Transportation group OKs $2 million rail plan

Interior project would eliminate all but a few road-to-rail crossings

Posted: Tuesday, June 24, 2008

FAIRBANKS - Transportation officials in Fairbanks have voted to set aside $2 million to reroute train tracks near the Interior city and North Pole.

Railroad officials think the project, which would reroute 20 miles of track, would eliminate all but a few road-to-rail crossings in Fairbanks and on Fort Wainwright.

The Fairbanks Metropolitan Area Transportation Systems Policy Committee made the vote last week.

"The vote was an important step to commit the community to continue to fund the project," said Bruce Carr, the Alaska Railroad Corp.'s strategic planning director.

Carr said half the money would be enough to complete environmental reports for a section of the project running from North Pole to Milepost 9 on the Richardson Highway between the cities.

The other half of the money would be a down payment on what would be a huge reroute. The proposal, commonly referred to as the Southern Bypass, aims to lay new track along the southern fringe of Fairbanks and remove it from neighborhoods in northeast Fairbanks.

A group of local officials and residents, who have pushed the railroad to do more to prepare for the bypass project.

The railroad's train tracks run through and near residential and retail neighborhoods in northeast Fairbanks, a section of town that has grown in recent years.

"This is one of the major safety issues in the state of Alaska," said Don Lowell, a member of the Rail Safety and Development Group who has advocated for the bypass route.

The vote would transfer $2 million in federal highway funds from a now-dormant plan to rebuild University Avenue - a project that could receive millions of dollars via a statewide bond package later this year - toward the railroad reroute.

Donna Gardino, a coordinator for the local transportation system, said public officials will ensure the money can be transferred before incorporating the switch into a transportation-funding schedule. She said the money could be available in December or possibly sooner for the railroad to use.

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