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White House: High-Speed Rail Was Heavily Oversubscribed

Thursday, February 17, 2011 - 05:54 PM

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) In his second press conference as White House Press Secretary, Jay Carney fielded a number of questions about Bahrain, the economy -- and high-speed rail.

When asked about how Florida's rejection of high-speed rail money would impact the Obama Administration's infrastructure plans, Carney said:

"Well, our support for these plans -- the President could not have been clearer in the State of the Union about the absolute importance of investing in infrastructure in order to allow us to compete and win the future in the 21st century.  The decisions by individual states are the decisions they can certainly make.

We don’t support those decisions because we think it’s harmful to the economic growth of those states.  And certainly there are other states that are eager to participate in these programs.  I know that the high-speed rail, in particular, was heavily oversubscribed in terms of the states that wanted to participate."

Here's a transcript of the exchange:

Q    Quickly on Florida, on the Florida decision on the high-speed rail.  There is a report out there in Huffington Post that says the Obama administration is considering finding a way  -- you’re not going to move the money now right away from Florida to California, New York, Washington, that you’re looking for a federal government way to still put this plan in place in Florida.  Can you confirm that?  Is that true?  What more can you tell us about what Secretary LaHood is up to?

MR. CARNEY:  I’m going to have to refer you to Secretary LaHood.  I confess that I don’t have any more than what I said yesterday which is what -- that we’re disappointed by the decision the governor made.  We think that -- and we’ve seen reaction to it in a bipartisan way that --

Q    You don't think it’s dead yet?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I don’t want to speculate because I’m not aware of the report you just mentioned.  And I encourage you to contact the Department of Transportation.  We believe that these kinds of investments are critical for the future economic growth of this country and to allow us to compete with countries around the world where, as you know, high-speed rail is quite a bit further advanced than it is here in the United States.

Let me get to the second row.  One sec, sorry.

Q    To follow up on that, why, I guess, now that Florida has rejected it and three other states have rejected infrastructure spending, what does that say about the administration’s broader infrastructure plans?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, our support for these plans -- the President could not have been clearer in the State of the Union about the absolute importance of investing in infrastructure in order to allow us to compete and win the future in the 21st century.  The decisions by individual states are the decisions they can certainly make.  We think it’s -- we don’t support those decisions because we think it’s harmful to the economic growth of those states.  And certainly there are other states that are eager to participate in these programs.  I know that the high-speed rail, in particular, was heavily oversubscribed in terms of the states that wanted to participate.

Q    And I want to follow up, actually.  The President’s budget included a six-year, about half-a-trillion-dollar plan on infrastructure spending, but it doesn’t say how that’s going to be paid for.  How is it going to be paid for?

MR. CARNEY:  You’re talking about the transportation?

Q    Yes, I am.

MR. CARNEY:  The fact is that in this area there has long been bipartisan support for the funding of our highways, roads, and ports, and in this case, some airport spending.  And the -- we believe that that’s necessary, again, for the continued growth of the economy and for the platform that's needed to move goods and people around the country in a way that's competitive.

It’s very hard to win the economic battles of the 21st century with third-rate or third-class infrastructure.

Q    Well, why not lay out a plan to pay for it?

MR. CARNEY:  This is something that will be worked out, we're confident, in a bipartisan way because it has to be paid for.  We've made that very clear.  And if it’s not, then the decision will be made that it’s okay to have third-class infrastructure, which we don't think is a wise choice for our economic future.

Q    What ideas are on the table?

MR. CARNEY:  I'm not going to negotiate that from here, but I think, as I've said, it has to be a bipartisan agreement, as it has so often in the past.

You can read the entire press briefing here.

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