AASHTO delegates talk transit

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 21, 2010

NATCHEZ — As the second day of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials Spring Meeting concluded Thursday afternoon, delegates Shannon Eggleston and Jillian Barber offered their first impressions of the bluff city.

“We just enjoy the food, the weather and the hospitality,” Barber said.

“People are so friendly here,” Eggleston said. “We went to (Bowie’s Tavern Wednesday night), and it was fun.”

But it hasn’t been all play and no work for Eggleston and Barber, who both live in Washington, D.C. The two have been working long hours coordinating AASHTO meetings, including Thursday’s discussion on high-speed and intercity passenger rail.

Moderated by North Carolina Department of Transportation Secretary Gene Conti, the discussion provided an overview of AASHTO’s efforts to urge the U.S. Congress to enact a National Rail Policy, which emphasizes the importance of a national rail network capable of moving passengers and freight effectively and efficiently.

Such a policy would address a rail system that includes high-speed rail corridors, regional corridors and long-distance service.

Conti said the nation has taken critical steps toward this goal, citing $8 billion in economic recovery funding for high speed and intercity passenger rail, plus an additional appropriation of $2.5 billion in fiscal year 2010.

“(The Obama administration’s) vision is very forward-thinking and will pay off huge dividends for our country,” Conti said.

Other participants in the roundtable discussion included Paul Nissenbaum, director of the office of passenger and freight rail programs for the Federal Railroad Administration; Tony Dorsey, manager of media relations for AASHTO; and Matt Kelly, principal officer of legislative and regulatory policy for Amtrak.

An opening reception for approximately 300 AASHTO delegates was Thursday evening at the Natchez Visitor Reception Center. The reception was followed by a scaled down version of the Angels on the Bluff Tour at Natchez City Cemetery.

The Mississippi Department of Transportation, in conjunction with the City of Natchez, is also hosting a scaled down version of the Great Mississippi Rive Balloon Race for the AASHTO delegates.

A balloon glow is set for 6 to 9 p.m. today at Rosalie. Balloon rides are set for 6 to 9 a.m. Saturday. Both events are for AASHTO delegates and their guests only.

The AASHTO spring meeting will conclude Sunday.