Obama to call for $53 billion for high-speed rail

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California High Speed Rail Authority

An artist's rendering of California's high speed rail.

President Barack Obama is calling for a six-year, $53 billion investment in high-speed rail, as he seeks to use infrastructure spending to jumpstart job creation.

An initial $8 billion investment will be part of the budget plan Obama is set to release Monday. If Congress approves the plan, the money would go toward developing or improving trains that travel up to 250 miles per hour, and connecting existing rail lines to new projects. The White House wouldn't say where the money for the rest of the program would come from, though it's likely Obama would seek funding in future budgets or transportation bills.

Vice President Joe Biden and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood were to announce the initiative during an event Tuesday in Philadelphia.

Obama's push for high-speed rail investments is part of his broad goal of creating jobs in the short-term and increasing American competitiveness for the future through new spending on infrastructure, education and innovation. During last month's State of the Union address, Obama said he wanted to give 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail within 25 years.

At the same time he's calling for new spending on sectors like high-speed rail in the upcoming budget, Obama also has pledged to cut overall spending as he seeks to bring down the nation's mounting deficit. The White House has said environmental programs for the Great Lakes, and block grants for community service and community development are among the programs that will face cuts.

But it's unlikely the cuts Obama proposes in the budget will be enough to appease the GOP. Republicans now controlling the House have promised to slash domestic agencies' budgets by nearly 20 percent for the coming year.

Obama's call for increased spending on high-speed rail projects is nothing new. He's long seen the sector as an area of opportunity for creating jobs and improving the nation's transportation system. His administration awarded $10 billion in federal grants for high-speed rail projects last year, including $2.3 billion for California to begin work on an 800-mile-long, high-speed rail line tying Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay area to Los Angeles and San Diego; and $1.25 billion to Florida to build a rail line connecting Tampa on the West Coast with Orlando in the middle of the state, eventually going south to Miami.

Last summer, Obama laid out a plan to invest $50 billion in highways, bridges, transit, high-speed rail and airports, adding it to the first year of a six-year transportation bill. Congress didn't act on the proposal before adjourning last year, but LaHood has said he hopes to have a bill on Obama's desk by August.

© 2011 The Associated Press.

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