By Maria Saporta
Friday, February 19, 2010
When the Obama administration doled out $8 billion in high-speed rail grants last month, Georgia watched Florida get $1.25 billion and North Carolina get $545 million for high-speed rail projects.
All Georgia received was a planning grant for $750,000 to study the feasibility of three high-speed rail lines — Atlanta to Birmingham; Atlanta to Chicago (through Tennessee) and a third from Macon to Jacksonville.
But there was hitch.
Because the $750,000 was for a planning study, the federal government requires a local match of $750,000. That 50/50 local match apparently had not been included in the state budget.
And so far, the state does not have the funds in place to meet the matching requirement.
“We cannot use motor fuel money to match the rail grants,” explained Karlene Barron, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Transportation, in an e-mail. “Knowing that money from the general funds might not be appropriated by the legislature given the current economic situation, we have been working on other alternatives to find the match.”
Barron said that GDOT Commissioner Vance Smith “spearheaded” a meeting last month with the transportation commissioners of Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Florida to begin talks on “forming a coalition aimed at finding ways to fully implement high-speed rail in the corridor.”
Also, Barron said that Erik Steavens, GDOT’s director of intermodal programs, has been “actively engaged in collaborating with local stakeholders along the corridor who have a vested interest” in high-speed rail in the region.
“We are also looking to the legislature and the governor for any assistance that he may provide,” Barron wrote in the e-mail. “So in summary, we are actively working on finding the funding for these grants.”
Georgia already had been criticized by federal transportation officials for not being better prepared to develop high-speed rail and support public transit. The states that did receive the high speed rail grants already had invested in their respective projects through plans and local financial support.
The $750,000 grant that Georgia received was called “crumbs” by some, but if Georgia is not able to secure a $750,000 local match, the state won’t even receive those crumbs.