Ray LaHood: HSR is Obama's Crowning Glory
By Robert Cruickshank
Ray LaHood gave some parting remarks this week as he wraps up his tenure as U.S. Transportation Secretary. He was full of praise for President Barack Obama, but high speed rail was at the top of the list.
"I think the crowning glory for the president - and he is going to have many legacies but his transportation legacy - will be high-speed rail in America, bringing passenger rail all over America," LaHood said, speaking at a news conference in which Obama announced the nomination for Charlotte, NC Mayor Anthony Foxx to be the next transportation secretary.
"Let me tell you what I mean by that. I visited 18 countries in the past 4 1/2 years. The common thread throughout every country is a national vision, national leadership, national commitment. And that's what the president provided over the last 4 1/2 years," LaHood continued. "What he said to America is we know you want a different kind of transportation. And Lincoln started the rail system in America. Obama has started high speed rail in America. What a great legacy."
LaHood is giving credit where it's due, though he's also being modest. LaHood was a strong voice and a determined warrior for the Obama Administration's passenger rail plans, refusing to give in when Tea Party governors in Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida wanted to use HSR stimulus funding for roads and pushing back against California legislators who wanted to do their own redirection of HSR funds. LaHood was a hero for high speed rail during his time as Transportation Secretary.
But I'll certainly agree with him that President Obama has made HSR a big priority, and it will be an important part of his legacy. It was the White House that insisted on including $8 billion for HSR in the February 2009 stimulus package. President Obama has pushed a national HSR plan, and has consistently included funding for HSR in his budgets and his transportation funding proposals. Congressional Republicans haven't gone along, but Obama has never once been deterred from backing HSR by their opposition.
Prop 1A's passage in November 2008 was great, but without federal help starting in 2009 the California HSR project would have stalled. The $4 billion in federal funding the project has received is what will enable construction to begin later this year on the first segment in the Central Valley. That's President Obama's doing.
High speed rail is going to be the backbone of transportation between regions of North America in the 21st century. That nationwide network will have been kickstarted by President Obama, with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood doing a lot of the heavy lifting. Both of them deserve our endless thanks.
Robert Cruickshank writes on California politics at Calitics and California High Speed Rail Blog. This article was originally published at California High Speed Rail Blog.