Washington State Hoping to
by Deirdre Gregg
Washington state's pitch for $1 billion in stimulus money for high-speed rail seems unlikely to suffer the same fate as the state's bid for ferry funding, said Scott Witt, rail and marine director for the state Department of Transportation.
Earlier this summer, Washington was initially shut out of ferry stimulus grants, which were focused on more "economically distressed" parts of the country. After U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) intervened, the U.S. Department of Transportation directed another $7.6 million to Washington.
In the current round of bidding for high-speed rail, "economic recovery" is listed as the Federal Railroad Administration's top priority.
But "we don't see it as as large an issue as perhaps it was with the ferries," Witt said.
The department conducted an analysis, Witt said, and the Pacific Northwest's high-speed rail corridor runs through both distressed and relatively better-off counties. That seems to give rail a better chance than the bids for ferry funding. Ferry money was slated for economically distressed areas, and places like King County didn't make the cut.
Matt McAlvanah, spokesman for Murray, said the rail funding is being awarded on several criteria, including the economy, transportation and environmental benefits, and prior investments in rail projects.
"Sen. Murray has worked to stress the fact that Washington has made prior investments in this corridor and that DOT needs to consider those," McAlvanah said.
Still, the competition for high-speed rail funding will be fierce.
Although only projects in the nation's 11 federally designated high-speed rail corridors are eligible, states had already requested $103 billion from a total stimulus pot of $8 billion.
In a bid for a first slate of projects submitted in late August, the state applied for $435 million in 20 ready-to-go rail projects, expected to generate about 4,862 new jobs and increase the seating capacity of Amtrak Cascades service by 582,520 per year.
The state will find out in October if some or all of the projects received funding. On Oct. 2 the state will submit an application for a second round of rail projects, bringing the total to $1 billion.
Proposed projects include a $13.6 million seismic retrofit of King Street Station in Seattle, and two major Tacoma-area projects, at a total of more than $126 million, that would allow passenger trains to pass each other and to bypass the crowded track around Point Defiance. Other projects include various other reliability upgrades on the Cascades Corridor, and a loop track on Port of Vancouver property to shift freight trains off the main rail line.
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