Friday, May 8, 2009

Ray LaHood: California and Florida Most Likely To Receive HSR Funds

NOTE: We've moved! Visit us at the California High Speed Rail Blog.

So reports the Wall Street Journal:

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood singled out California and Florida as leading candidates to secure federal funding for high-speed passenger-rail service.

"California and Florida are way ahead of the curve," Mr. LaHood said Friday at a breakfast gathering in Washington. He stressed that no final decisions have been made....

Mr. LaHood said "no one corridor is going to get all of this money" and that the DOT is "looking to create opportunities in every corridor that wants to make progress." Mr. LaHood has been meeting with many state and local officials to hear their arguments for securing passenger rail funding, including a meeting on Thursday with San Francisco mayor and California gubernatorial candidate Gavin Newsom....

California is "way, way, way ahead," he said. As for the Midwest, where many officials are hoping to place Chicago at the center of a high-speed rail network stretching to St. Louis, Minneapolis, Cleveland and Detroit, Mr. LaHood said, "They're not in that position yet."

That's certainly more welcome news than I was expecting. I'm sure that the Midwest states, which are extremely important politically to President Obama, will have something to say about this - but even if they are able to wrangle more money out of the USDOT process, it's not going to be a whole lot of money. LaHood is clearly signaling that California is positioned well to get a big chunk of that federal HSR money.

LaHood's statement comes on the heels of yesterday's CHSRA board meeting, which approved a list of "shovel-ready projects" to submit for the federal HSR stimulus:

California high-speed train officials Thursday approved a list of shovel-ready construction projects likely to qualify for $8 billion in federal stimulus funding for high-speed trains....

The project elements selected by the Board on Thursday are spread throughout California's planned 800-mile system. They include:

1. The entire Los Angeles-to-Anaheim and San Francisco-to-San Jose corridors, where the Authority is expected to have completed the project level environmental document, and qualified and selected design build teams to begin construction of the sections by the 2012 deadline.

2. Identification, selection and negotiation of right-of-way acquisition in the Merced- to-Bakersfield section, including the system’s planned maintenance facility.

Authority staff also will work before the deadline to identify other “shovel ready” projects outside the three corridors identified above that advance the Authority’s high-speed rail plan and that meet the federal criteria, according to CHSRA Executive Director Mehdi Morshed.

Unfortunately it's not clear what the specific projects will be - the CHSRA press office didn't have that information. So to all you who think I never criticize the CHSRA, here you go - they really need to get that list of proposed projects out to the public. That will help make the project tangible and show exactly what the stimulus money can bring. It can help rally the public to support HSR and those specific projects.

Still, in the overall picture this is a welcome development and a sign that the federal government is quite serious about giving the California HSR project a major financial boost.

39 comments:

Rob Dawg said...

Excellent. Let's be optimistic and say we get $6b of the $8b. That means $15b identified, $28b to go. Now that the State and Feds are tapped out are there any suggestions for the rest?

Spokker said...

We could hold a bake sale.

Or we could declare the high speed rail as a weapon in the war on terror and the military would fund and build it.

Cas said...

Obama did say that this was just a down payment on national HSR. That implies that more funding will come over time.

Really, this is a good annual appropriation. Stretch that out over 20 years and that's $160 billion (if we adjust to match inflation). That's probably a sufficient federal contribution for all identified HSR routes, with California deserving its 10-20% of the total. Maybe the rest could come from auctions of regional cap-and-trade permits if the Western Climate Initiative every gets its act together?

Spokker said...

Take the money we spend on defending oil in the Middle East and spend it on gold-plated high speed rail that travels from Los Angeles to SF to New York to Atlantis.

luis d. said...

I think we should tax our current "Dirty" forms of fuel and transportation to death and build clean energy, and clean running vehicles with that money. We should tax them out of existence.

I actually get sick to my stomach whenever I see a commercial for "Clean Coal" and I can't beleive these people think we're that stupid to beleive that, No such thing!

Rob Dawg said...

Cas,
The $8b is a 5 year plan. And I'm sure the administration didn't get the irony.

arcady said...

I strongly disagree with the HSRA's priorities. What use is it going to be to have a train from San Francisco to San Jose (which we already have), another train from Anaheim to LA (which we also already have), and yet another train from Merced to Bakersfield (which also already has service). If they were to run out of money halfway through, they wouldn't have anything usable at all. Leaving the Caltrain corridor as-is might increase the running time by half an hour, but leaving the LA-Bakersfield section as is would increase it by 5 hours, or else force a bus connection (which would take 2-2.5 hours). It really seems like political considerations of local benefits to boardmembers' home areas are outweighing the incremental usefulness of the system.

