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Money continues to flow for Georgia rail projects

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(The Center Square) — The Peach State is flush with cash for a series of rail upgrades throughout the state.

This month, the Georgia Ports Authority Board agreed to spend $127 million to build an inland rail terminal in Gainesville. The Blue Ridge Connector, expected to open in 2026, would link the Port of Savannah’s 35 global container ship services with Northeast Georgia and serve producers of food, forest products and heavy equipment in the region.

To fund the project, port officials will use GPA capital and up to $46.8 million from a Federal Maritime Administration grant. Norfolk Southern Railway will link the facility to GPA’s Mason Mega Rail terminal in Savannah.

“This important investment will help our customers streamline their supply chains while reducing congestion on Georgia highways,” GPA President and CEO Griff Lynch said in an announcement. “As we have seen at the Appalachian Regional Port in Murray County, improved rail service to the region will increase transportation efficiency and act as a magnet for jobs and economic development.

“Every container moved by rail will avoid a 600-mile roundtrip by truck between Savannah and the Gainesville, area,” Lynch added. “That’s a massive benefit to cargo owners seeking to reduce their carbon footprint.”

Port officials said roughly one-fifth of GPA’s container cargo moves by rail, while trucks handle the rest. GPA officials said the authority has spent more than $374 million to expand rail capacity, including the Appalachian Regional Port in Northwest Georgia and the on-dock Mason Mega Rail Terminal at the Port of Savannah.

Meanwhile, the United States Department of Transportation has awarded a $12 million grant to mitigate railroad crossing blockages in Millen. The Georgia Department of Transportation will chip in $3 million for the project, part of GDOT’s 2021 State Rail Plan.

Officials said blocked rail crossings in Millen have impacted local and freight traffic and raised safety concerns, and the project aims to eradicate an at-grade crossing on the Millen Bypass. The grant will support the project’s initial phase.

“The infrastructure improvements made in Millen will enhance safety, ease traffic, improve freight efficiency and boost regional economic growth,” state Sen. Max Burns, R-Sylvania, said in an announcement. “This project reflects the shared commitment to creating safer, more efficient transportation solutions across the state.”

Separately, the federal government has awarded $1.5 million to study the possibility of running passenger trains on a trio of corridors in Georgia — Atlanta-to-Savannah, Charlotte-to-Atlanta and Atlanta-to-Chattanooga-to-Nashville-to-Memphis.

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