Ray LaHood Urges America to Catch Up on High Speed Rail
In what’s billed as an “exit interview” for the outgoing Transportation Secretary, Sam Stein at the Huffington Post sat down to talk to Ray LaHood about his tenure and the future of transportation policy. Among the points LaHood made was that America is falling behind the rest of the world on infrastructure – including high speed rail.
“For the first time since people have been looking at infrastructure, America is behind,” LaHood said. “We are behind other countries because other countries are making the investments that we used to make. We got a two-year [highway] bill because they could only find $109 billion. We need to do better and we need to make sure that America does not fall further behind when it comes to infrastructure.”
Beyond their stinginess, however, LaHood criticized lawmakers — his fellow Republicans in particular — for lacking a comprehensive vision for improvements to infrastructure.
LaHood’s views on the matter were shaped, in part, by his attempts in spring 2011 to convince Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) to accept federal funds to build high-speed rail lines in his state. Scott, in a nod to the fiscal hawks in his party, declined to take the funds, arguing that the project would have required too heavy an investment from his own budget.
“My thought was there is only one person in Florida who doesn’t want this money,” LaHood said of the episode. “He is a governor without a vision when it comes to transportation.”…
“Look, we are behind on high-speed rail,” he said. “But because of the president’s vision and because of the work of those of us here at DOT, we have come a long way … As long as President Obama is in the White House, whoever sits in this chair will have high-speed rail as one of their top priorities.”
I have no doubt that LaHood is right and that as long as Obama is president, his administration will strongly back high speed rail. I also hope LaHood is right when he suggests that Congress will eventually come around on transportation funding.
But I would not hold my breath. Today’s Republican Party is the party of decline, of decay, of failure. They are solely focused on making sure the rich never have to pay another dime in taxes, and that means they are willing to let this country’s physical infrastructure collapse if that is the price that must be paid. As California has learned, progress toward solving 21st century problems can only be made when Republicans are thrown out of all positions of power. Solutions cannot be started when power is held, even in part, by people who are ideologically opposed to solutions.
If Democrats get organized enough to focus on winning back control of Congress in 2014, then high speed rail could have a brighter future in terms of federal funding as early as 2015. If we have to wait until the House can be un-gerrymandered for the 2022 elections, then we’re looking at another 10 years of delay. California would find some way to keep their HSR project going. But the rest of the country would just fall further behind.
Ray LaHood is not a Tea Party Republican, but he is a moderate business Republican. Who knows if any of them still exist in meaningful numbers in elected office. But they do remain out there in the world, including the corporate world. Perhaps LaHood’s next act can be to convince them to help throw the Tea Party out of power.