The Federal Railroad Administration was so swamped with applications for the $8 billion of high-speed rail funding authorized by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that it is delaying until the winter its announcement of the grant winners.
The administration received applications this month from 24 states seeking $50 billion for 45 projects, said FRA administrator Joseph Szabo last week. It also received 214 applications from 34 states totaling $7 billion for corridor planning work and smaller projects, he said.
While the apparent demand for high-speed rail funds is about seven times higher than what is available, the requests were still less than the $103.5 billion of pre-applications the agency received when it set out to “gauge overall program interest” in July. At that time, the states of California and Nevada led the pack with a combined $34 billion of project funds requested in pre-applications.
But the recovery act provided only $8 billion of funding and directed them to be divided between larger, big-picture corridor programs and smaller, individual projects and planning that would essentially lay the groundwork for a high-speed rail network.
“Due to the overwhelming response and our desire to lay the groundwork for a truly national high-speed and intercity passenger rail program, we will be announcing all awards this winter,” Szabo said. “Our selections will be merit-based and will reflect President Obama’s vision to remake America’s transportation landscape.”
In April, the president had said he expected the first round of high-speed rail grants to be awarded by late summer. However, guidance was not released until late June, and the application deadline for all types of high-speed rail projects was Oct. 2.
The FRA must obligate the funds for individual projects in a little less than a year from now, and must obligate funds for corridor programs in a little less than two years. The smaller projects must be completed within two years of receiving the grants. Corridor projects have until Sept. 30, 2017, to be finished.
The $8 billion of funding for high-speed rail has been described by the administration as a down payment on longer-term investment in rail programs. The White House budget request to Congress proposed $1 billion of rail funding per year for five years.