High-speed trains flew off the tracks in at least two states and prospects grew cloudier for mass transit, bike trails and transportation in general as Tuesday's election returns poured in.
Ohio and Wisconsin, which in January won a combined $1.2 billion in high-speed rail grants from the Obama administration, both elected governors who have vowed to stop the projects.
Voters in Minnesota ousted a leading advocate of increased federal transportation funding, longtime U.S. Rep. James L. Oberstar, chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, who had pushed a six-year, $500 billion program to improve the nation's infrastructure.
Pennsylvania elected a governor, Tom Corbett, who has acknowledged an urgent need to upgrade the state's infrastructure but faces a multibillion-dollar projected budget deficit and has pledged not to raise taxes.
"I think it's going to present a very serious conundrum for the new governor and new legislative leadership," said state Rep. Joseph Markosek, D-Monroeville, chairman of the Transportation Committee. "During a time when there's huge sentiment for cutting spending and cutting programs, our infrastructure is quite in need of the opposite."
Still, there were some currents of optimism in transportation circles on Wednesday, partly stemming from Mr. Corbett's campaign promise to empanel a bipartisan working group on transportation funding and seek solutions in the first six months of his administration.
"He has committed to moving on this early on," said Robert Latham, executive vice president of Associated Pennsylvania Constructors, a Harrisburg-based trade association of construction companies and suppliers.
Pennsylvania's budget for highways, bridges and transit suffered a $472 million setback when the federal government rejected the state's application to toll Interstate 80.
A state advisory commission estimated this year that Pennsylvania is $3.5 billion per year short of spending enough to bring its transportation network to a state of good repair.
Mr. Latham, whose organization favors increased spending on road and bridge construction, said contract awards by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation next year are expected to fall to roughly half of the $2.8 billion that was awarded in 2009.
"We don't have a year and a half to sit around and do a study," he said. "We've got meat-and-potatoes, fix-the-roads safety projects that need to be funded."
In Allegheny County, the Port Authority faces a $47 million projected deficit and has scheduled a Nov. 24 board vote on cutting service systemwide by 35 percent if the state doesn't provide more funding.
Authority board Chairman Jack Brooks said Mr. Corbett's victory and the Republican takeover of the state House did not improve prospects for funding help.
"I don't think it's good for us," he said. "I don't know how you fund transportation if you don't raise taxes."
Port Authority CEO Steve Bland said he didn't expect any state action before the board votes but said he remained confident that the transportation funding predicament would be resolved.
"The question is, how quickly can you do that?" he asked. "I don't envy Gov. Corbett or his team."
He said the service cuts, even if approved by the board, could be reversed if the state takes action before March 13.
Mr. Bland said Mr. Corbett's position papers "certainly don't paint him as anti-infrastructure or anti-transportation. I think we can have a productive relationship." But for now, he said, the authority is operating "under a worst-case scenario."
Mr. Markosek, who will relinquish his chairmanship to Rep. Rick Geist, R-Altoona, as a result of the Republicans' newly won majority, said he didn't think the Legislature could act on transportation funding in time to stop the Port Authority service cuts.
"With a new Legislature and a new governor, they aren't going to be prone to dynamic, quick changes," he said.
He praised Mr. Geist, who has authored a transportation funding and reform plan that is designed to increase revenue and spending. "He is a strong supporter of transportation and funding for transportation and he is one of the most bipartisan members in the Legislature," Mr. Markosek said.
Mr. Geist could not be reached on Wednesday.
The Republican takeover of the U.S. House and Mr. Oberstar's ouster dimmed the chances for a long-term transportation bill that would increase funding to the states.
Mr. Oberstar's $500 billion program "is certainly not in the cards anymore," said C. Kenneth Orski, a consultant and transportation expert who closely monitors the Washington scene.
"It's going to be a lower number and probably a shorter [duration] bill," he said.
An extension of the transportation law that expired in September 2009 will itself run out in December. Mr. Orski said he expected Congress to simply extend it again, with no funding increase.
"I don't see anything bold happening in Congress to address this program in the next 18 months" and it's possible the issue will be put off until after the 2012 presidential election, Mr. Latham said. "The action is clearly at the state level rather than the national level."
The Republican takeover and Mr. Oberstar's defeat did little to cheer transit and bike trail advocates.
"To the extent that Republicans are somewhat less enthusiastic about transit than the Democrats, I see somewhat less emphasis on transit," Mr. Orski said.
"That doesn't mean support for transit will disappear but it probably means the expectations of advocacy groups will not be met."
Mr. Oberstar, still an avid bicyclist at age 76, had championed increased funding for bike lanes, trails and pedestrian improvements.
His likely successor as chairman, Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., also has supported funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects, but the new House speaker, John Boehner, R-Ohio, has called for eliminating such funding.
In Ohio, which won a $400 million federal stimulus grant to develop passenger rail in the Cleveland-Columbus-Cincinnati corridor, the gubernatorial winner was Republican John Kasich, who in August said at a candidate forum, "If you want that train, I hope you can get over that and vote for me anyway, but you're not going to get that train."
Derailment of the project would kill whatever hopes Pittsburgh rail advocates had of someday tying into a proposed Midwest network of high-speed passenger service.
Wisconsin also elected a passionate foe of President Barack Obama's plan to develop a nationwide network of high-speed trains.
"I will put a stop to this boondoggle the day I take office," said Republican Scott Walker in a posting on his campaign website. Wisconsin was awarded $810 million for development of Milwaukee-to-Madison service.
Jon Schmitz: email@example.com or 412-263-1868. Visit "The Roundabout," the Post-Gazette's transportation blog, at post-gazette.com.