The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure yesterday heard from state DOT leaders who believe the nation's high-speed rail program has benefited their states, and that the program needs ongoing federal funding.
The hearing, "An Update on the High-Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail Program: Mistakes Made and Lessons Learned," began with opening statements from Chair John Mica (R-Fl.) and other committee members, followed by opening remarks from Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who argued that, while the rail program is not perfect, it is what Americans want and need. LaHood also asserted that the high-speed rail program would remain a priority of President Obama's administration.
"Americans are already beginning to see significant travel time, frequency, and reliability improvements, in addition to upgraded stations and equipment," LaHood said in his written testimony. "The simple fact is that the transportation challenges that are driving increased demands for rail are not going away."
Following LaHood, two state transportation department CEOs testified on their experiences with high-speed rail.
Washington State Department of Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond, who also chairs AASHTO's High-Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail Leadership Group and the States for Passenger Rail Coalition, said that the high-speed rail program will greatly benefit Washington State, although it is not without its issues, like all new programs.
"The HSIPR Program has been a positive development for Washington State and for states across the country," Hammond said. "In Washington, it is helping us make significant improvements to our existing intercity passenger rail service to get what I like to call 'higher-speed' rail, while in other states it is building true high-speed rail."
Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider stressed the importance of high-speed rail in her state, pointing out that the job is not done and high-speed rail will not only need continued support from the federal government, but increased support.
"The current investments in the Illinois high-speed passenger rail system already are providing economic benefits with much more on the way, and we could not do it without federal help," said Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider. "We need continued federal funding for high-speed rail so that we can finish the job we have started and keep our promises to taxpayers. These investments will continue to pay dividends, and the American people deserve no less. We ask that Congress appropriate additional funds for states making these investments, including Illinois."
The state CEOs were also joined by representatives from the Association of American Railroads, Government Accountability Office, and the Department of Transportation Inspector General's Office.
Congress made $8 billion available for high-speed rail programs through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Congress continued to build upon the Recovery Act by making available an additional $2.1 billion through annual appropriations for FY 2009 and 2010, using the framework initially established by the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008, bringing the total program funding to $10.1 billion.
Mica noted that there are concerns with the program, mainly that the money is not being managed as well as it should and that the project isn't going to deliver on its original intent.
"Beginning with the $8 billion included in the stimulus, the President's high-speed rail program has gotten off to a troubling start," Mica said. "Unfortunately most of the high-speed rail funding has been spread around to projects that are not high-speed. To date, only seven percent of the more than $10 billion in high-speed rail federal funds has been spent, and the administration continues to ask for more."