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Rail Cut of $1.5 Billion Won’t Hurt Current State Projects

High-Speed Rail Cut Wont Hurt Existing Programs
The California High-Speed Rail train travels near Mission Beach in San Diego, California, U.S., in this artist rendering. Source: California High-Speed Rail Authority via Bloomberg

A $1.5 billion cut in high-speed rail funding, highlighted by Republican leaders in their budget deal with the White House, won’t affect existing projects, said Brie Sachse, a Federal Railroad Administration spokeswoman.

Lawmakers agreed April 8 to cut spending by $38 billion for the last six months of the 2011 fiscal year, averting a government shutdown. The government has been operating under measures that continue funding for all programs at 2010 levels.

That means high-speed rail projects are still allotted $2.5 billion, as in 2010, even though President Barack Obama had asked for $1 billion for the program in the 2011 fiscal year ending Sept. 30. In the 2011 budget agreed to April 8, the high-speed rail program will receive $1 billion, $1.5 billion less than in fiscal 2010.

“That is a big chunk, although they’re giving the president what he asked for, so he can’t complain,” said Mortimer Downey, a senior adviser with Parsons Brinckerhoff, a New York-based design, engineering and construction-management firm that focuses on infrastructure projects.

Even with the decrease, no money is being taken away from existing projects that have received grants, such as those in California and Illinois. The initiative has received $10.5 billion since Obama started it with the 2009 stimulus.

To date, $5.65 billion of that has been sent to states that won grants. Last week $300 million was released to states including California, Connecticut and Maryland, along with the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority.

Almost one-third of that will go to alleviate two bottlenecks on the Northeast Corridor route from Washington to Boston run by Amtrak, the national passenger rail service.

Maryland got $60 million to study replacing a 100-year-old tunnel outside of Baltimore. New Jersey received $38.5 million for the final design of a new bridge to replace the 100-year-old Portal Bridge.

“They’ve rediscovered the Northeast Corridor,” Downey said. “It looks like they want to get a base for making capital investment, at least at the choke points.”

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