The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
U.S. High-Speed Rail Plans Keep Rolling Along

President Obama seems intent on riding his high speed rail idea to the end of the line. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood reaffirmed the Obama administration’s commitment to its marqee infrastructure project at a House Transportation Committee hearing Thursday. The Washington Post reports:

Undaunted by the looming fiscal crisis, the Obama administration said Thursday that it plans to forge ahead with its signature transportation project, investing billions of dollars in a long-term effort to build a high-speed rail network.

[Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s] testimony was welcomed by a majority of members who attended the House Transportation Committee hearing, including a number of Republicans who have expressed varying degrees of skepticism about high-speed rail in the past.

But not every committee member was sold:

Rep. John L. Mica (R.-Fla.), who will step down as committee chair next month, cautioned that money is tight.

“I have been one of the strongest proponents in Congress of transportation and passenger rail, but in these days of trillion-dollar deficits, we have a responsibility to ensure that the taxpayers’ money is wisely invested and that we move forward responsibly with any transportation improvements,” Mica said.

Representative Mica’s caution is wise. California’s initial forays into high-speed rail have been less than inspiring, with ballooning costs and waning voter support. We’re not eager to see this policy recreated on the federal level.

But while the Golden State’s high-speed rail fail hasn’t weakened the Obama Administration’s resolve, but it may have prompted it to try a slightly different approach:

“We’re not giving up on high-speed rail,” LaHood testified,…“The president will include funding in his budget. I think we’ll get there with public money, but in the absence of that we’ll get there with private money.”

This is an excellent idea. If there are private investors who think they can make money off this thing, we say, go right ahead. Indeed, we’d prefer to see the project entirely funded by private investors. After all, there are more important national priorities for which private money isn’t available—scarce federal dollars should go to those things while the private sector takes care of high-speed rail.  And if the Obama administration is so confident that it can move ahead with high speed rail without public funds — that is an excellent reason for Congress to kill the appropriation.

Published on December 8, 2012 10:00 am