By JOAN LOWY
The Associated Press
Wednesday, November 3, 2010; 6:05 PM
WASHINGTON -- The Republican lawmaker in line to head the House Transportation Committee says he wants to re-examine $10 billion in federal grants for high-speed train service, one of President Barack Obama's signature programs.
Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., the committee's ranking GOP member, told The Associated Press in an interview on Wednesday that he believes high-speed trains are a good idea, but he doesn't agree with the projects selected by the Transportation Department for funding.
The biggest awards announced last January were $2.3 billion to California to begin work on an 800-mile-long, high-speed rail line tying Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay area to Los Angeles and San Diego; $1.25 billion to Florida to build a rail line connecting Tampa on the West Coast with Orlando in the middle of the state, eventually going south to Miami; $1.1 billion to Missouri and Illinois to improve a rail line between Chicago and St. Louis so that trains travel up to 110 mph, and $810 million to Wisconsin to build a new line between Madison and Milwaukee, which eventually could be part of a line connecting Minneapolis to Chicago.
Mica complained that most of the projects weren't truly high-speed trains like the trains in Europe and Asia. He also said that the Northeast is probably the only region in the United States with a population density great enough to financially support a high-speed rail network.
"I am a strong advocate of high-speed rail, but it has to be where it makes sense," Mica said. "The administration squandered the money, giving it to dozens and dozens of projects that were marginal at best to spend on slow-speed trains to nowhere."
Mica said he wants to "refocus on several projects that could be a success, particularly in the Northeast corridor, which was almost totally neglected by the administration. We'll revisit all of those projects."
Two weeks ago, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced a second round of high-speed rail grants. California was awarded an additional $902 million; Florida $800 million.
Mica suggested possibly scaling back the Florida project to a line that runs between the Orlando airport and theme parks and tourist destinations in the Orlando area.
Such a route would have "tremendous potential for actually making money," he said.
Several GOP candidates who won gubernatorial races in Florida and Wisconsin on Tuesday are opposed to proposed rail lines in their states, including Scott Walker in Wisconsin and Florida's Rick Scott. Walker has created a website, notrain.com.
Republican John Kasich, who defeated Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland in Ohio, is also opposed to plans to introduce faster train passenger service there. The administration awarded that project over $400 million earlier this year.
(This version corrects third paragraph that train line between Madison, Milwaukee would be new.)