Feds Divvy Up Florida's $2 Billion in Rail Funds

More than 100 projects sought the money rejected by Florida Gov. Rick Scott. Among the big winners: Amtrak's northeast corridor.
by | May 9, 2011
 

Florida's loss has become the rest of the country's gain. The Department of Transportation announced today the 22 high-speed rail projects that will receive more than $2 billion in funding Florida Gov. Rick Scott rejected earlier this year.

Scott was the latest Republican governor to turn down the funding, when he indicated cost overruns and low ridership could leave his state on the hook for some of the project's cost.

As it has in the past, DOT distributed those funds to other high-speed rail projects, who had quickly applied for the newly-available monies. Prior to taking office, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker also rejected high-speed rail funding, prompting re-distribution of $1.2 billion in funding.

The project receiving the most Florida money is an Amtrak effort to boost capacity and improve speeds in the northeast corridor by upgrading overheard wires between Morrisville, Pa. and New Brunswick, N.J. That, along with other projects in Maryland, New York and Rhode Island, is among a total of $795 million going to the northeast corridor.

Other major recipients include:

  • California's Central Valley Construction Project Extension, which will get $300 million for a 20-mile extension that will extend the track from Fresno to a junction that provides service to San Jose and Merced. The project is part of an effort to establish rail at 220 mph speeds between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
  • New York will get  $295 million to improve rail junctions, ultimately improving wait times for trains entering and exiting Manhattan.
  • Eight corridors in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan and Missouri will get $268.2 million to purchase 48 rail cars and seven locomotives.
  • The Chicago-St. Louis corridor, which gets $186.3 million for construction upgrades between Dwight, Ill. and Joliet, Ill., where trains travel 110 mph over 220 miles of track.
  • The Kalamazoo-Dearborn Service Development in Michigan, which will get $196.5 million for track and signal rehabilitation that would help increase train speeds to 100 mph on a 235-mile stretch between Chicago and Detroit. The improvements will help reduce trip times by 30 minutes.

The full list of recipients if available here.

LaHood, who spoke with reporters on a conference call Monday, said the overwhelming demand for funding – 98 applications totaling $10 billion in requests – indicates high-speed rail is popular nationwide, despite the rejection of funds by Scott and the other Republican governors.

“If you're ready to get into the high-speed rail business, we're ready to allocate some money to your projects,” LaHood said.

The $2 billion was distributed to 22 high-speed rail projects in five states, plus Amtrak. It's part of the president's often-repeated goal of connection 80 percent of Americans to high-speed rail within the next 25 years. The administration has steered a total of $10.5 billion toward high-speed rail projects through the 2009 stimulus bill and other appropriations.

Under the president's budget, the federal government would invest $8 billion in 2012, and $53 billion over the next six years, in high-speed rail.

But executing that plan could be a challenge. The compromise on a spending bill for the rest of 2011 eliminates any more money for high-speed rail this fiscal year, and the 2012 budget passed by House Republicans also eliminates funding for high-speed rail altogether too.

LaHood insisted that the high-speed rail cuts for 2011 “was not a one way street” and was part of the agreement negotiated by the White House. But those cuts were priorities of Republicans, who believe high-speed rail is subsidized too heavily.

But LaHood suggested voters will demand the funding to be restored in 2012 and beyond. “[M]embers of Congress around the country will understand very quickly that their people in their states, in their congressional districts, want high-speed rail,” LaHood said. “High-speed rail is coming to America. There is no going back.”

LaHood, likely trying to boost the case that high-speed rail is a bipartisan cause (despite Republican congressmen who cut funding and Republican governors who reject it) heavily praised Michigan's Republican Governor Rick Snyder. “The governor has a vision,” LaHood said. “He has the same vision we have.”

Among Monday's three media events announcing the funding was a stop by LaHood in Detroit, where he announced money for Chicago-Detroit rail stretch of rail. LaHood says that project is critical to the expansion of light-rail throughout the Midwest.

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