Following his first State of the Union Address, President Obama stood before a town hall gathering in Tampa, Fla. to officially announce his administration’s $8 billion commitment to the development of a high speed rail system in the United States.
The President also reiterated his belief that such a system would serve as a catalyst for job creation in a climate where nearly 15 million Americans are still out of work – telling attendees that the program would “help accelerate job growth in an economy that is already beginning to grow.”
And the investments aren’t just in California and the crowded Northeast. In fact, of the $8 billion in stimulus money being doled out to states, nearly one-quarter of that funding – approximately $1.9 billion - has been awarded to the Southeast. Unfortunately for Georgians hoping to see high-speed rail in their backyard sometime soon, they may have to pack their bags and move one state over to see that vision realized.
While North Carolina and Florida have both been busy investing in and preparing for passenger rail projects, the state of Georgia has lagged woefully behind. Since 1992, North Carolina has spent more than $300 million on developing passenger rail, and Florida recently boosted state funding for mass transit following a call to action from Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. Meanwhile, Georgia governor Sonny Purdue announced just last month that the earliest Georgians would be able to even vote on measure to aid the fledgling MARTA would be in 2012 (As a point of note, MARTA is currently considering fluctuating fares based on distance travelled and time of day, just to stay afloat).
Although LaHood offered a similar admonition to representatives in Georgia, his words appear to have fallen with a resounding ‘thud’ upon deaf ears – or, at the least, inept ones. The disparity in what the administration believes to be viable rail opportunities can be seen in the amount of stimulus dollars provided to Florida, North Carolina and Georgia: $1.25 billion, $545 million and a paltry $750,000, respectively.
Secretary LaHood confessed as much when prodded by AJC reporter Cynthia Tucker. When asked why Georgia received such little funding, LaHood replied, bluntly, “Georgia doesn’t have its act together. The state legislature doesn’t want to put money in for high speed rail.”
The $750,000 Georgia did receive will be spent on environmental and economic feasibility studies, while neighboring states use the money for the purpose it was intended, creating jobs and beginning work on high speed passenger rail.
Frustration was evident in the words of Catherine Ross, director of Georgia Tech’s Center for Quality Growth and Regional Development, who said, “The world’s moving forward on this,” and noted that, with North Carolina and Florida both ahead of Georgia, the state could little afford becoming the proverbial “hole in the doughnut.”