The White House will dedicate $53 billion over the next six years to improve existing rail corridors and dedicate new tracks for high-speed trains, Vice President Joe Biden announced today.
The $53 billion injection will start with an $8 billion down payment in President Obama's 2012 budget, which is set to be released Monday. The investment builds on President Obama's promise in the State of the Union address to give 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail in 25 years.
"As President Obama said in his State of the Union, there are key places where we cannot afford to sacrifice as a nation -- one of which is infrastructure," said Biden, speaking with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in Philadelphia this morning. "As a longtime Amtrak rider and advocate, I understand the need to invest in a modern rail system that will help connect communities, reduce congestion and create quality, skilled manufacturing jobs that cannot be outsourced."
According to a White House press release, the funds will offer states long-term certainty to start planning rail routes. So far, the administration has paid out $10.5 billion, including nearly $2.4 billion to Florida and more than $3 billion to California. Obama had previously promised to spend at least $1 billion a year over five years on rail projects.
Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, blasted the announcement, comparing it to "giving Bernie Madoff another chance at handling your investment portfolio." Mica supports high-speed rail development but has been critical of the Federal Rail Administration's grant decisions and Amtrak's management of existing routes.
"Rather than focusing on the Northeast Corridor, the most congested corridor in the nation and the only corridor owned by the federal government, the Administration continues to squander limited taxpayer dollars on marginal projects," Mica said, adding that he felt much of the early money was wasted on trains that were not fast enough or would not serve enough of the population.
Mica and Railroads Subcommittee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) promised to investigate the administration's spending decisions on rail. Some Republicans have even called for the program to be scrapped altogether.
The White House said that in addition to increasing the rail funding, the Department of Transportation would also streamline the grant process by combining high-speed and intercity rail programs into two new accounts -- one for new development and one for system preservation and repair.