House OKs $14 million to reopen Columbus rail line

February 25, 2009



JACKSON -- The Mississippi House approved giving $14 million to renovate the Columbus and Greenville Railway line that''s been closed between West Point and Greenwood since 2001. 


The funds are included in $320 million the House put in two bills Tuesday to improve highways, bridges and railroads. 


Reopening the 90-mile C&G railroad from West Point would give the Severstal steel mill in Lowndes County an essential shipping link to the Mississippi River, said House Transportation Chairman Warner McBride, D-Courtland. 


The legislation''s passage comes a week after the enactment of the federal economic stimulus program that earmarks about $415 million for various state transportation priorities aimed at jump-starting construction projects and producing jobs. 


"This is also a Mississippi stimulus," said McBride, chief sponsor of the two House-passed bills. "It has the possibility of putting a lot of people back to work." 


The bills now go to the state Senate for consideration. 


McBride said the $14 million for the West Point-to-Greenwood railroad would be the state''s share of funds to combine with federal dollars to fulfill the $70 million needed to rebuild the C&G line. 


The railroad has been closed since 2001, when flooding washed out a Carroll County bridge. Two other bridges have also since collapsed from high water. Repairs would enable the C&G line to continue uninterrupted to Greenville on the Mississippi River. 


The $14 million for the C&G railroad is part of $20 million earmarked for other railroad priorities -- including the development of high-speed railways and upgrading highway-rail crossings. 


The House of Representatives on Tuesday also voted to borrow $180 million through bonds to four-lane highways, $100 million to rehabilitate deficient state bridges and $20 million for county-owned roads. 


The federal package President Barack Obama signed into law last week has about $354 million for Mississippi roads and bridges, according to estimates provided to state legislators. About $114 million of that will be sent to local governments and $240 million to the state Department of Transportation. 


"That''s not going to go very far," said McBride, who noted there will still be many roads and bridges in need that won''t get the federal money. 


Noting the Legislature in recent years has allocated funds for constructing and renovating state-owned buildings, McBride said roads and bridges deserve attention too. "Now it''s time to make transportation a priority in this state," he said. 


He noted Mississippi has about 200 seriously deficient bridges considered unsafe to cross. There are none in the Golden Triangle, according to a state Department of Transportation inventory posted on its Web site. 


The $180 million provided by the House-passed bill is for "Vision 21" highways picked by the Legislature in 2002 that have not had funds for the four-lane construction projects to start. The five "Vision 21" road segments include state Highway 25 from Aberdeen to the Tennessee line. 


Borrowing the $300 million for the highway and bridge projects would cost the state about $28 million a year in debt repayments if done with a 15-year bond issue, McBride said. 


The House voted 95-25 for House Bill 1712 to fund the road and bridge projects and 111-10 for House Bill 1713 to fund the railroad projects.