Ray LaHood


President Obama reiterated this morning his plan to build a nationwide system of high-speed rail lines to ease congestion and modernize the transportation systems in some of the country’s most populated corridors.

“A major new high-speed rail line will generate many thousands of construction jobs over several years, as well as permanent jobs for rail employees and increased economic activity in the destinations these trains serve,” Obama said. “High-speed rail is long-overdue, and this plan lets American travelers know that they are not doomed to a future of long lines at the airports or jammed cars on the highways.”

The federal stimulus package includes $8 billion for high-speed rail projects and Obama requested an additional $1 billion a year for the next five years. I’m sure that sounds wasteful to the TEA Party protesters, but building a high-speed rail system is stimulus spending I support. Not only would a high-speed rail system create jobs and ease congestion, it would help roads last longer and reduce carbon dioxide emissions per passenger, making it environmentally friendly. Plus faster travel times encourage tourism by making it easier to go to further-away places, which sounds a lot like true economic stimulus spending to me.

There currently is only one high-speed rail line operating in the United States, between Boston and Washington, D.C.

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The government identified 10 corridors of 100 to 600 miles in length with the greatest promise for high-speed rail development. They are:

— California Corridor (Bay Area, Sacramento, Los Angeles, San Diego)
— Pacific Northwest Corridor (Eugene, Portland, Tacoma, Seattle, Vancouver BC)
— South Central Corridor (Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Dallas/Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio, Little Rock)
— Gulf Coast Corridor (Houston, New Orleans, Mobile, Birmingham, Atlanta)
— Chicago Hub Network (Chicago, Milwaukee, Twin Cities, St. Louis, Kansas City, Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Louisville)
— Florida Corridor (Orlando, Tampa, Miami)
— Southeast Corridor (Washington, Richmond, Raleigh, Charlotte, Atlanta, Macon, Columbia, Savannah, Jacksonville)
— Keystone Corridor (Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh)
— Empire Corridor (New York City, Albany, Buffalo)
— Northern New England Corridor (Boston, Montreal, Portland, Springfield, New Haven, Albany)

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One more note from Obama’s news conference, as reported by The New York Times:

In making the announcement, the president was joined by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., whom Mr. Obama joshingly referred to as “America’s No. 1 train fan.”

In the Senate, Mr. Biden earned the nickname “Amtrak Joe” for his regular train use between Washington and his home in Delaware over decades and for his strong support for increased rail financing.

Perhaps someone can explain to me why The New York Times anally refers to the vice president as “Joseph R. Biden Jr.” but uses the hokey word “joshingly” in the same sentence.

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President-elect Barack Obama plans to nominate U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood to be his transportation secretary, according to numerous media sources. LaHood, 63, is a Republican from Peoria, Illinois, who already planned to step down from his congressional seat in January after 14 years in Congress.

LaHood is a good choice. He is popular among his constituents, thoughtful and known for his efforts to make Congress less partisan. Although he serves on the other side of the political aisle from Obama, LaHood seems like the president-elect’s type of guy.

I interviewed LaHood in February 2005 when he was considering a gubernatorial run against incumbent Gov. Rod Blagojevich. LaHood told me he wanted to help clean up the state’s sullied image, but ultimately he decided to stay in Congress instead of trying to move into the governor’s mansion. It was my impression that his decision was made partly because of the millions of dollars LaHood knew he would have to raise in order to run successful primary and general election campaigns.

LaHood impressed me then as someone who indeed was capable of helping fix the state’s image, but I also don’t think he would’ve beat the Chicago political machine to get in that position. Instead we got stuck with another Blagojevich term in Illinois – which isn’t LaHood’s fault – and now LaHood gets the chance to make a difference on a national scale.