U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood dropped major hints today in Charlotte about more federal money coming to North Carolina’s high-speed rail plans, from funds to be reallocated away from Wisconsin and Ohio. LaHood and Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff were in town speaking to about a hundred local and regional politicians and transportation officials.
Both those Midwest states elected Republican governors this month who campaigned against high-speed rail projects in their states that had won big federal grants: $810 million to Wisconsin for Milwaukee-to-Madison, and $400 million to Ohio for the so-called 3Cs project: Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati.
“Some governors were elected who said maybe we don’t want to be in the high-speed rail business,” LaHood said. “We are going to reallocate some money from Ohio and Wisconsin.”
Because of North Carolina’s work already on high-speed rail (and its work on intercity passenger rail), he said, “We are going to be making some announcements about that. ... Because of the leadership of the state on high-speed rail, you all are going to be in the high-speed rail business.”
Wisconsin's Gov.-elect Scott Walker has recently been waffling on whether to give back the $810 million, suggesting maybe it could be used for other transportation needs. But Wednesday, speaking in Charlotte, LaHood was specific. "The money's going to be reallocated," he said. Firmly.
Turns out the question of reallocation came up Tuesday at a high-speed rail conference in Richmond. My colleague Jack Betts (see his This Old State blog) asked Patrick Simmons of the N.C. DOT’s rail division about the possibility. Simmons replied to Betts via e-mail: "If OH & WI do not follow through then I expect USDOT to allocate the monies where they can be put to work for the original program of investing in infrastructure, creating jobs, enhancing mobility and so on. From our years of work and previous investments NC is well-positioned to compete for these funds. Several other states will be competitive too."
(See below for more talk of reallocation, this time of streetcar money, possibly toward Charlotte.)
Other key points from the talk:
- LaHood's oft-mentioned use of the term “public-private partnerships.” Why? “There are not enough tax dollars to do all the things we want to do. We have to rely on the private sector.”- Rogoff (right) heaped praise on Charlotte: "Charlotte has been one of our great success stories," he said. He mentioned not just the light rail but the city's partnership with the private sector (Bank of America) in building the Transportation Center on Fourth Street uptown. He pointed out Charlotte was one of only five cities to win an urban circulator grant for a streetcar and said the city's earlier work to lay the tracks [along Elizabeth Avenue] while pavement was already torn up for a street improvement “is visionary thinking.”
- Rogoff again: People try to pit transit versus highway. "I think it’s a false choice," he said. He pointed out 55 percent of all transit trips in America are on roads – by bus. "I need a good efficient road system."
More reallocation in the future?
This afternoon, amid a lengthy meeting of the Metropolitan Transit Commission about diminished transit revenues, Charlotte Area Transit System chief Carolyn Flowers mentioned that Charlotte was one of only five cities to get a streetcar grant in July. (LaHood mentioned the same). Charlotte, so far, is the only city still moving ahead on its streetcar, she said, and it's possible some of those federal funds might be reallocated.
FTA rules said construction must start within 18 months or the city will lose the money. Chicago, St. Louis, Cincinnati and Dallas-Fort Worth also received money for streetcars.
Photo credit: Ray LaHood in Charlotte. DAVIE HINSHAW / CHARLOTTE OBSERVER STAFF