LaHood: High Speed Rail Will Be Our Generation’s Legacy

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood published an op-ed in the Sunday edition of the Orlando Sentinel, arguing for a vigorous campaign of high speed rail building. He said, “If we work together, a national high-speed-rail network can and will be our generation’s legacy.”

DOT Chief Ray LaHood is pushing Florida to pursue plans to build high speed rail. Photo: ##http://www.zimbio.com/pictures/IrngVhdWJgh/Trans+Secretary+Ray+LaHood+Discusses+Cash##Getty Images##
DOT Chief Ray LaHood is pushing Florida to pursue plans to build high speed rail. Photo: ##http://www.zimbio.com/pictures/IrngVhdWJgh/Trans+Secretary+Ray+LaHood+Discusses+Cash##Getty Images##

Why run the op-ed in the Sentinel and not a national paper like USA Today or the New York Times? LaHood’s comments were pointedly directed at Florida Governor-elect Rick Scott, who is making noises about following his counterparts in Wisconsin and Ohio in rejecting federal high speed rail money. And the Sentinel is the paper of record in the 7th Congressional district, represented by incoming House Transportation Committee Chair John Mica.

Mica has long said high speed rail is only practical in the Northeast Corridor, where there is sufficient density. He didn’t even want the proposed rail line to go forward in his home state until a recent, unexpected infusion of federal money made the prospects suddenly more appealing.

LaHood won’t be deterred. In his piece in yesterday’s Sentinel, he says a national high speed rail system “will spur economic development and job creation along its corridors.” It will also, he says, integrate cities, ease congestions, reduce oil dependency and emissions, and boost the manufacturing sector through Buy American provisions.

Who can argue with that? LaHood acknowledges the “naysayers” but gets their talking points wrong. According to him, critics think high speed rail construction is moving too slowly.

In fact, many critics think it’s just in the wrong places. Or it’s too expensive. Or it’s not really high speed.

Ken Orski, author of the online newsletter Innovation Briefs, supports passenger rail but told Streetsblog in an interview that the political will is lacking “to sustain a high speed rail program over the number of years that would be necessary to make this vision a reality.” He’s also not wild about the administration’s approach of “dribbling out money among umpteen states and umpteen grants rather than concentrating them on one or two corridors.”

Orski says as long as passenger rail shares a right-of-way with freight rail – which doesn’t exceed 79 miles per hour – it won’t be truly high speed.

As for Florida’s proposal high speed line from Tampa to Orlando – the target of LaHood’s op-ed – Orski says it won’t work because there’s no transit system at either end to get riders to their final destinations. If people need to get in a car to get to and from the train station, they’ll just stay in their cars and drive the whole way.

That’s not how LaHood sees it. He’s making a full-court press to keep Florida on the high speed rail map. Another loss like Wisconsin and Ohio would be a major blow to the administration. “Florida is poised to become one of the first states with a true high-speed-rail line,” he wrote. “And President Obama has committed to creating or improving 4,000 miles of track as part of his plan for America’s next major six-year transportation legislation.”

He says a world-class high speed rail network is possible, if Congress, the administration and the states keep their eyes on the prize.

  • David Martin

    I’m somewhat puzzled as to why LaHood would plug the high speed rail project as an Obama Administration initiative. It amounts to inviting Gov.-elect Scott to join the club of fashionable Republican governors who have rejected Democratic-inspired rail projects.

    The Florida project has had plenty of backing from Congressman Mica (who after a period of slipping may be back on board for completing the project) and Florida’s Republican legislature, which until now has generously supported planning by the Florida Department of Transportation.

    On the other hand, FDOT is delaying work on the project and seems to be unofficially shutting it down. I’d like to read the thoughts of employees.

    In terms of Florida high speed rail’s usefulness, the I-4 corridor from Tampa to Orlando is unique in that when the highway was rebuilt (parts were a relict of the beginning of the Interstates), it was designed specifically to accomodate rail in the median. There’s no more convenient place in America to install trains.

    The Orlando end of the project is auspicious. Orlando International Airport has detailed plans to make rail the centerpiece of its new South Terminal. It’ll be the best-integrated rail-air setup in the country. The proposed rail terminal at the monstrous Orange County Convention Center will make that center and its meetings-heavy environs the easiest place to get to in Florida. I expect that the aging, deteriorating northern end of International Drive will develop into a new sort of downtown, especially if commuter rail connects to the area.

    But enough wishful thinking. Rick Scott will shut it all down.

  • James Fujita

    This is all part of a secret plan to send more funds to California, a state which is moving forward on HSR XD

  • GetReal

    LaHood’s dream is the taxpayer’s worst nightmare.

    Estimated by some (not LaHood) to cost $500,000,000,000, HSR would cost the average American more than $1,600 but the trains would serve less than one percent of Americans.

    The Tea Partyers will nip the boondoggle in the bud starting next month. Unfortunately, the $8 billion seed money will leave incomplete projects scattered here and there that will, if nothing else, serve as a monument to LaHood’s incompetence.

    Scott is too smart to allow himself to be associated with such a sure failure.

    Ding dong the train is dead!

  • YOUGETREAL

    NO the taxpayers worst nighmare is the TRILLION DOLLAR AND GROWING war costs and paying for TAX CUTS for millionares..enough teabagger lies.!!HSR cost is nothing compared to this BS and it will be of use to Americans for 200 years and worth every penny..

  • GetReal

    Oooo. Somebody didn’t have their bran this morning….

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