California, Florida top list to secure high-speed-rail funds
(The following story by Christopher Conkey appeared on the Wall Street Journal website on May 8, 2009.)
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood singled out California and Florida as leading candidates to secure federal funding for high-speed passenger-rail service.
"California and Florida are way ahead of the curve," Mr. LaHood said Friday at a breakfast gathering in Washington. He stressed that no final decisions have been made.
The Federal Railroad Administration, part of the Department of Transportation, will start awarding $8 billion in grants under the economic-stimulus program later this year to states with viable plans for building high-speed rail lines or upgrading existing passenger rail service. The Obama administration, in budget details released Thursday, said it wants to spend another $1 billion annually on high-speed rail over the next five years. Congress must approve the use of that $5 billion as part of its review of the fiscal 2010 budget.
Mr. LaHood said President Barack Obama "believes very deeply" that the U.S. should embark on a decades-long effort to establish a national network of high-speed passenger rail service, akin to the interstate-highway system launched by President Dwight D. Eisenhower more than five decades ago. The U.S. has to date spent more than $1 trillion to build and maintain the interstate highway system.
States and rail advocates are already jockeying to try and secure some of the federal transportation funding. Florida officials said they hoped to secure $1.5 billion to build rail service connecting Tampa and Orlando. California hopes to win significant funding for a planned, high-speed rail system with bullet trains traveling more than 200 miles an hour. The project, which would cost at least $30 billion, would initially link Los Angeles to San Francisco and later expand to San Diego and Sacramento. The state also hopes to secure grants to upgrade its existing network of intercity and commuter lines.
Mr. LaHood said "no one corridor is going to get all of this money" and that the DOT is "looking to create opportunities in every corridor that wants to make progress." Mr. LaHood has been meeting with many state and local officials to hear their arguments for securing passenger rail funding, including a meeting on Thursday with San Francisco mayor and California gubernatorial candidate Gavin Newsom.
Mr. Obama unveiled the administration's general approach to spending the $13 billion in transport funding last month. The Federal Rail Administration is expected to release more formal criteria for states to apply for funds in the weeks ahead. Still, Mr. LaHood said he had gained some early impressions through his meetings with state officials.
California is "way, way, way ahead," he said. As for the Midwest, where many officials are hoping to place Chicago at the center of a high-speed rail network stretching to St. Louis, Minneapolis, Cleveland and Detroit, Mr. LaHood said, "They're not in that position yet."
Mr. LaHood said he could envision funding "to get a little higher speed" for the Northeast corridor between Washington and Boston, which is the most popular passenger rail corridor in the country and the closest thing the nation has to European-style high-speed service. He also suggested funding could be used to "extend [that network] further up north to Vermont, Maine."
Monday, May 11, 2009
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