City Creates New Position For Rail Realignment

By Christina Haley O'Neal, posted Nov 27, 2018
The city of Wilmington is advertising a new position within its planning, development and transportation department to further the Wilmington rail realignment project, according to city officials. 

The new position expands on the city's effort to continue planning for the project, said Glenn Harbeck, director of the city's planning, development and transportation department. 

The city is looking for qualified applicants for the rail realignment manager position and has posted the job online. The position will aid in the city's effort to implement its plan to create a more efficient and direct freight route to the Port of Wilmington and to repurpose the existing city railways, according to the city's website.

The posting date is open-ended, which "reflects the challenge we have to find someone with that unique skill set," said Harbeck.

The new position will help "continue to build momentum for the project with federal and state funding agencies, as well as the private sector, because this has opportunities for a public-private partnership as well,” Harbeck said.
“The goal at this point is to hopefully complete a more detailed engineering assessment and cost estimates for the project and to complete an environmental evaluation of the project ... ," he said. 

Former Wilmington City Council member Laura Padgett has agreed to continue to volunteer her work with the city on the project until the position is filled. She said the city has agreed to pay for some travel expenses related to her volunteer work.
Padgett has been working through the city manager's office and was appointed by the city as coordinator of the project in January.  

“We are looking for a unique individual with a multitude of skill sets and talents. Hopefully, we can find the right person to take this forward as a full-time employee of the city," Padgett said Tuesday.

The city of Wilmington has been eyeing the Wilmington rail realignment project for several years. Harbeck said that the project was identified by the city as one of its top five key projects in January 2016. The project was chosen for its potential transformative effects for the city, he added.

"This project has a tremendous impact potential for transforming the south side of Wilmington," Harbeck said, with a main goal of the project also to provide a more direct rail line between the Davis Rail Yard and the Port of Wilmington. 

For the south side of town, the project would put "all those vacant and underutilized early 20th century buildings back in service," he said. "The main thing you don’t want to overlook is the state port benefit of direct access of rail without having to cross 32 streets in the city. That’s a huge benefit for everybody."

Since Padgett has been heading the project, she chaired the Mayor’s Taskforce on Rail Realignment, which ended in mid-2017 with the completion of a feasibility study and city council's acceptance to continue to move it forward.

This year, she has been heading up meetings with local, state and federal officials, along with rail companies such as CSX and North Carolina Railroad Co., Padgett said. 
In addition, she has led the creation of a grant application to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) for $2 million with a $500,000 local match. The application was approved by the city council through a resolution in September and submitted in October, Padgett said. The funds would support preliminary engineering and complete environmental documentation for the rail realignment, she added.

“It passed the first check mark … the project is eligible and now hopefully we are able to compete,” Padgett said.

The FRA is slated to announce the grantees sometime in early 2019, she said.
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