Why didn’t Georgia get more money for high-speed rail?
“Georgia doesn’t have its act together. The state legislature doesn’t want to put money in for high-speed rail,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said this morning, after I asked him why Georgia only received $750,000.
“Any region that got money had their act together,” LaHood said, at a breakfast briefing for journalists. He also pointed out that he visited Atlanta last year and had an informal “town hall meeting” with several officials. (The visit was in Sept.)
“Some fellow stood up and asked me how Georgia could get money for high-speed rail. I said, ‘Get your act together.” Unless a state has its act together, with money and a plan that connects things, you’re not going to get money.” (See excerpts from a Sept. news story on LaHood’s visit below.)
A journalist from Texas — a state which also fared poorly — asked whether “indigenous political support” had anything to do with whether a state received funding. LaHood assured him that it didn’t. “We’ve given money to states where the Congressional delegation voted against the stimulus package,” he said.
My colleague Jim Galloway has noted that Sonny Perdue and John Lewis have pointed fingers at each other for the state’s poor showing:
Gov. Sonny Perdue and U.S. Rep. John Lewis, Georgia’s longest-serving member of Congress are having words over who’s at fault for the state’s transportation dilemma.
Last week, the Obama administration awarded Florida $1.25 billion for a high-speed rail project. North Carolina was handed $525 million.
And Georgia received $750,000.
Sounds like Lewis may have been right.
From an AJC news story on Sept. 22. 2009:
The nation’s top transportation official said Monday that high-speed rail will indeed come to Atlanta — “if Georgia gets its act together.”
The statement by U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood drew fervent applause from the audience in downtown Atlanta, which included many mass transit advocates who believe Georgia has long neglected passenger rail projects in favor of building more roads.
“He did not lie, ” said Clayton County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell, who supports the proposed commuter rail line south through Lovejoy.
LaHood met with several organizations, including the Atlanta Regional Commission and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The Obama administration’s priorities for transportation contrast with the Bush administration’s. Bush’s transportation secretary, Mary Peters, last visited Atlanta to give Georgia $110 million to put variable tolls on the HOV lane of I-85 in Gwinnett County. In the Bush administration’s six-point strategy to relieve congestion, the word “rail” was not mentioned.
The Obama administration is putting $8 billion toward high-speed rail. LaHood’s donation event took place at MARTA’s Five Points station, where he gave MARTA $10.8 million in federal stimulus funds for solar-panel bus shelters.
LaHood said he didn’t know about the I-85 project. And while he supported tolling as a way to pay for new roads, he told the AJC, he didn’t much care for putting tolls on lanes that the taxpayers had already built.
Gov. Sonny Perdue attended the MARTA event. Asked what he thought of LaHood’s remark about high-speed rail, Perdue replied, “I agree with him.” The state Department of Transportation has recently appointed a new director of intermodal programs who is working to win some of the high-speed rail money.