Alon Levy said...

I thought Florida had dropped out of the HSR scramble after Jeb Bush killed funding for the Florida Overland Express route...

Ben said...

@ arcady

I actually agree that what they have selected is a good idea (ignoring that these are probaly the only "shovel-ready" parts anyways). If HSR ever fails (i hope not) then at least we will have gotten upgrades to these corridors first.

bossyman15 said...

well remember that they want to build the central california "to use as test track" so building SF-SJ (because of caltrain electrify) and central california to give people living there a good rail option to use sounds good to do first.

as for southern CA I'm not sure if ever they have worked the route out yet.

Robert Cruickshank said...

I'll have more on Monday about the transportation bill discussions that James Oberstar is leading. That has always been where the real long-term HSR funding will come from, and it is starting to look like Oberstar is determined to ensure that we'll get it.

Alex M. said...

It is encouraging to hear LaHood gush about our system like he does in that quote, but I still think we won't be getting as much of this funding as we should. Obama will lobby for a big chunk of the money to go to the midwest system. The Florida system looks like it is picking up steam again which is a good sign. I think that the funds that are received should go to the peninsula project and the central valley test track. The CHSRA could probably begin building the maintenance facility after deciding on the ROW through the valley and use some of the rest of the funds to acquire the ROW for the test track. The remaining funds should go towards the peninsula electrification program which already has most of the engineering work out of the way, all it is lacking is the funding. I think once the electrification process is complete and the NIMBYS see how much better their lives are with new EMU service, they will quiet down over HSR.

Alon Levy said...

Off-topic: this site's loading excruciatingly slowly lately. Has anyone else noticed this?

Robert Cruickshank said...

Alon: it's the Google Maps links in one of Rafael's recent posts. Those usually don't load slowly, and I'm not sure what to do to increase the load times. I'd prefer to not delete those if possible, since they're important illustrations for his ideas.

YesonHSR said...

I also thought the Florida project was frozen ..The Florida Gov is also very cool to it. Guess those
EIS projects last alot longer then some think. I Hope the MidwestHSR gets some real funding for they can start showing real results fast

lyqwyd said...

I'm all for spreading the funding around to as many regions as possible. The more places it's happening means the more people that will want further federal funding, which means that everybody wins.

Bob said...

The Florida High Speed Rail Authority (FHSRA) is still around and had a meeting earlier this year. I'm pretty sure they said it would cost about $3b to build phase 1 (Tampa to Orlando). I'd imagine California would get the rest, as they should.

Anonymous said...

Ray LaHood is getting his gushy reports on California HSR from gushy California HSR Authority. What did you think he'd think?
(Thats' Diridon - who still thinks his opposition is limited to two and half cities - HA HA HA).

Truth is, California isn't anywhere near shovel ready, they don't even have a freakin org chart. Let alone EIRs, or a cost model, or a single good reason to duplicate service through the Peninsula.

Once LaHood and Obama start getting the actual information (like the California State senate is starting to wake up to) we'll start seeing Obama adminnistration singing a different tune about how wonderful the California project is.

mike said...

California isn't anywhere near shovel readyThe only relevant question is whether we are further along then other states. And the answer clearly yes. The Midwest HSR, for example, is still in the advocacy stage.

arcady said...

The Midwest HSR is largely incremental upgrades to the existing rail network to allow speeds above 80 mph. Indeed, the "shovel ready" parts of CAHSR are really just grade separations for the BNSF line between LA and Fullerton.

NOnimbys said...

Enough of the stupid "Peninsula"
its more than ready...remember you have 120 year old railroad tracks thru your town...O thats right you forgot since it is hidden behind Srubs!!!
Now open your window on this warm night and listen to all the train horns!!

Daniel Jacobson said...

How about a Caltrain stimulus? While we're focusing on what California will look like 10-20 years down the road, we can't lose sight of the fact that Caltrain will likely declare a fiscal emergency which will free them to make terrible cuts, including fare hikes, eliminating weekend service, decreasing midday service to only hourly, and adding a one-dollar bike surcharge. Can we get a bailout here?

Spokker said...

"Can we get a bailout here?"

