California One of 4 HSR Stimulus Finalists?
UPDATE: Mica now claims he was “misquoted”. Original post begins here:
Florida is one of four finalists in the running for billions of federal stimulus dollars to build high-speed rail, U.S. Rep. John Mica said Friday.
California, Texas and the Chicago area also remain in the competition, said Mica, a Winter Park Republican. He would not reveal the source of his information…
A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Transportation, Rob Kulat, disputed Mica’s announcement, saying: “We are still evaluating applications. I haven’t seen a list because I’m told it doesn’t exist.”
That’s not exactly a denial. If those four states weren’t finalists, the FRA spokesman would have come out and said so. “Still evaluating” and “haven’t seen a list” are statements compatible with there being an informal decision to pick CA, FL, TX and Chicago area as the four recipients of funds.
Obviously we won’t know what’s really going on until the FRA makes its formal announcement of HSR stimulus recipients, which will probably happen sometime next month. But we can at least take a look at what this might mean for California if it does turn out to be true.
As we know, California’s HSR application was for $4.7 billion, to fund construction on four corridors: SF-San José, Merced-Fresno, Fresno-Bakersfield, and LA-Anaheim. Florida requested $2.6 billion, Illinois requested $550 million for Chicago to St. Louis upgrades, and Texas has requested $1.8 billion to work on their T-Bone HSR project.
Altogether that’s $9.65 billion, so some applications would have to be funded at a less-than-complete level. The FRA will award funding according to corridors, and won’t unilaterally adjust the amount requested for each corridor. What this means is that California’s $1.28 billion request for the SF-SJ section might not get funded, which would bring the level down to $8.37 billion, potentially easier for the FRA to play with in order to award the $8 billion in available funds.
Although Mica’s report is plausible, it would be curious if the Obama Administration chose to fund a project in Texas over other applications from key swing states. Both Virginia ($1.75 for DC-Richmond) and North Carolina ($3.9 billion for Charlotte-Raleigh-Richmond) applied for funding, and both states were crucial to Obama’s 2008 victory and will be again in 2012. The grandaddy of all the swing states, Ohio, requested $564 million for the “3C” project linking Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati. If the FRA chose to replace Texas with the Ohio funding, they’d be much closer to $8 billion. And other states, such as Pennsylvania, submitted several funding requests in the $400-$500 million range that could then be funded as well, making more people happy in the process.
My own prediction has always been that California would not get the full $4.7 billion – that we would probably get $3 to $4 billion. If the FRA chose to not fund SF-SJ but fund the others, that would award us around $3.42 billion, right in the middle of the range I’ve expected. The feds would be helping fund the Central Valley test track and the LA-Anaheim route, both of which would be highly visible examples of HSR that can build public support to ensure the system gets fully funded and built by 2020.