This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 29, 2011 - Without getting political about it, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon is hoping that Florida's loss is Missouri's gain.
Nixon stopped by Amtrak's train station in downtown Kirkwood this morning to announce that his office was submitting an application to snag almost $1 billion in high-speed rail money that his Florida counterpart, Gov. Rick Scott, has rejected.
Nixon said the grant would require less than $5 million in state matching funds, and could give a boost to hopes of a faster rail route between St. Louis and Kansas City.
"I think it's a transformational opportunity,'' the governor said. "It's a one-time opportunity that we're not going to let pass by."
Missouri Department of Transportation Director Kevin Keith said Missouri's application, due next Monday, will reflect Nixon's vision to "think big and be bold."
If granted, $600 million of the federal money would be used to plan and design a "separate, dedicated high-speech rail line'' between St. Louis and Kansas City, and to purchase the necessary land.
The existing rail track -- in condition and terrain -- is unsuitable for high-speed rail, Nixon and Keith said. It's also shared between passenger and cargo trains, which has put a crimp for years on various proposals to expand passenger-rail travel.
Another $373 million of the federal funds "would be used in the immediate future for significant improvements and upgrades to rail equipment and infrastructure, and would complement the high-speed rail project already underway in the St. Louis to Chicago corridor," the governor said.
Some parts of the existing route would be altered to allow for double track.
Combined, the two projects would provide 1,200 jobs, many of them in construction, the governor said.
The money would augment the added funds already given to Illinois for the proposed Chicago-St. Louis high speed line, the governor said.
Nixon avoided speculating as to why Scott and some other Republican governors have been rejecting federal high-speed rail grants, or why many Republicans -- including Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder -- are cool on the idea of high-speed trains, now in operation in Europe and China.
"I don't see this as a partisan issue,'' Nixon said. "I'm not the governor of any other state. I don't want to be the governor of any other state...they can run their own deals."
His reason for seeking the grant was simple, the governor added. "This money has been made available, and it's going to be spent in America,."
The governor's choice of Kirkwood for today's stop wasn't random. Nixon noted that two rail cars have been added to the St. Louis-Kansas City train that runs through Kirkwood, because of increased passengers.
But on a personal level, the governor observed that when he was in the state Senate in the 1980s, he used to catch the train to Jefferson City from Kirkwood, when he had to drop off his car for repairs at a nearby Kirkwood auto repair business.