United States Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said Northwest Indiana is poised to be a major player in the development of high-speed rail.
LaHood said enthusiasm is high in Indiana for high-speed rail projects because it can bring jobs and money to the state. A line between Chicago and Detroit could have a stop in Northwest Indiana.
But in Indiana, Republicans control the Statehouse and the governor’s office. Republican governors in other states have turned away billions of dollars from the federal government for high-speed rail projects.
LaHood, a former Republican congressman from Illinois, said he doesn’t anticipate a problem like that in Indiana.
“There’s a lot of enthusiasm and energy and support for transportation not only in Northwest Indiana but all over the state,” LaHood said at a Thursday luncheon at the Sand Creek Country Club in Chesterton, Indiana. “I’m sure those voices will be heard.”
Some states such as Ohio, Wisconsin and Florida have turned away billions in federal money for high speed rail projects.
LaHood says those funds now have to be distributed elsewhere and some of it could end up in Illinois. That’s because Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has committed to provide matching funds for high-speed rail projects.
LaHood, a former Republican congressman from Illinois 18th district, said the funds might as well go to his home state which is committed to high speed rail.
“Right now the dominate player, to be honest with you, and I’m obviously is very happy about this, is my home state of Illinois because the governor there [Quinn] has stepped up,” LaHood said. “That’s why they’ve gotten over a billion dollars.”
LaHood was invited to speak before the pro-business group, the Northwest Indiana Forum. Mark Maassel, president of the Forum, said a high-speed rail stop would work perfectly at the Gary-Chicago International Airport.
“I think it would be an opportunity to really enhance the flexibility for our transportation system and allow people to move easily,” Maassel said.
LaHood was joined at the event by U.S. Rep. Peter Visclosky, a Democrat from Northwest Indiana. Visclosky said the federal government’s role is to promote job growth. Promoting high speed rail, he said, falls into that.
“You have to make an investment in transportation. There is a fundamental role of government to create jobs,” Visclosky said.