Posts Tagged ‘Kay Ivey’

Mobile Resolution To Come With Contingencies

December 24, 2019

The resolution that the city council of Mobile, Alabama, is expected to consider on Dec. 31 contains a clause that would revoke the city’s financial support of a proposed expansion of Amtrak service along the Gulf Coast if certain issues are to arise.

The city will consider committing $3 million toward the operating cost of the service, which is envisioned to begin in 2023 between New Orleans and Mobile.

The action comes as local and state governments along the proposed route face a Jan. 6 deadline to commit matching funds to a federal grant awarded earlier this year to get the service started.

The states of Mississippi and Louisiana have agreed to contribute their share of the funding but Alabama has balked.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has raised concerns that the Amtrak route would adversely affect rail operations at the Port of Mobile.

Mobile city council members will vote on a letter of intent, but one council member has asked what happens after the first three years of the city’s commitment to fund operations of the route.

Other questions that have arisen include the cost of building a station in Mobile and how infrastructure improvements from the Mississippi border to Mobile will be handled.

Most of the operating costs of the route are expected to be paid for by a federal Restoration and Enhancement grant.

The concerns of Gov. Ivey have also been echoed by Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson and State Port Authority CEO Jimmy Lyons.

Wiley Blankenship, president and CEO of the Coastal Alabama Partnership and a member of the Southern Rail Commission  said the location of the Mobile station at the Brookley Aeroplex, instead of downtown would harm commercial activity at the port.

“The Port is a priority for me above passenger rail, ”he said. “If I felt that operating the train at Brookley would jeopardize the Port, I would not be standing here today. I would ask the governor to remove me from the office, and that I cannot serve.”

Mobile City County to Vote on Funding Amtrak Route

December 21, 2019

The city council of Mobile, Alabama, is expected to vote on Dec. 31 on a proposal to help fund the restoration of Amtrak service to the city from New Orleans.

The city funding would be between $2 million and $3 million for three years.

The federal government has awarded a grant to help pay for the route’s operating expenses. The states of Louisiana and Mississippi have agreed to chip in funding but Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has thus far refused to approve that state’s estimated $2.2 million funding share.

If Mobile approves funding for the route, the money would not be paid until 2023 when the service is expected to begin.

City Council President Levon Manzie said that it is “untenable” that Mobile could not be included on the route. “We need to be a part of this service,” he said.

Ivey and Alabama State Port Authority CEO Jimmy Lyons have opposed the service on the grounds that it could potentially interfere with traffic at the Port of Mobile.

Gulf Coast Rail Supporters Watching Ala. Governor

September 11, 2019

The prospects for a New Orleans-Mobile, Alabama, rail passenger route have been looking brighter of late, but it is not yet a sure thing.

Some in Alabama fear that tension between Gov. Kay Ivey and Mobile officials who recently thwarted a highway project the governor favored could hinder the chances that the state will pay for its share of the costs of the route.

Ivey hasn’t come out against funding the rail route, but she did decline earlier to commit Alabama to helping fund it.

That came following commitments from Louisiana and Mississippi to contribute a combined $1.4 million in funding.

More recently, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced it will award $4.36 million in Restoration and Enhancement funds toward the financing of the first year of operations of a new “state-supported” Mobile-to-New Orleans route.

Another $33 million federal grant was awarded through the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements program to help pay for rail infrastructure improvements needed for passenger rail service restoration.

Mississippi has already dedicated $15 million and Louisiana has committed up to $10 million to match the $33 million CRISI grant that was awarded in June. Amtrak is spending $6 million.

Until Hurricane Katrina damaged the rail line between New Orleans and Jacksonville, Florida, in August 2005, Amtrak’s Sunset Limited operated tri-weekly along the Gulf Coast via Mobile.

CSX rebuilt the route used by Amtrak Nos. 1 and 2, but passenger serviced has remained suspended.

Pushing for the return of Amtrak to the Gulf Coast has been the Southern Rail Commission, which has representatives of all of the states along the route.

“We are hopeful that we might be able to see something happen on the Alabama side of things in the very near future so we can participate,” said Wiley Blankenship, president and CEO of the Coastal Alabama Partnership, and an Alabama representative to the SRC.

