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Louisiana mayors unite to back high-speed rail link

(The following story by Greg Garland appeared on The Advocate website on May 26, 2010.)

BATON ROUGE, La. — The mayors of Baton Rouge and New Orleans said Tuesday they are committed to finding a way to get a high-speed passenger rail service established between Louisiana’s two largest cities.

The comments came at a news conference during which Mayor-President Kip Holden and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu signed an agreement to work cooperatively to promote economic development and cultural activities in their communities.

Gov. Bobby Jindal last fall pulled the plug on a push to seek $300 million federal stimulus dollars to launch a high-speed rail system linking the two cities.

Former Department of Transportation and Development Secretary William Ankner said at the time it would not be financially sustainable and would require $18 million per year in state funds to operate the train service.

Landrieu and Holden both said Tuesday that a passenger rail service would help attract new businesses to the region and draw tourists to attractions and events.

“We believe it will benefit both of us economically,” Holden said. “We are firmly on board with working toward having a rail system between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.”

Landrieu said the governor’s opposition was based on the projected $18 million a year price tag that would need to come from the state’s general fund.

Landrieu said that he, Holden and other supporters of the rail service are talking to parishes along the route “to see if there’s another way to close the deal and get past what the governor’s objections are.”

He said Jindal has indicated a willingness to work toward finding alternatives to allow a passenger rail service to be launched.

Landrieu noted that as a matter of policy, the White House under Obama is encouraging more passenger rail service around the country and is making federal funds available for that purpose.

“There will be high-speed rail across the United States of America,” Landrieu said. “The question is whether the southern part of the country is going to get left out. I don’t want to get left out.”

The purpose of Tuesday’s news conference was the signing of a “memorandum of understanding” between the two cities to jointly promote their communities and the state of Louisiana.

Holden and Landrieu said they became close friends while serving together in the Legislature.

Holden became Baton Rouge’s mayor in 2005; Landrieu took office as New Orleans mayor in January after serving as Louisiana’s lieutenant governor.

“We share a common belief that we are stewards of world-class cities that have not yet seen their true golden age,” Holden said.

The two mayors promised in the resolution that they signed Tuesday to “work together in cooperation, collaboration and mutual respect in support of our respective cities and parishes for a more healthy, educated and economically vibrant region.”

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

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