Posts Tagged ‘Mobile City Council’

Funding Quest Continues in Alabama

February 14, 2020

The fight for local funding in Alabama to help pay for a proposed new Amtrak service between New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama, is far from over.

Proponents of the service are now asking the Mobile County Commission to also commit to providing funding.

Two of the three commissioners told local reporters this week that they think it is too early for the commission to decide on providing funding.

Commissioners Merceria Ludgood and Connie Hudson said there has been no “formal” presentation or request of the commission although a third commissioner, Jerry Carl, supports the service and said he expects the county will potentially spending up to $3 million over a three-year period to support the construction of a new train station or platform.

“Our original conversation was for the county to come up with $1 million a year for three years,” Carl said. “That would build a train station and would be the maximum we could put into it. But we are waiting on (passenger rail advocates) to figure out their numbers. We’ll have our legal team talking to the city to make sure they OK with it. Nothing is guaranteed on (the project) until we see final numbers.”

Wiley Blankenship, an Alabama member of the Southern Rail Commission said his group will be approaching the commission sooner rather than later.

The Commission has been leading the efforts to return Amtrak service to the Gulf Coast.

The region has been without rail passenger service since the Sunset Limited was suspended in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.

“We don’t want to ask (for county assistance) until they are fully educated (on the issue) and that we give them all the information so they can evaluate it and so they can make the best decision for the taxpayers,” Blankenship said. “We’re planning on doing that over the next few weeks.”

Last week the Mobile City County approved a resolution committing the city to spending $3 million over three years to help pay for the service, which is projected to get started in 2023.

However, that financial commitment is contingent on other governmental or private entities agreeing to spend up to $2.2 million on capital improvements for the route.

That might involve having to get state funding for capital improvements, which might be a uncertain proposition given that Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey last year declined to support state funding for the service.

The capital improvement needs are expected to be spelled out in a study now being undertaken of how Amtrak service would affect host railroads CSX and Norfolk Southern.

That study is expected to be finished this summer.

“Depending on what comes out of the study, I think the state will step in and it will be determined what role the state and county will play in terms of infrastructure,” Hudson said.

The Ivey administration said last week it is waiting to see where the county commission stands on the project.

Capital improvements for the New Orleans-Mobile route have already been projected at $5.786 million of which $2.89 million will come from a $33 million grant from the Federal Railroad Administration, and $671,000 from Amtrak.

The states of Louisiana and Mississippi along with the online Mississippi cities of Pascagoula, Biloxi, Gulfport and Bay St. Louis have agreed to providing funding for the route.

Mobile City Council Approved Funding for Amtrak

February 8, 2020

The Mobile City Council this week approved a funding package to help underwrite the operating expenses of a proposed Mobile-New Orleans Amtrak service.

The council voted in favor of spending $3 million over a three-year period for the service, whose inauguration is projected to be in 2023.

The vote was critical because terms of a federal grant to get the service started require the states served to providing matching funds.

Although cities in and the states of Louisiana and Mississippi have agreed to provide matching funding, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has thus far refused to do so.

Mobile is the first Alabama government entity to agree to provide funding.

The Gulf Coast region has been without intercity rail passenger service since Amtrak’s tri-week Sunset Limited was suspended east of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.

Restoration of Amtrak service to the Gulf Coast region has been a top priority of the Southern Rail Commission., which worked to obtain the federal grant.

Mobile must still conduct a study of how the proposed service might affect CSX freight operations at the Port of Mobile.

Potential interference with freight trains has been cited by Ivey and others for their reluctance to support state funding of the service.

Mobile Council to Vote on Amtrak Funding on Feb. 4

February 3, 2020

The Mobile City County last week delayed yet again a vote on a proposed to spend $3 million in city funds to help pay for Amtrak service between Mobile and New Orleans.

However, Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson said the day after the latest delay that he expected the council to “get to yes” when it votes on Feb. 4 on the proposal.

