Friday February 25, 2011 | 03:41 PM

More than $10 million in federal funding for a Northern Maine rail project endangered by House spending cuts is being released by the Obama administration, according to Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Rep. Mike Michaud, D-2nd.

The $10.5 million was awarded last year by the U.S. Department of Transportation to Maine to help pay for upgrades to 233-miles of rail line in Aroostook and northern Penobscot counties, according to Collins' office.
 
The House GOP spending bill for the final months of the current fiscal year that ends Sept. 30 cuts would eliminate that funding as part of $61 billion in total cuts, though the fate of that and other cuts in the Senate remains uncertain.
 
Collins is a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and the top Republican on the spending committee’s appropriations subcommittee. Her office announced this afternoon that the Federal Railroad Administration and Maine Department of Transportation have reached an agreement “that clears the way” to allocate the money now, meaning even if the final 2011 spending bill cuts overall rail funding, the money for Maine already will have been released and put in the spending pipeline.
 
Collins had contacted Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood earlier this month, asking him to move the Maine rail money along. Her office said today that now the “promised funds will not be rescinded even if the language in the House-passed bill becomes law.”
 
Collins said in a statement that the agreement “will preserve critical funding for Northern Maine rail service, the loss of which would have endangered nearly 1,700 jobs in northern Penobscot and Aroostook counties.
 
Comment is being sought from the Federal Railroad Administration.

Michaud noted that he voted against the House GOP spending bill, as did all other House Democrats, and lauded the "cooperation between state and federal officials. They clearly recognized the value of this critical project to Maine's economy and worked together to make this happen," Michaud said in a statement.

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Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
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