It’s hard to imagine turning down $1.2 billion. That is, unless you’re the governors-elect of Wisconsin and Ohio. The New York Times reported today that those two states officially withdrew claim to their shares of federal stimulus money awarded for construction of new rail corridors, citing concerns over subsidies needed to run the trains. Instead the money will be redirected to 13 other states. Ironically, both Wisconsin and Ohio had lobbied aggressively for big hunks of the $8 billion set aside for high-speed rail development in Obama’s stimulus package. Things changed when Republicans won both governorships, partly on the platform of denying the stimulus awards. Read More
Turns out the vociferous opponents to a Beale Street station in San Francisco had it right. The California High Speed Rail Authority voted last week not to build an underground station at Beale Street to serve as the northern endpoint of the state’s future high-speed rail line. Instead, the bullet train will make its final stop in the Transbay Terminal that is already slated to be built in downtown San Francisco. Read More
The Las Vegas Sun reports that, in spite of some hold ups with environmental approvals, work is expected to begin this year on the $4 billion DesertXpress, a high-speed rail link between Vegas and Victorville, California. Construction on the 185-mile project, which involves two parallel, at-grade tracks through the Mojave Desert, mostly along the I-15 corridor, should take four years. Service is scheduled to being in late 2014. Aecom and Stantec have both been involved in the project thus far, along with a slew of engineering companies. The decision to begin/end the line at Victorville has raised some eyebrows. There are advocates who are pushing for an extension to Palmdale—the site of a future high-speed rail link to Union Station—allowing non-stop rail service from downtown LA to Vegas. DesertXpress chose the Victorville terminus because it is the first major population center west of the Cajon Pass, easily accessible to millions of people in the Inland Empire, and could be paid for without recourse to public tax dollars. To date, the project has been entirely privately funded, though it could be eligible for Federal Stimulus money in the future.
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Fortunately it has not been all doom and gloom this week for mass transit, as Ray LaHood took a media tour of New York, to plug for High Speed rail, mass transit spending in general, Cash for Clunkers, air travel, safe driving—you name it. He started out at an editors’ breakfast at Hearst, where PopMech reports he declared the first $8 billion is coming… soon. Later that night, LaHood stopped by—where else?—The Daily Show, where Jon Stewart tried to pin him down on the same question of where and when, and where LaHood gamely fielded some jokes. The next morning, it was a two-fer at WNYC, where he appeared on The Takeaway to further flog his talking points, raging against digitally distracted drivers and the poor state of air travel, and then, as the video after the jump shows, he took on local interests, discussing the proposed MTA cuts with Andrea Bernstein, as well as a no-go on gas taxes but more transit funding in the next “highway” bill. It’s about the smartest transportation talk we’ve heard in the mainstream in a while. Read More
The governors of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin today pledged to work together to implement a high-speed rail network centered in Chicago. In recent months, Vice President Biden and Transportation Secretary LaHood have urged such coordinated action, as the region competes against other parts of the country, especially the East and West coasts, for federal funds. The first legs of the system would connect Chicago to St. Louis, Detroit/Pontiac, and Milwaukee/Madison. If all goes according to plan, those first segments could be open in three to five years.