April 3, 2010 9:55:00 PM
Tim Pratt -
The Mississippi Senate last week approved $15 million in matching funds toward the reconstruction of a 90-mile stretch of the former Columbus and Greenville Railway line.
The North Central Mississippi Railroad Authority won''t receive the $15 million, however, until all financing for the estimated $99 million project is in place, Railroad Authority board of directors chairman Cynthia Wilson said. The funds would be used to repair and replace a dilapidated stretch of track and bridges between West Point and Greenwood.
Dennis Daniels, vice chairman of the Railroad Authority board of directors, told the Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors March 18 that businesses and private donors already have pledged $20 million toward the project. The Railroad Authority is seeking federal funds to help pay for the rest, Wilson said.
"We will be going to our congressional delegation in Washington and asking for their help," Wilson said. "Now that we have support from the state, it should be easier for us to get funding from the federal level."
The North Central Mississippi Railroad Authority delivered more than 1,000 letters of support for the project to the governor''s office in mid March, Daniels said. The letters arrived just two weeks prior to the vote on Senate Bill 3181, which designated funds for the Railroad Authority to complete the project. The letters came from counties, cities, businesses and residents along the tracks, which are now owned by Genessee Wyoming Railroad.
Approximately five miles of track are located in the northwest Oktibbeha County town of Maben.
Wilson believes small towns like Maben and Eupora will benefit from a functioning rail line.
"When we get the line reopened, it will mean the counties and towns along the line in that 93 miles that did not have rail service will at least be considered for industrial projects," Wilson said.
The Mississippi Development Authority is searching for locations for nine projects this year, Daniels said. Those projects would produce more than 3,000 jobs, he said.
"We''re not going to be considered for that unless we get this line through Maben," Daniels said. "To top that off, I''ve got one company that I talked to that owns property in Maben that said ''The day you get your rail line open, we''ve got businesses going back in to these vacant warehouses.'' So, Oktibbeha County immediately stands to profit from this if it goes through."
Daniels did not elaborate on what companies could open along the tracks in Maben.
Rep. Gary Chism, R-Columbus, also spoke of the importance of having a railroad in the Golden Triangle which could run from the Tenn-Tom Waterway to the Mississippi River in Greenville.
"This is the cog that is left for our area," Chism said. "If we could have something going east and west -- we''ve already got railroads going north and south -- it would help all of these smaller towns that are along the Old Highway 82 all the way over to Greenwood and Greenville. All of these towns don''t really have rail service, so they can''t go after the economic development projects like towns that do have rail service."