The Feds have indicated that they are not interested in bailing out transit agencies. But I have heard promising reports that they are considering it in the Senate.

political_i said...

Raising the gas tax 50 cents a gallon sounds oh so great right now just to pool it all into infrastructure improvements. We should have done that with the recession onset. We have the cheapest federal gas tax of any of the major developing nations. Perhaps we could pool money in from gas into a mass transportation fund to rebuild old and build new infrastructure as well.

Pat Moore said...

@Robert --

Congratulations!

A whole post without "NIMBY" or "HSR deniers"

So what is a "HSR denier" again?

bossyman15 said...

no better yet how about 100% gas tax? 1/4 goes to local road and 3/4 goes to transit. Put up highway toll booth on all highways in California. That tolls goes to THAT highway its on.

Just do it.

oh as for electric car put on the mileage tax.

BruceMcF said...

Daniel Jacobson said...
"How about a Caltrain stimulus? While we're focusing on what California will look like 10-20 years down the road, we can't lose sight of the fact that Caltrain will likely declare a fiscal emergency which will free them to make terrible cuts, including fare hikes, eliminating weekend service, decreasing midday service to only hourly, and adding a one-dollar bike surcharge. Can we get a bailout here?"

As those who followed the transport portion of the stimulus bill, this was the most glaring flaw all along ... the lack of operating grants in aid for transit agencies and authorities.

That would seem to be the long entrenched bias against funding transit operation.

But the economic case continues to be sound ... its the kind of spending that will help offset the cyclical downturn in state and local tax receipts very soon after being enacted.

BruceMcF said...

arcady said...
"I strongly disagree with the HSRA's priorities. What use is it going to be to have a train from San Francisco to San Jose (which we already have), another train from Anaheim to LA (which we also already have), and yet another train from Merced to Bakersfield (which also already has service)."

I don't see how asking the Federal government to fund 100% of SF/San Jose and LA / Anaheim increases the risk that the "money will run out halfway". Any time 08-Prop1A bond funding does not have to be used, it improves the prospects of finishing all of Stage 1 without being forced to open a portion in order to be able to issue revenue bonds.

Rafael said...

I'm not so sure LaHood's preference for Florida is all that great an idea. The state was far along in its planning but then canceled the idea. California postponed the ballot initiative twice, but there is no significant demand for canceling it altogether.

The question if Florida voters can be trusted to really see it through this time. Same with Texas. I'm not aware of state funding for HSR in either Florida or Texas. Without that, there wouldn't be enough money to complete the route. The ARRA does permit the federal share on HSR projects to go as high as 100%.

However, it would seem prudent to insist on a ramp-up of state funding from say, 2012 onward plus a commutation of the federal investment from grant to loan if the entire project is not completed by a negotiated date. That should apply to California as well.

The Ohio CCC and Virginia/North Carolina projects, may be on the shortlist for the $1.5 billion approved for HSR (in the federal sense) in the context of H.R. 2095-110th. That bill sets a limit of 80% for the federal share.

@ Rob Dawg -

CHSRA needs $33 billion for the starter line, not $43. IFF California were to get $6 billion in HSR stimulus funds and no other non-state funds, a maximum of $6 billion of the prop 1A(2008) bonds could be appropriated. So that would mean $12 billion in the kitty, $21 billion to go.

It's entirely possible that more federal funding will be forthcoming IFF there is good progress on HSR projects such that it helps Obama in his re-election bid in 2012.

Years of delay because of NIMBY lawsuits and wrangling over CHSRA accountability to the state legislature, plus a failure to fix the annual tug-of-war over the state budget will make additional federal investment in the California system less likely.

Rafael said...

@ Alon Levy, Robert Cruickshank -

I modified the post on the HSR Yards such that the embedded YouTube videos and Google Maps are now hyperlinks to those assets. That should improve the download speed considerably.

My apologies for the inconvenience.

BruceMcF said...

Rafeal: "The Ohio CCC and Virginia/North Carolina projects, may be on the shortlist for the $1.5 billion approved for HSR (in the federal sense) in the context of H.R. 2095-110th. That bill sets a limit of 80% for the federal share."

Its hard to see how the Ohio Triple-C gets shortlisted for funds that are not applied for, while not getting approved for the funds that are applied for.

The more normal way it works it that a project either gets approved or not for the funds that it applied for. Getting an application approved that was not submitted is far more rare.

BruceMcF said...

