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Mass. among states getting boost to high-speed-rail funds

$1.2 billion taken from reluctant Ohio, Wisconsin

By Joan Lowy and Kevin Freking
Associated Press / December 10, 2010

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WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is taking $1.2 billion in high-speed rail money away from Ohio and Wisconsin and awarding it to 12 other states, including Massachusetts, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said yesterday.

Massachusetts will receive $2.9 million from the diverted funds. The money would help restore the Connecticut River line for the Amtrak Vermonter service, as well as rail access to Northampton and Greenfield, said US Representative John W. Olver, Democrat of Amherst. The money will supplement the $95.5 million allotted for Bay State rail projects in February.

“This is a huge win for Massachusetts and shows once again that our state is leading in high-speed-rail innovation,’’ Senator John F. Kerry said in a statement.

Both Ohio and Wisconsin have elected Republican governors who oppose the rail projects. Those governors, whose states have been hit hard by the economic downturn, had asked if they could divert the money to other projects. But LaHood said he was awarding the money to states that are eager to have it for rail projects.

High-speed trains will not only improve transportation but reinvigorate manufacturing and put people back to work in jobs that pay well, LaHood said in a statement.

States gaining the most money include California ($624 million); Florida ($342 million); Washington ($161 million); and Illinois ($42 million). Other states receiving lesser amounts include New York, Maine, Oregon, North Carolina, Iowa, Vermont, and Indiana.

A commuter rail line in Wisconsin between Milwaukee and Chicago will still get about $2 million.

In Ohio, Governor-elect John Kasich had declared dead a project that would have created passenger train service between Cincinnati, Columbus, and Cleveland. He had requested that he be allowed to use the $400 million in federal funds on other transportation projects, such as road construction or freight lines.

But the economic recovery law that authorized funding for high-speed-rail projects stipulated that the funds can’t be used for other purposes.

Kasich also sought to have the money returned to the federal treasury to reduce the deficit if it couldn’t be used to meet other Ohio needs.

Wisconsin Governor-elect Scott Walker campaigned against a Madison-to-Milwaukee rail line, which would have received $810 million, as a waste of taxpayer money. Walker also said he didn’t want to commit the state to annual operating subsidies once the line was complete, although the project’s supporters predicted it would make money. Walker called the death of the proposed line “a victory’’ yesterday.

Political leaders in states benefiting from the cancellation of the Wisconsin and Ohio projects have been lobbying for a share of the $1.2 billion since Election Day.