Tuesday, November 01, 2005

By Eleanor "Cissy" Jordan ~ Coast Needs All The Help We Can Get

With all the recent talk(once again) of moving the railroad tracks “somewhere north” perhaps it is time to interject a bit of reality on this issue.

First: In 2003 MDOT spent more than $2 Million of our tax dollars to determine where the tracks should be re-located. The conclusion: There is no place north of Interstate 10 where the tracks can be moved. Too many sensitive environmental issues to even consider this move as feasible. An official of the U. S. Fish and Wildlife allowed such a move was “impossible”.

Second: Senator Trent Lott, a member of the Transportation Committee and now a chairman of a subcommittee, said publically: “The cost of moving these tracks is outrageous. I will not support moving the tracks any further north than Interstate 10.”

Third: The railroad tracks in Jackson County are on property not owned by CSX but exist by “prescriptive easement.” This means if there is any attempt to cease the use of these tracks by the railroad it requires that the land be returned to the heirs of this property. Either by direct purchase or even eminent domain, this would be an absolute legal nightmare involving hundreds of heirs of former property owners.

Fourth: The cost of moving the railroad, as estimated by the consulting firm of DMJM Harris of New Orleans, hired by Wayne Brown and MDOT, would be between $ 1.9 BILLION and $2.9 Billion. That amount of money could rebuild every school, every bridge and most of the infrastructure on the entire Coast. And it is tax dollars....our money... not coming out of the pockets of CSX, which, recently posted revenues of $2.13 BILLION!

Fifth: The plan to move the tracks is so flawed that the Jackson County Board of Supervisors in 2003 passed a resolution opposing this issue citing the reasons being” economically detrimental, interference with major transportation arteries, interference with county facilities, limiting growth and presenting a safety hazard as well as the impracticality of such a move.

Sixth: Any normal thinking person can readily understand that the railroad tracks are not isolated to the state of Mississippi but are “attached” to the rail system coming from Alabama and Louisiana. ARE these states going to move their tracks at the same time or are we making a big, extremely expensive loop to accommodate a few people?

Seventh: And perhaps the most compelling fact: Katrina caused the loss of homes to hundreds of people along the Coast. Are those of you who consider the tracks in our Coast cities an impediment to progress and a “nuisance” willing to cause the loss of hundreds of homes of people where the tracks would be located?
Shame on you if you answered yes to this question.

On the issue of safety regarding the current railroad crossings on the Coast the answer is not to relocate the tracks but to require CSX to provide adequate safety devices at each and every crossing. If CSX can post multi-million dollar annual revenues why can’t they provide adequate protection at these dangerous crossings?

Shortly before the consulting firm of DMJM Harris ceased the 2003 study I asked them what the comparative cost would be to elevate the tracks on the existing roadbed. The answer was very revealing. They had not even considered this possibility. Why?

If major cities in our nation can successfully elevate the rail system, and many without incurring a change in the character of the neighborhood, why can’t MDOT or the current planners of our future on this Coast consider this plan? We need the railroad, we need a viable east-west road to alleviate traffic congestion on Highway 90 and Pass Road and yet considering the marriage of these two systems together has been immediately dismissed by MDOT. Why?

Many who lost homes and property due to Katrina are moving north. If the contract to move the tracks was let today by the time the relocation was completed it is very possible we will have more people living North of Interstate 10 than now live South of Interstate 10. Moving the tracks north would be placing them where the population growth will occur.

Another disturbing aspect of this recent discussion is the secrecy and behind the scenes maneuvering in regard to the proposed sites for this relocation. This is a public issue, not one to be decided by a few regardless of the political or economic clout of those few. As the holder of a petition of more than 1,000 signatures( gathered within a very short period of time) of people in Jackson County who oppose the relocation of the tracks I personally feel the public should not be the victim here but an active participate. If we do not have the engineering talent within MDOT to
1. Locate the tracks down the middle of Interstate 10 as recommended by Senator Lott
2. Elevate the tracks on the existing roadbed, then we need to seek help outside the state as Wayne Brown has publically said both these proposals are not possible.

In conclusion: This is a bad idea, much like the plan to remove I-110. Relocating the railroad tracks is not a simple issue as it represents serious concerns for many people and has serious consequences, not the least of which is spending billions of our dollars unwisely at a time Coast needs all the help we can get.

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