WASHINGTON — With some incoming governors rejecting money for high-speed rail, California's two U.S. senators are asking the Obama administration to redirect federal funding to their home state.
The request reflects a national debate about the viability of high-speed rail, as California officials embrace the effort while officials in other states are skeptical that such trains are a wise investment.
The Obama administration has awarded billions of dollars to the states to jump-start high-speed rail projects, including $3 billion for California's project. That rail system would eventually extend some 800 miles, linking Sacramento and the Bay Area to San Diego. The trains would travel at a speed of up to 220 miles an hour.
Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer told Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Tuesday that no state was more determined than California to put the rail money to use. They pointed out that California voters have already committed more than $9 billion in bonds to high-speed rail.
"It has come to our attention that several states plan to cancel their high-speed rail projects," the two senators said in a letter. "We ask that you withdraw the federal grants to these states and award the funds to states that have made a strong financial commitment to these very important infrastructure projects."
High-speed rail projects are extremely expensive, like the estimated $43 billion tab for California's. Some GOP candidates who won gubernatorial races two weeks ago don't believe their states can afford their share of the project.
Ohio's incoming governor, John Kasich, has asked the Obama administration to let the state use its $400 million high-speed rail allocation for other things, or to use the money to pay down the national deficit, a proposal that LaHood rejected.
In Wisconsin, Governor-elect Scott Walker set up a website called NoTrain.com, which criticizes a proposed high-speed rail project extending from Madison to Milwaukee. "I will put a stop to this boondoggle the day I take office," he said.
Three Republican congressmen from Wisconsin introduced a bill Tuesday that would give states the option of returning unwanted high-speed rail funds to the U.S. Treasury toward reducing the national debt. Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner, Paul Ryan and Tom Petri said state leaders should have the authority to prioritize how tax dollars are being spent.
Cullen Werwie, a Walker spokesman, said the governor-elect "is pleased that these three leaders understand that the train between Milwaukee and Madison is dead." Werwie did not immediately return a request for comment about what Walker thought about the idea that money directed to Wisconsin could end up in another state.
While there is widespread support for a high-speed train in California, the project has run into legal trouble.
A coalition of cities and nonprofit groups near San Francisco recently filed a lawsuit seeking to halt the first segment of the project – a proposed line between San Francisco and Los Angeles. It claims environmental studies inflated ridership figures for the proposed train and that the studies did not meet state requirements.
A similar suit was dismissed two years ago.
A California state audit released last month said the agency in charge of the project paid nearly $3 1/2 million in bills without getting adequate documentation.
Associated Press writer Dinesh Ramde contributed to this report from Milwaukee, Wis.