Wednesday, January 27, 2010

President picks Florida to announce HSR grants

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President Obama and Vice President Biden are speaking at the University of Tampa during a town hall meeting Thursday, Jan. 28, beginning at 12:30 p.m., to announce the recipients of $8 billion in ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) high speed rail grants awarded by the Federal Railroad Administration. According to the Tampa Bay Business Journal, the event is open to the public, with a limited number of tickets available. Announcements will be made concurrently in other states.


barack-obama-thumbs-up.jpgThe White House has confirmed that the grants will be announced Thursday. “Thirteen major corridors will receive awards on Thursday to help develop new high speed rail infrastructure or begin the transition to high speed rail,'” the White House said in a statement. “In addition, smaller awards will also be made for improvements to portions of existing rail lines. Overall, 31 states will benefit from the awards, which will lay the groundwork for a nationwide high speed rail system. The $8 billion in Recovery Act awards is part of an overall $13 billion high speed rail investment the President announced last year as part of his strategic plan for high speed rail. The other $5 billion would be funded through the annual budget process.”


Why Florida for Obama’s high speed rail announcement? One Florida legislator, Democratic Congresswoman Kathy Castor from the 11th District (which includes Tampa), distributed a press release today that claims the HSR project in her state—essentially, the Orland-Tampa segment of the FOX (Florida joe-biden.jpgOverland eXpress) project, killed by former Governor Jeb Bush, but now dusted off and polished—will receive federal grant money. Obama and Biden will announce a “monumental” jobs initiative involving the ARRA and $8 billion in HSR grants, Castor’s release said. “President Obama wants to increase the pace of recovery. Creation of thousands of jobs for Floridians will accelerate better times in Florida. Construction workers will be needed to build rail lines. Engineers will be needed to lay the groundwork. Operations and maintenance workers will be needed to keep the line running smoothly. The ripple effect cannot be understated.” Castor said she is traveling with Obama on Air Force One from Washington to Tampa for the event. Florida has requested $2.5 billion.


Other local news outlets expressed optimism for Florida’s chances. “As widely assumed, President Obama will use Thursday’s visit to Tampa to announce that Florida has secured high speed rail funding,” said the St. Petersburg Times. “A White House official did not say how much of the total $8 billion in stimulus funds Florida will get. The state asked for $2.5 billion for the line that would run from Orlando to Tampa and, possibly, Miami. Florida officials were optimistic the state would get most, if not all, of the $2.5 billion requested. . . . Obama will allude to the high speed rail initiative Wednesday night during his State of the Union address, but the details will not be released until Thursday.”


According to Bloomberg News, “Obama will give $8 billion in economic stimulus money to 13 U.S. rail corridors tomorrow, mostly for high speed passenger service, an Administration official said. The money will benefit 31 states, including a small portion of the $8 billion that will go to improvements of existing [freight] rail lines, the official said. In addition to Florida, leading contenders for funds include Illinois, California, and Amtrak's Northeast Corridor.”


APTA President Bill Millar said the announcement of the first federal grants for high speed rail “is the beginning of our nation’s journey in implementing high speed rail and higher speed rail and creating a world-class, multi-modal transportation system.  This time will be remembered as the beginning of a new era in transportation. . . . These grants . . . mean that we are much closer to a world-class transportation system that demonstrates the vision of a connected America.  They put us on the right track to connecting our transportation network so that people can take high speed rail and easily transfer to local public transportation services to reach their destination.”


Said National Association of Railroad Passengers Executive Director Ross capon, “NARP urges the Administration to further strengthen its commitment by investing at least $4 billion annually for intercity passenger trains. Congress took a first step by including $2.5 billion for high speed rail in the regular 2010 appropriations law. Twenty-four states demonstrated pent-up demand for intercity passenger train funding by inundating the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) with 45 applications totaling about $50 billion. In addition, FRA received 214 applications from 34 states totaling $7 billion for corridor planning and smaller projects. We encourage those states whose projects were not selected to resubmit applications in the future.”


So, just how far will 8 billion go? The President will answer that question tomorrow.

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