Five of the seven Mobile council members must vote in favor of a resolution on the funding in order for it to pass.

Stimpson has said he wants assurances that the service would not affect CSX freight traffic to the Port of Mobile.

“We’re looking for a confirmation, a pathway forward so that we don’t get surprised because really, as steward of the taxpayer dollars, it’s imperative that we do our homework to make sure that we get this piece right,” he said.

The Southern Rail Commission is leading the effort to get Amtrak service reinstated to the Gulf Coast region.

A federal grant will pay some of the costs of the service with the states of Mississippi and Louisiana already having agreed to provide matching funds.

However, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey had thus far refused to commit funding from Alabama, which has meant that getting funding from Mobile might be crucial for the project to move ahead.

The Gulf Coast region has been without intercity rail passenger since Amtrak’s Sunset Limited was suspended in August 2005 in the wake of damage to its route east of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina.

Supporters of the Mobile-New Orleans route, which would operate twice daily, have argued that it will bring tourist dollars and tax revenue.

Alabama State Port Authority CEO Jimmy Lyons has raised concerns about freight trains sharing the same tracks as passenger trains.

Stimpson said an expected study on the impact on freight traffic would “take a lot of the ambiguity” out of the debate even though that study will not be completed before the city council votes this week.

“I’m 100 percent sure we’ll have to make a decision without the benefit of that study,” Stimpson said. “It’s gonna be based on us getting more comfortable with where we are.”

Stimpson, however, rejected concerns raised by some opponents that the service would result in an unacceptably high level of taxpayer subsidy of service that is not expected to generate enough in ticket revenue to pay for its operating costs.

Stimpson said there is “no real way to know” what the long-term cost to the city would be.

“I think it’s probably close enough to take that risk,” he said.

He said he believes the benefits of having rail passenger service are more than the increased tax dollars the city would see from tourist traffic.

It would also be a “sales point” for the city because “not every city can say that,” he said. “And not every city has Amtrak, and a downtown airport like we hope to have one day.”

In advance of the vote in Mobile some Mississippi cities that would be stops for the trains are leaning the Mobile City Council to approve funding.

Officials in Biloxi, Pascagoula, and Bay St. Louis are trying Mobile to get onboard in funding the service.

A combination of city, county, and state governments in Mississippi and Louisiana have made financial commitments for the service.

“We think it’s vitally important Mobile votes for it,” said Biloxi spokesman Vincent Creel. “It creates that synergy from New Orleans to Mobile. It would create a unity for the cities along the Gulf Coast.”

Opposition Continues to Funding of New Amtrak Route

January 25, 2020

Opposition continues to surround a proposal in Mobile, Alabama, for city funding of a proposed new Amtrak route linking the city with New Orleans.

The Mobile City Council is expected to vote on Jan. 28 on a resolution to endorse committing financial support toward the restoration of a route that last saw passenger service in August 2005 when the Sunset Limited was suspended in the wake damage to the route by Hurricane Katrina.

A three-member council finance committee declined to recommend voting in favor of the funding with some members saying that ticket revenue would not cover the costs of operating the trains.

Five council members must vote to approve the funding resolution in order for it to pass.

Mobile has proposed spending up to $3 million over a three-year period to help underwrite the Mobile-New Orleans service, which is expected to be two roundtrips a day.

State and local governments in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana are facing a Feb. 5 deadline to approve matching funds for a Federal Railroad Administration grant that was announced earlier.

The states of Louisiana and Mississippi have approved their share of the funding and Amtrak has agreed to provide $6 million for capital projects needed to get the route started.

But Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey balked last year at approving that state’s share of the funding.

Ivey and some connected with the Port of Mobile have expressed reservations about the passenger service for fear that it would interfere with CSX freight service to the port.

The Rail Passengers Association said that Mobile’s $3 million commitment is crucial to bringing the service to fruition.

RPA said if Mobile votes against the funding, it would endanger the project.