Yonah at The Transport Politic breaks down the transit funding in the draft stimulus package and generally finds it wanting:
the bill does virtually nil for intercity rail, providing only $1.1 billion for Amtrak and state-based rail provision. The bill notes that the Northeast Corridor alone needs $10 billion in upgrades. How will this funding solve that problem, or tackle those of other corridors around the country? Where’s the money for high-speed rail operations?
The closest the proposed stimulus comes to funding HSR is this:
• “Preference” for FRA-compliant rolling stock; implication is that agencies could buy non-FRA compliant stock (i.e., lighter European or Asian trains) - this would be a change in policy, which currently doesn’t allow such trains
• Preference for projects “that support the development of intercity high speed rail service;” $300 million won’t actually allow for the creation of HSR, but it could help push towards that goal… this implies that local non-HSR corridors would not be as likely to get aid
• Federal share can be up to 100% of total cost, also a change in policy
Some of this suggests a willingness to shift priorities, but overall the funding here is just too tiny to make a significant dent in our transportation needs, our HSR needs, or even our economic needs. Several economists including Krugman are saying the stimulus ought to be doubled, which sounds about right to me.
Rep. Jim Oberstar, chair of the House Transportation Committee and passionate rail advocate, has been rather outspoken in his anger about the underfunding of transit in the proposal. He explains what may have happened to make the stimulus plan so weak:
Basically CBO got numbers from the Bush administration DOT that said it was not possible to spend money on these projects within 90 days, meaning they're not "shovel ready". Oberstar explains that's BS and it's ridiculous to be taking numbers from the Bush folks at DOT that are getting ready to high-tail it out of town. He's really mad about this and I know he's going to fight to get more spending on infrastructure.
Meanwhile former Providence, Rhode Island Mayor Joseph Paolino opines for HSR on the NEC in the Washington Post:
Constructing a system for high-speed rail will be expensive, but these are not normal circumstances. Obama takes office next week amid the worst economic crisis since the Depression. Large public investments and innovation are key to reviving the economy and putting people back to work. High-speed train service on the Northeast corridor would be an excellent place to start moving our citizens, and our economy, into the 21st century.
Obama and his economic team, including the stuck-in-the-1990s Lawrence Summers, clearly are not thinking in terms of fundamental change, or even in the terms of real economic recovery. Until they shed their hesitant and small-minded approach to the stimulus they're going to be doing America a disservice. I don't want much - just some money for actual HSR projects in the stimulus as a down payment on and a sign of future intentions to fund HSR in California, the NEC, the Southeast, the Midwest, Texas, and the Pacific Northwest.
Come on, Obama. Time to show America the change you've been promising.