Nowhere Man

Nowhere Man

Copyright 2006, Traffic World, Inc.

Shippers who thought there something of a war over transportation investment turn out to be more accurate than they could have imagined.

It turns out the war effort in Iraq stretches right to the coastline of Mississippi, where the state''s senators believe funds for Fullajah are best spent building a rail line that''s already been built.

After full-throated wailing over the misdirection and missed opportunities in last year''s highway spending bill, Sens. Trent Lott and Thad Cochran are showing just how loudly the lessons of SAFETEA-LU have been heard in Congress.

In fact, those lessons haven''t been heard at all.

Working from the Senate Appropriations Committee, where Cochran is the chairman, the senators pinned $700 million of the $106.5 billion meant for emergency Iraq war spending toward a project to rebuild a rail line along Mississippi''s Gulf Coast.

Just as wars need soldiers, rail lines certainly need rebuilding, especially in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The trouble is, this rail line was rebuilt at a cost of at least $250 million soon after Katrina devastated the coastline.

Lott is taking the lead on this, and he makes a strong case for safety and efficiency in moving the CSX line inland from the coast, parallel to Interstate 10. After all, he wrote in the Biloxi Sun Herald, his own father died in an accident "on a narrow, two-lane road."

How moving the rail line might make the area safer is unclear, but it would certainly make Mississippi''s coastline economically safer for casinos and developers who can think of better uses for the narrow strip of land than as a railbed.

And, if spending $700 million to move the CSX line is more important than other transportation spending, let alone that little matter of Iraq and Afghanistan, then maybe that should be the national priority. But the truth is, there are many, many better uses of federal transportation dollars - Although, did we mention this is war spending? - than building lines that already have been built.

For it''s part, CSX is playing it coy, issuing only a bland statement conceding that yes, by most reasonable estimates, CSX is in fact a railroad. CSX has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in the region and would have shift over to a Norfolk Southern right-of-way, so the company says it is merely providing information to government authorities.

Calling this line the "Railroad to Nowhere," as some have, may be a bit overblown, but only a bit.

The Lott-Cochran giveaway to the casinos evokes the very worst of the transportation bill "earmarks" that were embodied in the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere" project in Alaska.

It also takes the highway bill''s excesses a step further, shunting common sense, transportation planning and those idealistic calls for a national freight movement policy far, far off to the side. And that suggests just how far the transportation world has to go as it prepares for the fight between planning and pork. Nowhere Man

Shippers who thought there something of a war over transportation investment turn out to be more accurate than they could have imagined.

It turns out the war effort in Iraq stretches right to the coastline of Mississippi, where the state''s senators believe funds for Fullajah are best spent building a rail line that''s already been built.

After full-throated wailing over the misdirection and missed opportunities in last year''s highway spending bill, Sens. Trent Lott and Thad Cochran are showing just how loudly the lessons of SAFETEA-LU have been heard in Congress.

In fact, those lessons haven''t been heard at all.

Working from the Senate Appropriations Committee, where Cochran is the chairman, the senators pinned $700 million of the $106.5 billion meant for emergency Iraq war spending toward a project to rebuild a rail line along Mississippi''s Gulf Coast.

Just as wars need soldiers, rail lines certainly need rebuilding, especially in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The trouble is, this rail line was rebuilt at a cost of at least $250 million soon after Katrina devastated the coastline.

Lott is taking the lead on this, and he makes a strong case for safety and efficiency in moving the CSX line inland from the coast, parallel to Interstate 10. After all, he wrote in the Biloxi Sun Herald, his own father died in an accident "on a narrow, two-lane road."

How moving the rail line might make the area safer is unclear, but it would certainly make Mississippi''s coastline economically safer for casinos and developers who can think of better uses for the narrow strip of land than as a railbed.

And, if spending $700 million to move the CSX line is more important than other transportation spending, let alone that little matter of Iraq and Afghanistan, then maybe that should be the national priority. But the truth is, there are many, many better uses of federal transportation dollars - Although, did we mention this is war spending? - than building lines that already have been built.

For it''s part, CSX is playing it coy, issuing only a bland statement conceding that yes, by most reasonable estimates, CSX is in fact a railroad. CSX has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in the region and would have shift over to a Norfolk Southern right-of-way, so the company says it is merely providing information to government authorities.

Calling this line the "Railroad to Nowhere," as some have, may be a bit overblown, but only a bit.

The Lott-Cochran giveaway to the casinos evokes the very worst of the transportation bill "earmarks" that were embodied in the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere" project in Alaska.

It also takes the highway bill''s excesses a step further, shunting common sense, transportation planning and those idealistic calls for a national freight movement policy far, far off to the side. And that suggests just how far the transportation world has to go as it prepares for the fight between planning and pork.