Northeastern Senators Make Play for Fla. High-speed Rail Project Funds

Ten senators band together in a push for $2.4 billion in federal funding rejected by Florida's governor.

Ten senators from the Northeast Corridor are asking the Obama administration to send their states $2.4 billion expected to be freed up by the Florida governor's rejection of a proposed high-speed rail project in his state.

In a letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, the senators say their states are best positioned to use the high-speed rail cash if Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) does not change his mind about the proposed Tampa-Orlando line.

"Improving passenger rail service on the Northeast Corridor is necessary to accommodate the sixty percent increase in passengers expected by 2030 and will alleviate severe congestion on the region's highways and airspace," the letter says. "At a time when numerous states have rejected federal funding from the High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program, we note that high-speed rail's potential on the Northeast Corridor is proven."

The letter is signed by Democratic Sens. Tom Carper of Delaware, Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez of New Jersey, and independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.

The lawmakers note that the Northeast Corridor carries a fifth of the nation's gross domestic product and 20 percent of its population. Ridership of the existing Acela Express has grown by 600 percent in its first nine years.

Although many analysts say a high-speed line that links Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York and Boston would have the highest ridership in the nation, the project has received less than 2 percent of the available rail funding.

Scott has until Friday to tell LaHood whether he will return the money or sign off on a plan that would transfer the grants to a coalition of local governments to oversee construction of the Tampa-Orlando line (E&ENews PM, Feb. 25).

California, Washington and Illinois have already lined up to request some of Florida's cash. The Department of Transportation has said it will redistribute the money if it is returned but has not revealed how it will be split up.

After governors in Wisconsin and Ohio returned their states' high-speed rail funds, the money was given out proportionally based on previous grants, leaving less than $15 million for Northeast states.

Amtrak has proposed a $117 billion, 30-year upgrade of the Acela system to cut in half the travel times between Washington, D.C., New York and Boston. Wash. funding

Meanwhile, DOT announced that it has reached an agreement with the state of Washington to free up $590 million of high-speed rail funds.

The money, which will be used for a line between Seattle and Portland, had been held up by Federal Railroad Administration officials. The state is still waiting on an additional $191.5 million from the second round of grants and redistributed money from scuttled projects in Ohio and Wisconsin.