Washington state and federal officials reached agreement to formally obligate another $145 million to that state's passenger rail program. The money will be spent on track and signal upgrades in a BNSF Railway lane that can benefit freight service as well.
The approval came late last week, ahead of a federal budget deadline that could have shut down many operations of the Federal Railroad Administration. Through a late Friday accord between President Obama and House Republicans Congress averted a shutdown, but the timing of Washington's grant agreement means the state could have moved ahead on new grant-funded projects even if FRA operations had been disrupted.
The money comes on top of $590 million the state locked in earlier this year, following negotiations on how to implement a passenger rail grant from the 2009 stimulus law.
That initial grant covered projects such as extra sidings and bridges to eliminate roadway crossings in the BNSF lane running from Seattle south to Portland, Ore., while making way for additional Amtrak passenger trains on BNSF tracks. Washington Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond said the projects from that money should aid freight flows as well in a corridor that connects a group of seaports in the Pacific Northwest.
The latest $145 million funding came from money U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood redirected to other states in December after incoming governors in Wisconsin and Ohio turned down nearly $1.2 billion for Amtrak projects. Washington will target these funds on projects in the track lane running north from Seattle to the Canadian border near Vancouver, B.C.
Hammond has said the approvals this spring mean actual construction can begin this summer. The latest approval means Washington state will be able to spend $735 million in the shared freight-passenger lanes.
The state was initially targeted to get $161.5 million in this last round, from the redirected Wisconsin and Ohio funds, but the work plan was pared back.
State transportation officials said at least one project dropped for now by the FRA, a $16 million train station project at Centralia, has now been resubmitted for a next round of grants. Washington is seeking $120 million in additional grant money out of a $2.4 billion pot turned down by Florida. In all, however, nearly $10 billion worth of project requests came in for that Florida money by the April 4 application deadline.