The Augusta Commission for several years has been looking for ways to reroute Norfolk and Southern railroad tracks out of the downtown area. There is nothing more of an impediment to healthy downtown business development than those infernal tracks.
The productivity costs alone are enormous. Employees waste hundreds of hours each year waiting for trains to get out of their way so they can get on with their work. It's staggering to consider the lost wages, productiion and opportunities tracks cost this city.
The imminent extension of Bobby Jones Expressway offers a window of opportunity to finally move the tracks out of downtown. The Augusta proposal would relocate the railroad river crossing from where it is now near the Fifth Street Bridge to go parallel with Bobby Jones Expressway across the river into South Carolina.
This, of course, would require approval and participation by North Augusta and, quite likely, Aiken County authorities as well. Land for a key section of the proposed new track must be purchased on the South Carolina side of the river.
Augusta Commissioners Steve Shepard and Andy Cheek, speaking on behalf of their city, crossed the river Monday evening to ask the North Augusta City Council to support construction of the new train route. They're expected to soon make the same request of the Aiken County Council.
Admittedly, there is still a problem of "who pays?" But as Cheek pointed out, state and federal organizations already contributing to the Bobby Jones extension might also assist with the new train track. If not, maybe something else can be worked out later.
What's important for now is not to miss the opportunity to get everyone aboard on a rail relocation project to help create a business boom in downtown Augusta that could reverberate across the river and throughout the region.
There's no time to waste as the South Carolina Department of Transportation will be accepting bids later this month to build the extension. It would be a huge plus if railroad track relocation could be included in the bidding.
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