Obama seeks $53 billion for high-speed rail lines

Obama seeks $53 billion for high-speed rail lines

February 10th, 2011 by Andy Johns in News

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- President Barack Obama is calling for a six-year, $53 billion spending plan for high-speed rail, which local officials say can't hurt hopes to build a bullet train from Atlanta to Chattanooga and Nashville.

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 -- which travel up to 250 mph -- 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.

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.

Joe Ferguson, who has spearheaded much of the effort to get a high-speed line from Atlanta to Chattanooga as manager of special projects for Chattanooga's Enterprise Center, said he didn't have any "inside information," but the president's announcement only could help the local project.

Not long ago on the White House website, the potential Chattanooga-Atlanta line was added to the high-speed rail map as part of the Miami-to-Chicago route.

"That's been the pitch we've had all along," Ferguson said. "That's what we've said this line should be."

Attempts to reach Georgia transportation officials and Senate Transportation Chairman Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, were unsuccessful Wednesday.

Obama's call for increased spending on high-speed rail projects is nothing new.

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, 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.

The Atlanta-Chattanooga line, which likely would run parallel to Interstate 75, is estimated to cost $5 billion to $6 billion, but Ferguson said the expense is smaller than the price tag of adding onto the region's increasingly clogged highways.

"It's mind boggling to see the high cost of the additional lanes," he said.