Governors join together to sign letter to DOT Secretary LaHood seeking funds for a Midwest network, defining priorities
The Governors of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin, as well as the Mayor of Chicago, have come together to sign a letter (PDF) suggesting their interest in working together to implement a regional rail network shooting out from a hub in the Windy City. The first phase of the network, indicated in the image above, would include routes to St. Louis, Missouri; Madison, Wisconsin; and Detroit and Pontiac, Michigan. These are lines that their respective states have discussed before as priorities for development, and Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin have already begun working on preliminary engineering on their respective lines. This is the first time, however, we’ve seen these routes framed in terms of the Midwest Regional Rail Network as a whole.
The letter is addressed to Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood to express support for the administration’s appropriation to the Midwest of some of the stimulus legislation’s $8 billion in approved funds for high-speed rail development. The letter suggests that the lines’ upgrading to speeds of 110 mph – which is the initial goal – could be completed between 2012 and 2014 and cost about $3.4 billon, the money needed from the federal government. If approved this amount would represent almost half of the overall funds.
The governors also suggested that they needed about $130 million to continue planning on an additional number of corridors in the region that might constitute phase 2 of a regional rail network. The letter cites specifically lines from Madison, Wisconsin, to the Twin Cities in Minnesota; from Chicago to Indianapolis, Indiana and Cincinnati, Ohio; and from Chicago to Toledo and Cleveland, Ohio. Ohio is working on its own project to connect Cleveland and Cincinnati, via Columbus.
Though I have my doubts about whether or not the Midwest deserves so much of the stimulus funds – California’s considerably more advanced project should receive $4 billion of the money alone – it’s surprising and relieving to see so much regional cooperation between states in prioritizing corridors and in working for a common objective. To see the Governor of Ohio suggest that the first phase of expenditures in the Midwest not include a project in his state is more than surprising, and suggests that planning for a national network does not have to be done by the federal government alone if states are willing and able to make accords with one another.
The Obama Administration is expected to lay out the criteria for high-speed rail funding from the stimulus bill in the upcoming week. We’ll see then whether these big ambitions in the Midwest will get any traction from Washington. The heated competition for these limited funds is making it clear that the $8 billion is simply not enough.
Image above: First phase of Midwest High Speed Rail project, from Governors’ letter