WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama's State of the Union shout-out for high-speed rail will translate into more than $8 billion spread among states including California, Washington, North Carolina and Florida.
California is one of the big winners, taking home $2.25 billion to help build a high-speed rail system connecting Anaheim and San Francisco, as well as additional funds for other rail projects.
Washington and North Carolina will get roughly half a billion dollars each, while Florida will hear its good news directly from Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden today.
The White House was keeping a tight lid on specific funding decisions until after the president's speech concluded, although some state decisions were made available.
All told, 13 major corridors will receive awards today to help develop high-speed rail infrastructure or begin the transition to high-speed rail.
California's large share of funding includes $2.25 billion for any of four corridors: Los Angeles to Anaheim, Fresno to Bakersfield, Fresno to Merced and San Francisco to San Jose. In addition, the state is receiving $99 million for smaller corridors serving conventional trains.
"Competition has been fierce and we've worked very hard to lobby the administration and the Department of Transportation to ensure that California's at the front of the line," said state Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani, a Democrat from Livingston and a high-speed rail proponent.
Money can be spent anywhere
The White House funding announcement does not specify where the money must be spent among the California corridors, nor was it apparent how that funding distribution decision will be made.
Galgiani said the money could benefit the Merced to Fresno leg, as well as pay for environmental planning for a route running from Merced through Modesto, Stockton and Sacramento.
"California is far ahead of any other rail corridor in the country," said Democratic Rep. Jim Costa of Fresno, a high-speed rail advocate who spoke to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Wednesday.
Transportation Department officials were scrambling to organize a California news conference, Costa noted.
Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Atwater, likewise praised the promised investment.
"California has long needed a high-speed train system. That is especially true of the San Joaquin Valley, where we are desperately in need of the jobs that will accompany this project," he said. "High-speed rail will also bring greater transportation options to valley residents, connecting the valley to other urban centers of the state; will get cars off the road; and will reduce air pollution."
California sought roughly $4.7 billion -- more than half of the amount available nationwide -- to help connect Los Angeles and San Francisco with 220-mph trains. State officials had never expected to get the full amount requested.
"Any amount of funding that we get from the stimulus act is a benefit to California and its high-speed rail system," said Jeff Barker, spokesman for the California High-Speed Rail Authority.
All told, 24 states submitted 45 corridor applications for high-speed rail funding, which was included as part of a $787 billion economic stimulus package approved last February.
Transportation Department officials have insisted the funding decisions will be "merit-based." Even so, lawmakers have been pressing hard behind the scenes for their preferred routes.