An initial $8 billion in spending will be part of the budget plan Obama is set to release Monday. If Congress approves the plan, the money would go toward developing or improving trains that travel up to 250 miles per hour, and connecting existing rail lines to new projects. The White House wouldn’t say where the money for the rest of the program would come from, though it’s likely Obama would seek funding in future budgets or transportation bills.
Obama’s push for high-speed rail spending is part of his broad goal of creating jobs in the short-term and increasing American competitiveness for the future through new spending on infrastructure, education and innovation. During last month’s State of the Union address, Obama said he wanted to give 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail within 25 years.
At the same time he’s calling for new spending on sectors like high-speed rail in the upcoming budget, Obama also has pledged to cut overall spending as he seeks to bring down the nation’s mounting deficit. The White House has said environmental programs for the Great Lakes, and block grants for community service and community development are among the programs that will face cuts.
But it’s unlikely the cuts Obama proposes in the budget will be enough to appease the GOP. Republicans now controlling the House have promised to slash domestic agencies’ budgets by nearly 20 percent for the coming year.
The White House has said cuts must be cautious, arguing that drastic reductions in spending could cause the still-fragile economic recovery to stall. Vice President Joe Biden said Tuesday the administration wouldn’t compromise when it comes to spending on the infrastructure, education and innovation programs Obama is touting.
“We cannot compromise. The rest of the world is not compromising,” Biden said in Philadelphia at an event announcing the high-speed rail initiative.
Obama’s call for increased spending on high-speed rail projects is nothing new. He’s long seen the sector as an area of opportunity for creating jobs and improving the nation’s transportation system. His administration awarded $10 billion in federal grants for high-speed rail projects last year, including $2.3 billion for California to begin work on an 800-mile-long, high-speed rail line tying Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay area to Los Angeles and San Diego; and $1.25 billion to Florida to build a rail line connecting Tampa on the West Coast with Orlando in the middle of the state, eventually going south to Miami.
Some Republicans have been critical of Obama’s plans to expand high-speed rail across the country. House Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., has urged the administration to focus its spending on the crowded Northeast rail corridor.
“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 Tuesday in a statement.
Amtrak already operates Acela service between Boston and Washington that briefly reaches speeds over 110 mph – generally considered the threshold for high speed – but the trains are forced to travel slower most of the time because they make frequent stops and because they share tracks with slower freight trains.
Last summer, Obama laid out a plan to invest $50 billion in highways, bridges, transit, high-speed rail and airports, adding it to the first year of a six-year transportation bill. Congress didn’t act on the proposal before adjourning last year, but LaHood has said he hopes to have a bill on Obama’s desk by August.