Report To The People
By Tommy Reynolds
The highlight of legislative action for me last week was the passage of House Bill 1537, which provides a $30 million bond to support an eight-county railroad authority for the rail service that runs through Yalobusha, Tallahatchie, and Grenada counties.
The bond will be used for the acquisition of the rail line that runs from Memphis to just north of Canton, known as the “Old Illinois Central Line.” That line had been previously acquired by Grenada Railway LLC, which had proposed permanent abandonment of the line south of Grenada. Permanent abandonment of this rail would greatly undermine the economic viability of the remaining line and hurt economic development prospects for the entire region served by it.
HB 1537 will allow the North Central Mississippi Railroad Authority to authorize operation of the line by another company that has been in negotiations for the purpose of operating the railway at its full capacity. Being able to transfer ownership of the line will help insure that it is preserved. If this deal is successful, the rail line will pay back the bonds within 15 years of issuance, under the terms of the measure.
Rail is an essential component of commerce. It moves volumes of freight efficiently, economically and in an environmentally sound system. More than many methods of transport, rail often spans the shortest route from Point A to Point B, saving both time and money.
Loss of only one mile of rail in our state is a betrayal of the future generation’s ability to count on this irreplaceable infrastructure asset as an underpinning of their communities.
I have been strongly supportive of the efforts to preserve this rail line. Once stable ownership and accessibility of the railway is secured through the bond funding, our merchants and manufacturers along the route will be able to move their product and order essential supplies, and, we can expect that new industry will be attracted to our area as well. This is an important tool in our development tool belt.
Our area is ripe for additional economic projects, and by maintaining our rail service and other essential infrastructure, we should be better able to attract meaningful development.
This session has seen a number of important economic development measures considered and passed, and I’ve been pleased to have co-sponsored a number of them. The Mississippi Main Street Investment Act, which will provide loans to rural towns to revitalize their downtown areas is one such measure. There is also consideration of a bill that provides grants for infrastructure and public property repairs through the Small Municipalities and Limited Population Counties fund, a limited bond program for capital improvements for our community and junior colleges, and a bond program for our state parks to help them repair and restore these family-oriented recreation assets.
Each of these measures has been the result of teamwork among those of us in the House who recognize that by supporting our rural and smaller municipalities, we will be guaranteeing the ability of our young people to stay home in Mississippi if they want to, and realize a full, productive life.