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Light may finally be seen at end of train hub tunnel

A project that has been on the radar since the Bill Godboldadministration looks like it will finally come to fruition afterwhat seemed to be a stalemate over dock height has come to an end,said Mayor Bob Massengill.

The facility first proposed by former mayor Godbold nine yearsago as a $5 million project has encountered hurdle after hurdle,including downsizing of plans and funding among other things. Themost recent obstacle was a 7-inch discrepancy over the height ofthe loading dock.

The Federal Railway Administration refused to allow the dockheight on new facilities to be lower than 15 inches for boardingpurposes, while Canadian National Railways officials said theywould not settle for anything higher than 8 inches, as it coulddamage freight cars.

Massengill said the issue is finally resolved, after more than40 cities around the country were putting off various depotprojects because of the disagreement.

“They’ve finally worked out the dock height issue,” Massengillsaid. “And Amtrak has even said they’ll provide the equipment toassist wheelchair-bound people on to the train.”

Massengill said architects on the project are dotting I’s andcrossing T’s to make sure all plans for the new facility are incompliance with standards set by the FRA, CNR and Amtrak.

The facility will take the place of the old power plant facilitylocated near the smokestack on Railroad Avenue. Officials have saidin the past that any improvement over the current train facilitiesat the corner of Whitworth Avenue and Monticello Street would bewelcome.

At one point the city had asked the Mississippi Department ofTransportation for funds to make a sidetrack with a different dockheight. Massengill said he was told no federal funds can be usedfor that reason. A sidetrack could end up costing between $400,000and $500,000.

The mayor told aldermen more than once that if a compromise wasnot reached on dock height or a solution was not found in the formof a sidetrack or other option, the project would have to bescrapped.

Massengill said MDOT officials were an integral part of tryingto find solutions for the problems the city was encountering inshuttling the project along.

“(Public Transit Division Director) Charles Carr of MDOT wasextremely helpful in trying to make this project a reality, andwe’re excited we’re finally seeing a little light at the end of thetunnel,” he said.

In addition to finally getting the project started, which is avictory in itself, Massengill said the multimodal facility will be,in a way, a facelift for a part of town that could use a goodmakeover.

“This is an area that is really close to the downtown that we’llbe able to greatly improve,” he said. “If everything goes right,we’ll be able to renovate and demolish the old structures andspotlight the smokestack, which will give us another focal point inthe downtown area.”

There are also plans to put in flower beds that Massengill saidlocal gardening groups will help maintain. He said the floraladditions would greatly increase the aesthetic value of thearea.

A second potential issue involved federal funding allocated forthe project in the first place. Approximately $1 million would havehad to have been returned if the facility was never completed or isbuilt and not used for its original stated purpose.