WASHINGTON - The Federal Railroad Administration received 278 preliminary applications for $102 billion of high-speed rail grants, even though the stimulus law authorized only $8 billion of federal funds for the projects.

Meanwhile, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee reported yesterday that nearly half of the total available formula funds for highway and transit made available by the recovery package may be committed soon. At least 4,089 highway and transit projects in all 50 states, three territories, and the District of Columbia have been put out for bids, the committee said. States and the district have signed contracts for more than 2,200 projects totaling $6.5 billion.

For high-speed rail projects, 40 states and the district, along with private entities, applied for grants before the July 10 deadline, according to the FRA.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood acknowledged that the $8 billion could not meet the "tremendous" demand for projects but pledged to work with states and regions for funding for projects that don't make the cut.

An additional $4 billion of high-speed rail funding for fiscal 2010 was approved last week by the House Appropriations Committee but must still be approved by the full House and the Senate. President Obama had requested $1 billion annually for high-speed rail in his budget request.

The Western U.S. accounted for the largest number, 108, of pre-applications submitted, as well as for the largest total dollar amount of grants, $38 billion. Northeastern planners pre-applied for $35 billion for projects. Project sponsors in the South and Southeast asked for $16 billion. Midwest planners sought only $13 billion.

Applications for $24 billion of grants were sent in by public and private entities in California, and for $10 billion in grants by public and private entities in Nevada. California's high-speed rail agency earlier this month approved pre-applying for the rail funds to start building and complete environmental preparation work for a high-speed rail line between Los Angeles and San Francisco. California voters last year approved nearly $10 billion of general obligation bonds to be issued to pay for the rail line.

Other hopefuls are Maryland at $11 billion, New York at $9.7 billion, and Pennsylvania at $6.8 billion.

Pennsylvania's initial project list included funding for infrastructure upgrades and station improvements along the Keystone East Corridor from Harrisburg to Philadelphia and funding for part of a proposed 133-mile passenger rail corridor from northeastern Pennsylvania to Hoboken, N.J., by way of New York City. The state also included in its pre-application funding a proposal to design and start building a high-speed magnetic levitation train in Pittsburgh.

"We've been working to wisely invest the state's $1.5 billion in transportation-related recovery funding, and I would be pleased to receive additional support to help modernize our passenger rail system," Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell announced in a statement. "A high-speed rail investment would complement the state's nearly $1.2 billion base transit investment, paying dividends for the public and local economies."

However, the numbers and amounts requested could grow or shrink between now and the fall. Final applications are due Aug. 24 for individual projects, and Oct. 2 for corridor programs. Guidelines for the state and regional proposals were issued by the rail administration only a month ago, on June 17.

"Pre-applicants had little time to prepare materials; FRA's intent was simply to gauge overall program interest and to initiate a consultative process with potential applicants in advance of formal applications," the agency said.

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