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VOL. 40 | NO. 47 | Friday, November 18, 2016

Study offers route options for Atlanta-Chattanooga train

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CHATTANOOGA (AP) — A study looking at the potential of a bullet train between Chattanooga and Atlanta includes three route options, as advocates for the idea hope that President-elect Donald Trump's interest in high-speed rail can put more zip into the effort.

Nearly two decades after the bullet train idea surfaced, the first part of the two-track study is almost ready, The Chattanooga Times Free Press (http://bit.ly/2gsyqwc) reported. The next study phase lacks needed funding to go forward, but supporters note that Trump talked up mass transit and high-speed rail during the campaign.

"So much depends on Washington's position on what they would or would not want to do," said Chattanooga resident Joe Ferguson, who for many years shepherded the city's rapid-rail efforts.

The Georgia Department of Transportation study has narrowed route options on the 110-mile section to three: one that runs along Interstate 75, another that travels parallel to U.S. Highway 411 through much of Northwest Georgia and a third that goes through Rome, Georgia.

The study said the I-75 route rated best in travel time, capital cost and potential noise and vibration impacts. It has an estimated $8.7 billion price tag.

A year ago, Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke said that while the bullet train idea might be neat, he doubted there was money or political will to build it. The city has taken up its own study of commuter rail inside Chattanooga, with a detailed report due within a few weeks.

Berke said in a statement last week that Congress is talking about taking up a major infrastructure bill next year. Trump proposed spending $1 trillion on the campaign trail.

"As they move forward, we will work with Georgia on identifying potential opportunities if they are funded," Berke said.

Dave Crockett, a former Chattanooga city councilman and a long-time fast-train proponent, said that Trump's interest is "our golden opportunity."

"We have a president who is bold thinking," he said. "This is one of his agenda items."

Crockett, who plans to run for Chattanooga mayor next year, said that connecting Chattanooga and Atlanta within 40 minutes on a 300 mph train would transform the region's economy.

He thinks the project could be turning dirt within four years.

Former Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield, who has supported the bullet train, said last week he remains optimistic rapid-rail will move ahead.

Mohamed Arafa, a GDOT spokesman, said there's no decision on what will happen next or when. He said it's up to leadership at the state and federal level to decide if they want to provide more funding into the project.

But at this time, Arafa said, there's no money available for the next phase of study.

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