Congress says give California's high-speed rail money to Northeast

Kitty Felde/KPCC

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood

It was “beat up on California” day in the U.S. House Transportation Committee. Lawmakers from around the country want the state’s high-speed rail money.

Member after member told federal Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to stop “wasting” federal high-speed rail money on California. Instead, they urged him to spend it in what they say is the only place with the population density to make it work: the Boston-New York-D.C. route.

Secretary LaHood would have none of it, snapping back at lawmakers and defending the nearly $4 billion spent on California’s project. He denied that the Northeast was getting short changed, pointing out the region just got its own chunk of change: nearly a billion dollars.

"We do believe in the Northeast Corridor," he told members. "But we also believe in America. We believe there’re people in other places in America that would like to have a train to ride!"

Committee members pointed out that California’s high-speed rail project did itself no favors with recent news about skyrocketing costs, delayed construction and lowered passenger estimates. But just two of the six Californians on the committee attended the hearing.

One of them, Republican Congressman Jeff Denham of Fresno, harbors serious doubts about spending federal dollars on a project that has yet to attract private money. LaHood says he's had meetings with Gov. Jerry Brown as well as Chinese and Japanese investors about attracting that private money to the project.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has scheduled a hearing next week to examine California's high-speed rail project.

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