Newly elected governors in Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida – all of whom have announced their opposition to high speed rail construction projects in their states – could be the secret ingredient in increased funding for high speed rail construction projects and rolling stock manufacturing jobs in the Chicago area. Under the stimulus appropriations from early 2009, $8 billion was set aside to fund high speed rail construction projects planned but not yet implemented across the United States. In January of this year the Obama administration announced allocation of $1.23 billion of that money to Illinois, to fund high speed rail corridors between Chicago and St. Louis, Missouri, and between Chicago and Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Of the remaining $6.77 billion in high speed rail appropriations, $810 million was awarded to Wisconsin for construction of a high speed line between Milwaukee and Madison, and also the Wisconsin portion of the Chicago to Milwaukee service. Another $400 million was awarded to Ohio, for high speed connections between that state’s capitol, Columbus, and Cleveland and Cincinnati, Ohio’s other two major cities. Florida was awarded $2.06 billion for a high speed rail link between Orlando and Tampa.
Under the “claw back” provisions of the stimulus legislation, any money allocated to particular projects, but not spent by the states winning the funds, must be reallocated among other proposers who got less than they asked for in the initial grant process. Florida’s governor elect Rick Scott, Ohio’s governor elect John Kasich, and Wisconsin’s governor elect Scott Walker have all publicly stated their opposition to going forward with the high speed rail construction for which these federal stimulus funds were awarded, putting a total of nearly $3.29 billion back in play among the states seeking federal funds for high speed rail development projects.
IDOT’s original funding proposal under the stimulus appropriation sought a total of $4.5 billion, and the clawed back funds could more than make up the entire shortfall from the Illinois grant request. Though it is unlikely Illinois will be given the entire amount, U. S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said last Monday, November 15, that he will soon be announcing the reallocation of the $1.2 billion coming back from Wisconsin and Ohio. Several governors who support high speed rail development, including Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, will be holding their breath until LaHood’s announcement is official, and maybe even longer, until Florida’s $2.06 billion grant is reallocated.
Quinn is already wooing Talgo, Inc. the rolling stock manufacturer that recently opened a plant in the Milwaukee facility formerly owned by Tower Automotive, where Talgo expected to put 125 people to work building cars for the Chicago to Milwaukee high speed rail corridor, which plans to include stops at Mitchell Field, Sturtevant, Wisconsin, and Glenview, Illinois, as well as the terminals in downtown Chicago and Milwaukee. Talgo has said it would consider moving to Illinois after fulfilling its spring 2012 orders for two high speed trains in Oregon.
So, because of politics in three other states, Illinois could end up a much bigger winner in the competition for high speed rail funding and jobs that initially seemed possible.