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States clamor for high-speed rail stimulus funds as applications pour into DC

Amtrak Acela 654 Northbound Originally uploaded by Jim Frazier

When the stimulus passed in February, $8 billion for high-speed rail was added at the 25th hour, at the behest of the Obama administration. In the days since, states have scrambled to prepare their proposals to receive a share of the money, which will be distributed via a process of competitive grants.

When the administration’s blueprint was released in April, President Obama said “high-speed rail is long-overdue, and this plan lets American travelers know that they are not doomed to a future of long lines at the airports or jammed cars on the highways.”

With states competing for their share of the $8 billion to start developing and building high-speed corridors, competition was sure to be tough. As recently as yesterday, we had heard that $93 billion in grant applications were submitted to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). Just today, we saw this statement from DOT Secretary LaHood’s office detailing an even higher number: 278 pre-applications for grant funding totaling $102 billion. 40 states and the District of Columbia submitted proposals to get a share of the $8 billion available in the stimulus.

“The response has been tremendous and shows that the country is ready for high-speed rail,” Secretary LaHood said.  “It’s time to look beyond our highways and invest in public transportation services like rail, which will enhance regional mobility and reduce our carbon footprint.”

Next up for the DOT and the Federal Railroad Administration is figuring out which of these 278 applications to move forward in the process. The first step will likely be figuring out which proposals best line up with the administration’s already-released blueprint for the 10 national high-speed rail corridors. The first grantees will be announced in the fall, according to the DOT release.