By Jennifer Lade and Joan Lowly
Associated Press Writer
State officials have applied for federal stimulus funding to cover the entire cost of the South Coast Rail project: $1.9 billion.
The project to construct a rail extension from Boston to Fall River and New Bedford has many selling points that could give it an edge in the application process, said Kristina Egan, manager of the project for the state, contacted by telephone Tuesday night.
“One of the great things about South Coast Rail from the grant criteria perspective is that they grant applications that serve economically distressed areas” like New Bedford, she said. In addition, the green model of the project, which encourages smart growth, walking and biking, will be attractive to the Obama administration, she said.
In a telephone interview Tuesday night, Mayor Scott W. Lang said he was optimistic about the application for high-speed rail stimulus funding.
“I don’t know that we’ll get the whole amount, but I know that whatever we get on the federal end will be put to good use. I think the whole key is starting to build it now.”
He added that Sen. John F. Kerry had been working to secure federal funding for the rail.
“I really appreciate his effort,” Lang said.
Still, the project has not yet completed its environmental review and is not shovel-ready, which could count against it as the Obama administration makes its decision.
“These competitive programs are difficult,” Egan said. “We don’t really have any good idea of what the likelihood is at this point.”
In total, 24 states applied for $50 billion in grant funds by the Oct. 2 deadline, more than six times the $8 billion designated in the economic stimulus plan for high-speed rail projects.
Interest in winning a share of the rail funds has been intense, not only by states, but by domestic and foreign rail, engineering and construction companies that want to build and operate the systems. The fierce competition also means most applicants are likely to go away empty-handed.
Some projects competing with rail to SouthCoast include:
* $4.7 billion from the California High-Speed Rail Authority for bullet train service from Sacramento to San Diego.
* A first-in-the-nation magnetic levitation train that would run from Pittsburgh International Airport to downtown Pittsburgh.
* $2.5 billion for high-speed service in Florida between Tampa and Orlando.
* A high-speed line in Oklahoma between Tulsa and Oklahoma City.
It is unclear whether the administration will consider funding part of a project or if the grants will be awarded on an “all or nothing” basis.
A decision on which projects will receive funds will be made this winter, Joseph Szabo, head of the Federal Railroad Administration, said in a statement.
In August, the agency received 214 applications from 34 states totaling $7 billion for corridor planning and smaller projects, which would include trains traveling less then 110 mph, the rate defined as high-speed in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
“Our selections will be merit-based and will reflect President Obama’s vision to remake America’s transportation landscape,” Szabo said.
Egan said state officials are making the case that South Coast Rail can be considered high speed. The project calls for electric rather than diesel power for a faster travel time, and the rail could include express service, she said. The train could operate at high speed north of Canton, she added.
The rail project to SouthCoast is also being considered for a federal grant, the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER grant, which will award up to $1.5 billion through Sept. 30, 2011, Egan said. The grants are awarded for capital investments in surface transportation infrastructure projects that will have a significant impact on the nation, a metropolitan area or a region.
State officials are asking for $71.4 million to begin construction of the Whale’s Tooth Station in New Bedford and begin to build the railroad tracks northward, a project that is shovel-ready, she said.
“I’m very hopeful about the TIGER grant. I think we have a very strong application,” Egan said. “On high speed rail, I’m also hopeful, but I think we have a lot of work to do before we’re shovel ready. And I’m hoping that the federal government keeps our application open as future rounds of funding become available.”
October 07, 2009
Source URL: http://www.southcoasttoday.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20091007/NEWS/910070328
By Jennifer Lade and Joan Lowly