It could cost $2 Billion and take decades to complete. The CSX railroad tracks that run close to the coast could be relocating further inland. The Mississippi Department of Transportation began the year long process to study the proposal late Thursday morning. Project leaders say the project, which many believe to be only a dream, has enough steam to be taken seriously.
"It was the roadway of our grandfathers. It was the access to Gulfport and Biloxi before there was roadways," project manager Barry Brupbacher said.
But the roadways today are interrupted two dozen times a day by CSX freight trains cutting across the coast. Moving the tracks north of I-10 would take the trains away from our densely urbanized coast.
"It's an awesome task to try to relocate the railroad that has been in the coastal area for many years," environmental division engineer for MDOT Claiborne Barnwell said.
That awesome will take planning and money. Congress set aside four million dollars this year for a relocation study.
There are 160 railroad crossings in the three coast counties, and at all types of crossing accidents can occur. Plans for the new railroad include eliminating highway/train intersections by building the new railroad above or below the roads.
"There are constant incidents along the track because of the at-grade, because people cross the railroad everyday, take it for granted, they forget to look one time," Barnwell said.
Though few doubt relocating the tracks would be a safety benefit, there are many obstacles - acquiring land, historical landmarks and cemeteries to name a few. Then, there are the environmental concerns.
"We also have a lot of species of concern that are either threatened or endangered, and we're going to have to identify those habitats and where those species are and try to avoid them as well," Brupbacher said.
Wildlife worries are years away. Moving South Mississippi's railroad tracks is on a slow track, that may take it nowhere.
MDOT says they will conduct an extensive outreach program to get your opinions on the relocation. There are public meetings scheduled for March, the first on March 12, at the Orange Grove Community center.