Northeastern states ask LaHood for Florida’s rail money

Last Wednesday, Florida Governor Rick Scott turned down nearly $2 billion in federal grants for high speed rail. The Governor cited potential cost overruns and paying down deficits as reasons for his rejection – a decision which made national news and added to the debate on budget and infrastructure issues. The declaration also led Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood to give the state an additional week to find a way to utilize the funding but any option will still require the Governor’s approval. In light of this, states across the northeast including Connecticut, New York, Rhode Island and Maryland have sent letters to Secretary LaHood asking for the funding to go to rail projects in their states if transportation advocates in Florida are unsuccessful.

When it comes to mass transit, the northeast comes closest to offering the same level of passenger rail service enjoyed throughout Europe and Asia. Passenger rail services keep people connected with relative ease from Virginia to Massachusetts. These rail systems are further supported by subways, regional rail services like MetroNorth and extensive bus networks that offer affordable transportation options and cut down on congestion. These states are now working to expand rail services further and deepen regional connectivity with federal funding grants like those offered to the Florida.

With that money potentially up for grabs, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy wants a portion to expand the Springfield-Hartford-New Haven rail line.

Taking a different view of high speed rail, Governor Malloy said in a statement, “everyone knows that effective transportation is crucial to keeping the economy moving. The better the transportation infrastructure, the better positioned the economy will be to recover, prosper, and create new jobs, and that’s why it is so critical for us to capitalize on the opportunity before us. This money is now up for grabs, and we’re not going to waste a second. We know our project is a strong contender, and we’re going to do our best to get additional funds from our federal partners.”

In a separate letter, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley asked for Florida’s money to be used to complete the B&P Tunnel replacement in Baltimore and the BWI Rail Station project. In addition to requesting funding to complete the tunnel and station projects, O’Malley also sought investments for three additional projects that were submitted as part of the original grant competition. These three projects would provide track safety improvements and increase passenger and freight capacity throughout Maryland and the northeast corridor.

Senators for Rhode Island and New York have also asked the Secretary for a cut of Florida’s money should it be re-appropriated. On Sunday, Senator Bill Nelson offered up a measure that would potentially provide high speed rail in Florida at no cost to the state but no formal plan has been created.

Last year, the US Conference of Mayors conducted a study which showed that if implemented, high-speed rail would increase annual revenues by billions while reducing CO2 emissions by 2.8 million tons a year.