U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was on Capitol Hill today to reassure Californians that high speed rail is one of President Obama's highest priorities. It's not necessarily the top priority on Capitol Hill.
Republican Congressman Jeff Denham of Fresno has been one of the most vocal critics of California's high speed rail project. In 2012, he introduced an amendment to the transportation bill that would have forbidden a dime to be spent on the project.
Denham says the lack of promised private investors in a project that's more than doubled its budget means California taxpayers and the federal government are left holding the bag.
Denham was just named chairman of the railroads subcommittee on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Denham says rail transportation is "the backbone of America's economy" and he's looking for "more cost-effective and innovative approaches" to passenger and freight rail service.
Freshman Democratic Congressman Alan Lowenthal of Long Beach says high speed rail's many bumps-in-the-road predate Denham's new post. The rail authority, he says, was its own worst enemy. Lowenthal characterized it as "a very imperial group" prior to Governor Brown's reorganization. He says the authority told every region in the state: "This is what we’re going to do."
Lowenthal maintains the rail authority didn't understand how to work with communities, "so they angered all those agrarian interests in the central part of the state." Lowenthal says the rail authority will have to demonstrate that it’s listening in order to calm critics.
Five companies will submit their final bids Friday to build the first 29 miles of track between Madera and Fresno in the Central Valley. The proposals come more than four years after California voters agreed to pay for bonds to build the train. The contract for this first link will be awarded in June.
Look for much more scrutiny of California's plan to build a high speed rail train from San Diego to the Bay Area by Jeff Denham's subcommittee.