January 28, 2010 By Casey Mayville
A new mode of U.S. transportation came one step closer to reality on Thursday, Jan. 28, when the Obama administration announced the recipients of nearly $8 billion in stimulus grants that will help seed the planning and construction of high-speed rail corridors.
At a town-hall meeting in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, President Barack Obama joined Vice President Joe Biden in discussing that initiative, which Biden said would spur new jobs, improve existing rail infrastructure, reduce the number of vehicles traveling on congested highways and keep the country on level ground with competitors.
"It's a down payment on a truly national program that will change the way we travel," Biden said.
The funds were divided among 13 travel corridors that touch 31 states. Biden said the administration is committed to providing $5 billion more for the projects over the next five years. The high-speed rail line will move passengers at speeds of 170 to 230 mph, although completed projects are several years, if not decades, away.
Most of the money was awarded to high-density, urban and well traveled routes. For example, one-quarter of the rail funds -- $2.2 billion -- went to California, which has charged a state authority with developing a line that will connect Sacramento to San Diego, visiting San Francisco and Los Angeles along the way.
With a projected completion date of 2020, the 520-mile first phase of the California project will connect passengers traveling to and from the Los Angeles region to San Francisco in less than two hours and 40 minutes. California would be required to begin construction on at least one of the initial four segments by late 2012, and to have at least one segment in operation by 2017. The second phase extends the line to Sacramento and San Diego by 2026. The project's total cost is estimated around $43 billion and will need to begin construction by September 2012 and finish by September 2017 or it will lose the grant.
The California High-Speed Rail Authority could match the grant with voter-approved money -- funds that can only be unlocked when matched -- bringing the total amount closer to $4.5 billion. It also intends to use the money as leverage to attract private investments to fund what it calls the largest infrastructure project in the country.
"By showing leadership and including high-speed rail funding in the Recovery Act, the Obama administration is strongly supporting California's high speed rail project, which is the largest public works project in the nation and will create jobs, save billions of pounds of greenhouse gases and will be the first true-high speed rail system to break ground in the nation," California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said.