Monday, March 23, 2009

Bay Area Road and Transit Projects Could Get $1.5 Billion or More From Federal Stimulus

For Bay Area transportation officials, getting their hands on the first wave of $495 million in federal stimulus cash was the easy part.

Now they are trying to scoop up at least $1 billion more.

A delegation of transit and elected officials just wrapped up a whirlwind tour of Washington, D.C., to drum up support for projects in the Bay Area. The U.S. Department of Transportation, which will have broad discretion over where to direct many millions of dollars in stimulus cash, has yet to issue guidelines so cities can apply for money.

Federal discretion

A third pot of money comes from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The Bay Area is seeking at least $450 million for an underground train station at San Francisco’s Transbay Terminal and for Doyle Drive. The region could get even more money once the federal Department of Transportation issues guidelines to determine what projects can apply.

To help coordinate the Bay Area’s efforts, authorities are rushing to put together a regional plan to maximize the amount of federal stimulus cash that flows to the area. Led by the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, the plan is expected to show where the Bay Area could best spend the money. The plan likely will emphasize projects that are ready to start within two years and focus on the region’s infrastructure needs, land use goals and economic development strategy.

The Bay Area does not have much time to put its plan together. Pressed by federal demands for quick action, first drafts are due April 1 and final drafts by June 1.

In a separate effort, backers of California’s planned bullet train have begun a lobbying effort to snare as much as possible of the $8 billion in stimulus cash aimed at high speed rail. California’s proposed train, which would lay 800 miles of track linking San Francisco, Sacramento and San Diego, does not meet the “shovel ready” definition because construction likely won’t begin until 2012 at the earliest. But the state has the only voter-approved project, giving supporters reason to think that the $40 billion project will get at least a portion of the high speed rail money.

“I think we’re better positioned than any other high speed rail undertaken in the country,” said Quentin Kopp, chairman of the California High Speed Rail Authority.

Still, it is difficult to know precisely how well the state’s bullet train is positioned because the U.S. Secretary of Transportation has yet to issue guidelines he will use in deciding which projects to fund. Those parameters are due April 18.

California voters approved almost $10 billion in bonds for the project last year. But the train will need significant private investor and federal money. Kopp joined other prominent members of the state’s high speed rail authoritylike David Crane, a top economic adviser to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and transportation veteran Rod Diridon Sr. to urge federal transportation officials to direct money to the project.

Source: exerpted from the San Francisco Business Times - by Eric Young

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