OUR OPINION: Railroad study opens for public scrutiny

By NEMS Daily Journal

Thursday afternoon the Mississippi Department of Transportation invites public response to the completed, $2.2 million railroad relocation study aiming for a solution to Tupelo’s issues with trains: congestion and traffic delays related to the BNSF Railroad’s more than two dozen trains chugging through Tupelo daily, plus many switching operations.
The study was paid by federal funds procured by then U.S. Rep. Roger Wicker, R-Tupelo, in a time when special projects were almost routinely funded at the request of members of Congress.
The $2 million study was contracted by MDOT to a private consultant, and after more than five years the report has been approved by the Federal Railroad Administration.
FRA invites all who are interested to make public comments in writing or by audio recording. Because of the anticipated interest in the project, the comment period will continue until Sept. 12. Written and oral comments will be given equal weight, and FRA and MDOT will consider all comments received or postmarked by that date in preparing the Final Environmental Impact Statement.
The public hearing Thursday is from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the BancorpSouth Arena located at 375 East Main Street, in meeting rooms 3, 4 and 5, and attendees are encouraged to park on the west side of the building because it is more convenient.
Much has changed politically and fiscally since the study was undertaken.
A new president, Barack Obama, has succeeded George W. Bush.
Wicker sits in the U.S. Senate, having won a special election after appointment by Gov. Barbour, then election to the seat formerly held by Sen. Trent Lott, who retired in late 2007.
The U.S. representative from the 1st District is Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, who succeeded Travis Childers, D-Booneville, who succeeded Wicker via a special and regular election in 2008. He lost to Nunnelee after one term.
The Transportation Commissioner is Mike Tagert, who succeeded Bill Minor after Minor died unexpectedly in 2010.
What’s changed most, however, is the economy and the federal revenue outlook involving Congress.
The U.S. has had a recession and a financial crisis; times are still hard and uncertain.
Earmarks are history.
The mood is reduction, not spending.
A recommendation and/or possibility of a $407 million elevated track carrying trains above the most impacted areas of Tupelo looks more extravagant than when it first appeared – in flush times.
Called a rail viaduct, the recommended option would keep the BNSF track on the same route but 23 feet above street level, a “flying track” as called by some. It would soar above cars and trucks and streets, but many question its aesthetic, environmental and economic impact on the city, and its affordability, of course. It should be rejected on cost alone.
Interest in the study and the other options remain of interest, and some could be affordable – and relatively simple.
The issue is important because the trains – as much daily irritation and lost time as they cause the motoring public – remain vitally important to the city and regional economy. Tupelo became a prospering town and then a city because two rail lines crossed a few yards to the east of South Spring Street near the Tupelo Farmers Market, which ironically is a former railroad shed moved from elsewhere.
Go to http://govpulse.us/entries/2011/07/14/2011-17684/tupelo-mississippi-railroad-relocation-project to see where the study can be viewed in person or on line.
The Journal welcomes letters on the study by email or U.S. Mail. Send to Letters, Box 909, Tupelo, MS 38802 or opinion@journalinc.com.