts together. We feel it’s a landmark piece of work that makes it clear that the old economic and community development models are no longer sufficient for the knowledge-based economy of the new century. This plan represents a departure from those traditional models. It’s a guide for championing creative approaches. The programs that emerge from this new perspective should have as their goal a region where people, communities and businesses can flourish.

I invite you to read the strategic development plan, the multimodal transportation plan, the highway system plan and the refinery study at www.dra.gov. Let me know what you think. As you can see, we’ve been busy the past few years laying the groundwork for a brighter future in the Delta.

Pete Johnson of Clarksdale is the federal co-chairman of the Delta Regional Authority. He was appointed by President Bush and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 2001.

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