Rail: A GOP advocate for the Northeast

For transportation projects, federal money tends to follow congressional clout. So it would be a pleasant surprise indeed if the Republican takeover of the US House of Representatives ended up helping the cause of high-speed rail in Massachusetts, one of the only states untouched by Tuesday’s GOP wave.

High-speed rail is one of the signature initiatives of President Obama’s stimulus bill, but the administration awarded most of the money to proposals from outside the congested Boston-to-Washington corridor. Enter Florida Representative John Mica, the Republican in line to be the next chairman of the House Transportation Committee. He criticizes the Obama administration’s choice of projects and argues — with good reason — that the trains probably won’t be financially sustainable except in the nation’s densest region. “I’m a very strong advocate of high-speed rail,’’ he says in an interview, but he thinks the administration is funding “snail-speed trains’’ to unpromising locations.

Mica’s stance has some political dimensions. Some newly elected GOP governors, including the governor-elect of Florida, are deeply skeptical of the rail projects that the Obama administration has blessed in their states. Then again, politicians of all ideological stripes normally find ways to rationalize any and every federal expenditure in their territory. If newly empowered Republicans reject the rail money for whatever reason, their judgments deserve some deference, especially if that frees up money for the Northeast.

During this fall’s campaign, Republicans were quick to criticize Obama’s spending plans but slow to point out what, concretely, they would do better. If Mica can help refocus the high-speed rail initiative where it would do the most good, it’s an encouraging sign. 

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