California's not alone in pursuit of federal high-speed rail money

McClatchy NewspapersApril 6, 2011 

WASHINGTON — California is facing competition from two dozen other states and regions in the fight for hundreds of millions of dollars in additional federal high-speed rail funds.

The competitors all met this week's deadline for seeking a share of $2.4 billion that Florida didn't want.

And with the states asking for a total of nearly $10 billion — four times the amount that's available — it's already clear that California will not get all it's asking for.

"Since I announced the availability of an additional $2.4 billion for high-speed rail projects, governors and members of Congress have been clamoring for the opportunity to participate," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Wednesday.

LaHood did not specify when he would announce the next round of rail funding, though he made a point of citing "bipartisan enthusiasm" for high-speed rail. In doing so, he was apparently seeking to offset the increasingly partisan tilt to high-speed rail, as three Republican governors have rejected the high-speed rail dollars and congressional Republicans have increasingly voiced skepticism.

"I don't think it's a good investment," Rep. Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, the Republicans' House majority whip, said last month.

McCarthy and other Central Valley Republicans, including Reps. Devin Nunes of Visalia and Jeff Denham of Atwater, declined recently to sign a letter circulated by California Democrats in support of the state's application for additional rail funding.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority has applied for the entire $2.43 billion rejected by Florida Gov. Rick Scott. Currently, California's initial planned123-mile route would reach from Bakersfield to rural Madera County. With additional federal funding, the initial route would extend to Merced.

Depending on how much additional money California might receive, officials say the initial route also could either be stretched even closer to the San Francisco Bay Area from Merced or into the Tehachapi Mountains from Bakersfield.

California's competitors, though, likewise maintain they have a good claim on the money.

Connecticut, for instance, submitted what its officials called a "robust application" for $227 million in additional federal funds. The money would help improve rail service between the state capital of Hartford and the city of Springfield in southern Massachusetts.

Underscoring the ambiguities surrounding the phrase "high-speed rail," Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy wrote LaHood that the funding would help trains reach speeds of 110 miles per hour. In California, high-speed rail proponents say their trains will reach 220 mph.

"Unlike other states, we are building a true high-speed rail in California, that will travel at over 200 mph, compete with other modes of transportation and be profitable," Roelof van Ark, chief executive officer of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, said Wednesday. "That has always put us in a great position to compete for federal funds."

Not to be outdone, Amtrak is seeking an additional $1.3 billion for projects including a new bridge over the Hackensack River in New Jersey and new tunnels under the Hudson River in New York.

"The Northeast region's population, economic densities and growing travel demand make it an ideal location for federal investment in high-speed and intercity passenger rail service," Amtrak declared in a statement.

The Transportation Department received new funding applications from 24 states, the District of Columbia and Amtrak, which wants funding for its multistate Northeast Corridor. Some states, including California, submitted discrete applications for more than one project. All told, funding is being sought for more than 90 projects.

The Transportation Department said its "merit-based" decisions on funding will take into account a project's ability to reduce energy consumption, improve regional transportation efficiency and generate local jobs.

McClatchy Newspapers 2011

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