High-speed rail: Essential or a waste of money?

Thursday, February 17, 2011; 8:02 PM

Robert J. Samuelson's Feb. 14 op-ed column, "Government gone wrong," is a perfect summary of why Americans are losing faith in the ability of government to control spending.

President Obama is not listening to what the American people are saying about the deficit. In a year when the government estimates that it will incur a $1.6 trillion deficit, he announces $58 billion in new discretionary spending, plus billions in future obligations to support a high-speed rail system.

It makes no sense to propose costly new programs that are not critical to the near - or long - term. It is obvious that Mr. Obama is incapable of leading this nation toward fiscal responsibility.

Robert M. Coyne, Derwood

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Robert J. Samuelson's premise that once built, high-speed rail lines would lose money, aggravating the budgetary problems of the states and federal government, is at best shortsighted. Using this rationale, the space program and the interstate highway system would have been relegated to the scrap heap.

While a nationwide system may or may not be appropriate, the Northeast corridor is badly in need of a truly high-speed system. While we have many public services that are poorly administered, the country must have certain fundamentals such as transit and mail service.

The argument that this is not a technology in which the United States would likely lead has little to do with the need for such technology. Whether we use European, Japanese, Chinese or U.S. technology does not diminish the fact that the United States is headed toward gridlock as other nations move forward. What is really unaffordable is the status quo.

Howard Lehrer, Potomac

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In America, we pride ourselves on doing big things not just in the face of tough times but as a way to overcome them. Last week, President Obama and Vice President Biden proposed an investment in this tradition: a national high-speed rail network accessible to 80 percent of Americans. In spite of Robert J. Samuelson's skepticism, this is one transportation project we cannot do without.

High-speed rail will tie together large metropolitan communities and economies safely, conveniently and reliably - much like the Amtrak Acela, which took in $1.40 in revenue for every dollar it spent on operations last year. High-speed rail will spur economic development and opportunity all along its corridors.

Four decades from now, the United States will be home to 100 million additional people - the equivalent of another California, Texas, New York and Florida. If we settle for roads, bridges and airports that already are overburdened and insufficient, we will fight thickening congestion as we make our way from one place to another. If we fail to lay the foundation for competitiveness, our next generation will find America's arteries of commerce impassable.

The American people want us to meet our responsibilities, just as our parents and grandparents met theirs. They want us to dream big and build big - to invest in tomorrow while creating jobs today.

Ray LaHood, Washington

The writer is U.S. transportation secretary.


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