Funding rejected by GOP governors keeps Obama's rail plans on track

Republicans have been celebrating a recent vote to zero out funding for high-speed railways in the 2012 budget, but money that was approved in previous years is allowing the Obama administration to keep its rail plans on track. 

The money is still available thanks to an unlikely assist from a trio of Republican governors who rejected money for high-speed railways the Obama administration was authorized to hand out under the 2009 stimulus law.  

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced this week a large portion of the rejected funds are being redirected, with California getting $928.6 million and Michigan getting $150 million for its line between Detroit and Chicago. 

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The funds that were sent back by the governors of Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin were still available to the administration because they were appropriated in previous budget years. 

LaHood said the redirected money shows states are still interested in building high-speed rail.

“California’s population will grow by 60 percent over the next 40 years,” he said in a statement. “Investing in a green, job creating high-speed rail network is less expensive and more practical than paying for all of the expansions to already congested highways and airports that would be necessary to accommodate the state’s projected population boom.”

"With America’s population set to grow by 100 million over the next 40 years, high-speed rail will play a vital role in meeting America’s long-term transportation challenges,” he added in a statement about the Midwest grant. “Projects like this will employ local workers, use American-made materials and lay a strong foundation for future economic growth.”

Even without the new funding, California has received the most high-speed rail money of any state from the Obama administration.

Between the $8 billion that was set aside in the stimulus package and subsequent rail grants, the Obama administration has offered California more than $3 billion for a proposed high-speed railway that would link San Francisco, Los Angeles and other major cities.

Critics of the rail proposals have seized on a report saying the California proposal would cost more than expected to argue that Obama's vision for nationwide network of railways is too costly.

"The news … out of California that High Speed Rail cost estimates have now tripled to the $100 billion range reinforces that Florida made the right decision earlier this year to protect taxpayers from just this sort of boondoggle," Florida Gov. Rick Scott said in a statement released by his office when the California numbers were made public.

The Obama administration had envisioned spending $53 billion into the rail program over six years, including more than $8 billion in 2012, but the GOP put the brakes on that in a vote to approve the Department of Transportation's budget. 

The chairman of the House Transportation Committee's subcommittee on rail, Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), said at the time of the House vote that squashing future rail funding by the Obama administration was long overdue.

"By zeroing out high-speed intercity passenger rail funding, we are being given the unique opportunity to refocus and reform the high-speed rail program on the rail lines that will produce the most benefit for the least amount of cost."