Feds Give $2.5 Billion for CA High Speed Rail. FL, WI and the Northwest Also Winners

6a00e551eea4f588340120a81c4c92970b.jpgClick here for a larger version. Image: USDOT

(Editor’s note: Get some local coverage at LAist and The Source.)

In his State of the Union address last night, President Obama hinted at what many in the transportation world have anticipated
all week: Florida’s emergence as a winner in the race for a share of
the White House’s $8 billion (and growing) high-speed rail fund.

But Florida will not be the biggest beneficiary of the
administration’s first rail rollout. The state taking home the most
high-speed aid today is California, which snagged $2.25 billion to
begin the process of linking Anaheim and San Francisco. Gov. Arnold
Schwarzenegger’s administration had sought more than double that amount to begin its $42 billion rail project.

Florida is set to receive $1.25 billion for Tampa-to-Orlando rail service, while Illinois is getting
about the same amount to begin environmental studies on a
Chicago-to-St. Louis route and improve speeds between Alton and Dwight
to 110 miles per hour (mph).

Other states celebrating this
morning include Wisconsin, which got $810 million for upgrades to
trains between Madison and Milwaukee; North Carolina, winner of $520
million for improvements of service between Raleigh and Charlotte; and
Washington and Oregon, which got $590 million to boost the rail link
between Seattle and Portland.

House infrastructure committee
chairman Jim Oberstar (D-MN) hailed today’s first rail grants as "a
transformational moment," adding: "The development of high-speed rail
in the United
States is an historic opportunity to create jobs, develop a new
domestic
manufacturing base, and provide an environmentally-friendly and
competitive
transportation alternative to the traveling public."

The
president and Vice President Biden are set to officially announce the
rail winners this afternoon. But after a process marked at times by
parochial jockeying for funds and concern
over whether federal aid would be awarded in too piecemeal a fashion,
it was not surprising to see Republicans seize upon the potential
pitfalls of the high-speed program.

Rep. John Mica (R-FL),
whose district in Central Florida is among today’s big winners,
released a statement that started out on a positive note but quickly
shifted to a scathing critique of the administration’s rail vision for lacking maximum speeds that approach those in Europe and China, where bullet train passengers rocket along at 150 mph and faster.

“Even the first leg
of the Orlando-Tampa route will be a slow-speed, short-stop line,” Mica said. “The Midwest
routes chosen will only achieve a top speed of 110 miles per hour and were selected
more for political reasons than for high-speed service.”

Several
of the rail upgrades receiving funds today are expected to improve top
speeds to 90 mph or less, including the North Carolina project and an
Ohio bid to start train service between Cleveland and Cincinnati.

Mica
also decried the lack of any significant funding to improve Amtrak’s
northeast corridor, which he termed an "unfortunate hijacking" that
would ensure service between Boston and Washington "remain[s] the
slow-speed stepchild of passenger rail
transportation."

In a knock at the northeast route’s popularity with commuting lawmakers — including, most famously, the vice president — Mica added: "Keeping the Northeast Corridor as a private train set for a
few select politicians will insure continued congestion in our nation’s
most densely populated region."

The
northeast region will receive $112 million in total today, including
$38.5 million to build a new rail bridge in northern New Jersey that
will create expanded commuting capacity in anticipation of the massive Access to the Region’s Core tunnel connecting the region to New York City.

Mica
was joined by Rep. Bud Shuster (R-PA) in his critical statement.
Meanwhile, Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) — a major proponent of modern
rail service along New York’s upstate Empire Corridor — had only good
things to say about today’s announcement although her region looked to
miss out on the initial round of high-speed aid.

"In addition
to creating construction and design jobs, the investment in rail will
help the U.S. economy in a myriad of other ways, such as easing
congestion on roads, reducing pollution and helping to bring
development to different communities," Slaughter said.

Even
as the White House gives its rail investment a deserved dose of pomp
and circumstance today, advocates for U.S. high-speed train service
continue to look to the future as a gauge of the administration’s
commitment. Congress’ $2.5 billion appropriation for 2010 will need to
be matched in future years, rail planners say, in order to make even
one state’s proposal a reality before the decade is through.

As the group America 2050 put it in statement released before the winning states emerged:

We recognize that tomorrow’s funding announcement represents less
than 5 percent of what will be needed to build a truly national HSR system. In
1956, President Eisenhower initiated the Interstate Highway System, which was
built over several decades in partnership with the states through a sustained
funding commitment and a dedicated revenue source by the federal government. To
realize a national vision for high-speed rail, a similar funding commitment by
the federal government will be required.

  • It is important to remember the facts surrounding President Eisenhower’s plan to establish the Interstate Highway System but with one major caveat; The downsizing of public rail transit industry was promoted by Eisenhower’s disdain for railroads and their union employees. He gave way to the trucking industry at public expense to the American taxpayers. Clearly, to study history about the decline of passenger rail service in the United States we examine the facts not just details of how and why Los Angeles lost the trolley cars (Pacific Electric) the GREEN-Eco friendly railroad. Today our country must rebuild the public rail transit infrastructure with the same committment that Americans built the freeways, national parks, hydro-electric dams, and stop giving the trucking industry a “Free Ride” on our tax dollars!!!

  • David Galvan

    woo hoo! Good start!

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