Thursday, February 12, 2009

Surprise stimulus gift to High Speed Rail

Earlier today, the House and Senate settled on a stimulus package that's worth just less than $800 million. On the transit side, the final stimulus package will mirror the version approved by the Senate: $8.4 billion will be distributed to transit agencies based on established formulas and with an additional $5.5 billion to be spent on transit and highway projects selected by the Department of Transportation.

Some expressed disappointments that funding for New Starts projects is not included in the final bill (which was actually included at $750 million, a reduced amount from the house version). Some also thought the stimulus package should include direct operating funds to backfill loss state and local funding.

The biggest surprise is funding for High Speed Rail programs. HSR program was not specifically included in the House version of the bill. Later the Senate added $2 billion. During the conference negotiations, the committee agreed to increase HSR funding to $8 billion. According to reports, the increase was urged personally by President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

The sudden increase in HSR funding can certainly help to accelerate projects. Earlier this week, MTC released a plan on how to spend the stimulus funds. Under MTC's plan, projects that are almost ready to go but lack funding received priority, which included the people mover connection to Oakland Airport and the underground train box at the Downtown San Francisco Transbay Terminal. VTA would also receive stimulus funds on a formula basis to replace aging buses with hybrids.

Some delusionals were quite disappointed that the BART project was not included in the stimulus package. However, that project was not in a position to benefit from the package anyhow. Under the best case scenario, construction would not be ready for another 3-4 years in the minimum, which runs counter to the intent of the stimulus bill: to create jobs soon as a way to recover from the economic slump. Also, the BART system is not compatible with High Speed Rail. Carl Guardino and other VTA boneheads insisted that regional trains and long distance trains cannot share infrastructure, and they actively advocated against sensible proposals like Caltrain Metro East, which would have certainly benefited from the Prop 1A as well as the stimulus package.

1 comment:

S.P. Gass said...

The high-speed rail stimulus is certainly interesting, but it would be nice to see some modern steam engines instead of electric motor locomotives: