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UPDATE: Missouri seeks high-speed rail funds rejected by Florida

Tuesday, March 29, 2011 | 2:34 p.m. CDT; updated 3:26 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, March 29, 2011

ST. LOUIS — Now that Florida has turned down $2.4 billion in federal funding for high-speed rail service, Missouri is among the states going after that money.

Gov. Jay Nixon was at an Amtrak station in Kirkwood on Tuesday to announce that Missouri will apply for nearly $1 billion in funding for high-speed rail service between St. Louis and Kansas City. The money is up for grabs because Florida's new Republican governor, Rick Scott, rejected plans for a high-speed line from Orlando to Tampa out of concern that the state couldn't afford future operating costs.

Nixon, a Democrat, said going after the money makes economic sense, noting that Missouri has an opportunity to obtain nearly $1 billion with only a $4.5 million state match.

The application will seek $373 million for upgrades to existing lines and about $600 million to plan, design and buy land for a separate line dedicated to high-speed rail only. Nixon said the upgrades to existing lines would create more than 1,300 jobs over the next few years.

"We think that rail travel is a significant and real part of the future of moving people," Nixon said.

Earlier this year, President Barack Obama called for a six-year, $53 billion spending plan for high-speed rail as part of his goal of using infrastructure spending to jump-start job creation. In his State of the Union speech in January, Obama said he wanted to provide 80 percent of Americans with access to high-speed trains within a quarter of a century.

But many Republicans believe pursuing high-speed rail is a waste of money. Scott became the third Republican governor elected in November to kill rail projects approved by his predecessor. Governors in Wisconsin and Ohio also turned down funding.

Missouri Rep. Kevin Elmer, R-Nixa, questioned whether the possible benefits of high-speed rail were worth the cost. Elmer said he rode a high-speed train in Europe and that it was nice but that he would prefer if Missouri pass on the federal money.

"The money being expended, I don't think, will be returned in any sort of overall benefit that is worth the money," Elmer said..

There are plenty of suitors competing with Missouri for the money. Several states, including New York, Virginia, Vermont, Delaware and Rhode Island, have already asked for the Florida money. The funding comes through the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Railroad Administration. The application deadline is April 4.

Nixon said the St. Louis-to-Kansas City line would complement a high-speed rail project already under way from Chicago to St. Louis.

"It would be a transformative step for Missouri, both in terms of the jobs created and in developing this mode of transportation between our state's two largest metropolitan areas and the cities along the route, including the state capital," Nixon said. Jefferson City sits along the route of the line, about midway between the state's two metropolitan areas.

Missouri previously was awarded $32 million in federal funds for improvements to existing high-speed lines.

Kevin Keith, director of the Missouri Department of Transportation, said that with rising fuel prices, "Missourians need and deserve reliable options." He said the upgrades and the new line would help ensure that trains would be more likely to arrive on time and avoid delays caused when existing rail lines, owned by Union Pacific, are being used by freight trains.

"Sometimes you just have to think big and be bold," Keith said.


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