Train center may open next month

Published 5:35 pm Thursday, August 28, 2008

Months of delays have kept Picayune’s new Intermodal Transportation Center from hosting train and bus passengers inside its doors.

The first anticipated completion date for the center was January of this year. As of Tuesday, Grant Administrator Barbara McGrew estimates a new opening date to be sometime in mid to late September.

That date relies on when remaining items slated for completion are finished, such as painting, cleanup, benches for the waiting room and landscaping.

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McGrew said the only thing that would keep the center from reaching it’s September grand opening would be adverse weather conditions hindering landscaping. Waiting room benches should be complete this week or next.

McGrew said the city has not made any big changes that would have held up completion of the center. The only changes McGrew listed included changing the paint color. She said the delay has to do with the contractor.

“It certainly had nothing to do with the City of Picayune,” McGrew said.

A call to Kanduit Construction Wednesday, the contractor in charge of the center’s construction, failed to get a comment on the center. Jim Knipper, owner and operator of Kanduit Construction said he had to check with McGrew before making a comment. As of Thursday morning Knipper had not returned the call to comment.

McGrew said the contractor had a deadline to meet and has not been able to meet it. Each time she would ask for a completion date Kanduit Construction would only give a tentative date. When the comapny failed to meet those dates, McGrew said she did not ask why.

Another piece of the center’s construction, a new platform, has not even begun. Amtrak has requested the new platform so it will only have to make one stop to let all passengers off at the same time. That platform is slated to be constructed out of concrete and to be about 600 feet long. The existing asphalt platform is shorter and forces the train to let passengers off of one car at a time, she said.

The platform is slated for construction at some point, but the contract for its construction has not been let. Right-of-way details still need to be worked out with Norfolk Southern before the council can make a decisions on the matter.

A comment at a budget workshop said that Amtrak would cease stops in Picayune if the platform was not installed. McGrew said the train company has made no such statement to her.

“There’s no reason why we can’t open the train center without a new platform,” McGrew said.

A grant to pay for the platform has not been found, but McGrew said she is looking. She expects it will be a city expensem so she included that cost, expected to be about $125,000, in her budget request for the next fiscal year. The budget will not be finalized until mid September.

When it does open, the Intermodal Transportation Center should have a meeting room, access to purchase bus and train tickets and may have a museum. The museum is still an option under discussion.

“As with all things, the final decision rests with the council,” McGrew said.

When the center is opened McGrew said it will be a building the community can be proud of. Previously there was a gazebo with a pay phone as its only amenity for passengers to wait for the train, she said.

The cost to construct the center was mostly funded through a grant form the Federal Transit Administration, which paid for 80 percent of the estimated $875,000 price point. The remaining 20 percent was paid for by the city.