Nevada Senator Harry Reid was the first to publicize the last-minute insertion of $8 billion in the stimulus package for high-speed rail, so many people thought he put it into the bill in order to start funding a maglev line from Las Vegas to Los Angeles. However, Politico reveals that it was President Obama himself who wanted the provision.
Obama failed to communicate this desire until after the House passed its stimulus bill. When he told the Senate he wanted money for high-speed rail, it cut funds for highways, transit, and airports by $8.3 billion and added $2 billion for HSR plus $5.5 billion for “Discretionary Grants,” which presumably could go for either roads or transit.
Obama wasn’t satisfied with $2 billion for HSR; he wanted $10 billion. So Congress eliminated the discretionary grants and raised HSR money to $8 billion. Apparently, it didn’t want to increase total transportation funding above $46 billion.
Obama thinks building high-speed rail can be a part of “rebuilding America.” The Antiplanner, of course, is skeptical. But what kind of high-speed rail does Obama want? California’s 220-mph lines on exclusive rights-of-way? Or much-less-expensive upgrades to freight lines that will allow passenger trains to go, say, 110 mph? Neither will do much for personal mobility, but at least the latter will waste a lot less money.