Colton crossing project snares federal funds

An aerial view of the Colton Crossing area. Credit: San Bernardino Associated Governments.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced $1.5 billion in so-called “tiger” grants to 51 transportation projects around the country today. One local project scored big — the Colton Crossing plan in San Bernardino was awarded $33.8 million.

What is Colton Crossing? You’ve probably driven past it and not realized it. Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe tracks cross at the junction, which slows down trains on both tracks and the area has long been seen as a major railroad bottleneck. About 150 trains pass through the area each day, including some Amtrak and Metrolink trains.

The cost of separating the tracks costs $198 million, so the federal share only covers 17% of the cost.

The money is part of the federal stimulus bill signed into law in 2009. The clunky “tiger” acronym stands for “transportation improvement generating economic recovery.” But you probably already guessed that.

The project has been controversial, with critics complaining that public money — in particular state funds — should not be used to benefit private railroads, although the railroads are set to pick up some of the costs. Here’s a recent story about the project published by the Riverside Press-Enterprise.

Finally, Transportation Weekly examined the $1.5 billion in grants with an eye toward politics and demographics. About two-thirds of the money went to states won by President Obama in the 2008 election but on a per capita basis, states won by Sen. John McCain came out ahead, $6.58 per person for red states versus $5.33 per person for blue states.

On a straight-up per capita basis, the top three states were the District of Columbia ($22.62 per person), Rhode Island ($21.17 per person) and West Virginia ($19.10 per person). The funds for the D.C. area are for bus lane upgrades; Rhode Islane got money for port improvements and West Virginia for freight rail improvements.

California secured more money than any other state at $130 million, although that works out to $3.52 per person, with only a few states ranked below by that measure.

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