April 16, 2009 By Elaine Rundle
Today President Barack Obama revealed a strategic plan to accelerate the development of high-speed rail across the country. He said high-speed rail is necessary to improve the environment and reduce traffic congestion and dependence on foreign oil.
In February, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act allocated $13 billion for the development of high-speed rail. The Obama administration designated an additional $5 billion for it in the White House's proposed budget that will be disbursed in $1 billion increments over five years beginning with fiscal 2010.
The federal government classifies high-speed rail as trains between cities that travel at least 110 mph.
According to the Federal Railroad Administration press release, likely recipients of the funding are: California, the Pacific Northwest, south central, the Gulf Coast, the Chicago hub network, Florida, the southeast, Keystone, Empire and northern New England.
Obama wants state and local communities to create plans of 100- to 600-mile corridors, and the grants may be disbursed as early as late summer 2009.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the strategic plan identifies three funding tracks:
In an interview with Reuters Financial Television, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the stimulus money will jump-start high-speed rail, but that financing it nationally will cost significantly more.
Some states are hoping to obtain large grants, but they won't make much of a dent in the overall cost of building a rail system. According to the California High-Speed Rail Authority's Web site, the cost of connecting San Francisco to Los Angeles through an 800-mile system will cost approximately $45 billion.
"The cost of a high-speed train is $40 billion, and that's a lot of money," Mehdi Morshed, executive director of the California authority, told Government Technology in 2007. "But, over the same period of time that we're talking about building a high-speed train, California is going to spend more than $200 billion on highways and other transit modes in the state. Relative to all the other expenditures, it's not that huge of a change."
Eight Midwestern governors hope to obtain $3.4 billion of the funding to begin building the Chicago Hub Network. The group said the funds would cover Phase I, which would connect Chicago to St. Louis; Chicago to Milwaukee to Madison, Wis.; and Chicago to Detroit to Pontiac, Mich.
"I believe Missouri and the other states in our region present a compelling and united case to the Obama administration to fund these projects," said Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon in a statement on April 14. "Our states have been working on this rail initiative for more than a decade, and we will aggressively compete for these recovery act funds specifically designated for high-speed rail projects."
The next deadline for the U.S. Federal Railroad Administration is June 17, when information must be released regarding guidance on how the competitive grants will be evaluated.