Regional highspeed rail funds have arrived

first_imgIn January of 2010, local rail advocates rejoiced at learning Washington had been awarded $590 million in federal economic stimulus funding for high-speed rail.However, the money never actually materialized until this week.A budget showdown 2,800 miles away on Capitol Hill may have played a role in freeing up the dollars that had been held up for more than a year.The Federal Railroad Administration wanted assurances that, by spending federal money on a privately owned railroad, the improvements would meet the Obama administration’s goal of enhancing passenger service over the long term. The Washington Department of Transportation worked month after month trying to forge an agreement between the FRA, Amtrak and the owner of the rail line running along the spine of western Washington: BNSF Railway.Negotiations dragged on for more than a year.Then, the new Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives took office in January promising to follow through on campaign commitments to restrain federal spending. Rather than waiting for next year’s budget, the new majority pushed for deep cuts in the federal budget right now.Billions of dollars that had been awarded but not yet formally “obligated” were suddenly on the chopping block.“Common sense would tell us it was putting some pressure on everybody,” said Scott Witt, rail and marine director for the state DOT.Following a final two days of final negotiations last Thursday and Friday, Witt was the state official who electronically accepted the $590 million award. The final click of the mouse came in his Olympia office at 10:04 p.m. on Friday.“It was a nice feeling,” he said.FRA spokesman Rob Kulat said the key federal administrator signed the grant agreement on Saturday, and the money was finally, officially obligated on the next day of business on Monday.last_img

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