Not All CA HSR Advocates Are Happy With Stimulus Decisions
While we who support the high speed rail project being planned by the California High Speed Rail Authority have been celebrating the stimulus announcement since we first learned of it on Wednesday, not all advocates for high speed rail projects that involve California are pleased. Left out of the stimulus awards was the Southern California to Las Vegas corridor, including the maglev project to link Anaheim to Vegas. That hasn’t gone over too well among project backers, and recriminations are flying among Nevada politicians.
As the Las Vegas Review-Journal puts it:
Nevada lost out on another multimillion-dollar economic stimulus program when the government doled out $8 billion for high-speed rail projects Thursday because a route planned for a magnetic levitation train between Las Vegas and Southern California was declared ineligible for the funds.
The denial of $83 million in coveted federal funds that might have been used to create jobs and advance a futuristic mode of travel for casino-bound tourists immediately set off a round of political finger-pointing.
At issue was whether the state of Nevada did enough to support the application. The US Department of Transportation is arguing that the maglev project was ineligible because it was not sponsored by a state agency:
Robert Kulat, a Department of Transportation spokesman, said the Nevada-California partnership applied for funding, “but they were not qualified. The project was not eligible, and the sponsor was ineligible. There had to be a state agency sponsoring it.”
The application for $83 million was filed by the California-Nevada Super Speed Commission, but according to the federal department, “only states, groups of states, interstate compacts, and public agencies established by one or more states” were eligible.
While the Super Speed Train Commission ostensibly is a bi-state body, there is a wrinkle, a senior Transportation Department official said. Nevada established its part as a state agency, but in California, it was formed as a “nonprofit public benefit corporation.”
On Aug. 25, lawyers for the Federal Railroad Administration inquired about the makeup of the commission, said Neil Cummings, president of American Magline Group, the consortium putting together the Vegas-to-Anaheim project. Gibbons and Bruce Aguilera, the chairman of the California-Nevada commission, responded to the federal inquiry.
“We gave them everything and never heard back a word,” Cummings said, adding he was baffled the project did not qualify based on its where its work stands.
Nevada governor Jim Gibbons, a Republican, used the issue as an opportunity to take a shot at Democratic Senator Harry Reid, facing a tough reelection battle this fall:
“It looks like Senator Reid was asleep at the switch again, “ Governor Gibbons said, “Once again Reid pays no attention to the needs of Nevada families and President Obama simply ignores the fact that we have the second highest unemployment rate in the country.” Governor Gibbons has worked tirelessly to bring new industry and jobs to Nevada. “Nevada already has a high speed magnetic levitation train (MAGLEV) plan in place,” Governor Gibbons said, “It is disgusting and disgraceful that Reid and Obama ignored our efforts.”
Gibbons also noted that this high speed rail funding comes from stimulus funds, meant to create jobs and stimulate the economy. “Senator Reid’s weak efforts to help Nevada have already put us in 50th place in per capita stimulus fund rankings, this is just another slap in the face to working families and to families suffering through the misery of unemployment,” Governor Gibbons said, “I am surprised Reid calls Nevada his home state when he uses his position to insult every citizen of Nevada.” Gibbons added, “Every Nevadan, especially unemployed construction workers, should be livid with Senator Reid.”
Reid’s defense was that Gibbons and the state of Nevada failed to submit the proper application, leaving it up to the California-Nevada Super Speed Commission to submit it instead of the state of Nevada. Reid posted the following discussion with Ray LaHood on his website on Thursday to address the issue:
Of course, Reid has shifted his support away from maglev and toward the DesertXpress project, which has said it will not seek any federal funds as part of its construction. And Reid and LaHood argue in the video that the stimulus funds that went to us in California will benefit Nevada by helping build an HSR route through Palmdale, where an easy connection can be built to the DesertXpress trains.
Which is certainly true, but unlikely to be much comfort to Nevadans seeking high speed trains. One wonders if DesertXpress’s decision to not seek any federal funding was the right one. The state of Nevada should abandon its support of maglev and instead emphasize steel-wheel HSR. Surely DesertXpress could have found a use for $83 million in federal funding.
The longer-term future of Nevada HSR isn’t at all clear. While Governor Gibbons (himself a scandal-ridden lame duck) thinks the answer is to blame Harry Reid, I can’t imagine how Nevada would be any better off if they elected one of his Republican opponents, at least as far as HSR is concerned. Reid has been a rather poor majority leader in the Senate and ought to be replaced in that post forthwith. But if Nevadans think their chances of getting HSR funds are any better with a Republican Senator, or with Republican control of the Senate, they’ve got to be dreaming.