More North Carolina passenger-rail construction projects appear to be on tap, thanks to a recently signed agreement among federal and state agencies and railroad companies.
With the signing of the pact on March 22, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has formally obligated $461 million in stimulus-act funds to the North Carolina Dept. of Transportation (NCDOT) for rail improvements between Raleigh and Charlotte.
But there is a potential hurdle: A Republican member of the state’s House of Representatives has introduced a bill that would bar NCDOT from spending any federal high-speed-rail funds unless the state Legislature approves it.
FRA awarded the aid to North Carolina in January 2010, but the release of the money for construction work was contingent on an agreement among the major players: FRA. NCDOT, Amtrak, Norfolk Southern Railway and the state-owned North Carolina Railroad.
The state railroad owns the tracks and leases them to Norfolk Southern. Amtrak operates the passenger service on the route.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says the newly obligated federal funds will finance 24 projects in 11 North Carolina counties. The work includes adding a second track between Charlotte and Greensboro as well as constructing 12 bridges to eliminate highway-rail grade crossings.
NCDOT, which will handle the contracting, has at least some of the engineering work under contract for the projects funded by the $461 million. “We expect to award the first construction contracts in about a year,” says Nicole Meister, a NCDOT spokeswoman.
FRA previously had obligated another $59 million to NCDOT, including funds for upgrades at four stations, and Meister says that station construction work is under way.
But on March 22, Rep. Ric Killian (R) introduced a measure in the North Carolina House that would not allow the state DOT to “apply for, accept or expend any grant funding from the federal government for any high-speed-rail project unless the project has been approved through an act of the General Assembly.”
With the latest North Carolina agreement, FRA has obligated a total of $5.4 billion for high-speed passenger rail projects and corridors nationwide. Nearly all that money is part of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s $8-billion appropriation for high-speed rail.
As for the remaining unobligated ARRA funds, FRA now is seeking to redistribute $2.4 billion in rail money awarded to Florida in January 2010 but which later was rejected by the state’s governor, Rick Scott (R). About $1.6 billion of that money came from the stimulus measure.
The deadline for applications for the turned-back Florida funds is April 4.