Ray LaHood isn't a man willing to concede much ground on the future of high speed rail in the Golden State. And neither, he said on Monday morning at an event in Sacramento, is President Barack Obama - even as Congress continues to collectively shrug its shoulders about the billions the state needs from the federal government in years to come.
"There's no stopping high speed rail in California," said the nation's transportation secretary, on hand in the capital city to announce federal funding to complete a long-awaited extension of commuter rail to Cosumnes River College.
But it will take a lot more cash from Washington to meet the expectations of California's long debated and anticipated 520 mile long bullet train, a proposal whose $68 billion price tag assumes almost $39 billion more from the federal government by the time the project is complete in 2029.
Secretary LaHood, a former GOP congressman from Illinois, recounted in an interview Monday that the state's plans came up in the very first conversation he had with his fellow Illini - the president - after the November 6 election.
"The one thing the president mentioned to me was we need to get high speed rail, not only really on good footing in California, but we need to get it done," said LaHood.
A congressional hearing in December raised questions about whether high speed rail could stay in play as fiscal cliff negotiations intensified, especially given that there's been no new federal dollars for any of the HSR projects in the nation the past two fiscal years. Last summer, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation to block any new cash for the California project. State rail officials said recently they remain optimistic, given that their plans don't call for additional DC cash until 2015.
And LaHood, while not directly saying so on Monday, suggested that the Obama administration won't put any of the other projects around the country - in the Midwest or the northeastern U.S. - ahead of California, if Congress eventually forces a prioritization of who gets money... and who doesn't.
"Well, we have prioritized," said the secretary. "California's gotten the largest amount of money."