05/13/13 — City eyeing grant for new station

View Archive

City eyeing grant for new station

By Matt Caulder
Published in News on May 13, 2013 1:46 PM

Goldsboro is seeking grant help as officials continue not only downtown development, but plans for a new train/transfer station.

The deadline for applications for the fifth round of Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery discretionary grants through the U.S. Department of Transportation is approaching.

The city, through the Downtown Goldsboro Development Corp., is in the process of gathering the application materials for the 2013 TIGER grant funding to complete renovations to Goldsboro Union Station as well as to fund the construction of a GATEWAY transfer station next to the train station and to complete two blocks of Streetscape.

The project is projected to cost $27 million, with a minimum local match of $5.4 million, which Goldsboro would be responsible for if the city is awarded a grant.

In the interim, until passenger rail comes back through Goldsboro, if ever, Union Station would serve as a meeting space for the town as well as for private rental.

"Goldsboro lacks a meeting space," City Manager Scott Stevens said. "We have all of these Goldsboro functions that aren't in Goldsboro."

Stevens cited events such as the Purple Heart Dinner.

Moving forward with streetscape will connect the area in front of the station back to downtown, Stevens said.

"Pulling Union Station back into downtown is good whether rail shows up or not," he added. "The question is, 'Do the TIGER people see that use?'."

When or if passenger rail will come back to Goldsboro is a question that has been discussed for a long time.

In 2004, the North Carolina DOT Rail Division conducted a study on the feasibility of passenger rail in southeastern NC.

The study found that to complete a railway from Wilmington to Raleigh through Goldsboro with improvements to existing track to handle speeds of 79 mph would cost an estimated $184 million.

Running rail from Wilmington to Raleigh through Pembroke with the same types of improvements was found to only cost an estimated $125 million.

Neither line has been completed since the study was done nearly a decade ago.

A large portion of the cost goes to updating existing track and signals to adjust for the increase of speeds from normal freight speeds of 25-40 mph to passenger rail speeds of 59-79 mph.

Stevens said revitalizing the station and area immediately around it could inspire home-owners to fix up their properties and could attract new business to the area.

"(The area around Union Station) is in decay and looks bad," Stevens said. "With Union Station looking new again, people will feel comfortable in that part of the community. If it looks nicer, businesses are more willing to take a chance."

Stevens hopes to encourage more downtown foot-traffic with a completed streetscape along with private improvements to apartments in the downtown area.

"Center Street wasn't meant to be a pedestrian area, but we're trying to change that," he said. "We want people to feel like they are supposed to sit in the middle of it."

Goldsboro City Council heard the application proposal from Downtown Goldsboro Development Corp. Director Julie Metz at its May 6 meeting.

This year's proposal will be cover a much wider scope than the 2012 plan, which was not selected for funding.

The 2012 application included a request for funding to complete streetscapes and to renovate the exterior of the train station, but not the interior.

Ms. Metz said this was one of the application's weaknesses.

By not completely renovating the station, the city was not left with a building that could be used, which is something the granting board looks for, she said.

The new proposed project, which the City Council gave preliminary approval to start the lengthy application process at the May 6 meeting, would broaden the scope of the application from a $13 million project to a $27 million project.

Acceptance of grant funding comes with a 20 percent non-federal funding match meaning that if granted $27 million in funding from the TIGER program the city would be responsible for matching at least $5.4 million for the project.

Those funds would have to be borrowed.

The city currently holds a debt amount of $46,620,496, Finance Director, Kaye Scott said.

Funds to pay down the debt come from the general fund, which is filled directly by citizen tax dollars and from the utilities fund, which comes from service charges for utility access.

One weakness identified in the last grant application was only offering the minimum match.

Ms. Metz advised offering a larger match than the minimum to show the community's commitment to the project.

The application period began April 29, just one day before US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood visited Goldsboro with District 1 U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield.

LaHood visited Union Station as well as the current GATEWAY transfer station and said that the project looked like the type of projects the TIGER program has funded in the past.

This year's round of TIGER grants has $474 million to grant to different projects.

Projects must be at least $10 million for a city Goldsboro's size to qualify for possible funding.