Four Finalists For White House High-Speed Rail Funding?

That was the eyebrow-raising suggestion reported by the Orlando Sentinel today after Rep. John Mica (R-FL) helped mark the beginning of central Florida’s commuter-rail era, made possible by landmark legislation signed into state law this week.

micacommuterrail196f.jpgRep. John Mica (FL), senior Republican on the House transportation committee (Photo: Orlando Sentinel)

The Sentinel quoted Mica naming Florida, Texas, California, and "the Chicago area" as four finalists in the chase for a share of the Obama administration’s $8 billion in high-speed rail stimulus funding.

The available aid prompted applications from more than 30 states that totaled $57 billion, according to the U.S. DOT. And the Federal Rail Administration (FRA), likely conscious of the political prize that a winning rail bid represents, moved quickly to dispute the Florida report.

Ultimately, Mica told the Miami Herald that his comments had been misquoted and no list of four finalists existed. But Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum had already released a press release based on the Orlando report, hailing the high-speed rail funds — which won’t be awarded in earnest until later this winter.

McCollum, who is running against rail critic Paula Dockery for the GOP nomination to replace incumbent Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R), later dialed back his release to stress "the possibility of federal funding for Florida’s infrastructure."

In many ways, the episode appears little more than a journalistic blip, easily defused by the 24-hour news cycle. But it is also stark evidence of the local enthusiasm (and lobbying windfall) generated by the White House high-speed rail effort.

Given how many influential members of Congress have pressed their home state’s case, the FRA may need to brace itself for some hurt feelings when the funding winners are finally unveiled. The northeast corridor already knows its fate, and even that bad news has not deterred regional lawmakers from promising to bring home the high-speed rail bacon.

(ed. note. Streetsblog Capitol Hill will be dark next week, battling the elements for the holiday season. We’ll see you back here for more infrastructure news on Monday, Dec. 28.)

  • jim

    Hope you managed to get out of town this morning.

    I wouldn’t worry too much about the North East Corridor. There’s going to be a North East Corridor Master Plan, written by Amtrak, coordinated with all the commuter lines along the NEC from MBTA to VRE and with all 12 states, released late January, early February, covering not just the NEC spine, but the feeder lines, too. It’s a considerable cat-herding effort on Amtrak’s part and will be the basis for negotiations for Federal funding, some directly to Amtrak, some to the states, to upgrade a large part of Amtrak’s Northeastern operations.

  • richard schumacher

    California, Texas, and the upper midwest with Chicago as hub are the three obvious places for HSR. Central Florida is a less obvious choice but the recent flurry of media coverage of Florida state government work on matching funds suggests that the fix is in.

    Complications:
    – the NEC has the greatest present need for HSR but it would also be more expensive to implement there (buying right-of-way for new track)
    – it’s not clear that much of this initial money will be used for real high-speed rail, that is 150 MPH and faster. Most of it will probably be used for upgrades to 110 MPH service on existing tracks.

    In any case, wait ten years. When gasoline and jet fuel cost $5 per gallon and up we’ll be falling all over ourselves to build HSR.

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