Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood didn’t even wait for incoming governors of Wisconsin and Ohio to be sworn in. Taking seriously their vows to kill federally backed passenger rail projects to link major cities, he stripped their states of nearly $1.2 billion and said 14 other projects could now have at it.
Officials of some of those states already had said they’d want the money, and were expected to quickly file the paperwork.
LaHood’s Dec. 9 action gets a jump on Republicans Scott Walker of Wisconsin and John Kasich of Ohio, who will take office next month and have castigated proposed intercity passenger train investments as big-government boondoggles that would saddle their states with ongoing support costs.
They also have tried to get the Obama administration to let them redirect the money — $810 million in Wisconsin that Walker would use for road and bridge needs and $400 million Kasich said he would spend on freight rail improvements in Ohio.
They could get support next month from Congress when the GOP takes over the House and adds to its strength in the Senate, where Democrats control the calendar but can’t move any legislation past a filibuster unless a handful of minority Republicans agree.
But the grants came out of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and LaHood told the governors-elect soon after they won election on Nov. 2 that ARRA rules required any unspent money from the $8 billion high-speed rail program to be spread among approved projects in other states. Those can include states that won awards in a second round of $2.5 billion in passenger rail grants from the current budget.
The DOT reiterated the point last week, saying grants under the intercity passenger rail program “can be used only for high-speed rail projects and not for other transportation projects.”
Although critics of the program said the Wisconsin and Ohio actions deal it a major blow, LaHood emphasized those who remain willing. “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,” he said. “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.”
The $1.195 billion originally designated for the Wisconsin and Ohio projects will now be available to these 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.
- Iowa: up to $309,080.
- Indiana: up to $364,980.
Source: U.S. Department of Transportation
Wisconsin’s planned Milwaukee-Madison service would not use true high-speed trains, but an Amtrak service running up to 110 mph. Ohio’s “3C” passenger rail line was to link Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland with beginning speeds up to 79 mph.
They would operate inside track corridors owned and used by freight railroads, part of a U.S. network of passenger corridors that eventually could link most big cities, and take pressure off already congested roads. Critics say the slow speeds might not attract enough train riders to justify the ongoing costs states would have to bear, however.
Wisconsin’s grant was formally obligated and work was under way; its recent suspension and Walker’s vow meant LaHood could pull back the award. Ohio is proceeding with a $15 million planning study, but the DOT will reallocate $385 million it had not obligated to the 3C project.
Contact John D. Boyd at email@example.com.