Last June, Joe Biden invited a group of Southern governors to the White House to talk about $8 billion in federal stimulus funds to be allocated to high-speed rail projects as a preliminary step toward a nationwide network.
According to a report published in Time magazine, Biden entered the room and apparently thought he was seeing Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue leaving. Perdue, who wasn’t leaving, joked that he was, to which Biden jokingly replied, “What the hell’s wrong with you?” After shaking hands and taking his seat, Biden said, “Georgia gets nothing,” quickly adding, “I’m only kidding... .”
That scene was funny seven months ago. But there’s precious little for Georgians to be laughing about today. As it turns out, Georgia did get almost none of the stimulus dollars awarded for rail.
The state had applied for $472 million for a passenger rail line linking Atlanta and Macon.
It’s interesting to note that nearly a quarter of the $8 billion — almost $1.9 billion — was awarded to projects in the southeastern U.S.
Of course, it’s possible to argue there was some political motivation for the outlays. Both North Carolina and Florida went to President Barack Obama in the 2008 election, and it’s also interesting that Illinois gains projects totaling more than $1 billion.
But those who would make that argument also must note that the dollars for those corridors are, with the exception of the Florida project, going to locales where rail transit has been an established part of the transportation mix. And even the Orlando-to-Tampa line is the first phase of a state high-speed rail plan.
Contrast that with Georgia, where talk of a commuter rail line between Athens and Atlanta has been just that — talk — for somewhere around 20 years now. In other words, there are practical reasons that rail stimulus dollars did not come to Georgia.
And while it’s true that the $8 billion is only a fraction of what it would cost to establish a nationwide rail network, our congestion would seem to indicate that high-speed commuter rail might be a big part of the U.S.’s future.
If that turns out to be the case, history might show that Georgia’s failure to get some of the initial allocations kept it from fully participating in the economic benefits from an up-to-date transportation system.