Northeast Senators to LaHood: Give us Florida’s Money

The Washington Post reports that, on Friday, ten Senators from the Northeast made their case for the $2.4B in HSR funding rejected by Florida Governor Rick Scott. Although the fate of project is, remarkably, still on life support, the Senators join a growing chorus of politicians demanding a piece of Florida’s dollars.

In a letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, nine Democrats and Independent Senator Joe Lieberman (CT-I) requested the funds for improving the Northeast corridor’s existing high-speed service. Five of the Tri-State area’s six senators signed the note (only Schumer, D-NY, sat out).

The Senators argue that the Northeast is ideal for HSR investment:

The region served by the Corridor accounts for roughly one-fifth of the nation’s gross domestic product and twenty percent of our nation’s population. More than 250 million rail passengers use the Corridor annually and the Acela Express has built the foundation for high-speed rail service throughout the country. In a recent report, America 2050 rated the Northeast Corridor as the region with the greatest potential to attract high-speed rail ridership in the United States.

The Senators also complain (fairly) that the Northeast has been given short-shrift in Obama’s first-round, HSR funding:

Although the Northeast Corridor has the only operating high-speed train in the country, the Corridor has received less than two percent of the $10.5 billion provided by Congress for the High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program to date. We believe that this is an insufficient investment in the Northeast Corridor, given our region’s position as a population and economic mega-region.

The Senators’ appeal likely will have little significance in the short-term. Democratic politicians across the country have also expressed their interest. Earlier in February, Maryland Governor O’Malley (D) requested the funds for various projects in his state, including the replacement of the century-old tunnel under Baltimore, which is facing many of the same capacity and performance problems as the existing Trans-Hudson rail tunnels.

According to the LA Times, California’s politicians are also eager for a share of the Florida funding. Indeed, the California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA)  is the most likely candidate for the largest portion of the money. CHSRA has already benefited from the rash of Republican governors turning down federal funding. After the governors of Ohio and Wisconsin turned down their shares, CHSRA received half of the reallocated funds ($616M).

Unlike California, the Northeast cannot offer a demonstration project for other states exploring HSR. If Obama is seeking to encourage a nation-wide program, investments here will not dispel the myth that HSR can only work in the most densely populated part of the country. Still, with seriously congested airports and rail infrastructure at-capacity, the Northeast would arguably benefit the most from HSR. And, the unified voice of the Northeast’s Democratic Senators bodes well for the long-term prospects of expanding rail capacity in the NY area.

A full copy of the Senators’ letter can be found here.

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