Monday, April 18, 2011

2011 High-Speed Rail Funding Eliminated

2011 High-Speed Rail Funding Eliminated: "

hsr_corridors_2009_lvwebEarly last week we told you that the new Congressional budget deal cut high-speed rail funding in 2011 down to just $1 billion from its initial level of $2.5 billion. Correction: the budget deal did not cut high-speed rail funding for 2011. It eliminated it. And then some. A document providing the latest details on the budget agreement, released by the House Appropriations Committee, makes that perfectly clear (pdf):

For the Department of Transportation, the bill eliminates new funding for High Speed Rail and rescinds $400 million in previous year funds, for a total reduction of $2.9 billion from fiscal year 2010 levels.

The extra $400 million comes from the $2.4 billion in high-speed rail funding refused by Florida. Tanya Snyder at Streetblog Capitol Hill breaks down the rest of the transportation cuts:

  • TIGER grants will be reduced to $528 million from an expected $600 million.

  • New Starts transit funding will have $502 million cut from its $2 billion budget. (Reconnecting America has some additional details on these cuts.)

  • Partnership for Sustainable Communities funding appears to be safe.

  • More than $3 billion in highway contracts will be cut.

Yonah Freemark recently pondered conservative objections to high-speed rail and settled on two explanations. The first is that conservatives believe intercity rail investment “constitutes inappropriate involvement of the public sector in something that should be determined by the market.” The second is that they believe high-speed rail can only work in certain regions. Freemark denies both positions and concludes:

The fact of the matter is that we must have a nationwide investment in intercity rail; it would be very difficult to produce support for federal government spending for just one region. The alternative is no investment at all.

In crafting the 2011 budget, conservatives took this alternative to heart. But rail is not the only loser in the current budget discussions. Roads may also suffer a devastating setback in funding. The House Republican budget plan for 2012 cuts transportation expenditures by more than 50 percent over the next decade. As President Obama said last week, this vision does not just fail to include high-speed rail. It is also “a vision that says we can’t afford to rebuild our roads and our bridges.”

The GOP plan claims that with some simple reorganization the Highway Trust Fund alone will be sufficient to fund road work at current levels. (As we have pointed out before, the trust fund has been subsidized with general Congressional funding in recent times, because the gasoline tax is insufficient, and lawmakers refuse to raise it.) But Donna Cooper at the Center for American Progress looks closely at the numbers and concludes “the only way to balance the Highway Trust Fund is through drastic cuts in funds to repair our crumbling roads and bridges.” There may be no alternative to cutting rail and road funding in the minds of many lawmakers, but there is a consequence: many unhappy American travelers.

Image: Federal Railroad Administration


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