Obama's rail plan riding on key governor races

Thursday, September 23, 2010

From an article by Matt Leingang in the Wisconsin State Journal:

President Barack Obama's plan for high-speed passenger rail has a lot riding on the outcome of some key gubernatorial races in November.

Republican candidates in Ohio and Wisconsin have promised to cancel rail projects that are getting millions from the federal stimulus package, mocking the plans as boondoggles or complaining the trains would leave the states with too much of a financial burden for future operations.

Florida Republican nominee Rick Scott is also making threats. Scott is opposed to any rail plan that would have to be subsidized indefinitely, spokeswoman Bettina Inclan said. She didn't comment on whether Scott would return $1.3 billion in stimulus money for high-speed trains connecting Tampa and Orlando.

Rail advocates who say the U.S. needs greater transportation options for the 21st century see GOP opposition as nothing but raw partisan politics, a way to destroy projects that, if successful, would stand as legacies to Obama's stimulus plan.

"I guess it makes sense for them politically, and it plays into the fantasy that highways pay for themselves," said Richard Harnish, executive director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, a Chicago-based nonprofit that promotes passenger rail.

Obama in January awarded $8 billion in stimulus money for 13 passenger rail projects. The largest would connect San Francisco with Los Angeles, using trains traveling up to 220 mph.