Leading GOP Legislators Want XpressWest High Speed Rail Loan Killed

(March 15) XpressWest, a proposed high speed train to be built from Victorville to Las Vegas, has encountered a severe test this month, with two leading Republican lawmakers calling upon the Obama administration to reject a $5.5 billion loan to facilitate the project.
Until recently, the effort to establish the United States’ first bullet train as a park-and-ride project that would convey several hundred thousand travelers from Southern California to the Nevada gambling Mecca yearly appeared to be chugging along nicely. All of the environmental work for the project had been completed and most of the right-of-way acquisition accomplished. Nevada-based XpressWest was in the ultimate design stage for the project and awaiting finalization of federal loans to begin work on the undertaking, which promised to be a substantial boost to San Bernardino County’s economy during the construction phase of the project.
On March 6, however, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and Senator Jeff Sessions, the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in which they characterized the  federal government’s provision of loans to complete the project a risky application of taxpayer money.
“We are deeply troubled by the prospects of subsidizing another costly, wasteful and risky high-speed rail project, particularly when our nation is facing a debt crisis,” Ryan and Sessions wrote. They said they wanted the government to cancel making the loan or at least postpone a decision on it until the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, makes an assessment of the viability of the project and the risk to taxpayers.
Ryan and Sessions’ call for the administration to back away from its support for the project was unexpected. Many of those connected to the project are themselves Republicans who have celebrated the project as a shining example of public-private participation in American innovation.  There is, as well, some political implication in the emergence of the Republican Congressional leadership’s opposition to the undertaking, in that the strongest backer of the project is Democratic Nevada Senator Harry Reid, who is also the Senate Majority Leader, and a lightning rod of controversy in the partisan bickering between the GOP and his party.
Reid, whose state stands to reap a long-term benefit from the project, reacted immediately to Ryan and Sessions’ letter, stating “We shouldn’t allow Tea Party-driven ideology to limit much-needed investments in our infrastructure that create thousands of direct and indirect jobs.”
XpressWest CEO Anthony Marnell II in short order fired off a letter to Ryan and Sessions, expressing “disappointment” in their letter, which he said relied “upon a report that was formulated using outdated information and faulty data.”
Marnell said, “The fact is that the XpressWest project would generate a wide array of benefits for Nevada, the western region and the nation at large.” Among these, Martell said, was that the train would “provide an efficient new transportation option in a corridor with a growing population, now served by highly congested highways and airspace” and that the project would “create approximately 80,000 direct and indirect jobs during the construction phase in a region with unemployment rates significantly above the national average” and “upon completion, provide approximately 2,100 long-term permanent operational jobs, with an estimated economic output of $7.8 billion in the region.”
Marnell, a contractor whose large-scale projects include the Bellagio and Wynn hotel-casinos in Las Vegas, further touted XpressWest as a venture that will “launch a new generation of U.S. rail travel in a region desperate for alternative forms of transportation” as well as “lay the groundwork for future connectivity to other high-speed rail networks in the Pacific and Mountain West.”
A further benefit, Marnell said, would be that the system will “reduce the number of automobile trips and cut carbon emissions, thus reducing air pollution problems.”
Marnell said that pulling the plug on the project was a shortsighted move that would delay or eliminate crucial progress.
“The XpressWest project is perhaps the nation’s best current example of a public-private partnership,” Marnell said. “The rail will be financed through a combination of private capital and Railroad Infrastructure Financing funding. Under the terms of the Railroad Infrastructure Financing program, the XpressWest plan of finance demonstrates that the loan will be repaid in full over 35 years, including payment of interest. Our ridership study, conducted by the premier analysts in that industry, clearly supports our financing structure and the viability of the project. It is time to approve a viable project that has met every federal permitting requirement and stands ready to begin construction immediately upon financial approval. XpressWest is the only high-speed rail project in the United States positioned to jump-start a new industry that will have lasting public benefits and produce tangible near-term benefits that satisfy and achieve the government’s goals and priorities. There is no more worthy rail transportation infrastructure project in the United States.”

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