Plenty of funding, but lots of competition, for East Miss. rail link
Magnolia Marketplace has a story in this week’s MBJ about a push by East Mississippi economic development officials to secure funding for environmental and design work related to building a 50-mile rail link from Waynesboro to Lucedale.
The link, folks from the Rail Authority of East Mississippi say, would provide rail transportation for the region’s biomass to the Port of Pascagoula, making it cheaper and easier to get the product to Europe, which has a huge demand for it.
Anyway, Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker had inserted $1 million into a highway funding bill that would have paid about half the cost of the planning work. It was an earmark, and it has since been excluded, along with the rest of the surface transportation funding pool from which it was drawn, from the continuing resolution that will fund the federal government through March 4.
The response from Cochran’s office was a few hours late to make it into the print edition, but here’s what he said in a press release he sent us Thursday night:
“Until the Congress completes its work on the FY2011 appropriations process, there will be uncertainty as to what federal transportation and rail programs might be used for the East Mississippi Rail Corridor proposal. It is probably safe to surmise that the funding will be reduced and that the competition for those dollars will be intense. I continue to support the effort by local officials who are trying to improve their economic prospects with better rail infrastructure service in southeast Mississippi.”
The long-term CR for FY 2011 that is currently being debated includes $15 million for the Federal Railroad Administration’s Rail Line Relocation and Improvement Program. That could be one funding source for the project. When that CR is approved, and if that railroad money is still there in the final version, is anybody’s guess, though.
Applications for the $1.5 billion TIGER program that was a part of 2009’s stimulus bill is another option, but competition for that money is robust, to say the least.
Bottom line: Plenty of money is available for the East Mississippi rail project. But securing it is not going to be easy, and is going to require quite a bit of political muscle from Cochran and the rest of Mississippi’s congressional delegation.