Georgia, Tennessee Pass on Rail Funds

April 28, 2011
Two dozen states lined up this month to request federal aid spurned by other states for high-speed rail, but the proposed Atlanta-to-Chattanooga line was not among the projects vying for Uncle Sam's help.

Georgia's Department of Transportation is trying to get money for a new Amtrak station in Atlanta, and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said the Volunteer State simply wasn't ready to compete for more federal dollars for a high-speed rail leg in Tennessee.

"I would question in this current federal tax environment whether a whole lot will happen with high-speed rail," Haslam said last week. "To apply for this money, you would have to have a lot of the work in progress and we didn't have that done yet."

Twenty-four states angled for a share of $1.2 billion that became available after governors in Florida and Wisconsin rejected federal funds for previously approved high-speed rail projects.

But Chattanooga high-speed rail backers insist their plans still are moving, if slowly.

"I always thought this would be a long-term project, but I have no doubt that there will be a high-speed rail network throughout the United States and it's very important that Chattanooga be a part of that," said Mayor Ron Littlefield, a longtime supporter and former consultant for the project here.

"This country cannot go forward into the future as a leading nation with just two ways of moving people -- highway and air. We saw the weakness of that on 9/11," he said.

"And the United States can't ignore the investments that every other developed and many developing countries are making in high-speed rail."

Littlefield recalled that when interstate highways were laid out in the 1950s, Mayor Rudy Olgiati worked to make sure those highways went through Chattanooga.