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October 1, 2014

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State, feds point fingers as Nevada misses rail funding

Harry Reid, transportation secretary discuss announcement

Enlargeable graphics: Maglev and DesertXpress

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Politicians were quick to take credit or pass blame Thursday when Nevada was left off the list of 31 states that will benefit from federal stimulus funds for high-speed rail, but the Nevada project that sought funds wasn’t qualified anyway.

President Obama went to Florida to announce the award of $8 billion for 13 projects to build high-speed train systems along existing train corridors. Las Vegas has long been a focus of high-speed rail advocates, with two proposals to connect the region to Southern California.

Obama’s announcement began a press release war between Gov. Jim Gibbons and Sen. Harry Reid over who was responsible for the lack of funding for the state.

Gibbons blamed Reid for not securing the money for Nevada.

“It looks like Senator Reid was asleep at the switch again,” Gibbons said in a statement. “Nevada already has a high-speed magnetic levitation train plan in place. It is disgusting and disgraceful that Reid and Obama ignored our efforts.”

Reid’s office followed by saying it was the governor’s fault the state didn’t even apply for the funds.

“If Jim Gibbons wants to know why maglev didn’t get any of the $8 billion in stimulus money announced today for high-speed rail, he should look in the mirror,” Reid spokesman Jon Summers said. “If anyone was asleep at the switch, it was Gov. Gibbons because his department of transportation failed to apply.”

Reid’s camp posted a video to YouTube featuring the senator with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

“Nevada did not submit any paperwork, any proposal, for any high-speed rail money,” LaHood said in the video.

Nevada actually did apply for a grant, but there were two problems. First, the grant wasn’t qualified because it was sought through a state commission that wasn’t qualified to seek the grant.

The California-Nevada Super Speed Train Commission filed an application for its proposal to build a maglev train from Las Vegas to Anaheim.

Nevada officials figured that since the commission was created by the Nevada and California legislatures, it was qualified to apply, Nevada Department of Transportation Director Susan Martinovich said. She said the department thought the project would get a better response since it was a partnership between two states.

“NDOT, knowing that the Super Speed Train Commission was filing an application, wouldn’t send an application for the same project,” Martinovich said.

But the commission wasn’t qualified to apply because the law says only “states, groups of states, interstate compacts (and) public agencies” were eligible to apply, said Joseph Szabo, administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, in a letter to the commission.

Just because the commission was created by both states doesn’t mean it was qualified. Both states also had to endorse the commission’s application — and only Nevada did so.

The second problem: The maglev proposal didn’t meet the qualifications for federal funds.

Stimulus funds only were allowed for projects in already-approved high-speed rail corridors so the funds would quickly be used for construction. But maglev officials weren’t that far along – they requested the funds to study and get approval for a new high-speed rail corridor.

Maglev’s competition, DesertXpress, didn’t apply for the funds. That project, which would connect Las Vegas with Victorville, Calif., is privately funded and plans to break ground later this year.

Reid switched his support from the maglev project to DesertXpress in June. He said Thursday the announcement that about a quarter of the federal funds will go to California will also be good for Nevada.

DesertXpress officials eventually plan to expand their line from Victorville to Palmdale, Calif., where it will connect with the California system, providing access to Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and Sacramento.

On Thursday, Gibbons accused Reid of withholding funds Reid secured for the maglev project in 2005. That $45 million contract has yet to be delivered to NDOT by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The first phase of the maglev project would provide 13,000 jobs, Gibbons spokesman Daniel Burns said.

“What the hell are these people in Washington doing?” he said. “Why would a senator with a great deal of power not lift a finger to help those families? That is a disgrace.”

Neil Cummings, president of the American Maglev Group, said his project is still going to happen.

“Our plan hasn’t changed,” he said. “We’re pushing ahead. We’re certainly disappointed in the decision, but there will be opportunities down the road for future applications and we hope to get under way any day now as soon as the FRA releases the contract to NDOT.”

He said he’s not worried about competition from DesertXpress.

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