Friday, December 10, 2010

DBJ... Stimulus rail funding to go away

From Dayton Business Journal…
Ohio’s stimulus rail funding shifted to other states
Thursday, December 9, 2010

The federal stimulus funding earmarked for an Ohio passenger rail plan will instead head to other states as Republican Gov.-elect John Kasich readies to kill the effort when he takes office.
The U.S. Department of Transportation on Thursday said it’s redistributing $385 million in stimulus funding for Ohio and $810 million for Wisconsin originally aimed at those states’ passenger rail plans. Kasich and Wisconsin Gov.-elect Scott Walker both have said they won’t proceed with passenger rail plans developed under their outgoing Democratic predecessors.
The nearly $1.2 billion instead will head to 14 other states, with California and Florida getting the largest chunk of the funding.
Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland in a statement said the news makes Thursday “one of the saddest days during my four years as governor.”
“Because I see jobs leaving Ohio, I see resources leaving Ohio, I see vital infrastructure leaving Ohio,” he said.
Kasich on numerous occasions has declared the rail project – a plan to connect Cincinnati, Dayton, Columbus and Cleveland – dead as soon as he becomes governor. Shortly after winning the November election the Republican sent a letter to Strickland asking him to halt spending on a rail study, funded by a small chunk of the stimulus funding approved for spending this year. Strickland this week sent a last-ditch plea to Kasich to keep the plan alive.
Count the governor-elect among those disappointed by Thursday's news. Spokesman Rob Nichols said in a statement that Kasich wanted to use the funding for other infrastructure needs or put it back in federal coffers.
"(Kasich) specifically asked that if the money could not be reprogrammed, then return it to the treasury to reduce the deficit," Nichols said. "He finds it tragic that instead of saving taxpayer money, they would simply waste it elsewhere."
Still to be decided is the $15 million in federal stimulus funding Ohio has spent on a rail study after being approved for as much as $400 million in funding. The Transportation Department said it will work with Ohio to determine if the federal government should be reimbursed.
Click here to view a full list of where the rail funding is headed in lieu of Ohio and Wisconsin.
Meantime, rail advocates say they’re holding out hope that the U.S. Department of Transportation will reverse its funding decision if an alternative to using state funds to subsidize the rail system can be implemented.
“Until grant agreements with the new state recipients have been signed, we don’t consider this a done deal,” All Aboard Ohio President Bill Hutchison said in a release Thursday afternoon.
Rail backers in the state have been developing a plan during the past few weeks to use local public-private partnerships to fund a passenger system’s upkeep and operations.
“We are calling for an open, honest dialogue between Gov. Strickland, Gov.-elect Kasich and potential 3C partners to consider an alternative that could be instituted within the same time frame ODOT was expected to move forward with 3C,” Hutchinson said in the release.

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