A big reason Amtrak wants the new Gateway rail tunnel under the Hudson River into Manhattan’s Penn Station is to expand its high-speed rail network. “High-speed rail is right along the lines of what we need,” said Sen. Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey). “It’s what the world is doing. It’s what China is doing. It’s what London is doing.”
Menendez says this is about competing in the world market “and a real opportunity to get our people to places of work, to get our businesses to send their sales force along the northeast corridor.”
But he says, even with President Obama’s commitment, a high-speed rail network will still need states to pitch in funds.
President Barack Obama is calling for a six-year, $53 billion spending plan for high-speed rail, as he seeks to use infrastructure spending to jump-start job creation.
An initial $8 billion in spending will be part of the budget plan Obama is set to release Monday. If Congress approves the plan, the money would go toward developing or improving trains that travel up to 250 mph, and connecting existing rail lines to new projects. The White House wouldn’t say where the money for the rest of the program would come from, though it’s likely Obama would seek funding in future budgets or transportation bills.
Obama’s push for high-speed rail spending is part of his broad goal of creating jobs in the short-term and increasing American competitiveness for the future through new funding for infrastructure, education and innovation. During last month’s State of the Union address, Obama said he wanted to give 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail within 25 years.
At the same time he’s calling for new spending on sectors like high-speed rail in the upcoming budget, Obama also has pledged to cut overall spending as he seeks to bring down the nation’s mounting deficit. The White House has said environmental programs for the Great Lakes, and block grants for community service and community development are among the programs that will face cuts.
But it’s unlikely the cuts Obama proposes in the budget will be enough to appease the GOP. Republicans now controlling the House have promised to slash domestic agencies’ budgets by nearly 20 percent for the coming year.
The White House has said cuts must be cautious, arguing that drastic reductions in spending could cause the still-fragile economic recovery to stall. Vice President Joe Biden said Tuesday the administration wouldn’t compromise when it comes to spending on the infrastructure, education and innovation programs Obama is touting.
“We cannot compromise. The rest of the world is not compromising,” Biden said in Philadelphia at an event announcing the high-speed rail initiative.
Obama’s call for increased spending on high-speed rail projects is nothing new. He’s long seen the sector as an area of opportunity for creating jobs and improving the nation’s transportation system. His administration awarded $10 billion in federal grants for high-speed rail projects last year, including $2.3 billion for California to begin work on an 800-mile-long, high-speed rail line tying Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay area to Los Angeles and San Diego; and $1.25 billion to Florida to build a rail line connecting Tampa on the West Coast with Orlando in the middle of the state, eventually going south to Miami.
Obama also laid out a plan last summer to invest $50 billion in high-speed rail, as well as highways, bridges, transit and airports, adding it to the first year of a six-year transportation bill. Congress didn’t act on the proposal before adjourning last year, but Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said he’s confident lawmakers will take up the measure again and deliver a bill to Obama by August.
Thus far, Obama’s plans to increase spending on high-speed rail have received a chilly a reception from Republicans. House Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., urged the administration Tuesday to focus its spending on the crowded Northeast rail corridor, and not “squander limited taxpayer dollars on marginal projects.”
Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor, the second-ranking House Republican, urged the administration to involve the business community in its high-speed rail plans.
“I’m not in favor of additional monies that we don’t have, to be spent on those projects, and would certainly look for ways to leverage the private sector to get it involved,” Cantor said.
The White House said the six-year rail plan would include strong “Buy America” requirements that attract private sector investment in developing and operating passenger lines, and would ultimately create tens of thousands of jobs in the U.S.
(WCBS 880/ AP)