The US DOT has released its criteria for the evaluation of HSR programs to be funded through the federal stimulus money. The official release is your typical government-issue dense packet of 68 pages, and it offers no real surprises. Funds will be distributed beginning in September/October, depending on the type of project. Streetsblog has a nice summary:
Here’s where things get a bit complicated, because high-speed rail aid has been split into four tracks.
The first two use stimulus money for projects and programs, and the second two use money from the annual congressional appropriations process for planning and project execution. In fact, DOT’s guidance says the first two tracks of money — the $8 billion popularly referred to as high-speed rail stimulus money — may not be paid out in full this year, “to allow for potential future rounds of solicitations and awards which occur after 2009.”
The first track of stimulus money is aimed at “shovel-ready” projects that are supportive of high-speed rail development. For these funds, economic benefits (read: job creation) is the No. 1 criterion, followed by general transportation benefits at No. 2.
Saving energy, promoting sustainable development and discouraging fossil fuel use — what DOT calls “other public benefits” — is ranked No. 6 out of six priorities for this first track of stimulus money. For the second track of stimulus money, reserved for longer-term work that’s not primarily aimed at economic recovery, “other public benefits” is priority No. 2.
As we’ve seen over the past few months, different state and regional projects are in varying states of readiness… from “shovel-ready” to complete disarray. The different “tracks” hence make a good deal of sense. The CAHSR blog points to Associated Press’s brief assertion that the program favors the California and Midwest projects, which is hardly surprising given the organization and publicity of these two plans, regardless of these new guidelines. Indeed, the release does seem to pay particular attention to grander projects that focus on multiple lines, corridors, cities, and states. That would include the Midwest proposal as well as the “Texas T-Bone” that Pat has been covering for TFA in Arkansas. But it’s all mostly conjecture until the actual funds are allocated at the end of the summer… now that will be interesting.