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Sooners split on rail measure

Sooners split on rail measure



The Tulsa World

by: JIM MYERS World Washington Bureau
Saturday, July 25, 2009
7/25/2009 4:32:32 AM

WASHINGTON — Oklahomans in the U.S. House split their votes on whether to keep annual funding for high-speed rail projects at the level proposed by the Obama administration or to boost it by $3 billion.

Republican Reps. Frank Lucas, Tom Cole and Mary Fallin voted this week to cut the funding level included in an annual spending bill, while Republican Rep. John Sullivan and Democratic Rep. Dan Boren voted to keep it.

The amendment to reduce the annual funding from $4 billion to $1 billion failed by a vote of 136 to 284.

Earlier this month, Oklahoma took an initial step to apply for funding for a high-speed rail that, if successful, could return passenger service to Tulsa.

A cost estimate for that project has been put at just less than $2 billion.

"The stimulus package passed in February of this year already increased funding for high-speed rail by $8 billion," Lucas said. "While I have always supported the expansion of high-speed rail in this country, I believe this is a sufficient amount of funding for this endeavor at this time."

Cole said he supported the amendment to reduce the funding level to the amount suggested by the administration because federal spending is out of control.

"This is the biggest-spending president in the history of the country," he said. "So an initiative that spends $3 billion more than he requested surely ought to be trimmed back."

Cole expressed support for the concept of investing in high-speed rail infrastructure, but he added that perhaps it should not be viewed as a major national priority, given the current economic circumstances and the explosion of government red ink.

Fallin cited the current deficiency in the Highway Trust Fund, adding that it needs to be addressed to maintain existing highways.

"Right now, that is the most responsible investment of taxpayer money," she said.

"I support bringing high-speed rail to Oklahoma when it makes economic sense to invest in it."

Rep. John Olver, D-Mass., who managed the huge spending bill that included the rail money, said the additional funding was needed to keep the momentum going for high-speed rail.

Olver described the new push for rail in the United States as the most important transportation initiative since the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System.

Preapplication requests already submitted for projects total $100 billion, he said.

"If we do not add significantly to that, as this bill does do, by adding $4 billion to the $8 billion that is already there, then people will lose faith or wonder, 'Are we in this seriously?' " Olver said.

The spending bill, which would provide money for transportation and other areas, passed the House.

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