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GOP in Ohio and Wisconsin say ‘No’ to $1.2 billion in rail money

GOP torpedoes money and jobs for state constituents

By Michael Cooper in the NYT

Ohio and Wisconsin’s loss of $1.2 billion in federal stimulus money for rail projects will be California, Florida and 11 other states’ gains, federal officials said on Thursday.

Ohio and Wisconsin were among the biggest winners of federal stimulus money this year to build new rail lines in their states; officials in both states had lobbied aggressively for the money in the hopes that it would create thousands of jobs and improve their transportation systems.

But that all changed last month when both states elected Republican governors who vowed to kill the train projects, arguing that they were boondoggles that would leave their states on the hook for subsidies each year to operate the trains.

Now both states, which have been hit hard by the economic downturn, are losing the money. The federal Department of Transportation announced Thursday that it was taking back the $810 million that had been awarded to Wisconsin to build a train line from Milwaukee to Madison, and the $385 million that was awarded to Ohio to build a train line linking Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland. The money will be redistributed to 12 other states, with the biggest winners being California and Florida, which are building high-speed trains.

“High-speed rail will modernize America’s valuable transportation network, while reinvigorating the manufacturing sector and putting people back to work in good-paying jobs,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement announcing the redistribution of the rail money. “I am pleased that so many other states are enthusiastic about the additional support they are receiving to help bring America’s high-speed rail network to life.”

Neither Ohio nor Wisconsin were getting high-speed trains. They were simply getting new train routes that the federal government hoped would form the basis of a new national network of trains, which could eventually be upgraded to high-speed rail. But the new governors-elect questioned who would ride the new, not-terribly-fast trains.

Scott Walker, the governor-elect of Wisconsin, who vowed to stop the train in a campaign commercial, said that the train from Milwaukee to Madison would cost too much money, take the same amount of time as driving and leave many passengers needing cars anyway to get around at both ends.

Mr. Walker worried that the new $810 million train route would leave the state with subsidies of $7 million to $10 million a year to run the trains. Exasperated train supporters, who saw a lucrative jobs project and an environmentally friendly way to travel, complained that Mr. Walker’s position was analogous to turning down a free new car, simply because it would cost money for gas and insurance.

John Kasich, the governor-elect of Ohio, declared “this train is dead” after being elected, and mocked the slow speeds the train was expected to travel.

Both men expressed interest in using the stimulus money to fix and maintain highways and roads in their states instead. But the money was part of $8 billion in the stimulus bill that was directed for building trains and paving the way for high-speed rail in the United States.

Now they are about to find out if the electorate that supported their antirail platforms will still support them, now that it has cost their states $1.2 billion.

This fall, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, a Republican, killed a long-planned commuter train tunnel under the Hudson River that had received pledges of $3 billion from the federal government. He cited concerns about the strapped state’s share of the project’s rising costs. Now the federal government is weighing how to redistribute that money to other transit projects, and has asked New Jersey to return the approximately $271 million already spent on the project.

The biggest winners of Ohio and Wisconsin’s money were California, which will receive another $624 million on top of the nearly $3 billion it has received so far toward the construction of a high-speed train from Los Angeles to San Francisco, and Florida, which will get another $342 million on top of the roughly $2 billion it has received to build a high-speed train between Orlando and Tampa.

Florida’s governor-elect, Rick Scott, a Republican, has said he would take another look at the numbers to see if that train is still viable — at only 84 miles, the route is not considered long enough by many rail experts to be optimally served by high-speed rail.

The other states that will get Ohio and Wisconsin’s money will be Washington, which will get up to $161 million; Illinois, which will get $42.3 million; and Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Oregon and Vermont, which will all get less than $10 million.

Wisconsin will be able to keep about $2 million for work on its Hiawatha line, which Governor-elect Walker has said he supports.

View the original article at Veterans Today

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