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LaHood: Texas didn’t have its act together on high-speed rail funds

(The following story by Richard S. Dunham appeared on the Houston Chronicle website on February 3, 2010.)

WASHINGTON — U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood blamed Texas officials Wednesday for the state's failure to win federal aid for a high-speed rail system linking its major cities.

“If Texas had had its act together, it would have gotten some high-speed rail money,” the Obama administration Cabinet official told reporters.

Thirty-one states shared $8 billion in rail grants from the 2009 economic stimulus package last week. The only money Texas received was a $4 million grant for planning a project in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

“We based our decision on where the money could be well-spent and jump-start opportunities around the country,” LaHood said.

Must have ‘act together'

“Unless a state or region has its act together, with (local) money, with a good plan that connects things, they're not going to be in the high-speed rail business,” he said.

Citing Florida as an example, LaHood said the Sunshine State presented a detailed plan for construction, a long-term business plan, a united front of Democratic and Republican lawmakers and a legislature and governor that authorized an expenditure of state tax money to ensure that the project was completed.

He also praised Midwestern states, where Democratic and Republican governors worked across party lines to develop a sound regional proposal.

Texas Transportation Department spokesman Chris Lippincott said the amount of money Texas received was “not a surprise.”

He noted that dollars given out from the economic stimulus pot went to “shovel-ready” projects such as the Tampa-Orlando line in Florida.

Texas needs “more funds and more time to be shovel-ready,” he said.

Texas transportation officials, elected leaders and private-sector figures have been talking for years about several potential high-speed rail corridors linking the population centers of Houston, San Antonio, Austin, Waco and Dallas.

Planning to continue

Texas will continue with “planning and environmental work which the US DOT has encouraged us to do,” Lippincott said.

Gov. Rick Perry's office declined to comment.

LaHood, a former Republican congressman , denied that partisan politics played any role in the selection process.

“We don't make decisions based on how somebody votes,” he said.

LaHood compared the current status of American high-speed rail to the highway system at the beginning of the interstate construction boom of the 1950s.

“We're at the starting point for high-speed rail,” he said. “The people want this.”

His advice to states like Texas, New York and Georgia: “Get your act together.”

Thursday, February 4, 2010

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