Democrats lost big on Tuesday, and it was only a tad better for alternative transportation. The fate of several high speed rail plans around the country are now in question as new governors take over and Republicans take over in Congress with a mandate to cut spending.
From races where transit or transportation became an issue, to marquis ballot measures for new initiatives, here’s our scorecard of election 2010 in Transportation Nation:
The race: 8th Congressional District, Minnesota – Jim Oberstar Loses. The Incumbent Democrat, Chair of House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, loses to Republican Chip Cravaack by 4,200 votes.
Rep. Oberstar has been in office since 1974 and was a strong advocate for transportation spending throughout. Even if he had won, he would have lost his chairmanship of the Transportation Committee when Republicans take control of the House. Still, his loss was unexpected. His farewell speech today to reporters was filled with transportation achievements highlighting his long tenure advocating for roads, rails and infrastructure. (More from MPR)
The current ranking member of the House Transportation Committee, Republican John Mica of Florida, will likely take over the Chairmanship. Like Oberstar, he has been a champion of increased transportation funding. It remains to be seen how much Mica will be able to get done, or how much he’ll stick to his consistent support for Obama’s pending $500 billion transportation bill, with a new more conservative Congress. Some changes are likely however. He told the AP Wednesday he wants to re-examine Obama’s recent $10 billion in grants for high speed rail. Mica supports HSR, he says, but not the specific projects the Dept. of Transportation has chosen for funding. Presumably he’d prefer the Northeast corridor be higher on the priority list than Florida and California.
The race: Hillsborough County, Florida Referendum – ballot initiative fails.
Transit tax won’t happen, no light rail funding source. Hillsborough county voted 58 percent to 42 percent against a one-cent sales tax devoted to transportation. The bulk of the money would have funded the county’s first light rail network, as well as rehabilitated roads and doubled the bus fleet. Supporters say they offered a good plan that was defeated because of tough economic times and plan to try again–after the economy improves. A similar measure in Polk County, Florida also failed by an even larger margin. (Read more from the St. Petersburg Times.)
Other Ballot Measures — On the small stuff, transit won however. The Center for Transportation Excellence tracked the less dramatic ballot measures before voters yesterday finding: “At a rate of 73 percent, voters across the country in 14 states approved 22 measures out of 30 state and local public transportation-related ballot initiatives, authorizing nearly $500 million over the next five years.”
The race: Maryland Governor — Incumbent Democrat Martin O’Malley wins big over Republican Bob Ehrlich.
“Purple Line” light rail plan is closer to reality. Bucking the national anti-incumbent and anti-Democrat trends, Gov. O’Mally “trounced” Former Gov. Ehrlich. Transportation was a big issue for a small part of Maryland in this race. The two candidates had conflicting plans for how to connect the D.C. suburbs to the metro area better. O’Malley wants the proposed “Purple Line” light rail, while Erlich advocated for a bus plan. With O’Malley in the governor’s house, and with a strong voter mandate, the plan is likely to become a reality. (Read more on the “Purple Line”.)
The race: Ohio Governor — Anti-rail Republican John Kasich ousts Incumbent Democrat Ted Strickland.
Regional rail project is “dead.” During the election Kasich proposed taking $400 million in stimulus money for rails and using it for roads instead. After his victory he said of the 3C rail plan to connect Cincinnati, Cleveland and Dayton, “That train is dead. We’re not going to have it.” That’s that.
The race: Wisconsin Governor – Anti-rail Republican Scott Walker defeats Democrat Tom Barrett.
High speed rail plan in doubt. Republicans swept Wisconsin, gaining a Senate seat, both houses of State government and the governorship. During the campaign Walker and his down-ticket party members opposed the $810 million high speed rail plan to connect Madison to Milwaukee. There’s a good chance that stimulus money will now go to roads and the HSR plan will stall.
The race: Florida Governor — Anti-rail Republican Rick Scott defeats Democrat Alex Sink by a small margin.
High speed rail plan in doubt. Florida has already received over $2 billion in federal funds to construct one of the nations first true high speed rail lines between Orlando and Tampa. Scott is against funding this with any state money at all. He’s said the Federal Government should pay 100 percent of the cost. If he sticks to that stance, there may not be enough money to complete the project as planned, especially with Rep. John Mica hinting at his willingness to re-allocate rail money away from Florida. (see above)
The race: California Governor — Democrat and rail supporter Jerry Brown defeats rail opponent Meg Whitman.
The largest high speed rail project in U.S. continues. California voters supported an ambitious plan for high speed rail before when they ratified a bond for over $9 billion to fund the plan to connect L.A. with San Francisco. The rail plan was by no means central to the governor’s race, but voters still gave a second boost to the project by electing. California high speed rail activists now feel the project is in good hands.
The race: Colorado Governor — Democrat John Hickenlooper wins three-way race over Republican Dan Maes and Conservative Tom Tancredo.
A transit supporter earns a victory. In 2004, Hickenlooper championed a measure to add a 0.4 percent sales tax to fund one of the most ambitious transit expansions in the nation, adding about 150 miles of light rail and bus rapid transit to the Denver area. He has also made Denver one of the first three U.S. cities to get a bike-share. Hickenlooper didn’t win because of his transit record as much as from poor campaigning and infighting amongst his opponents. Still, if he brings the same aggressive advocacy for alternative transportation statewide as he delivered in Denver, Colorado will be a state to watch.