Monday, March 29, 2010

Is Ted's 3-C Slow Speed Choo Choo even legal?

Over the weekend, Brent Larkin over at the Cleveland Plain Dealer brought up some interesting points about Ted's major stimulus "victory".
Another view would be the [Strickland] administration has been less than honest with the public -- and other state officials -- about its snail-rail proposal. If this view is correct, Ohio may not have met the eligibility requirements set by the Obama administration as a condition for receiving the $400 million taxpayer handout.
And what are those requirements that haven't been met?
To receive the federal grant, the U.S. Department of Transportation required states to provide passenger rail service that "is reasonably expected to reach speeds of at least 110 miles per hour."


In their application for federal funding, they promised the trains would initially reach 79 mph, but could eventually be upgraded to reach 110 mph.
And what does Larkin spell out? That the 3-C network as now envisioned cannot possibly be expected to reach that threshold. Not even close.

When Ohio Senate President Bill Harris questioned the wisdom of spending so much money on a system whose trains would average only 39 mph over the entire route -- including stops -- Molitoris answered him with a March 17 letter that included this key paragraph:

"Existing tracks can be upgraded to accommodate maximum speeds of up to 110 mph, which is the speed called for in the high-speed rail Ohio Hub plan. New tracks will be needed to accommodate trains traveling above 110 mph."

However, an Oct. 1, 2009, memorandum of understanding between the ORDC and CSX, signed by officials of the railroad and the state, seems to refute that claim. Section 4.2 of that memorandum states, in part:

"Any operating speeds for passenger rail service in excess of 90 mph will require a separated and sealed corridor for the passenger services constructed at least 30 feet offset from existing freight train tracks unless otherwise mutually agreed between the parties."

The language seems pretty unambiguous. If Ohio is to run trains that meet the federal requirement, it will have to lay new track. At what cost? The price tag on the 800-mile high-speed system planned for California is $45 billion. Ohio's planned rail line would cover about 250 miles. Do the math.

So this bring into question another possible option for those seriously opposed to the building of Strickland's 3-C Slow Speed Choo-Choo. If the State Controlling Board somehow allows funding to be disbursed for the project, could someone sue to stop any construction from happening? Or could a Representative in Congress perhaps challenge the funding?

Clearly, Strickland's pet project doesn't adhere to the legal requirements as laid out by Larkin.

Additionally, why did Molitoris lie to Senator Bill Harris in her letter? As the MOU clearly states, new tracks are needed to reach the higher speeds, not existing tracks as she claimed to the Majority Leader.

This project is turning into a perfect example of Strickland's entire term - a total and complete boondoggle.

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