Ray LaHood Talks HSR With the SacBee
Former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was in Sacramento recently, and talked to the Sacramento Bee editorial board about high speed rail. Why was he in Sacramento? I’ll let him explain…
What brings you to town?
I am meeting with Gov. Jerry Brown and High Speed Rail chief executive Jeff Morales. I want to thank the governor for his commitment and give him some advice about where some funding might be in the Department of Transportation. I want to talk to him about some private investors who have come to me. …
When I was in Washington, I helped provide funding to the tune of $4 billion. This is the one place in America that would have true high-speed rail. It is the one place in America where there is a real commitment. …
This is one of the best projects in the country right now. It is because of Gov. Brown. I know these court decisions have been a little bit of a setback. But hopefully they’ll get a good ruling in the end.
Basically, LaHood is a strong backer of California HSR and wants to see it succeed. Now that he’s free to do more advocacy on behalf of the project, he’s working to bring money to the California project, both public and private. Good on him. Name a train after him!
As an editorial board, we’re supportive of high-speed rail. We’re also skeptical that we’re ever going to see track laid.
That was the same skepticism that occurred in American 60 years ago when President Eisenhower signed the Interstate Highway Act. … Because of the vision of Eisenhower, the commitment of Congress, the commitment of governors, we have the best interstate system in the world. Hopefully 50 years from now, a good part of the country will be connected by a lot of rail.
How do you maintain interest when the first leg will be built from Merced to Fresno?
I remember when I was in high school in Peoria, Ill., and they laid slabs of concrete. It was a part of the interstate highway system. You can’t build a rail system from San Francisco to San Diego all at one time. You have to start somewhere. Why the Central Valley? Because it is a good place to begin to build, to test the speed.
LaHood has all the right answers here. “You have to start somewhere.” The notion that building on the ends would have been any better was always rather naive, and relied on people forgetting the vehement NIMBYism not just on the Peninsula but that was bubbling up in places like Buena Park and Anaheim.
Beverly Hills, as unsympathetic a group of NIMBYs if ever there were any, have thrown everything they have at the Purple Line subway extension. NIMBYs on the Peninsula or in SoCal likely have used the same tactics that Kings County has used – get Republicans to block new HSR funding and then use that as a reason to block the Prop 1A bonds in court – to block HSR construction at the ends. Keep in mind that CC-HSR, a group of Peninsula NIMBYs, have been instrumental in the Kings County lawsuits against HSR.
So LaHood is right that starting in the Central Valley was and remains a good idea.
Why did Obama become enamored of high-speed rail?
He was influenced by Vice President Joe Biden who rode Amtrak from Delaware every day to Washington. I think (the president) was influenced by growing up in Chicago, where there is mass transit to get just about anywhere. He also recognized that no other administration had ever made this kind of commitment.
The vision Obama has for high-speed rail can be played out here in California. Obviously, Amtrak is never going to get 200-mile-an-hour trains. It is an old system. In Illinois, we have trains going 110 miles an hour that were once going 79 miles an hour. But in California, it’s going to be the best because it is brand new. And it goes 200 miles an hour.
Joe Biden definitely gets a train named after him. Hell, maybe the whole system. (Yeah, yeah, Jerry Brown might have an even stronger claim to being the Father of California HSR, but this is Joe Biden! He’s a BFD!)
The interview goes on to note that LaHood doesn’t know much about the hyperloop (he’s not missing much) and that he remains a Republican, even as he denounces the current House GOP caucus for refusing to embrace good ideas.
I always liked the guy and this interview is a reminder that he was one of the best Transportation Secretaries we’ve ever had.