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Governor: We’ll take Florida’s high speed rail money

Post by John Henrikson / The News Tribune on Feb. 16, 2011 at 12:52 pm | 6 Comments »
February 16, 2011 1:04 pm

Florida Gov. Rick Scott made headlines today by turning down the Obama Administration’s proposal to fund a new high-speed rail line from Orlando to Tampa. His reasoning: Florida taxpayers couldn’t afford the federal government’s generosity.

Cost overruns could put Florida on the hook for another $3 billion and once completed, there’s a good chance ridership won’t pay for the operating cost, meaning the state would have to pump more money into the line each year, Scott said.

“The truth is that this project would be far too costly to taxpayers and I believe the risk far outweighs the benefits,” the Republican governor said in a press release issued after he informed U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood of his decision.

But Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire has no such qualms. “I’ve said many times, if other states don’t want this funding, Washington state is ready to put it to work,” she said in a press release this morning.

Washington has already benefited from $161.5 million in high-speed-rail stimulus money redirected from Ohio and Wisconsin, on top of its own $590 million grant.

Read on for the full statement:

Washington state to feds: We’re ready to put Florida rail money to work

OLYMPIA – Federal high-speed-rail stimulus funds rejected by Florida could be well spent in Washington on the vital Amtrak Cascades corridor stretching from Oregon to British Columbia, Washington Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond said today.

The governor of Florida today announced his state’s rejection of $2.4 billion in high-speed-rail stimulus funding.

“I’ve said many times, if other states don’t want this funding, Washington state is ready to put it to work,” Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire said. “We’ve been committed to expanding and improving high-speed passenger rail not just to increase convenience for passengers, but to promote Washington state as a great place to visit and live. These rail lines take cars off our roads while moving workers and tourists between Seattle, Portland and Vancouver, B.C. These federal funds are an investment in our economy, and support hundreds of construction and operating jobs in our state.”

In early 2010, Washington was selected to receive $590 million in federal high-speed-rail funding, part of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) grants, administered by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). That was followed by an additional $161.5 million in Recovery Act funds redirected from Ohio and Wisconsin.

The additional funding could be applied to eligible projects in the Washington State Department of Transportation’s original 2009 Recovery Act application. The additional project work would result in added round trips between Portland and Seattle, improved schedule reliability and reduced travel times throughout the corridor. The cost of these projects in the original application was estimated at $539 million.

“These projects will boost rail-line capacity and relieve main-line congestion, as well as improve track quality, reliability and passengers’ rides,” said Hammond. “We will work with FRA to determine which projects should receive additional funding, based on the direct benefits to high-speed intercity passenger rail.”

Washington state strongly supports high-speed rail, as evidenced by its record-breaking ridership this year on the Pacific Northwest rail corridor. Amtrak Cascades ridership was up 10 percent in 2010 compared to 2009. The second train to Vancouver, B.C., which began in August 2009 and will continue at least through October 2011, was a major factor in the growing popularity of Amtrak Cascades.

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