Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Will high-speed rail funds be spread too thin?

The stimulus bill included $8 billion for high speed rail projects, and congress added an additional $2.5bil to also be spent in coming years.

That's well and good, but one problem is that $10.5 billion by itself isn't enough to do that much.

Where will this money go? Probably toward some of the corridors shown on this popular map. In the next day or few, we'll find out where the federal DOT is giving the money. They've been mulling the decision for months.

A lot of folks in the transportation world have been warning that the administration shouldn't spread the money too thin. If it tries to give money toward too many of these projects, none of them may actually happen. They say it should focus on just a couple or few. The Midwest network gets the most talk, along with Florida and California (the California thing is already some steps further to becoming a reality than many of the others).

Word is starting to get out this week on which projects might win. Brad Plumer worries that DOT is in fact going with the wrong approach, citing a Bloomberg report that the funding will go toward 13 separate projects across 31 states. If that's indeed the plan, it's not good.

Of course, part of the reason for doing that is that they want to get money into all these different states for political purposes (see: history of Amtrak).

Obama is going to Florida on Thursday, presumably to promote the Tampa-Orlando train. Which is well and good, and maybe they know what they're doing, but it's worrying that this is for a train that, as it stands, would not actually go into Orlando itself. That's not good. Sure, the train will be partially for the tourists, going to Disney and to the airport, etc. But not going into the city misses part of the whole point and is not a good model.

But maybe we will be surprised and the announcements this week (something in the SOTU as well as details the next day) will not in fact be what Bloomberg reported. Obama has said a lot of the right things on rail, and DOT head Ray LaHood, while not the person anyone wanted or expected for the job, has been not bad so far. We'll see.

Update: Brad Plumer has much more on the pros and cons of the Florida plan.


At 5:17 PM, Blogger mjr said...

USDOT's selection of the Florida route was probably based on old data - pre-crash data on population, number of trips, and especially growth.
If the line can't make better connections to ground transportation, its operator should consider discount packages with airlines - making it more attractive to fly into Tampa en route to Disney, etc.


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