When President Obama announced his HSR Strategic Plan last week, the USDOT report that accompanied the announcement included this map of HSR corridors, based on the 2001 map:
One route you don't see on that map is LA to Las Vegas. Does that mean the project, which right-wingers tried to generate controversy around back in February, is ineligible for the HSR stimulus money? That's the topic examined in an article in the Barstow Desert Dispatch:
The Obama administration’s strategic plan for spending the $8 billion in stimulus funding allotted to high-speed rail projects makes no mention of a proposed rail line from Anaheim to Las Vegas that would stop in Barstow.
Project proponents are still hopeful that some of the funds may come their way.
The plan released Thursday by President Barack Obama and U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood lists 10 designated high-speed rail corridors where projects are eligible to receive funding, none of which include the Anaheim to Las Vegas route.
So does this mean that the map shown above really will determine HSR funding priorities? Well...maybe not:
Lori Irving, a spokeswoman with the U.S. Department of Transportation, said projects that are not located in the existing corridors may still be eligible to compete for some of the stimulus funds.
And the backers of the maglev train are optimistic:
Bruce Aguilera, chair of the California-Nevada Super Speed Train Commission, which is tasked with moving the Anaheim to Las Vegas train project forward, stated via email that the project proponents still plan to file a request for stimulus funds and expect to be eligible.
“We have a plan and (are) moving fast to have the first leg built during the president’s first term,” Aguilera wrote.
Of course, unless they suddenly abandoned the maglev plan in favor of Desert Xpress and are planning to break ground this afternoon, I'm having a hard time seeing how they'll have the first leg built by the end of 2012.
I wouldn't be surprised if the LA-Vegas corridor got some amount of startup funds, to complete environmental design work - perhaps as much as $100 million or more (but certainly no more than $500 million). But with so many other corridors also looking for funds, with a much more developed and realistic plan - and sorry folks, maglev on this scale really is gadgetbahn - I am hard pressed to see how Vegas HSR is going to get very much out of the USDOT process.
The more I look at this, the more I think that if Vegas HSR is going to happen, the state of Nevada is going to have to take the lead in stepping up to fund a big chunk of it. If Obama is somehow able to create a stable funding source for HSR then that could put Vegas HSR in the pipeline - but it could also take 20 more years to bring it to fruition. If Vegas interests (that would be the casinos) want it to happen sooner, they'll need Nevada to help accelerate the timeline.
That will eventually raise the issue of how much California wants to spend on Vegas HSR. In the 1980s and 1990s there was a long standoff between Caltrans and NDOT over widening Interstate 15 between Barstow and the state line. California did not want to spend money on that project which benefits an out-of-state interest, especially with so many other road projects around the state clamoring for money. Eventually NDOT agreed to help pay and the widening projects were undertaken.
With Vegas HSR, Nevada and the feds could reasonably argue that California should put up more of the money since the route would serve California residents for in-state trips (especially if they use a Cajon Pass routing - Victor Valley residents would have a way to commute to and from jobs in the LA Basin). I'm not sure that's a high priority HSR corridor for this state, and I would be wary at this time of committing California to funding Vegas HSR. Ideally we could revisit the matter around 2020. But Vegas' timeline is much more aggressive, and I am betting we'll see Nevada leaders pushing California for financial commitments much sooner.
Something to keep in mind.