By Mark Niquette
Gov.-elect John Kasich asked Gov. Ted Strickland to halt studies for a high-speed passenger-rail system, and he wants President Barack Obama to allow Ohio to use the $400 million in rail funds for roads or freight rail instead.
But federal officials say the money can’t be re-purposed, and Strickland, who has championed the passenger-rail project linking Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati, said Monday he will move forward with it as long as he is in office.
Kasich repeatedly contended before defeating Strickland in last week’s election that the rail project is not viable. He wrote to Strickland asking him to “prevent unnecessary spending” on a project that he intends to scrap.
“I realize that we disagree on this issue, but I am confident that you and your administration will respect my request and take the steps that are in the best interest of Ohio taxpayers,” wrote Kasich, who takes office Jan. 10.
Kasich also wrote to Obama on Monday asking him to make provisions for Ohio to use the $400 million in federal stimulus money awarded to the state passenger rail on highway- infrastructure or freight-rail needs instead.
The White House referred questions about Kasich’s request to the U.S. Department of Transportation, which released a letter from Secretary Ray LaHood to Scott Walker, the governor-elect in Wisconsin, who also opposes a high-speed rail project in that state.
“None of the money provided to Wisconsin may be used for road and highway projects, or anything other than high-speed rail,” LaHood wrote.
New York’s governor-elect, Andrew Cuomo, has asked for Ohio’s rail funds if Kasich rejects the money. But Kasich said in his letter to Obama that if Ohio can’t use the money, it should be used to reduce the $1.4 trillion federal deficit.
Kasich wants the Ohio Department of Transportation to terminate contracts with two consultants valued at up to $25 million to study the environmental effects of the train service and to work with freight railroads on sharing tracks.
Strickland’s spokeswoman said the study is well under way and will produce valuable information that will be useful even if the current proposal is killed.
“So even if the governor-elect chooses not to support rail when he takes office, future governors or legislators with a vision for a modern Ohio will have better information as a result of this work,” spokeswoman Kelly Schlissberg said.