Will Wisconsin Be Left in the Dust?

U.S. unveils $53 billion in high-speed rail plan

By Jeff Mason

The U.S. government will dedicate $53 billion over six years to build new high-speed rail networks and make existing ones faster, Vice President Joe Biden said on Tuesday.

The initiative will allow the Department of Transportation to choose corridors for the new projects and increase U.S. use of the passenger rails, the White House said in a statement.

President Barack Obama’s budget for fiscal year 2012, which is to be unveiled next week, includes $8 billion for the plan. The rest of the money will be allocated over the six-year time period.

Obama has said he wants to target investments in areas such as infrastructure while reducing spending to tackle the budget deficit.

“As President Obama said in his State of the Union, there are key places where we cannot afford to sacrifice as a nation — one of which is infrastructure,” Biden said in a statement.

“As a long-time Amtrak rider and advocate, I understand the need to invest in a modern rail system that will help connect communities, reduce congestion and create quality, skilled manufacturing jobs that cannot be outsourced.”

Biden, a long-time U.S. senator before he became vice president, was known to commute by train from his home state of Delaware to work in Washington.

The announcement follows Monday’s news that Amtrak, the United States’ largest passenger rail service, plans a $13.5 billion commuter rail project connecting New York City and New Jersey, reviving an idea rejected late last year by New Jersey’s Republican governor, Chris Christie, as too expensive.

The project became a lightning rod in the run-up to the November 2010 election, pitting those calling for more federal infrastructure spending against those who said such projects were too costly.

Advocates say U.S. investment in high-speed rail lags many other countries and point to China, which plans to invest $451 billion to $602 billion in its high-speed rail network between 2011 and 2015, according to the China Securities Journal.

In December, Governor-elect Walker’s opposition to rail led the federal government to rescind $800 million for the project and re-award the money to other states that wanted rail. That, in turn, killed the Chicago to Minneapolis leg of the Midwest rail initiative.