May 22, 2018
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Officials fight to keep rail funds

John Clarke Russ | BDN
John Clarke Russ | BDN
Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway conductor Jarrad Clark hangs on the back car as the train motors over broken rail ties in Masardis in March 2010. The state of Maine purchased the 233 miles of rail in 2010 and plan to upgrade them with the help of $10.5 million in federal grant money. The fate of the money is uncertain, however, as the U.S. House considers eliminating the funding.
By Jen Lynds, BDN Staff

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — State and local officials are working with members of Maine’s congressional delegation to make the federal government release $30.5 million that was awarded to Maine last year for bridge and rail improvements, despite U.S. House of Representatives efforts to eliminate the funding.

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 remaining $20 million was to go toward the cost of replacing Memorial Bridge in Kittery.

But the state has not yet completed the paperwork to receive the money and some lawmakers are trying to eliminate the funding before it can be used.

Kevin Kelley, communications director for U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, said Wednesday that the House passed a continuing resolution last week eliminating any “unobligated,” or as yet unsecured funds, which included the $30.5 million TIGER grant for the Maine projects.

Collins acknowledged in a written statement that this could result in Maine losing the rail and bridge funding unless the TIGER money can be secured under the current spending cycle and before final approval of the budget cuts.

“It’s unfortunate that the House never considered an amendment that would have helped protect funding for the northern Maine rail line and the Memorial Bridge projects,” Collins said in the statement. “These are important infrastructure projects that are crucial to the flow of goods and services in Maine and for keeping and at-tracting new jobs to our state.”

Kelley said Collins will be meeting with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood next week to ask him to cut through the bureaucratic red tape that is impeding the release of the TIGER funds.

“The state and private investors are committing resources for these projects; the federal government should provide the resources it promised in October,” Collins said.

Nate Moulton, director of rail programs for the Maine Department of Transportation, said Wednesday that it would be “problematic” for the state to make the necessary repairs and upgrades to the rail line if the TIGER grant did not come through. But he said he was optimistic that the state would receive the federal funding.

“We have already filed the majority of the paperwork that we need to get the funding,” he said. “We have had most of it submitted since November. We are still pretty optimistic that we will get it because we did most of our work and we are ready to go with the project once we receive the money.”

He said that state and federal leaders will work toward getting the money secured so that it can be funneled into Maine.

Kelley said that the U.S. Senate also could include the TIGER funding when that chamber works on its version of the transportation appropriations bill. Then, if the House and Senate versions of the bill remain at odds, the two chambers would work to reconcile the differences.

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