Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today emphasized the administration's long-term commitment to expanding high-speed rail service in "five or six regions" of the country, not just with the $8 billion provided in the economic stimulus package President Obama signed into law last week, but also "in subsequent years a very substantial effort." Meeting with reporters earlier today, LaHood said that for Obama building high-speed rail networks is, "if not his No. 1 priority, certainly at the top of his list. What the president is saying with the $8 billion is this is the start to help begin high-speed rail projects." He added that the administration "is committed to finding the dollars to not only get them started but to finishing them in at least five parts of the country," although he declined to elaborate on where these projects might ultimately be built.
LaHood also stressed his department's commitment to delivering the $48 billion in transportation infrastructure spending from the stimulus package to the states within the 120 days required by the new law. "We've got people around here working 24-7" to get the funds out the door, LaHood said.
LaHood added that the administration is poised to nominate a deputy secretary of Transportation, expected to be former FAA Administrator Jane Garvey; a new Federal Aviation Administration head, believed to be former Air Line Pilots Association president Randy Babbitt; and its pick to run the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Ending the FAA's bitter labor dispute with the air traffic controllers and moving quickly to make the transition to a satellite-based air traffic control system are his top two priorities for the new FAA administrator, LaHood told reporters, lauding the beleaguered agency and its work force as "a first-rate organization" committed to air safety.
Addressing the role that the department will play as Congress and the administration move forward on climate change legislation this year, LaHood said he would take his cues from Obama and White House energy and climate adviser Carol Browner. "We're going to be in the room," LaHood said, adding, "I'm going to take my leads from Carol Browner. I'll be a good, faithful soldier on this."