Joe Biden and John Mica Clash Over Federal Funding of High-Speed Rail
Obama administration wants $53 billion for next six years; GOP Congress says not so fast
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Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday unveiled the Obama administration’s plan to spend $53 billion in the next six years, which the administration argues will help set the stage for the promise the president made in his State of the Union address to have 80 percent of Americans connected by high-speed rail in the next 25 years.
But a key Republican congressman from Florida let the administration know its plans are in for a bumpy ride.
Joined by U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in Philadelphia, Biden noted the Obama team will include $8 billion in expanding high-speed rail in the forthcoming budget.
“As President Obama said in his State of the Union, there are key places where we cannot afford to sacrifice as a nation – one of which is infrastructure,” said Biden. “As a longtime Amtrak rider and advocate, I understand the need to invest in a modern rail system that will help connect communities, reduce congestion and create quality, skilled manufacturing jobs that cannot be outsourced.
"This plan will help us to do that, while also increasing access to convenient high-speed rail for more Americans,” he said.
The administration’s plan calls for dividing rail lines in three categories of corridors: core express, which they argue “will form the backbone of the national high-speed rail system” where trains will reach speeds of between 125-250 mph; regional corridors, with trains going between 90-125 mph; and emerging corridors, with trains going below 90 mph.
"In America, we pride ourselves on dreaming big and building big," said LaHood.
But Republicans, now in charge of the U.S. House of Representatives, expressed skepticism over the administration’s plans.
Florida Republican U.S. Rep. John Mica, chairman of the powerful House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, took aim at the administration and its call for more spending.
“This is like giving Bernie Madoff another chance at handling your investment portfolio,” Mica said.
Mica pointed to more than $10 billion already spent by the administration on rail. The Florida congressman argued that the Federal Railroad Administration should not be involved in rail grants and that high-speed rail projects backed by the Obama administration were not living up to expectations. Mica hammered Amtrak as well, as an obstacle for progress.
“Amtrak hijacked 76 of the 78 projects, most of them costly and some already rejected by state agencies,” said Mica. “Amtrak’s Soviet-style train system is not the way to provide modern and efficient passenger rail service.
“Rather than focusing on the Northeast corridor, the most congested corridor in the nation and the only corridor owned by the federal government, the administration continues to squander limited taxpayer dollars on marginal projects,” added Mica, who was joined by U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the Railroads subcommittee, in attacking the administration.
“The administration continues to fail in attracting private investment, capital, and the experience to properly develop and cost-effectively operate true high-speed rail. They have also ignored my provision in law that calls for competition on money-losing Amtrak routes,” said Shuster.
“The committee plans to investigate how previous funding decisions were made,” added Shuster. “I have no problem with sound investments in alternative transportation projects, but selecting routes behind closed doors runs counter to the administration’s pledges of transparency. I am concerned that without appropriate controls to ensure the most worthy projects are the ones that receive funding, high-speed rail funding could become another political grab bag for the president.
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result, and that is exactly what Vice President Biden offered today,” said Shuster. “If the Obama administration is serious about high-speed rail, they should stop throwing money at projects in the same failed manner.”
Shuster called for the administration to consider free-market solutions as they pondered the future of passenger rail transport in the United States.
“Rail projects that are not economically sound will not ‘win the future.’ It just prolongs the inevitable by subsidizing a failed Amtrak monopoly that has never made a profit or even broken even,” insisted Shuster. “Government won’t develop American high-speed rail. Private investment and a competitive market will.”
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