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California High-Speed Rail Still Going Nowhere

High Speed RailYesterday, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood testified at the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing on California high-speed rail. On the occasion of his 67th birthday, Mr. LaHood pressed lawmakers to release funding for the controversial train to nowhere. We’ve written on this subject on a number of occasions.

The high-speed rail project, once estimated to cost $33 billion, has ballooned to an estimated $98 billion, nearly tripling the cost. Republican critics have used the increased cost as the reason to justify stopping federal money from going to the project.

“We’re not going to get it fully funded as long as there’s language in bills that says we can’t have any money,” LaHood, stating the obvious, said as he lamented a GOP amendment to the $109 billion transportation bill that was approved last year barring money from being spent on the California railway. The amendment was introduced by Republican Jeff Denham of Fresno.

Plans call for the first segment of California’s high speed rail to end in Bakersfield, the district of Republican House Whip Kevin McCarthy. He told the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee that Congress wants to invest in infrastructure, but he has doubts about this venture.

“What you want, you also need a plan for,” McCarthy said “A plan that works, a plan that is tested, a plan that is audited, and a plan that has a review. And I have real doubt of the viability, the cost, and if and when this will ever be built.”

McCarthy and other California House members have asked the Government Accountability Office to review the state’s high speed rail project. That review is expected to be completed by February. The Preliminary Assessment of California’s Cost Estimates and Other Challenges by the GAO can be found here.

The Obama administration awarded more than $3 billion to the high-speed rail project from the 2009 economic stimulus package, which is more than any other state has received since Obama announced his vision for a nationwide network of railways in 2009.

“If you’d be good enough to withdrawal your language in that appropriation bill … that’d be a good first start for us,” LaHood said to Denham. “We’re not going to get $1 as long as there’s language in appropriations bills that says there’s no federal money that can be spent on California high-speed rail. That doesn’t help us get any more (private) money to the project.” 

Denham was unconvinced, however, telling LaHood “the amendments are not meant to help you, we agree on that. The amendments are meant to stop this project, until we see a plan.”

LaHood tried to sell the idea that government investment in the costly project would spark private investment, a premise that the Congressman did not buy.

Other Republicans on the Transportation Committee shared Denham’s skepticism, expressing doubt not just about the California rail proposal, but the Obama administration’s entire railway development plan.

Once more the Democrats and the Obama administration has refused to differentiate between needs and wants. California high-speed rail is not a need, it is a want and right now needs must take budgetary preference.

 

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Name: Richard Billies

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