CARIBOU, Maine — Federal railroad funding that had been in jeopardy for a week will soon stream into the state and be used for crucial repairs to 233 miles of track in northern Maine, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins announced Friday.
Collins, ranking member of the Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, announced while in Caribou for an engagement at the public library that the Federal Railroad Administration and the Maine Department of Transportation have reached an agreement securing $10.5 million in federal grant funding that had been promised to northern Maine for rail improvements last October.
The U.S. Department of Transportation announced the award of Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, funding to Maine in October 2010. The $30.5 million package included $10.5 million for upgrades and improvements to 233 miles of rail line serving Aroostook and northern Penobscot counties. The state purchased this line after it was proposed for abandonment by Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway.
But the state had not completed all of the paperwork to receive the money, and some lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives tried last Friday to eliminate the funding before it could be used.
The House passed a continuing resolution to eliminate any “unobligated,” or as yet unsecured funds, which included the money for the rail improvements.
Collins acknowledged in a written statement that the move could have resulted in Maine losing the rail funding unless the TIGER money could be secured under the current spending cycle and before final approval in Congress of the budget cuts under discussion.
After the House action, Collins contacted Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood to urge him to expedite release of the funding. She said in a statement Friday that the newly formed agreement between the Federal Railroad Administration and MDOT ensures that these promised funds will not be rescinded even if the language in the House-passed measure becomes law.
“This agreement will preserve critical funding for Northern Maine rail service, the loss of which would have endangered nearly 1,700 jobs in northern Penobscot and Aroostook counties,” Collins said. “I want to thank Secretary LaHood for appreciating how important these funds are to Maine and for working with me and with state officials to ensure that these funds were not lost.”
U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud also praised LaHood in a statement issued Friday for helping to move the project forward.
Michaud voted against the continuing resolution when it was considered by the House last week.
“I applaud the cooperation between state and federal officials,” he said in the statement. “They clearly recognized the value of this critical project to Maine’s economy and worked together to make this happen.”
The remaining $20 million in the TIGER grant package was to go toward the cost of replacing Memorial Bridge in Kittery. A spokesman for Collins said Friday afternoon that the senator has not yet heard about the fate of that funding.