LaHood laments GOP high-speed rail opposition in exit interview

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The Obama administration appropriated $8 billion in the 2009 economic stimulus package to award to states to develop high-speed railways. The money was rejected by Republican governors in Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin, who argued that the railways were a waste of taxpayer money, in 2011.

LaHood said Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s (R) rejection of the money was particularly galling.

The Obama administration had offered more money to Florida than any other state aside from California for a high-speed railway between Tampa and Orlando it hoped would be a centerpiece of a nationwide network of trains. The amount of money rejected by Scott was $2.4 billion, or 90 percent of the estimated construction costs for the long-sought central Florida railway.

Scott argued shortly after taking office after the Tea Party-fueled 2010 election that the railway would not generate enough revenue to cover its operations once it was built.

LaHood said he still disagreed with Scott’s diagnosis as he prepares to leave the Department of Transportation.

"My thought was there is only one person in Florida who doesn't want this money," LaHood said of the Florida rejection. "He is a governor without a vision when it comes to transportation."

Pointing to a looming deficit in general road and transit funding, LaHood said his former Republican colleagues in Congress could use a transportation vision check, too. 

“For the first time since people have been looking at infrastructure, America is behind," LaHood said. "We are behind other countries because other countries are making the investments that we used to make. We got a two-year [highway] bill because they could only find $109 billion. We need to do better and we need to make sure that America does not fall further behind when it comes to infrastructure."

LaHood, who was a Republican congressman from Illinois for 14 years, said he hoped GOP lawmakers would eventually come around.

"As members of Congress understand that the people are way, way ahead of them on this — they are way ahead of most members, certainly on the Republican side, when it comes to high-speed rail, or walking and biking paths, or livable, sustainable communities, green energy — the people are so far ahead of the politicians on this — eventually it will catch up with them," he said.

LaHood has said he will remain at the helm of the DOT until his successor is appointed by President Obama and confirmed by the Senate.