Posts Tagged ‘Stimulus’

Obama Joins Mad Men, Pushes High-Speed Rail In Transportation Bill

The Car Connection

More passenger trains and bike paths? If President Obama could get his way, it appears that we’d be putting aside some highway funds and spending more to set up high-speed ground transit, as well as making it easier to bike to work.

Early drafts of the President’s Transportation bill have emerged, supplied by Transportation Weekly, and in the draft bill—which seems to make little consideration to what Congress might approve, Capitol Hill observers note—high-speed rail is back as a priority, with $53 billion of funding over six years, $37.6 billion of that for development of new lines. What’s more, the Highway Trust Fund would be completely replaced by a new Transportation Trust Fund.


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Senate budget committee backs $37M of federal stimulus spending on Missouri rail projects

The Republic

A Senate committee working on Missouri’s budget has signed off on 11 railroad projects funded with $37 million of federal stimulus money.

The decision by the Senate Appropriations Committee comes after some Republican senators had vowed to try to block stimulus spending on high-speed rail projects.


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Scott Walker Now WANTS The High-Speed Rail Funds He Rejected In The First Place

Less than half a year after rejecting federal funds to build a high-speed rail connecting Milwaukee to Madison, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker is now asking for at least $150 million from the feds to upgrade an existing Milwaukee-to-Chicago passenger line.

Wait, what?

Ironic, considering Walker had staked his political career on opposition to the Midwest High Speed Rail Initiative, even launching a campaign website towards his high-minded goal. In spite the $810 million that the federal government had offered the state, Walker had originally refused the project because he said it was a “a waste of taxpayer money.”

Now, Walker wants federal funds to buy two train sets and eight locomotives, build a maintenance facility in Milwaukee as well as renovate the train shed at the downtown Milwaukee Amtrak-Greyhound station for Amtrak’s Hiawatha line connecting Milwaukee-to-Chicago. Walker claims that the new upgrades will lower operating costs, reduce trip times from 90 minutes to one hour and increase ticket revenue. In a further twist, the money for the grant will actually come from the $2.4 billion in high-speed rail funds that Florida just rejected.

The shed that Walker plans to upgrade to make it comply with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act will account for about $30 million of the $150 million grant money, but it’s a project that would have actually been paid for had Walker just kept the $800 million the feds had originally given him.


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State seeks money for Hiawatha upgrade

$150 million is sought for Milwaukee-Chicago route


Less than four months after losing nearly all of an $810 million grant, Wisconsin is again seeking federal high-speed rail money – this time to upgrade the existing Milwaukee-to-Chicago passenger line.

Gov. Scott Walker’s administration announced Tuesday that the state will seek at least $150 million to add equipment and facilities for Amtrak’s Hiawatha line.

Walker said the money would be used to upgrade service on the Hiawatha line, as a step toward increasing the speed of the trains to nearly 110 mph and reducing the trip time from 90 minutes to one hour. If the improved service draws more riders, the number of round trips could be increased, he said during a news conference in the Milwaukee Intermodal Station.

The governor said he expected Illinois, Michigan and Missouri would join in the application for the federal dollars, part of the $8 billion rail element of President Barack Obama’s administration’s stimulus package.

In a bizarre twist, some of the money that Walker now seeks originally was allocated for the Milwaukee-to-Madison route he previously turned down. That money is available because a fellow Republican governor rejected it as well.

Walker said the money would allow Wisconsin to buy two more train sets and eight locomotives and to build a maintenance facility for that equipment and two train sets now under construction.

But speeding up the trains would require additional track improvements in future years, said Reggie Newson, executive assistant to state Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb.

The locomotives, train sets and maintenance base would have been covered by the earlier $810 million grant. But the maintenance base, originally envisioned as a $52 million facility in Madison, now would be a $60 million facility at the Talgo Inc. train plant in the Century City complex on Milwaukee’s north side.


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Study: High-speed train would have made money

Orlando Sentinel

The Orlando-to-Tampa high-speed train scuttled by Gov. Rick Scott as a multibillion-dollar boondoggle would have made money from Day One, according to a ridership study released Wednesday by the state.

More than 3.3 million people would have used the 84-mile line, generating almost $63 million in ticket sales during its first year of operation in 2015-16, the report said, leading to a $10 million operating surplus.

By year 10, the report said, the train would have brought in $28.5 million more than it cost to operate and maintain the system, which would have linked Orlando International Airport with Lakeland and downtown Tampa.

The Obama administration last year awarded Florida $2.4 billion in federal stimulus to build the train, but Scott turned back the money several times, even after receiving two extensions to reconsider.

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Orlando rally supports high-speed train

Orlando Sentinel

Nearly 75 people gathered at Lake Eola Park in downtown Orlando on Wednesday night to protest Gov. Rick Scott’s decision to kill the high-speed train linking the City Beautiful to downtown Tampa.

“What do we want? Rail,” they chanted. “When do we want it? Now.”

The gathering was organized largely through the social-media websites Twitter and Facebook by Brett Pribble, a 30-year-old English teacher.

