Reoriented express in the press


An article in this morning’s Washington Post, Jonathan Weissman writes of CSX rail relocation project:

The real impetus appears to be economic. For more than half a dozen years, Mississippi officials, development planners and tourism authorities have dreamed of the complex restructuring of Mississippi’s coastal transportation system that Lott and Cochran now want to set in motion. Under the plan, the CSX line — which runs a few blocks off the coast line — would be scrapped. CSX would move its freight traffic to existing tracks to the north owned by rival Norfolk Southern.

Then U.S. 90, a wide federal highway that hugs Mississippi’s beaches, would be rebuilt along the CSX rail bed. The route of the federal thoroughfare would be turned into a smaller, manicured “beach boulevard” through cities such as Biloxi, where visitors could “spend more time strolling among the casinos and taking in the views,” as the Governor’s Commission on Recovery, Rebuilding and Renewal put it.

Meanwhile, via Instapundit, comes an apologia for the project written by Anthony Topazi, the President of Missippi Power and the vice chairman of Mississippi’s post-Katrina planning body, the Governor’s Commission on Recovery, Rebuilding and Renewal, and published in the (Jackson City, Miss.) Clarion Ledger:

…much of the federal relief coming to Mississippi requires that the money be used to mitigate the risk from future disasters. Don’t just rebuild in harm’s way, move to a safer location. That’s exactly what we’re trying to do.

When you look to relocate U.S. 90 to a safer place and cause minimal disruption to homeowners and businesses, the CSX right of way is the obvious answer. CSX has literally worked non-stop developing an acceptable and affordable answer. We could acquire the right of way by early 2008 and have a new road under construction during 2008. CSX’s proposed cost of approximately $760 million is a fraction of what it would cost to acquire another right of way in this area.

Think of the homes and businesses that would otherwise have to be torn down to build a safer U.S. 90.

There are, of course, other benefits to the Coast in having the railroad moved. It will be an incredible catalyst for development. And old U.S. 90 will become a beautiful scenic beach boulevard.

But Congress should not overlook or minimize the primary purpose of this request: to move a vital transportation corridor, out of harm’s way so that Mississippians will have a better chance of surviving the next disaster.

The president and Congress have been responsive, fair and supportive to Mississippi’s efforts to recover. We are confident these leaders will satisfy their understandable questions about this funding request and will help us rebuild this critical thoroughfare in a place safe from future disasters.

I think Topazi is being a bit disingenuous in his reasoning. If the railroad tracks (and the bridges they ran over) were damaged in Katrina, it’s not clear why moving U.S. Route 90 (which is currently runs between the coast and the railroad tracks) a couple of hundred feet north would mitigate much risk. Beyond that there are other problems: there’s no agreed-upon route for the CSX tracks to run through; many of the current propasals call for making U.S. Route 10, much further north, the main thoroughfare for East-West traffic, and having the CSX corridor turned into a shopping/dining/tourist-friendly pedestrian thoroughfare perhaps also served by streetcars or even light rail; and even before Katrina, the state’s plans called for federal taxpayers to foot at least half the bill for moving the railroad tracks.

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