Railroads are set to receive $5 million in state funding to keep up with the demand for new track and other upgrades.
The Palmette Railway Board approved the $5.5 million grant on Wednesday to build a $2 billion, 7-mile extension between Fort Myers and Daytona Beach, a project that will also provide more capacity for train operators.
It’s the first time the rail system will receive state support to maintain existing track and infrastructure, said Tim Dennison, the state’s top public works official.
“It’s a big deal for the South Carolina economy,” Dennion said.
The new track is slated to open by 2019.
“Our focus is on the South,” said Dan DeWitt, the governor’s transportation director.
“The goal is to make sure we’re getting more trains.
This is going to be the busiest and most efficient system we have in the state.”
The Pal Mette Rail Extension will also bring some of the state to the forefront of a major infrastructure investment: the construction of a new railroad tunnel in a rural area near the coast.
A $4 billion tunnel was built in the 1960s for the Interstate 95 rail line.
The tunnel now connects Palmetts Lake to the rest of the rail line, making it easier to reach South Carolina’s booming tourism industry.
“This is one of the biggest infrastructure investments we’ve ever made,” DeWatt said.
“We’re going to make it easier for people to get around and have better access to South Carolina.”
The state is also working on a $3.9 billion upgrade to a rail line that runs from Daytona Beach to Tampa.
The $1.8 billion project, which is expected to be complete by the end of 2018, will bring about 5,400 new jobs and nearly $400 million in economic activity.
DeWit said the $1 billion in state money will help keep the rail network operational.
The extension is part of a $35 billion regional rail plan, which also includes construction of two new high-speed rail lines, one of which is to be built by General Motors.
That line will be the first in the U.S. to serve the Gulf Coast, where the new track will link with the existing Northeast Corridor.
The other high-tech line is being built by the Southern California Edison System, the second major electric utility in the Southeast.
De Witt said the South has the “tremendous opportunity” to have more trains and more service in the future.
“These two lines will connect to other rail systems in the region and will provide more direct service to the region,” he said.
But the project is also a test of the economic impact of the region’s rail boom.
While there’s little evidence of the railroad’s revival, DeWitter said it’s important to keep the South on track.
“I think the public expects the state of South Carolina to continue to invest in our infrastructure and our roads,” he added.
“To have it happen at this point, we’re really proud of the investments that are being made.
I hope we can do the same for this project.”
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