President Obama on Thursday awarded $8 billion in federal grants to start a nationwide high-speed rail system he hopes will create jobs and speed up U.S. travel.
"There's no reason Europe or China should have the fastest trains when we can build them right here in America," the president said at a town-hall meeting at the University of Tampa's Bob Martinez Sports Center in Florida, one 31 states that will receive grant money.
The money is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and is the largest investment in U.S. infrastructure since the Interstate Highway System was begun in the 1950s.
The jobs initiative is one of several the president will announce in the coming weeks, following his commitment during his State of the Union address on Wednesday night that creating jobs is his top priority.
The president also used the event -- which included a question-and-answer session and was broadcast for roughly 90 minutes on CNN -- as an opportunity to reinforce key points from his roughly 70-minute address.
Among the issues he revisited, including several he repeated verbatim, were eliminating capital-gains taxes on small-business investments, ending tax breaks to companies that export jobs, and financial help for college students.
"Nobody should go broke because they chose to go to college," said the president, as he did about 10 hours earlier.
Mr. Obama said the money awarded Thursday will be a "down payment" on laying the groundwork for 13 major high-speed rail corridors across the country. As part of the program, 31 states will receive money, which also will go toward smaller projects and planning work.
Florida will receive roughly $1.25 billion to develop a high-speed rail corridor between Tampa and Orlando, with trains running up to 168 mph. Construction work is not expected to begin until roughly 2013.
The other major projects are California, Ohio, Northeast, Detroit-Chicago, Charlotte-Raleigh-Richmond-Washington, Chicago-St. Louis-Kansas City, Eugene-Portland-Seattle and Madison-Milwaukee-Chicago.
California will receive $2.25 billion for a rail line from Los Angeles to San Francisco and points in between, with trains running as fast as 220 mph.
The administration first announced the plan in April. In addition to the $8 billion awarded Thursday, the plan also includes $1 billion a year for five years in the federal budget. Administration officials said they reviewed grant applications worth more than $55 million for the initial $8 billion. "Its not only going to create good jobs and reinvigorate our manufacturing base, it's also going to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and help create livable communities," said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "I have no doubt that building the next generation of rail service in this country will help change our society for the better."
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