Boehner Slams Mythical Vegas HSR Project, Ignores Ohio Rail Opportunity

The madness continues on the right-wing’s crusade against a mythical high-speed rail to Las Vegas project that Harry Reid is alleged to have snuck into the stimulus bill. “Tell me how spending $8 billion,” asked House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) on the floor, “in this bill to have a high-speed rail line between Los Angeles and Las Vegas is going to help the construction worker in my district.”

For one thing, if we stuck by the standard that members of congress should only agree to fund infrastructure projects located in their own districts, then obviously we’d have no infrastructure at all. This is a debate that I thought we settled in the days of Henry Clay. But beyond that there is no such provision in the bill. This, by contrast, is an accurate description of the high-speed rail provisions of the Recovery Act:

The Stimulus Plan includes two provisions modeled after the Act that finance high-speed rail development. First, the Stimulus Plan provides a $2 billion grant for high-speed rail projects that will remain available until September 30, 2011. The grant will be distributed among applicant states, interstate compacts, public agencies having responsibility for providing high-speed rail service and Amtrak for capital projects associated with inter-city passenger rail services reasonably expected to reach speeds of at least 110 miles per hour. The Secretary of Transportation will have discretion to award grants based on an extensive set of criteria, including the legal, financial and technical capacity of the applicant to carry out the project; compatibility with relevant national plans; and anticipated economic, environmental and transportation effects.

In a last-minute change, the total quantity of funds available was increased. But there’s no special plan for Las Vegas. The money will be spread all across the country. As it happens, I think an LA-Vegas HSR line is a perfectly reasonable project. But in practice the areas that will get a leg up should be the Federal Railroad Administration’s officially designated high-speed rail corridors. As it happens, LA-Vegas doesn’t make the cut. But guess who does have such a corridor? Ohio!


Indeed, the existing plan is a bit freakishly Ohio-centric, offering both a Cleveland-Toledo-Chicago line and a Cleveland-Columbus-Cincinnati-Indianapolis corridor while leaving things like Houston-Dallas and Orlando-Jacksonville (and, indeed, LA-Vegas) off the list. Long story short, John Boehner doesn’t know what he’s talking about and his position on this issue would imperil both short term jobs for Ohioans and an opportunity to substantially improve Ohio’s long-run capacity for economic growth.