Just as he threatened, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood began redirecting $1.195 billion away from passenger rail projects rejected by governors-elect in Wisconsin and Ohio, and said those stimulus funds will be spread among other rail corridors.
The action follows weeks of a face-off between the Obama administration and incoming governors Scott Walker of Wisconsin and John Kasich of Ohio. Both those Republicans in January will replace Democratic governors who backed intercity passenger train projects that had won large federal grants. Both have vowed to kill the projects, saying they would cost their states too much money in the long run or take resources away from other state needs.
LaHood previously told both Walker and Kasich if they continued to oppose the projects, the money would have to go to other states that are moving ahead with their corridors under the national high-speed rail program.
The incoming governors had tried to get administration approval to re-program their passenger rail grants instead for road repairs across Wisconsin, and for freight rail projects in Ohio. Wisconsin's grants totaled $810 million to upgrade a freight rail corridor for Amtrak passenger trains to run from Milwaukee to Madison, and Ohio was to receive $400 million for Amtrak service on freight tracks linking the cities of Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland.
Wisconsin's grant was already obligated and some money had started to flow. Ohio had received a planning grant, but most of its funding awaited a final implementing contract.
The money was part of $8 billion the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act set aside to expand intercity passenger train lines, including both Amtrak and bullet trains. Grants issued under that ARRA account "can be used only for high-speed rail projects and not for other transportation projects," the DOT said. Officials from other states made clear they wanted the money for their rail projects under the ARRA program.
"I am pleased that so many other states are enthusiastic about the additional support they are receiving to help bring America's high-speed rail network to life," said LaHood. "High-speed rail will modernize America's valuable transportation network, while reinvigorating the manufacturing sector and putting people back to work in good-paying jobs."
Now, the Federal Railroad Administration will redirect $810 million from Wisconsin and $385 million from Ohio, the DOT said, "and will work with these states to determine whether they have already spent money under their contracts that should be reimbursed." Ohio's current governor, Ted Strickland, is already spending grant money on a planning study for his state's "3C" route, in case Ohio at some point chooses to pursue it again.
The DOT statement also noted the administration has received commitments from 30 domestic and foreign suppliers to the railroad industry to expand or create U.S. operations for the intercity passenger rail program. Some of those are in the two states that are losing their stimulus grants.
The $1.195 billion originally designated for the Wisconsin and Ohio projects will now be available, the department said, to other states in the following amounts:
California: up to $624 million.
Florida: up to $342.3 million.
Washington State: up to $161.5 million.
Illinois: up to $42.3 million.
New York: up to $7.3 million.
Maine: up to $3.3 million.
Massachusetts: up to $2.8 million.
Vermont: up to $2.7 million.
Missouri up to $2.2 million.
Wisconsin: up to $2 million for the Hiawatha line.
Oregon: up to $1.6 million.
North Carolina: up to $1.5 million.
Indiana: up to $364,980.
Iowa: up to $309,080.
-- Contact John D. Boyd at email@example.com.