A week or so ago President Obama announced the funding decisions for high-speed rail under the economic stimulus package during a visit to Tampa, Florida. Details of where the funds will go nationally were released at the same time. The local press has had the wrong reaction to the information. They report the events as if Fort Wayne lost. We won! The bidding was very competitive, with requests for $57 Billion, and only (!) $8.2 Billion available, no part of the country got all they asked for.
Fort Wayne will be a part of the line that connects Chicago to Cleveland. That project was not funded in full at this time. What was funded in Indiana was improvement of a bottleneck section of rail just south of Lake Michigan that is a prerequisite for Fort Wayne to obtain high-speed rail service. It is part of the project to bring service to Fort Wayne. This area had to be re-engineered before there could be any high-speed rail to any destination east of Chicago. It is good news for Fort Wayne!
The Midwest Multistate Steering Group on High-Speed Rail (the Governors of eight states, including Indiana, together with the Mayor of Chicago) proposed, over a year ago, a multi-phased approach to the development of Midwest network, with Chicago as the hub. Phase 1 included lines from Chicago to St. Louis; Chicago to Milwaukee; and Chicago to Detroit. Looking ahead, a number of Phase 2 projects, including the Chicago to Toledo and Cleveland branch (on which Fort Wayne is a stop) were recognized by the Governors as candidates for further engineering and design funding. The projects actually funded by the Federal government by last week’s grant announcements are entirely consistent with the Steering Group’s strategy as proposed in 2009.
What is worth noting is that most of the projects funded were ones where the local state had spent money on planning, and in some cases (specifically Florida, who was among the most highly funded) acquired land. That made the federal money stretch further, and because it will get them quicker visible results, appeals to officials in the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), who decide what projects to fund, and in what order. Apart from preparation of a state rail plan, Indiana has not spent a cent, putting us well behind our neighboring states and many competing states. The Indiana state legislature needs to learn from this and must begin funding for environmental impact studies and other planning and design costs. This is a long-term project for the economic future of Fort Wayne and Indiana, and therefore the legislature needs to begin to set aside a percentage of our multi-billion dollar transportation budget for high-speed rail. That would allow the State to make real headway–and show seriousness of our intent to the FRA—by planning and engineering Indiana’s part of the high-speed rail network which will serve Fort Wayne.
This is especially important as the fiscal year 2010 appropriations legislation includes the next $2.5 billion for high-speed rail, which will be distributed through an open competition, similar to that which preceded the $8.2 billion just announced. That process will start in the next month or two. Indiana’s Department of Transportation will need to put forth the right kind of effort to be competitive for a part of that funding. The plan is that funding will be distributed annually on an ongoing basis, so we need to make it part of our long-term plan.
That is what to ask your state legislator and governor for now.
The good news is this:
Fort Wayne has, as of last week’s announcement, progressed significantly on the path to High Speed Rail!
Member, Board of Directors
Northeast Indiana Passenger Rail Association (NIPRA)