The stimulus battle now shifts to the US Senate, where high speed rail could have a very, very good week - but will have to navigate some rough waters to get there. As Yonah at the Transport Politic notes, the Senate version of the stimulus has $2 billion for HSR:
To make grants for high-speed rail projects under the provisions of section 26106 of title 49, United States Code, $2,000,000,000, to remain available until September 30, 2011: Provided, That the Federal share payable of the costs for which a grant is made under this heading shall be 100 percent.
I very much like the 100% federal share, since it's not looking like California is going to be able to do much matching of federal funds in the immediate future. The Senate version also includes much more flexible - and possibly much better - language on transportation capital projects than the House:
“For an additional amount for capital investments in surface transportation infrastructure, $5,500,000,000, to remain available until September 30, 2011… That the Secretary of Transportation shall distribute funds provided under this heading as discretionary grants to be awarded to State and local governments on a competitive basis for projects that will have a significant impact on the Nation, a metropolitan area, or a region… That a grant funded under this heading shall be not less than $20,000,000 and not greater than $500,000,000…”
These funds can be used for highways, bridges, public transportation, New Starts and Small Starts projects, and rail projects. No such open-ended funds under the discretion of the Secretary of the Department of Transportation are provided in the House bill. The bill does not specify a preference for transit or highways and presumably Secretary Ray LaHood would decide if this provision makes it into the final bill.
This is where the choice of Ray LaHood at Transportation may make or break things. If the Senate language stays in place, then LaHood could potentially implement an Obama shift away from highways and toward rail. But the language might also allow him to maintain a misguided emphasis on roads, in the name of "immediate stimulus" even though there are billions of dollars of shovel-ready transit projects out there as well.
There's also plans afoot to boost transit infrastructure spending significantly even beyond what's already in the bill. Charles Schumer planned to offer a $6.5 billion transit amendment but apparently, as The Transport Politic reports, that may be pulled in favor of a $20-$30 billion infrastructure amendment, heavy on transit, that will be proposed by Democrats Ben Nelson of Nebraska and our very own Dianne Feinstein.
What could we do with some of this money? In the comments to Saturday's post Rafael makes some very good suggestions for ways to bring federal stimulus money directly to California high speed rail:
TJPA and CHSRA should submit a joint request related to SFTT so everyone can save face and get it all built. In particular, there is no reason not to ask for a slice of the transit stimulus funds to help pay for the bus depot + ramps, the underground pedestrian passage to Embarcadero BART and the fraction (2 of 6 platform tracks, i.e. 1/3) of the trainbox + DTX tunnel reserved for Caltrain. The HSR project needs to chip in the other 2/3, but TJPA must not cook the books to misrepresent the fraction of the total construction cost related to heavy rail operations.
Straight HSR feeder projects such as the BART extension to Santa Clara and Caltrain electrification should seek federal funding from the transit, rather than the HSR portion of this bill. Grade separations should be characterized as highway improvement projects, since they add zero functionality to the railroad.
That all makes a lot of sense, and would be a clever way to maximize the stimulus impact on HSR even when using money not specifically earmarked for HSR. For this to happen there needs to be a lot of coordination among different players in California, which one would hope can happen given Dianne Feinstein's oft-stated commitment to HSR. There are leaders in this state with the ability to bring together a consensus around federal stimulus for HSR. Let's hope they will make their voices heard over the coming week. We certainly plan to do so ourselves.