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By Angela Cotey, associate editor
New project and grant announcements prompted by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) continued to be released at a rapid pace last month. Federal agencies and transit authorities released details on stimulus-funded projects and programs, and provided updates on high-speed rail development plans.
In late May, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) held a series of workshops to gather input on the Obama Administration’s strategic plan for high-speed rail development. FRA officials will consider the feedback when developing the interim guidance report the agency’s required to issue by June 17, prior to distributing $8 billion in ARRA grants for high-speed and intercity passenger-rail projects and development.
Workshops were held in regional locations in the Southeast, Florida, Pacific Northwest, California, South Central/Gulf Coast, Midwest and Northeast.
A handful of states are anxious to cash in on the $8 billion to advance their high-speed rail programs, and several high-speed rail groups are positioning themselves to vie for the funding.
Last month, the California High Speed Rail Authority board approved two “shovel-ready” projects that members believe will qualify for federal stimulus dollars. The projects will be added to the state’s official request for a portion of the high-speed and intercity rail funding that will be appropriated sometime after the application deadline of Aug. 1.
The projects include the Los Angeles-to-Anaheim and San Francisco-to-San Jose corridors, which are slated for construction by the stimulus act’s 2012 deadline; and right-of-way acquisition in the Merced-to-Bakersfield corridor, which includes a planned maintenance facility.
The ARRA high-speed rail program also was a hot topic at a symposium held May 7 in Washington, D.C. Hosted by the Railway Supply Institute (RSI), OneRail Coalition and Women in Government Relations, “Selling to America’s Railroads: Freight, Intercity and High Speed Rail Development - How Stimulus Funds Will Be Spent on Rail” featured speakers from the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT). In addition, rail suppliers were invited to hear how the stimulus bill would affect them.
The symposium included a state panel, which addressed high-speed rail corridor programs in California, Virginia and the Northeast. Deputy Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy David Matsuda and Deputy Federal Railroad Administrator Karen Rae stressed the Administration’s dedication to implementing high-speed rail in the U.S. and outlined the FRA’s strategic high-speed rail plan, according to a summation of the symposium released by RSI.
In addition, representatives from CSX Corp., Union Pacific Railroad, Norfolk Southern Railway and BNSF Railway Co. were on hand to discuss their railroads’ passenger principles, stimulus projects, non-stimulus public-private partnership projects and corridors they believe are primed for high-speed rail development.
Finally, Amtrak Vice President of Policy and Development Stephen Gardner outlined the intercity passenger railroad’s goals. He views the ARRA, in combination with the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 that was signed into law last October, as keys to improving passenger-rail service. States will be responsible for strategic planning, USDOT will be responsible for bringing local and regional authorities together, and Amtrak will strive to provide reliable service and meet states’ needs, according to RSI.
Meanwhile, the USDOT last month announced it will award $742.5 million in ARRA funds for 10 transit-rail projects that already have entered into Full Funding Grant Agreements with the Federal Transit Administration.
The ARRA grants do not increase the amount of federal funding for the projects, but will expedite the funds that have been committed, according to the USDOT. The proceeds will enable the transit agencies to reduce financing costs and speed project investments.
The transit-rail projects receiving the funds include: MTA Long Island Rail Road’s East Side Access, $195.4 million; Utah Transit Authority’s Mid-Jordan light-rail line, $90.9 million; MTA New York City Transit’s Second Avenue Subway, Phase I, $78.9 million; Dallas Area Rapid Transit’s Northwest/Southeast light-rail line, $78.4 million; Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority’s Dulles Corridor Metrorail extension, $77.3 million; Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Metro Gold Line Eastside extension, $66.7 million; Sound Transit’s University Link light-rail extension, $44 million; Regional Transportation District of Denver’s West Corridor light-rail line, $40 million; Valley Metro’s Phoenix-Central Phoenix/East Valley light-rail line, $36 million; and Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon’s South Corridor I-205/Portland Mall light-rail line, $32 million.
The USDOT also announced the availability of $1.5 billion in Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) discretionary grants for surface transportation projects, which is funded through the stimulus bill.
Grants will be awarded on a competitive basis to projects that have “a significant impact on the nation, a region or metropolitan area and can create jobs and benefit economically distressed areas,” according to the USDOT. Primary criteria includes contributions to the medium- to long-term economic competitiveness; improving the condition of existing transportation facilities and systems; improvements to the quality of living and working environments through livable communities; energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emission reductions; and improving the safety of U.S. transportation facilities.
The grants will range from $20 million to $300 million, but the USDOT will require “rigorous economic justifications” for projects over $100 million. The department will require all grant recipients to report on their activities on a routine basis.
Applications for TIGER discretionary grants must be submitted by Sept. 15.
In the meantime, those stimulus dollars that have been allocated — including a large chunk of the $6.9 billion available in transit capital assistance formula grants and $1.3 billion in Amtrak funds — are being put to good use.
Last month, Amtrak broke ground on a new Auto Train station in Sanford, Fla., the southern most terminus for the service, which enables passengers to travel with their own vehicles from Lorton, Va., to Sanford.
Funded through ARRA dollars, the $10 million project calls for replacing the current 2,500-square-foot facility — which includes three separate structures — with a 10,000-square-foot station that will feature a passenger waiting area, ticket counter, gift shop, café and restrooms. The waiting room will include seating for 600 customers. The current waiting area, which is partially housed in a tent, seats 370.
In the Northeast, the commonwealth of Massachusetts announced it received $1.73 million in ARRA funds for projects aimed at reducing diesel emissions, and allocated $1.1 million of it to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.
The agency will use the proceeds to re-power the engines of 11 locomotives to reduce particulate and nitrogen oxide emissions. The funds are being administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Finally, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is beginning to issue requests for proposals for projects that will be funded with federal stimulus dollars. The agency is set to receive $67 million in ARRA funds to maintain or rehabilitate rolling stock, facilities and systems. Projects include reconditioning light-rail vehicles doors and steps, replacing fare-collecting equipment and installing an automatic train-control system inductive loop cable in the Muni Metro Subway.