Confusion over funding continues


Gov. Jim Gibbons' camp backpedaled last week after sending a news release announcing that the state's magnetic levitation train received $45 million in federal funding and said that in reality, the money was expected to arrive this week.

"The (money) isn't going to arrive until next week, but this deal is done, and that is why a release was put out," Gibbons' spokesman Daniel Burns said last week in clarifying the news release. But that too is incorrect, the Federal Railroad Administration said.

"If such a statement was made, it is not accurate," U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood wrote to Gibbons in a letter dated Wednesday.

LaHood told Gibbons that his department is handling several projects nationwide that could be funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

LaHood has requested that the status of the maglev project be reviewed but said it is unknown when a decision will be made.

"We are currently prioritizing our resources to address the country's transportation infrastructure and stimulus needs in these difficult economic times," LaHood wrote.

LaHood's statement has hardly derailed the governor's optimism.

Burns acknowledged Wednesday he had misspoken about the timing of the funding, saying, "it could be this week, it could be next year, it could be next month." But the bottom line, Burns said, is that the maglev train is not tied into stimulus funding and Nevada will receive the money.

"When you're in the governor's position, if you look at the law and the series of e-mails and letters and conversations, it would be completely reasonable to conclude that this process is continuing," Burns said. "The money will be on its way, and the project will proceed."

The Federal Railroad Administration continued this week to stick to its original statement: "The Federal Railroad Administration has made neither an award nor an announcement with regard to funding for maglev development in Nevada."

Burns said he doesn't know why the Railroad Administration would not also release a statement announcing the awarding of the funding.

"It's a federal agency; perhaps they're receiving pressure to say otherwise," Burns said.

Gibbons' premature announcement last week triggered a war of words between the governor and Sen. Harry Reid, who recently threw his support behind the competing DesertXpress train.

Reid, who a year ago set aside $45 million for the maglev project, abandoned the idea after the high-speed train's sponsors failed to come up with the required 20 percent match in private funds or make any progress.

Burns said Gibbons was "mystified" that Reid would try to stand in the way of the maglev project. Reid countered by saying the DesertXpress has made more progress in the past year and would break ground and create jobs more expeditiously than the rival maglev.

Through his spokesman, Reid expressed concern that Gibbons continued to stand by his statement that the funding is on its way despite LaHood's letter.

"False statements like these are not only a letdown for people who are eager for high-speed transportation and the jobs that come with it, they are a disservice to all Nevadans," spokesman Jon Summers said. "It's unfortunate that the governor is choosing to ignore the facts in an effort to mislead the people of Nevada."

The maglev train, powered by magnets to suspend the cars above a guideway, would provide an 81-minute trip to Anaheim, Calif., at speeds of 310 miles per hour. The first segment of the railway would travel to Primm.

The competing proposal, the DesertXpress, would travel on steel wheels and operate at speeds up to 150 miles per hour. It would deliver passengers to various areas of Southern California after a new transfer station is built in Palmdale, Calif. Initially, the train would provide a 84-minute ride to Victorville, Calif.

Not only should Nevada move forward with the maglev train because it will create jobs in a state where the unemployment rate is more than 13 percent, but also because it is in the law, Burns said.

Burns cited the 2008 federal Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Act, which states that $45 million is to go to the Nevada Department of Transportation, "who shall cooperate with the California-Nevada Super Speed Train Commission for the MAGLEV project between Las Vegas and Primm, Nevada, as a segment of the high-speed MAGLEV system between Las Vegas, Nevada and Anaheim, California."

"This law was passed by Congress and signed by the president," Burns said. "It's done. It can only be spent in one place unless someone changes the law."

Reid plans to reallocate the funding toward other transportation projects in Nevada "so that we can put Nevadans to work and don't risk losing that money," Summers said.

Contact reporter Adrienne Packer at apacker@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2904.

 

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