George Will: LaHood should take 'high-speed train into retirement'


California has received the most money of any state from the more than $8 billion the Obama administration set aside for high-speed rail in the 2009 economic stimulus package. Between that and subsequent rail grants, the Obama administration has offered California more than $3 billion for a proposed high-speed railway that would link San Francisco, Los Angeles and other major cities.

But Will said the numbers behind the train proposal do not add up.

"In just three years, the projected price of it has tripled to $98.5 billion, and only ludicrous assumptions about passenger traffic present the project as profitable enough to attract private investors, who are supposed to pay most of the costs," he said.

LaHood has remained steadfast in the push for high-speed rail, writing in a blog post that was published this week before Will's column that "2012 is shaping up to be a year of significant high-speed rail activity."

"In the first part of the year, more than $1 billion in high-speed rail construction activity will be under way," LaHood said in the post. "As part of the program, 32 states already have work in progress. Contracts are being let around the U.S. by states for design work, planning work, construction materials and supplies. And all of this comes as Amtrak continues to break ridership records on passenger rail routes across the country."

LaHood argued that in some areas, it made more sense to spend money on rail than roads or airports.

"In many regions of the country, space is simply not available to expand highways or runways. In other areas, the costs to expand are outrageous," he said. "For comparably lower costs, connecting high-speed rail to other modes in these congested regions can add desperately needed capacity, improve the performance of all modes, and provide a boost to the entire American economy.

"Let me be clear: There is no amount of money that could build enough capacity on our highways and at our airports to keep up with our expected population growth in coming decades," he added.