NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) — Louisianans have long heard of efforts to make rail service between New Orleans and Baton Rouge a reality. But now federal money is on the way for that purpose.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told Fox 8 in an exclusive interview that grant funds are being directed to Louisiana for the railroad project, as part of the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) program.
“This $20 million award is based on a process where we looked at nominations from across the country and saw this vision of Baton Rouge and this connection to New Orleans and decided this was something we could support in a way that was going to help create jobs, help benefit so many considerations, from equity to pollution – everything gets better when this train is operational,” Buttigieg said.
Louisiana communities had to compete for the funding prize.
“It’s a very competitive process,” Buttigieg said. “This time around, I think we had about $6 in requests for every dollar we could provide. But very strong applications have succeeded in this process. This is an example. »
The grant is tied to the trillion-dollar infrastructure package passed by Congress in 2021.
“That’s an example of the funding that’s now available, thanks to the bipartisan infrastructure act that the president signed last year, that we worked so hard on. Now we’re actually getting those dollars,” said Buttigieg said.
While a member of the US Senate, Joe Biden said he relied heavily on Amtrak to get him to and from his home in Delaware and Washington D.C. Now, as president, Biden and his administration want to expand the access to rail service.
“This administration is a big supporter and a firm believer in making sure people have the option of great passenger rail service,” Buttigieg said.
John Spain represents Louisiana on the Southern Rail Commission and says he has worked on the rail service project for a decade. He says the new federal funds will be used to build stations in Baton Rouge and Gonzales.
“Unlike New Orleans, these two communities do not have train stations. So as we begin the Baton Rouge-New Orleans route, they obviously must have train stations,” Spain said.
He said the train will run at 90 mph and Amtrak is on board with the plan. The drive between New Orleans and Baton Rouge will take just over an hour.
“I would say this train could enter service in the next 24 months or so,” Spain said. “A truck accident or something is not going to stop him, and (passengers can) work because he has wi-fi and be productive, make phone calls. I think people will use it.
Governor John Bel Edwards’ office said in a statement, “The grants go to both Baton Rouge and Gonzales, the station development award recipients. The state has pledged to help facilitate the development of passenger service, but the state does not receive federal funds for station development. Currently, DOTD is conducting a feasibility study. All project details should come from local governments.
The RAISE grant money doesn’t just benefit major cities in Louisiana. For example, Lafourche Parish gets over $2 million for the Valentine Pontoon Bridge in Lockport.
“We have an equal split of this funding between rural projects and urban projects,” Buttigieg said.
Lafourche Parish President Archie Chaisson said: “The parish put some of our own skin into the game and bonded some of our drive dollars to help do that. And then the RAISE grant came from the Biden administration as part of the IIJA package, so we asked for that money. And thanks to Senator (Bill) Cassidy, Congressman (Garret) Graves and Congressman (Steve) Scalise, last week we received approximately $2.5 million for this project.
Chaisson said the money will free up other local dollars.
“It allows us to get some of our money back and do other things for our constituents and road, bridge and drainage projects,” he said. “But it will allow us to rehabilitate a bridge that has been out of service for about seven years.
The parish of Plaquemines obtains more than a million dollars for a road leading to the Pointe-à-la-Hache ferry. The state said five applicants from Louisiana will receive a total of $63.1 million under the RAISE grant program.
Buttigieg said there would be other opportunities to secure additional funds.
“A portion of those dollars goes to the states on a formula basis, so the state Department of Transportation will be able to take a certain number of dollars that we provide under this package and use them for projects that they deem the most importants. important,” he said.
Buttigieg says many communities need federal funds for infrastructure upgrades.
“Part of the challenge is that the need is so great. We have $2.6 million earmarked for Lafourche Parish which will allow them to cut commute times in half by taking care of a dilapidated bridge there,” he said. “It certainly gives us a lot of urgency to make sure these projects move forward on time, because time is money. And when costs go up, that effect is even stronger.
“Now we have seen some encouraging news in recent weeks with inflation appearing to be easing. But it’s definitely a factor when it comes to raw materials, when it comes to labor.
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