In the wake of the most recently federal funding announcement, Ivey remained noncommittal about supporting it.

“We are continuing to look into the Southern Rail Commission and others to help answer some vitally important questions such as what would be the long-term costs/benefits if passenger rail service returns to the Gulf Coast?” she said.

The statement also raised questions about the financial costs to the City of Mobile, Mobile County and the state once the federal grant is exhausted.

Underlying the issue is the fear of some Alabama legislators and policy makers that Ivey might oppose helping fund the resumption of Amtrak service in retaliation for the collapse of plans to build a $2.1 billion bridge on Interstate 10 in Mobile.

The bridge triggered widespread opposition because it would be financed by a $6 one way toll for more than 50 years.

Despite Ivey’s opposition, the Eastern Shore Metropolitan Planning Organization voted to remove the I-10 project from its short-term plans, which therefore prevents the Alabama Department of Transportation from seeking federal money for the project.

Ivey had asked the project be kept on the short-term list of projects so that the state could find “reasonable” alternatives to fund the bride other than with tolls.

Rail advocates may have found a new supporter in state auditor Jim Zeigler, who led the opposition to the tolls and called for his supporters to “keep an eye on the Amtrak Mobile issue.”

“Whether or not we’ll get involved as an advocate for or against it, we don’t know yet. We’ll be watching for that and we’ll use our Facebook group to try and guard against retaliations.”

Support from Alabama lawmakers for reviving Amtrak service to the Gulf Coast has long been tepid.

The loudest voices backing the revival have been Mississippi U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant and Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards.

One prominent voice against bringing back Amtrak has been Jimmy Lyons, CEO of the Alabama State Port Authority.

He has repeatedly said he fears bringing back Amtrak will interfere with rail freight traffic to the Port of Mobile.

Supporters of the train argue that Lyons’ concerns are overstated while Lyons counters that the economic benefits of the rail service are not what they are made out to be.

In a best case scenario, the SRC figures it will be two years before the New Orleans-Mobile route is up and running.

Plans call for two roundtrips per day between the two cities.

Intermediate stops would be made in Pascagoula, Biloxi, Gulfport and Bay St. Louis with a running time of 3 hours, 23 minutes.

Mobile Moves Ahead With Station Design

July 7, 2018

Although there are no plans in the works for Amtrak service, Mobile, Alabama, officials are moving ahead with designing a new passenger station.

Mobile City County President Levon Manzie said the station design plans are to show Gov. Key Ivey that the city has a shovel-ready project.

Ivey earlier declined to commit state funding toward restoration of Amtrak service along the Gulf Coast.

Mobile plans to award a contract to Mott MacDonald to design a new Amtrak station. The city had been served by the Sunset Limited until Hurricane Katrina damaged the route in August 2005.

Although four Mississippi cites are seeking to improve or expand current stations, Mobile wants to build a new depot from the ground up.

The contract to design the station will cost $233,000.

Ivey Boots Outspoken Member of SRC

June 30, 2018

Not only did Alabama Governor Kay Ivey reject state funding to reinstate Amtrak service to the Gulf Coast region, she also removed one of the state’s representative to the Southern Rail Commission.

Jerry Gehman, who had been appointed to the SRC in 2016 by former Governor Robert Bentley, had strongly supported the rail expansion.

His removal from the board is immediate, Ivey wrote in a letter to SRC Chairman John Spain.

Gehman said he wasn’t given a reason for his termination from the SRC, but it came a week after he strongly urged the governor to support the state’s providing $5.3 million for the rail expansion.

He told reporters in Alabama that he wasn’t surprised that Ivey had removed him. “There is no regret. I leave 100-percent or 110-percent of my energy and effort at the table. I’ve done everything I can for the people of Alabama,” Gehman said.

Gehman said he will continue to lobby for restoring Amtrak service to Mobile, Alabama.

“I’m going to speak out for it,” he said. “I hate for the Southern Rail Commission that this occurred, but from that perspective, I’m proud of the fact at least as an American that we can stand up and say here is an option like it or not we have a certain limited time. Now all Alabamians, I trust, know that there was an option on the table.”

However, Gehman said that given the tenor of Ivey’s comments in rejecting the state contribution to reviving Amtrak service, he is not optimistic that it will happen during her term.

