Coastal Region Transportation Summit looks at present, future ideas

Federal grant will help restore rail service from Mobile to New Orleans

BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - Local state and national leaders were on the Coast Thursday to discuss past, present and future transportation needs and how it affects all facets of life in South Mississippi.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, along with some of Mississippi’s Congressional Delegation, made a stop at the first ever Coastal Region Transportation Summit. The event was a chance for local, state, regional and national leaders to discuss the area’s current transportation needs and what’s coming down the road in the next 10-20 years.

One of those projects includes restoring Amtrak rail service from Mobile to New Orleans, and the Southern Rail Commission received a $4.36 million federal grant for the project.

The rail service ended in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina damaged the tracks, and it was never re-instated.

"Our job as a regional agency is to look at those trends and develop a system and a network of transportation components,” said Paul Gavin, Gulf Regional Planning Commission executive director.

The Mississippi Aquarium project and planned east-west corridor were two projects highlighted during the summit.

"We've got to have a vision, not like what's going to be best for us tomorrow, but what's going to be best for us 10 years, 20 years, 30 years down the road, so the east-west corridor, the aquarium, it took vision for things like that,” said Rep. Steven Palazzo.

As many eyes look to the past and the 14th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, projects born out of necessity, like the Biloxi-Ocean Springs bridge, dominate the landscape.

"That’s become more than just a transportation avenue. That’s become a linear park. That’s become a destination, and the same thing was replicated out in Bay St. Louis,” Gavin said.

The hope now is to bridge the transportation gap between the past and the future with projects on the table and on the move.

"All of these things that create jobs are dependent on good transportation,” said Sen. Roger Wicker.

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