US states compete for high speed rail funding
US states compete for high speed rail funding Dec 2009
Paula Wallis, TunnelTalk
Suddenly states all across America have visions of bullet trains zipping from city to city as they scramble to complete for federal stimulus dollars.
President Obama's commitment of $8 billion for high speed rail (HSR) sparked the gold rush. Following an announcement in April, his Administration was flooded with preliminary requests from more than 40 states and totalling more than $102 billion, including a $20 billion requested from California alone, $12 billion from Nevada, and $11 billion from Maryland.
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10 designated high-speed rail corridors

When the initial panic was over and states started refining their plans and realizing that the first track of funding would be for so-called 'shovel-ready' projects only, their final proposals submitted in August 2009 were much smaller. California's request, for example, shrank from $20 billion to a mere $1.1 billion to build the Transbay Terminal in San Francisco and New York's initial $10 billion request dropped to $500 million to remove a railroad bottleneck. Any state can submit a proposal for HSR funding even though the Federal Government has designated 10 high-spreed rail corridors around the country.
Requests for more long-term, larger projects were submitted in October but here again, the demand far exceeds the pot of money. "We have received numerous applications from states and groups of states," said Joseph Szabo, head of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), "These include 45 applications from 24 states for approximately $50 billion to advance high-speed rail programs. We also received 214 applications from 34 states totaling $7 billion for corridor planning and smaller projects."
New York State topped the list with a proposal for $7.9 billion, followed by California with its request of $4.5 billion and the State of Indian’s request for $2.8 billion.
Of all the states, California is closest to realizing its vision of high-speed trains whisking passengers from San Francisco to Los Angles in under three hours. It is the only one for which its state taxpayers have made a serious commitment of their own, passing a $9 billion bond measure last year for HSR.
Last month (November 2009), Governor Schwarzenegger and US Senators Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer sent a letter to the President pleading the Golden State's case for stimulus funding. They confirmed that "California has completed design and planning for the nearly 800-mile system and made significant progress on the environmental review" and that the plan has “broad support with backing from leading business, environmental and labor leaders" adding that "the California Chamber of Commerce, the Labor Federation of California and the Sierra Club have all endorsed California’s applications for funding." They also argue that at 12.5%, California's unemployment rate is the highest in nearly 70 years and that "the impact of providing 130,000 construction-related jobs statewide cannot be understated."
But several states, including Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Virginia, Florida, North Carolina and Indiana, have submitted multi-billion requests as well, and argue their plans are deserving of stimulus funding too. Florida is requesting $2.6 billion to restart its program for HSR service between Tampa and Orlando. Oklahoma wants $2 billion for a HSR link from Tulsa to Oklahoma City and on to the Texas boarder, and Illinois requests $2.8 billion for a 110mph line connecting Chicago and Cleveland.
The FRA says it will announce which states will receive financing in the beginning of the year. "Our selections will be merit-based and will reflect President Obama's vision to remake America’s transportation landscape," said Szab. "We look forward to evaluating these proposals further and to spurring economic development while providing Americans with clean, energy-efficient transportation choices in the years and decades to come."
When asked if Georgia might receive funding for its $472 million proposal, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said; "it will come to Atlanta if Georgia gets its act together, There has to be a commitment by state government that transit is important."
With that in mind, States are moving fast to convince the Administration of their commitment. On Monday (December 7), legislation passed in the Florida House of Representatives for a commuter rail system in central Florida that also includes more State funding for the existing Tri-Rail commuter system in South Florida and sets up two agencies to oversee the planning and building of future passenger rail systems across the State. And on Wednesday (December 9), the Illinois Department of Transportation announced it had finalized agreements with cities to move HSR forward in that State.
Meanwhile, as states await word on whether they made the stimulus funding cut or not, an appropriations bill is currently working its way through Congress that includes $2.5 billion for HSR for fiscal year 2010, more than doubling the President's original recommendation of $1 billion.
President Obama's vision for high-speed rail - TunnelTalk, Dec 2009
California to bring high speed rail to North America - Video - TunnelCast, Nov 2008
California fixes high-speed rail route - TunnelTalk, Jul 2008
California High Speed Rail plans - Video - TunnelCast, Nov 2008
America's high speed rail aspirations - TunnelTalk, Sept 2006
USA Federal High Speed Rail Corridors
California High Speed Rail Authority
Transbay Terminal
Mexico High Speed Rail

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