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Secretary Ray LaHood Remarks as Prepared High Speed Rail Announcement

Thank you for the welcome.  I’m delighted to be in Iowa City – the 100th city I’ve visited since taking office – and, as you can see, I haven’t come empty handed.

Today, the Obama Administration and Department of Transportation are awarding $230 million for planning and construction of intercity rail service between Iowa City and Chicago, through the Quad Cities.  And in so doing we continue down the track toward a nation-wide high speed rail system.

When President Obama was sworn in, America was facing two extraordinary challenges: One – our families, friends, and neighbors were losing jobs.  And two – our infrastructure was overburdened and obsolete.

So, the president deployed an economic plan that takes on both these problems at once – a plan that builds bridges between Americans who need jobs and jobs that need doing…jobs like creating a 21st century rail system right here in the United States.

The Recovery Act was step one.  Through the Recovery Act, President Obama committed $8 billion to high speed rail – which is about 8 billion times more than we’ve ever spent on it before.  As a consequence, we’ve made a down payment on a national network that, within 25 years, will give 80 percent of Americans the choice of traveling from city to city by high speed passenger train.

This afternoon, we’re taking another unprecedented and historic step – announcing $2.4 billion in federal support divided among 54 rail projects in 23 states.  These projects are indispensable, multi-state efforts – which is why they were selected from more than 132 applications requesting almost $9 billion.  Some of these grants – like the one we’re making here – will begin to extend rail lines in areas where local, state, regional, and private sector leaders are working together.  Other grants will continue building rail lines in places where we can see clear progress.  Still other grants will strengthen partnerships among state, regional, and freight railroads.  But each grant represents a building block as the outlines of a national high speed rail network take shape.

From this progress, the benefits are clear: High speed rail will spur economic development, job creation, and a powerful ripple effect that helps countless local businesses.  It will ease congestion on our roads and at our airports.  It will reduce our reliance on oil and mitigate the climate crisis.  And it will answer Americans’ appeal for another choice about how to get from here to there. 

Today, we’re in the same place with high speed rail as we were with interstate highways during President Eisenhower’s administration.  As with interstates during the 1950s, we haven’t yet drawn every single route on the map.  As with interstates during the 1950s, we don’t yet know what every single financing agreement will look like.  But I believe this:  In less time than it took to plan and pave America’s interstate system, you’ll see trains shuttle significant numbers of passengers across the country – including along the corridor from Chicago to the Quad Cities, Iowa City, Des Moines, and Omaha.

Congress committed to achieving this vision, a little more than two years ago, through the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act.  And President Obama has made this vision a hallmark of his administration – including in his proposal to lay 4,000 miles of track during the lifetime of America’s next major six-year transportation bill.

You know, when we look back to America’s past, it’s easy to feel like we were destined to have the best infrastructure in the world.  But history tells us a different story.  History tells us that progress was only made possible through the imagination, investment, and sacrifice of generations that came before.   Like our parents and grandparents, we too must invest in the most important infrastructure projects of our time.  And I’m proud that, because of President Obama and these leaders behind me, we’re doing exactly that with high speed rail.  Together, we’re getting America back on track to economic opportunity and prosperity.

Thank you very much.

Thursday, October 28, 2010