Rafael said...
"I'm not so sure LaHood's preference for Florida is all that great an idea. The state was far along in its planning but then canceled the idea. California postponed the ballot initiative twice, but there is no significant demand for canceling it altogether."

Its a very clever idea ... add the California and Florida delegations together, and the log roll possibilities become just that much easier.

If California gets $3b in no-match funding, and of the projects not funded out of the Stimulus bill, puts in for up to $1b funding out of the annual allocation and gets $400m, that's $3.5b for a burn of $100m in 08-Prop1A bonds.

The important thing for California is to get enough different states sucking on the federal budget for HSR projects to crank the HSR funding up to $10b annually. That would be ample leeway for $8b bond funding on a 20% state match for $40b total, plus the likely around $3b from the Stimulus funding, to get to $43b, and the bulk of $1b state bonded funding for contingencies ... where the maximum 50% state match set against the target 20% state match would leave substantial flexibility contingencies.

And, worst case, even if there is an unpleasant surprise in both tunneling projects, that's be enough funding to see one of the tunnel projects through and get the system up and running to the point that it can issue revenue bonding.

Anonymous said...

Just because $33 billion was in the budget doesn't mean that the cost is anywhere close to that. I don't know about the southern legs, but they will be lucky to get the northern parts done at twice budgeted cost, and that is not presuming tunneling the whole Peninsula.

Right now there are no ROW costs for the entire ROW down to Gilroy (and south of SJ HSR is missing a strip 40-100 feet wide), no money for Caltrain electrification, no money for temporary ROW etc etc.

Anonymous said...

Rafael writes:

"California postponed the ballot initiative twice, but there is no significant demand for canceling it altogether."

Of course 6 months ago there was no effort to tunnel along the peninsula either, and Burlingame was not saying either give us a tunnel tunnel or don't build.

Of course 6 months ago, Kopp wasn't saying we won't go to the TransBay terminal -- King street is close enough. Do you think 80% of SF voters would have still voted for Prop 1A knowing this was the intention of the Authority? How many falsehoods is the Authority permitted to preach -- "I promise a business plan on Oct 1st" --- Kopp before the Senate committee last summer.

I'd love to see a vote now on Prop 1A. Not a chance it would pass...

Spokker said...

"Of course 6 months ago there was no effort to tunnel along the peninsula either, and Burlingame was not saying either give us a tunnel tunnel or don't build."

The mid-peninsula cities are hardly the center of the state, and I'm sure the rest of the state, or even the rest of the Bay Area for that matter, hell, even the rest of those cities, couldn't care less about the trials and tribulations of the mid-peninsula.

"Do you think 80% of SF voters would have still voted for Prop 1A knowing this was the intention of the Authority?"

Yeah, because they are the same people who want to remove cars from Market Street and tear down freeways. These are the hippies who vote for high speed rail despite some blemishes.

Six months ago, we knew that the CHSRA chose the evil Pacheco pass route. The Bay Area, including the East Bay, still voted for it, despite some commentators predicting Prop 1A would fail for just that reason.

"How many falsehoods is the Authority permitted to preach -- "I promise a business plan on Oct 1st" --- Kopp before the Senate committee last summer."

A factoid, repeated often enough, becomes true. The business plan was held up the state budget. The CHSRA cannot produce a business plan unless it has the proper resources to do it.

Spokker said...

Edit: Held up by the state budget.

NOnimbys said...

BS not a chance it would pass...
The same whinny nimbys ..ie your type were cying before Nov 4th and it passed..With Wall street improving and the rail stimulis money Prop1A would pass by an even larger amount.

neroden@gmail said...

Rrrgh. I was hoping North Carolina (with very firmly developed, though very modest) plans would be considered "ahead of the curve"; likewise the Cascades; and likewise the Milwaukee-Madison and Chicago-Detroit parts of the Midwest corridor. Mostly they're fairly conservative designs, but there's a *lot* of contractor-ready stuff there.

neroden@gmail said...

I'm curious how much funding will be needed for LA-Bakersfield.

As far as I can tell, that's the "minimum operable high speed segment", which is capable of earning money (being high speed and all that) before the rest is complete. Mayyybe LA-Irvine is in the same category but it sounds a lot harder to build and a lot more redundant with existing transportation and a lot less high speed.

LA-Bakersfield, although complicated and expensive, would be time-competitive with buses over the Grapevine in this very busy travel market -- and extending the line north through the Central Valley from there would be relatively straightforward and would continuously add revenue.