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.)