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Mass. joins bidders seeking $2.4b in aid for high-speed rail

By Joan Lowy
Associated Press / April 7, 2011

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WASHINGTON — Massachusetts and 23 other states, the District of Columbia, and Amtrak are vying for $2.4 billion in federal aid that became available when Florida’s governor canceled a higher-speed rail project in his state, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said yesterday.

The deadline for applications for the funds was Monday. The Transportation Department is reviewing 90 applications seeking a total of $10 billion, LaHood said.

“They know that high-speed rail will deliver tens of thousands of jobs, spur economic development across their communities, and create additional options for their citizens as the country’s population grows,’’ LaHood said in a statement.

Among the requests was one from Amtrak for $1.3 billion to enhance train service in the Northeast Corridor between Boston and Washington. The proposal includes a $720 million project to replace the more than 100-year-old movable Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River in New Jersey with a new, high-level fixed bridge.

Amtrak’s application also includes $188 million for preliminary engineering and environmental analysis for two new tunnels under the Hudson River into Manhattan and $50 million for similar work for the development of a Penn Station South facility to accommodate more tracks and platforms in downtown New York.

Massachusetts officials said they will seek $110 million to replace a 92-year-old bridge in Haverhill that slows Amtrak’s Portland-to-Boston Downeaster, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s Haverhill commuter rail line, and freight railroads crossing the Merrimack River.

Also, Connecticut’s governor, Dannel P. Malloy, wants the money to improve the line from New Haven to Springfield, Mass.

President Obama has sought to make creation of a national network of higher-speed trains a signature project of his administration.

However, Obama is getting resistance from Republicans, who say the trains should be rejected unless it can be shown that they will be self-supporting.

Three Republican governors elected in November have canceled high-speed train projects in their states. Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin turned down $810 million to build a Madison-to-Milwaukee higher-speed line. Governor John Kasich of Ohio rejected $400 million for a project to connect Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Columbus with conventional trains.

In Florida, Governor Rick Scott canceled a project that would have connected Tampa and Orlando with high-speed trains. The administration had pledged $2.4 billion toward it.

Scott said he was concerned that the state government would be locked into years of operating subsidies. However, a report by the state’s transportation department forecast the rail line would be profitable.

Wisconsin’s Walker is now among the governors seeking a share of the money Scott turned down. Walker is asking for at least $150 million to add trains for an existing Milwaukee-to-Chicago line.

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