My Spidey Senses

Last week, I was sort of surprised when the Obama Administration announced a series of transportation grants, less than two weeks before the elections.  Yesterday, even more money was rolled out for high speed rail.

Now, maybe grant money gets doled out right before elections all the time, and probably it’s happened before.  But these announcements really made me sort of sit up and take another look, especially when Democrats aren’t doing so well in the campaign.

It had the same impact over at the Associated Press, where reporter Kevin Freking wrote about the high-speed rail money, “The timing of the announcement raised questions about whether the administration was trying to help some Democratic candidates.”

No, I have no evidence of that from my reporting.  But, my gut tells me the timing is, shall we say, interesting.

One key Republican staffer who deals with Transportation issues on Capitol Hill had the same assessment last night, saying it’s a “reasonable question,” adding it would be interesting to see a thorough analysis on where the money is going.

The high speed rail money will be formally awarded on Thursday, as California will get another $902 million to help with a rail line from San Francisco to Los Angeles.  

Florida gets $800 million more for a line between Tampa and Orlando.

“Fantastic news for Florida,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL).  “Now we are full speed ahead with high-speed rail construction.”

Florida has some big election races, like one for Governor going on right now.

“This is a great announcement for California that will create jobs at a time that we really need them,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who is locked in a very tight re-election race of her own.

Last week, Boxer had praised $59 million in funding from the Transportation Department’s “TIGER2” grants that are used for transportation projects.

“These critical investments in California’s transportation system will speed up the creation of thousands of private sector jobs all across our state,” Boxer said.

Back East, there’s also $2.24 million for planning on high speed rail between New Hampshire and Boston.

“HODES SECURES MILLIONS FOR CAPITOL CORRIDOR RAIL PROJECT,” bellowed the headline on the web site of Rep. Paul Hodes (D-NH).  
That would be the same Rep. Paul Hodes (D-NH) who finds himself behind in the race for Senate in New Hampshire.

“The Capitol Corridor Rail Project will create good-paying green jobs right now,” said Hodes in a written statement.

Money is also going to Iowa, to help with an Amtrak route between Chicago and Iowa City.

“Today’s announcement is great news for Iowa,” said Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA), who said it would create 588 jobs and increase business activity by $25 million per year.

“This is one more step to create jobs in the short term and put Iowa’s economy back on track,” Braley said in a written statement on his web site.

While Braley has been targeted by Republicans, he seems likely to survive this election year.  But it can’t hurt to have a story like that to talk about on the stump with seven days left either, eh?

Sending out the good news to Democratic lawmakers was Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a former Republican member of the House from Illinois, who joined the Obama Administration after his colleague’s election.

Like I said above, I’m sure this isn’t the first time the feds have handed out money right before an election.

But it made my Spidey News Senses tingle a little bit.

Here is the list of the capital grants that were awards TIGER grants last week by the Department of Transportation:

* Atlanta, GA Streetcar – $47.67 million
* Tower 55, Fort Worth, TX – $34 million
* South Park Bridge, Seattle, WA – $34 million
* South Salt Lake City Streetcar – $26 million
* Port of Miami Rail Access, FL – $22.76 million
* Bridge replacement, NH/ME – $20 million
* LAX Light Rail, CA – $20 million
* Route 10 Safety, WY – $17 million
* Niagara Falls Rail Station, NY – $16.5 million
* New Haven Downtown Crossing, CT – $16 million
* Reconstruct MRC Railroad, SD – $16 million
* Port of Los Angeles – $16 million
* Dilworth Plaza improvements, PA – $15 million
* Razorback Regional Greenway, AR – $15 million
* Minot Grade Separation, ND – $14.1 million
* Ann Arbor Bridges, MI – $13.9 million
* Coos Bay Rail Line, OR – $13.57 million
* NW Tennessee Port, TN – $13 million
* Steel Point Roadway, CT- $11.15 million
* Aroostook Rail Preservation, ME – $10.5 million
* Port of Providence, RI – $10.5 million
* Cedar Rapid Transit Stn, OH – $10.5 million
* Great Plains Freight Rail, KS/OK – $10.2 million
* East Bay Pedestrian & Bike, CA – $10.2 million
* Meadowlands Signal System, NJ – $10.08 million
* Fordham Transit Plaza, NY – $10 million
* Central PA Rail & Road, PA – $10 million
* Parramore BRT Orlando, FL – $10 million
* Moline Multimodal Station, IL – $10 million
* Peoria Warehouse District, IL – $10 million
* Des Moines Multimodal Hub, IA – $10 million
* San Bernardino Airport Access, CA – $10 million
* West Vancouver Freight Access, WA – $10 million
* Port Manatee Marine Highway, FL – $9 million
* Staples North/South Corridor, MN – $7.6 million
* Freight Rail Rehab, NE – $4.92 million
* Woodside Boulevard, ID – $3.5 million
* Electric Vehicle Corridor, OR – $2 million
* Waterloo Station, IN – $1.82 million
* Moscow Intermodal Transit, ID – $1.5 million
* Peach County Streets, GA – $1.49 million
* Franklin County Road Work, WA – $1.01 million

Also handed out were planning grants for a series of projects around the nation:

* US-14 Underpass, Barrington, IL – $2.8 million
* Newark Train Station, DE – $2.25 million
* Oakland Army Base Master Plan, CA – $2 million
* Canal Crossing, NJ – $1.94 million
* Sheridan Expressway Corridor, NY – $1.51 million
* Aloha-Reedville Livable Community, OR – $1.5 million
* Bike/Ped Trail Design, NM – $1.47 million
* Denver TOD Program, CO – $1.15 million
* Grand Boulevard, CA – $1.09 million
* Claiborne Corridor Plan, LA – $1.072
* Madison Intermodal Terminal, WI – $950,000
* Augusta Sustainable Development, GA – $908,307
* Asheville Multi-Modal Neighborhood, NC – $850,000
* Allegheny Green Blvd Planning, NC – $850,000
* South Shore Commuter Rail, IN – $800,000
* Linking Rural Regions, ME – $770,988
* Downtown Dahlonega Streets, GA – $720,069
* Ranson-Charles Town Corridor, WV – $708,500
* Lexington Multi-Modal Plan, NC – $700,000
* Owasco River Trail Plan, NY – $590,000
* Broad Street Road Diet, SC – $456,000
* Colorado Main Streets, CO – $395,600
* Oklahoma City Transit, OK – $378,000
* Livability in Pontiac, MI – $300,000
* Bridge Boulevard Corridor, NM – $262,500
* St. Paul Streets Plan, MN – $250,000
* Greenville Jobs/Open Space, SC – $235,000
* Parkview Gardens, MO – $150,000
* St. Albans Streetscape, VT – $125,000
* Hull Street Corridor, VA – $100,000
* Highway 13 Study, MO – $90,000
* Randolph County Plan, WV – $85,750
* Village Center Improvements, MO – $80,000

You can look through all the details on these projects at (pdf) http://is.gd/gj1ln and  (pdf) http://is.gd/gj1nG