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Leaders to fight for commuter rail
Jun 04, 2004 12:00 am
Local leaders insist the fight for the Lebanon to Nashville commuter rail line is not over, despite a critical report issued by the state on the proposed line last month.
Local officials plan to respond to issues raised in a recent state review of the commuter rail plan next week, adding they believe the concerns listed in the Tennessee Department of Transportation's report can be adequately addressed.
According to Mt. Juliet City Manager Rob Shearer, the rail's Eastern Corridor Oversight Committee convened last week to review the details of the report.
"We discussed what sort of response we would recommend that the (Regional Transit Authority) make to TDOT, and I think there is work going on right now by the RTA … to prepare a couple of specific recommendations that the RTA will propose back to TDOT," Shearer said, adding the authority will consider the recommendations Wednesday.
Compiled by private consulting agents with PBS&J, the report was – at times – critical of the plan for the Lebanon-to-Nashville leg of the rail project and questioned plans to finance and manage the project.
The report deemed the "financial risk exposure" of the project as high, suggesting the RTA had failed to formulate a financial plan.
Shearer explained Thursday that the financing issue will be addressed through the revision of estimated costs associated with the rail system.
"We're going to update those (numbers) and get more updated numbers. There have been some changes. Steel prices have gone up, among other things," he said. "We'll bring those plans up to the most recent estimates and address any issues that turn up with that."
The assessment also noted a lack of "operational experience" within the ranks of the RTA and recommended the authority seek a management staff with "proven professional experience" on similar rail projects.
That concern will also be addressed, Shearer said, though Lebanon Mayor Don Fox noted the rail's operational consultants are adequately experienced.
"The management has been there. The people that we have on the payroll now in a consulting role actually did the Seattle (and) San Diego railroads – they got them up and operating for a time," Fox said.
Since the rail service is expected to be one-way in its first five years of operation, Fox said the consultants should be more than capable of running the rail line. When the line becomes two-way, he noted, the RTA will begin looking at additional full-time staffing.
Shearer's opinion differed somewhat, however, as he said the RTA had yet to hire an experienced manager in an attempt to "try to hold costs down." The authority will need to hire someone to fill the post, but Shearer said it had "always been a question of if and when."
"It may be that TDOT has expressed some willingness to consider additional funding that might support that position, (but) there's been no commitment made," Shearer said.
And while the TDOT assessment was initially considered a damaging shot to the fate of the commuter rail project, both Shearer and Fox said the report demonstrated the state's interest in completing the project responsibly.
"I think TDOT has indicated that … they're not trying to kill the project. They have some concerns, and they want to work with the RTA to address those concerns," Shearer remarked.
"I would hope that an organization as large and critical to the entire state would be responsible enough to take very close looks at financing and operations of our transportation systems," Fox added. " … I would hope that (TDOT) would give us all of the guidance that they possibly can. I appreciate their input."
Staff Writer Brian Harville can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 16 or by e-mail at email@example.com.