He said he does not understand why Scott last week rejected $2.4 billion in federal-stimulus funds to build the 84-mile system that is estimated to cost $2.7 billion.

“It seems ideology rather than anything else is driving the decision,” Pribble said. “If someone offers you $2.4 billion, you take it.”


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Video: For high-speed rail, a tale of two governors


The theme on Need to Know this week is “responsibility.” Sometimes, responsibility is in the eye of the beholder.

For example, what is the best way to invest in the nation’s infrastructure? In the state of Wisconsin, the governor declined $810 million in federal stimulus money for a high-speed rail initiative because he says the state couldn’t afford to maintain the system and that money should be spent on roads, not rail.

However, in Illinois, the governor sees his responsibility differently. As part of our collaboration with the PBS reporting project Blueprint America, we asked correspondent Rick Karr to look at the future of passenger rail.


High-speed rail deal puts Ill. on faster track

Journal Courier

Several entities involved with the push for high-speed passenger rail in Illinois have spread some extra holiday joy by coming to an agreement about how to proceed with development.

The Illinois Department of Transportation, Amtrak and Union Pacific Railroad gave the OK last week to a deal that will allow federal funds to start flowing to the state. IDOT will administer the funds and Amtrak will be responsible for  running the trains. Union Pacific Railroad owns the track that the trains will run on.

“We’re very proud that this agreement has been reached,” said Josh Kauffman, spokesman for IDOT. “The agreement allows Illinois to access $1.1 billion in (federal) stimulus funds in order to move high-speed rail forward.”

Because of the news, upgrades to the rail system between Lincoln and Dwight could start this spring and be completed as early as next fall, Kauffman added.

The construction comes on the heels of a similar scenario that played out earlier this year in which 90 miles of track between Alton and Lincoln were upgraded.

The new accord is the largest and one of the first of its kind following President Obama’s push for high-speed rail throughout the country using federal stimulus dollars, according to Rob Kulat of the Federal Railroad Administration.


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Group sees state as a rail stop

So, you’ve probably heard about the debate over plans to build a commuter rail line between Noblesville and Franklin.

But that isn’t the only debate going on about trains in Indiana.

Advocates of a high-speed rail network across the Midwest are gearing up to lobby Gov. Mitch Daniels and lawmakers to help them collect what could be hundreds of millions of dollars from taxpayers over several years. The money, along with more than $1 billion in federal stimulus dollars, would pay for three stretches of high-speed rail connecting Indiana to other states.

Hoosiers, on trains going about 110 mph, could travel from Indianapolis to Chicago in 2 hours and 41 minutes. Yes, that’s only about 20 minutes less than by car, but minus the traffic headaches and carbon emissions.

In theory, the rail lines would connect to destinations that include Chicago; Cincinnati; Cleveland; Madison, Wis.; St. Louis; Detroit; and Minneapolis.

That’s in theory, because two newly elected Republican governors are threatening to return millions of dollars in federal funds for rail, possibly disrupting a major part of the planned Midwest network linking 11 cities within 400 miles of Chicago.

Both Scott Walker of Wisconsin and John Kasich of Ohio are riding a wave of voter opposition to higher taxes, government-backed services and causes supported by President Barack Obama, including high-speed rail.

And so the whole thing may be a long shot, rail advocates admit. But they see little choice but to try.

At stake are about 4,500 new jobs in Indiana, the environment and potentially billions of dollars in economic development.

“Indiana is a follower on high- speed rail,” Roger Sims, president of the Indiana High Speed Rail Association, said Friday during a summit of rail advocates at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

Illinois, after applying for and getting $1.1 billion in federal stimulus dollars, is building a high-speed rail line right now. Meanwhile, Wisconsin and Michigan have applied for federal funds and have made their own investments in Amtrak passenger rail.

Indiana hasn’t done nearly that much.

The state invests little in Amtrak and has only one federally funded rail project in the works to clear up congestion on tracks in Northwest Indiana that passenger and freight trains share.

“What priority has Indiana put on high-speed rail?” asked Mark Dobson, president of the Warsaw-Kosciusko Chamber of Commerce, drawing a cynical laugh from the audience at IUPUI. “Right. None. High-speed rail is not a priority in Indiana. It’s not on the radar, and we need it to be.”

In many ways, their efforts — and gripes — mirror those of mass-transit supporters in Central Indiana.

Indianapolis lags far behind other cities when it comes to bus service, too.

Under consideration is a $2.4 billion transit plan that triples the number of buses on the streets and adds commuter rail lines that would run north and south of Indianapolis.

The hope of those backing the plan, a quasi-governmental group called IndyConnect, is to persuade the General Assembly to put a referendum before voters on raising taxes to pay for the plan.

That has been met with lukewarm enthusiasm at best.

Daniels’ spokeswoman, Jane Jankowski, said the governor thinks transit, in general, is an issue worth exploring, but “you have to approach it with care.”

Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said Friday that he doesn’t know much about plans for high-speed rail but would be willing to listen.

He also said he would be willing to talk about a referendum for Central Indiana’s transit plan. But with the state of the economy and budget deficit, he’s concerned that the state has more pressing financial issues at the moment.

