Biden Says High-Speed Rail Money Ignored Politics — Was He Right?

During yesterday’s Tampa event awarding $8 billion in federal rail grants, Vice President Joe Biden pointed to the two states receiving the biggest share of stimulus money for true high-speed train projects: Florida and California, both run by GOP governors.

100128_biden_obama_ap_465.jpgThe vice president takes the president’s coat yesterday. (Photo: AP via Politico)

"We didn’t pick this based on politics," Biden concluded to applause. "[W]e’re picking the places that make the most sense, have the highest density, are ready to go."

Florida and California’s rail bids undoubtedly came the closest to "true" high-speed rail, as seen in China and Europe. The Sunshine State aims to reach maximum speeds of 168 miles per hour (mph) on its Tampa-Orlando link, while the Golden State plans for its ambitious bullet train network to top 200 mph.

But was Biden right to say that yesterday’s rail awards made no distinction between states with Democratic governors and states run by Republicans — who could tout their role in snagging employment-rich train funding during future campaign seasons? At the request of a reader, Streetsblog Capitol Hill crunched the numbers …

The high-speed rail grants are officially set to benefit 31 states in 13 corridors. But the bulk of the funding (all save $6 million in planning grants) went directly to 22 states, according to the White House’s rundown of the program.

Of those 22 states, nine have GOP governors (GA, FL, CA, IN, MN, VA, VT, CT, and TX) and 13 have Democratic chief executives (NY, MA, IL, NC, WI, OH, MI, IA, ME, PA, OR, WA, and MO).

Overall, the lion’s share of the $8 billion awarded yesterday was split almost evenly between Democratic- ($3.97 billion) and Republican-run ($3.84 billion) states.

No GOP governor aside from California’s Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose state got $2.34 billion, and Florida’s Charlie Crist, whose state took home $1.25 billion, received a rail award larger than $75 million.

Notable shutouts on the GOP-run side included Nevada, where Gov. Jim Gibbons (R) pointed a finger at Democrats after his state’s rail application was deemed ineligible, and Georgia, where Gov. Sonny Perdue (R) was said to be wooing Biden for a leg up but ultimately got just $750,000.

Yet there appeared to be just as many Democratic-run states ruing their failure to win rail grants. Oklahoma came up empty after bidding for billions of dollars, while Kansas and Iowa were the sites of similar disappointment with the first round of funding.

On the whole, then, Biden’s assessment of a politics-free process appears to be on target. Still, it remains to be seen whether members of Congress from those spurned states will take out their frustration on the rail program during this year’s spending debates.

  • jim

    I’m sure there were some politics involved. Not necessarily Red/Blue politics, though. LaHood went out of his way to give money to Florida, urging them to fund something, anything, rail-related so he’d have an excuse. It seems reasonable to assume that John Mica’s position had something to do with that. That Ohio got funding for the 3C project is mystifying unless one assumes some sort of political motivation. This is a line which doesn’t connect to anything, where the average timetabled speed will be 39 mph, where the farebox recovery will be 37.5% — in all respects worse than existing Amtrak corridors, fodder for anti-rail partisans. Yet it got funded. Trying to get Voinovich support?

  • Ohio’s 3C plan is just the beginning, the Ohio Hub connects Ohio to Michigan and all of the National High Speed Network. There are also plans to connect all of Ohio’s Higher Education assets by existing rail. Ohio manufacturing will also directly benefit from Statewide Passenger Rail Service. US Rail Car is working in partnership to build the equipment right here in Ohio, creating many jobs up and down the supply chain. Ohio’s “Next Generation” farmers will also benefit by growing and supplying Advanced Bio-Fuels being developed in Toledo and used in the Ohio Built trains.

    I would trust/hope that Senator Voinovich and all of Ohio’s Congressional representatives would support putting thousands of unemployed Ohio citizens back to work, plant the seeds of Energy independence here at home and connect institutions of Higher Education to Ohio’s bright future.

    Respectfully,

  • Nathanael

    “Ohio’s 3C plan is just the beginning, the Ohio Hub connects Ohio to Michigan and all of the National High Speed Network.”

    I hope the Ohio Hub gets funded; it’s a great project. I’m just not sure that the minimal startup 3C proposal is actually going to help it get funded. Sometimes half a loaf is not better than none.

  • Roger, any plan that involves FRA-compliant equipment running past 2015, when the PTC mandate goes into effect, is not worth the paper it’s written on. That alone means US Rail Car should be getting $0 of contracts. And biofuels in trains? Are you building good intercity transportation, or awarding more pork to corn growers?

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