The Department of Transportation has received 278 applications for high-speed rail stimulus funds. Not surprisingly, the various proposals add up to far more than the $8 billion that is available for such projects.
Six New England states want the entire $8 billion for themselves. North Carolina wants $6 billion. Oregon & Washington are hoping for $2.1 billion. Texas wants a modest $1.7 billion, mainly for planning 200-mph trains between San Antonio, Dallas, and Houston.
That’s almost $18 billion so far, and this barely scratches the surface of the proposals.
Some news reports are less specific about what states are requesting, probably because most states have done less planning than some. Midwestern states estimate their plans will cost $9.6 billion, and the governor of Illinois promises to meet with other governors soon to flesh out a proposal. Pennsylvania wants an unspecified amount of money for lines from Scranton to New York and Pittsburgh to Philadelphia. Florida wants the feds to fund an unspecified share of the $2.4 billion for a 125-mph line from Tampa to Orlando, even though the environmental impact statement for the line found that “the environmentally preferred alternative is the No Build Alternative.”
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced that Las Vegas-to-Los Angeles has been designated an official corridor, which must be disappointing for advocates of a line from Denver to El Paso. Congress in 1998 authorized the department to identify 11 corridors, and up to now it had only designated 10. A private company says it can build a profitable high-speed line from Vegas to the outskirts of L.A., but it may apply for federal loans to do so.
As the Antiplanner predicted, many people are unsatisfied with Obama’s moderate-speed trains (averaging 65-70 mph) when California is planning to build true high-speed trains (averaging 140-145 mph). Oklahoma wants a 200-mph line from Tulsa to Oklahoma City that will cost an estimated $2.0 billion; no word on how much of that the state wants from the feds. The Texas proposal is also for true high-speed trains, and some in the Midwest want a 200-mph train from Chicago to St. Louis costing an estimate $11.5 billion — more for 300 miles than moderate-speed rail is expected to cost for the entire 3,000-mile Midwest network.
The good news is that there really isn’t any money to pay for these proposals. The way our economy is going, the $8 billion in stimulus funds may end up being the last federal dollars available for rail. Many in California, which faces a $42 billion deficit, are backing off from proposals to build true high-speed rail there. Of course, there are always some who think rail lines should be built no matter what the cost and how few people will ride them.
Meanwhile, Amtrak has used the first part of its $1.3 billion share of stimulus to refurbish a 27-year-old passenger car. That ought to stimulate the economy!