The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has given the go ahead to the Alaska Railroad to construct a rail extension linking Houston to Port MacKenzie.
The Corps announced Monday that it has issued the department of the Army wetlands permit under section 404 of the Clean Water Act.
Issuance of the permit allows the Matanuska – Susitna Borough to move forward with construction of the rail link.
The permit authorizes the Alaska Railroad to permanently fill more than 95 acres of wetlands to construct about 35 miles of new rail line.
Mat Su Borough manager John Moosey:
“We are very pleased. We have been working through this. We have a 550 page Environmental Assessment Impact Statement that allows us to construct this in an environmentally safe manner, and we intend to do so. With this announcement we are able to continue with segment one on construction. And then also, too, we are prepared to issue another proposal out for bid so we can get segment three started which is up toward Houston area.”
Moosey says the construction will take place in several segments, over the next couple of years. Preliminary work on segment one has already started, although continuation of the work depended on approval of the wetlands permit.
“We’ll be able to have them continue with their project. Segment 6 I think is the next one we are starting on, which is up by Houston. So they do not go in order, one, two, three, four, five, six. We have the segments and they are constructed at different parts of the rail where have the right of way, and where we can have different contractors working at the same time. “
According to the Borough, the Alaska Railroad will give the embankment construction contract for the first five miles of the spur to Bristol Constructors. Construction on the embankment and bridges for the wetlands sections is to begin immediately.
The Railroad will next issue invitations to bid for additional segments this month and in October. Other bids will be issued in the spring of next year, although some segments of the project are not funded yet. The Borough has asked the state legislature for 80 million dollars for 2013 for the rail spur project.
$46.5 million will then be required to be appropriated in the 2014 legislative session to fund construction for specific items such as correcting embankment settlement and placement of ties, track, signals, communications and other rail operational items along the total length of the extension. If there are no delays, the spur project is expected to be completed in 2015.
The Mat-Su Borough wants the rail spur to enable Southcentral and Interior natural resources products to reach tidewater shipping facilities at the port. Environmentalist groups have filed suit against the Port MacKenzie rail spur in federal court. That suit is pending.
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