WASHINGTON — President Obama, seeking to deliver on his State of the Union promise to spur job growth, will arrive in Tampa on Thursday and announce Florida has won more than $1 billion in funding for high-speed rail.
The state had applied for $2.5 billion in stimulus funding for a line that would run from Orlando to Tampa. But the White House said no state would get more than half its request right away. Instead, Obama will cast the award as a down payment.
In addition to $8 billion in overall rail funding to be awarded to several states, Obama has pledged an additional $5 billion through the annual budget process.
"It's a pretty good start," said Sen. Bill Nelson, who was pushing for the full funding along with Gov. Charlie Crist and other elected officials in Florida, and longtime rail advocates.
Despite the setback, advocates cast the announcement in breathless terms. "This will be one of the largest boosts to the state's economy since Disney, since the interstate highway system," Nelson said.
"It's going to be the foundation of a more modern Florida," said U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa.
Rail backers claim it will bring 23,000 jobs to Florida over four years and create 600 permanent jobs once the line is running, by early 2015. The plan is to eventually extend the rail to Miami.
Obama will allude to the high-speed rail initiative Thursday night in his State of the Union address, but the details will come out Thursday.
Thursday's visit, which will include a town hall meeting at the University of Tampa, will coincide with rail announcements by administration officials across the country.
Thirteen major corridors will receive awards to help develop new high-speed rail infrastructure or begin the transition to high-speed rail, according to the White House.
"In addition, smaller awards will also be made for improvements to portions of existing rail lines. Overall, 31 states will benefit from the awards, which will lay the groundwork for a nationwide high-speed rail system," the White House said.
Florida has a mixed history with rail. Voters in 2000 approved spending for a bullet train for the state. But they quashed it four years later in a repeal vote backed by then-Gov. Jeb Bush.
Obama's $787 billion economic stimulus has come under increasing attack from critics who say it has not created the jobs it promised.
Many Florida politicians have embraced the rail concept, including Crist, who said he will meet Obama when Air Force One touches town in Tampa. Crist's rival in the Republican U.S. Senate primary, Marco Rubio, said he supports rail in general but added to his ongoing criticism of the Obama administration.
"I think we should all be concerned about increased spending on anything at a time when the federal government is borrowing money to function."
Staff writers Amy Hollyfield and Adam C. Smith contributed to this report.