Feds Allocate $8 Million to High-Speed Rail; Missouri Gets a 0.39% Cut
Yesterday, the Obama administration pledged $8 billion in federal stimulus funds to develop a high-speed rail system in the United States. This is no surprise. Congress set this money aside in February 2009, and the president described his vision for the project in April 2009.
California and Florida will receive $2.3 billion and $1.25 billion, respectively, which are the largest single awards. Obama’s home state of Illinois will receive $1.1 billion of this money, which is the third-highest amount. Missouri will receive much less money under this program: “only” $31 million, which equals 0.39% of the allocated funds.
In a recent study for the Show-Me Institute, “Why Missouri Taxpayers Should Not Build High-Speed Rail,” Randal O’Toole demonstrated that the president’s high-speed rail plan would result in high costs and few benefits:
If Missouri decides to build moderate- or high-speed rail, it may be responsible for cost overruns, operating losses, and the costs of replacing and rehabilitating equipment about every 30 years.
O’Toole has written several pieces for the Show-Me Institute about high-speed rail. He has a vision for transportation in Missouri that is more fiscally responsible than President Obama’s:
A better plan would be to use the state’s share of the $8 billion stimulus funds solely for incremental upgrades, such as safer grade crossings, longer track sidings, and signaling systems, that do not obligate state taxpayers to pay future operations and maintenance costs.
Alarmingly, the Obama administration emphasizes that this money is merely a down payment. This means that states, which are already cash-strapped, are left to pick up the rest of cost of these high-speed rail projects. For example, although the the Amtrak route from Chicago to St. Louis stretches 284 miles, the federal grant will cover only the 182-mile segment between Alton and Dwight, which constitutes only 64 percent. Illinois will have to find a way to pay for the rest of the project.
Although I understand that this money will pay for improvements to the existing rail in Missouri, I am concerned that this project will costly and will have low marginal benefits. Taxpayers are paying $31 million to increase the speed of the train that runs between Kansas City and Saint Louis by a mere five miles per hour. However, I will defer the analysis of the Missouri project and how it relates to O’Toole’s study to David Stokes, because he knows much, much more about transportation policy than I do. I look forward to reading his thoughts on this subject.