California and Florida were big winners as the Obama administration announced the redistribution today of more than $1 billion in high-speed rail grants abandoned by incoming governors in Wisconsin and Ohio.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood officially killed projects in those states after a monthlong dispute with the two Republican governors-elect, Wisconsin's Scott Walker and Ohio's John Kasich.
Both Republicans campaigned against the rail projects, saying they would leave their states on the hook for operating costs and take away road-repair money. And both requested permission to redistribute the funds to other transportation projects.
But the Obama administration insisted the states' stimulus grants be spent on high-speed rail, sparking protests by Wisconsin manufacturers that had been banking on the rail project and jockeying among states seeking fresh cash.
The administration has now reshuffled $1.195 billion -- $810 million from Wisconsin and $385 million from Ohio -- and is sending it to 14 states. The biggest grant, $624 million, will go to California, while $342.3 million will go to Florida and $161.5 million to Washington state.
"This is yet another vote of confidence that California's project is on the right track toward creating tens of thousands of jobs for our state and constructing the nation's first true high-speed rail system," said Roelof van Ark, CEO of the California High-Speed Rail Authority. A spokesman for the authority said the funding would be used to extend construction of a recently announced Central Valley track between Fresno and Hanford.
New York received $7.3 million for a line connecting New York City to Albany, Buffalo and Niagara Falls, while Illinois was given $42.3 million for a line that will extend from Chicago across the state.
Florida Sen. Bill Nelson (D) said he was excited about the Florida grant, and that it would help build the state's planned Tampa-Orlando line. "The federal government has stepped up and done its part," Nelson said. "There should be no reason now why this can't get done."
The decision to send money to Florida turned some heads because Gov.-elect Rick Scott (R) had campaigned against the Tampa-Orlando line, although he has been mum since the election about whether he would cancel the project. Scott has said he would support the line if the federal government picked up the full $2.5 billion tab. With the new funds, the state is roughly $150 million shy.
A spokesman for the U.S. Transportation Department said funds were distributed based on how much each state had received in the initial round of grant awards.
Ohio had already obligated $15 million of its original $400 million grant, and DOT said it would not make Ohio repay money it had already spent. DOT is working with Wisconsin to determine how much of that state's grant money had been used. Outgoing governors lament loss
Outgoing Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland (D), who had pushed for the state's "3C" line connecting Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland, said this was "one of the saddest days during my four years as governor."
"Because I see jobs leaving Ohio, I see resources leaving Ohio, I see vital infrastructure leaving Ohio," Strickland said in a statement. "And I see other states being enriched by resources that would otherwise have created thousands of new jobs, revitalized our cities and helped keep our young people in Ohio."
Though Wisconsin's Walker called the DOT decision a "victory" in a meeting with reporters earlier today, his predecessor, Gov. Jim Doyle (D), expressed dismay that the funds for a line between Milwaukee and Madison had been lost, calling it a "tragic moment."
It was not all bad news for Wisconsin -- the state actually received another $2 million for the Hiawatha line between Milwaukee and Chicago. Others getting grants
Beyond major rail grants, DOT also announced the following state awards:
Maine, $3.3 million.
Massachusetts, $2.8 million.
Vermont, $2.7 million.
Missouri, $2.2 million.
Oregon, $1.6 million.
North Carolina, $1.5 million.