A High-Speed Rail Reality Check for Texas

Despite data backing up the White House's assertion that politics played no role in high-speed rail decision-making, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) -- waging a re-election bid against a GOP primary challenger as well as the Democratic mayor of Houston -- wasn't shy about complaining after his state received less than one-hundredth of the $1.8 billion in rail stimulus it had requested.

tbonemap.gifA map of Texas' "T-bone" rail proposal. (Photo: TX Comptroller)
As a Perry spokesman put it to the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram:
Considering we only get back 70 cents on every dollar we send to Washington for highways, we've learned to hope for the best and expect the worst. The only money Texas got was for Amtrak, so it appears the federal government is protecting its own. Texans got shortchanged again.

Given that Texas transport officials have acknowledged the weaknesses in their funding plan, which lacked the necessary environmental studies to move forward with a "T-bone" rail system linking Houston, Dallas-Ft. Worth, and San Antonio, one would think Perry's administration might have kept its expectations low.

But any federal official looking to gauge Texas' depth of commitment to building bullet trains wouldn't have to look further than Perry himself. When asked for his stance on rail, the governor told the Dallas Morning News:

I am supportive of efforts to establish rail in Texas, but it would be premature to ask voters to set up a fund for high-speed rail before we even know whether it would work. ... We need to first determine if High Speed Rail is feasible and then take responsible steps for financing.

Not quite a vote of confidence, particularly after Perry vowed to reject White House stimulus aid and later turned around to accept federal funding. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood drove the point home today, saying that uneven leadership -- not politics -- hurt Texas' chances at high-speed rail money. Roll Call had the key quote:

“If Texas had its act together, they would have gotten some high-speed rail money,” [LaHood] said. “There is no connection having to do with politics or a vote because many Congressmen and Senators who voted against the [stimulus] bill got a boatload of money and were at the front of the line to cut the ribbon.”

Indeed, central Florida took home $1.25 billion in rail stimulus grants even as GOP Rep. John Mica, who represents the Orlando area, criticized the Obama administration's process and voted against the stimulus law.