“Is this the priority that the public will go out on a referendum and vote for?” Kenley asked.

Both IndyConnect and the Indiana High Speed Rail Association are counting on support from private business leaders. The association is developing a plan that would show the economic benefits of high-speed rail.

The goal is to get enough support to raise money for three separate high-speed lines and rail cars.

One, at a cost of about $200 million to taxpayers, would connect lines from Chicago to Cleveland. Two others — from Chicago through Indianapolis to Cincinnati, and another along Lake Michigan from Chicago — don’t have a price tag yet.

“We really need businesses to be part of this equation,” Sims said, adding, “We haven’t reached a critical mass yet.”

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Bureau lowers cost to run high-speed rail

JS Online

The state could pay several million dollars less than previously projected to run a planned high-speed rail line between Milwaukee and Madison, based on revised information about the route’s likely revenue and expenses.

But any state or federal money spent on the train line might otherwise go to highways, says a new report obtained by the Journal Sentinel from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

Operating costs have played a major role in Governor-elect Scott Walker’s opposition to the route, an extension of Amtrak’s existing Milwaukee-to-Chicago Hiawatha line. Although a federal stimulus grant would cover the $810 million construction cost, Walker has vowed to kill the project to ensure state taxpayers won’t pick up any operating costs.

Walker transition spokesman Cullen Werwie reiterated that stand Friday, saying, “The Madison-to-Milwaukee train is dead.”

In its application for the stimulus money, the state Department of Transportation set operating costs at $16.5 million a year, partly offset by $9 million a year in fare and concession revenue, leaving taxpayers to cover the remaining $7.5 million.

Those estimates, however, were developed in 2009. Since then, some aspects of the project have changed, including:

Ridership: The original estimate was based on projected first-year ridership of 361,400. But that prediction assumed the Madison station would be built at the Dane County Regional Airport. When state officials switched to a downtown site, they boosted the first-year ridership estimate to 476,400.

Consultants didn’t revise their revenue projection to match the ridership projection before outgoing Gov. Jim Doyle froze the project, in the wake of Walker’s election.

But the original estimate of $8.9 million in ticket revenue comes out to an average fare of $24.73. Using that average, the higher ridership projection would boost revenue by $2.8 million, slicing taxpayer support to $4.7 million.

Rising ridership on the Hiawatha has already cut taxpayer support for that line to $5.2 million in the 2009-’10 fiscal year, down from a projected $5.6 million, the Transportation Department says.

Food service: Consultants estimated revenue from food and beverage sales at $110,000 a year, assuming the same kind of snack cart service that now operates on the Hiawatha. Since then, however, state officials have decided to add a bistro car to each train, but they haven’t calculated how much more revenue that would produce.

Costs: The original cost projections were based on the Hiawatha’s current operating costs. Wisconsin and Illinois have a deal with Amtrak to cover those costs, including fuel costs and charges for using Amtrak-owned trains.

But Wisconsin is buying two new trains from Talgo Inc. for the existing line and planned to buy another two trains, plus locomotives, for the extension to Madison.

“The new Talgo equipment is far more fuel-efficient,” and running state-owned trains would insulate Wisconsin from expected increases in Amtrak rental charges, said Kevin Brubaker, deputy director of the pro-rail Environmental Law and Policy Center in Chicago.

On the other hand, the state would be responsible for maintaining the trains, and the costs of a maintenance contract with Talgo could eat up the savings from ending the rental charges, the Transportation Department says in its 2011-’13 budget request.

Meanwhile, the Fiscal Bureau report to state Rep. Jon Richards (D-Milwaukee) addresses a Transportation Department claim that federal aid could cover up to 90% of the cost of the Milwaukee-to-Madison leg, as it does for the Milwaukee-to-Chicago leg.

That’s not extra aid for the train, the report says. It’s a piece of federal aid that already goes to the state.

In some past years, the state covered Hiawatha operating costs with money designated to reduce southeastern Wisconsin traffic congestion and air pollution, said Fred Ammerman, a supervisor in the bureau. In recent years, however, the state has been using part of its highway aid, with federal permission, Ammerman said.

That federal money usually has covered 80% of costs, rising to 90% in years when the train helps travelers avoid freeway construction zones, the report says.

In the federal fiscal year ending Sept. 30, the state’s regular federal highway aid totaled $734 million, not counting earmarks and stimulus grants, Ammerman said. A 90% share of $5.2 million in Hiawatha costs would amount to $4.7 million, or less than 1% of the total. Adding the Milwaukee-to-Madison leg would increase that share to slightly more than 1%.

In other developments:

• In a letter Thursday to President Barack Obama, Walker reiterated his view that Wisconsin should be allowed to use the $810 million for highways. But Obama can’t legally reallocate the money; as Walker has conceded, it would take an act of Congress, and U.S. Rep. Tom Petri, a Fond du Lac Republican, has said that’s unlikely.

• The AFL-CIO lashed out Friday at Walker, Ohio Governor-elect John Kasich and congressional Republicans, saying their opposition to high-speed rail threatens job creation.

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