Louisiana to seek New Orleans-Baton Rouge passenger rail line from federal stimulus pot that Jindal called wasteful
by Robert Travis Scott, The Times-Picayune
Saturday February 28, 2009, 8:00 AM
BATON ROUGE - Louisiana's transportation department plans to request federal dollars for a New Orleans to Baton Rouge passenger rail service from the same pot of railroad money in the president's economic stimulus package that Gov. Bobby Jindal criticized as unnecessary pork on national television Tuesday night.
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Jindal on Tuesday delivered the official Republican Party response to President Barack Obama's address to Congress. He criticized the stimulus package passed by the Democratic-majority in Congress and the president and noted examples of projects that he found objectionable.
"While some of the projects in the bill make sense, their legislation is larded with wasteful spending," Jindal said. "It includes ... $8 billion for high-speed rail projects, such as a 'magnetic levitation' line from Las Vegas to Disneyland."
The $8 billion pot is for high-speed rail and inter-city passenger rail service projects. The Federal Railroad Administration will make decisions about which grant applications to approve but has not yet released the rules and requirements that will determine the awards process. Emphasis will be placed on projects that are near ready for implementation so that the stimulus money can hit the streets soon.
Jindal oversees the state transportation department and appointed its secretary.
Lambert said the agency intends to apply for the Louisiana rail line but the prospect of getting the grant is very much up in the air. The administration will have to review the application procedures before moving forward, he said.
The passenger service Amtrak has a rail line that runs from New Orleans west to Lafayette and beyond, but does not connect in the state capital. About 89 miles of freight line connecting the two cities would be upgraded to handle the higher-speed passenger trains.
New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal and an existing freight station near downtown Baton Rouge would be improved to handle passenger traffic. State officials have talked to Amtrak about providing the service, Lambert said.
Other pots of transportation money in various federal spending bills might also offer opportunities to pay for the rail service.
A aide in Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu's office said the state also has passenger rail connections from New Orleans to Houston and Meridian, Miss., on the drawing boards, but the Baton Rouge line is the most realistic at this time.
The federal stimulus bill does not specifically mention a rail line connecting Las Vegas to Anaheim, Calif., because any potential recipient of the money must file a grant proposal. However, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, was instrumental in boosting the amount of money for the rail projects in the stimulus bill. He has said he intends to tap that money for a rail line from Las Vegas to Anaheim, where Disneyland is located.
Asked for comment Friday about the Jindal stance on the federal rail money, the governor's Chief of Staff Timmy Teepell said he does not think the Las Vegas to Anaheim line is a good use of taxpayer money. He did not address the Louisiana proposal.
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