In a statement issued at the time that Ivey rejected the funding, she said the service would result in some economic benefit, but reviving Amtrak “will have an outsized detrimental impact on other types of rail service.”

Gehman noted that neither Ivey nor anyone in her administration has consulted with the SRC about how to attract Amtrak service.

Ivey is running for reelection this year and her Democratic opponent, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox, has been outspoken in his support for helping to fund an Amtrak service revival.

The revival of Amtrak service to the Gulf Coast suffered another setback when Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant also declined to support state funding of the service revival.

Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana collectively would have needed to provide $35 million in state funding for the service to match federal funds set aside for the project in the federal budget approved last spring.

Gehman also told reporters that Bryant had been involved with the SRC and had shown interest in the SRC’s work.

However, another Alabama representative to the SRC, Wiley Blankenship, said members of Ivey’s staff had met with the SRC numerous times.

“They’ve been more than accommodating and more than open to meet with us and talk with us,” Blankenship said. “I hope that the governor does not view statements by one commissioner to reflect on the whole.”

The SRC has 21 members, five of which are appointed by the governor of Alabama.

Although Gehman’s term didn’t expire until 2020, the terms of the four other Alabama representatives expire on July 31.

“The governor plans to review all of the appointments before making a decision,” said Ivey spokesman Daniel Sparkman when asked if any of the state’s SRC members would be reappointed.

Regardless of what Ivey decides, Alabama representative Claire Austin won’t be returning because she is a registered lobbyist and Ivey signed an order last year barring registered lobbyists from serving in executive branch positions.

Alabama Gov. Lobbied on Gulf Coast Restoration Funding

April 17, 2018

Southern rail passenger advocates are trying to prod Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey into supporting a proposal to seek federal grants to be used to restore Amtrak service east of New Orleans that was halted in 2005 due to damage from Hurricane Katrina.

Alabama’s match for the federal funds would be $3.5 million, although that could rise to $8.5 million if service is to be restored at Atmore, Alabama, which was one of two cities in the state served by the Sunset Limited before it was discontinued along the Gulf Coast in the wake of Katrina.

The Southern Rail Commission has said Alabama’s share would be spread over four years.

There is a sense of urgency to win the governor’s approval because deadlines for the two federal grant programs are in May and June.

“There are grants available right now that Alabama can take advantage of,” said Wiley Blankenship, CEO of the Coastal Alabama Partnership who serves as the representative of Mobile, Alabama, on the SRC, a 21-member group formed in 1982 to advocate for passenger rail service and pursue funding opportunities for expanded rail passenger service in the South.

Another proposal is to reinstate Amtrak service between Mobile and Birmingham, Alabama, which operated between 1989 and 1995.

That service, known as the Gulf Breeze, was a section of the Crescent, which operates between New York and New Orleans.

The Ivey administration is expected to receive updates on the grant proposals in the coming weeks.

At one time the Sunset Limited ran between Los Angeles and Miami. However, its route had been trimmed to Orlando, Florida, by 2005.

Greg White, SRC vice chairman and a resident of Andalusia, Alabama, expressed optimism that the Commission can bring Ivey’s office “up-to-speed” on the need to move forward.

“We’ve been in transition from one governor to the next and we are finding ourselves in the middle now of a primary campaign,” said White, adding that SRC officials have already met with two cabinet members.

The SRC has noted that the recent federal omnibus budget approved by Congress contains money for two grant programs, one of which was created to restore lost passenger rail service.

The language of the program is such that the SRC believes the Gulf Coast route is the only one eligible for the full $35.5 million appropriation.

Another program has $20 million to support operational expenses for new passenger rail service.

One sticking point in restoring Gulf Coast service is the cost of rebuilding infrastructure destroyed or damaged by Katrina.

CSX, which owns most of the route the train would use, has said rebuilding the line for passenger train use would cost $2.3 billion.

The Gulf Coast Working Group, created by Congress in 2015 to study restoring the service, has put the cost at $117.7 million.

The SRC has been critical of the CSX estimate, calling its demands unreasonable. CSX said much of the cost would involve rehabilitating 17 drawbridges between New Orleans and Orlando.

Without that, the railroad said, it would be a near impossibility to run passenger trains on the line under present conditions that fulfill on-time expectations.