Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

State politicians talking about HSR, but still directing stimulus towards roads

I hope everyone had a merry Christmas, but it’s time for both us and our elected leaders to get back to business. There’s been an increasing buzz over the past few days about the DOT’s request for high-speed rail plans. Here’s an op-ed piece by Republican Congressman Mike Castle from Delaware. He seems to get it:

Traffic congestion on our highways is a major economic issue for our country – affecting everything from fuel consumption to business productivity. We are taking steps to address the highway congestion in our region, but expanding capacity and widening roadways alone will not solve this problem.

It is for this reason that I have been one of the staunchest supporters of Amtrak and commuter rail. This year, Amtrak carried nearly 11 million passengers on its Northeast Corridor system, while emitting less than 0.2 percent of the transportation industry’s greenhouse gases. As I see it, this means that 11 million fewer travelers are on our roadways, intersections and toll lanes – preventing further congestion and pollution in our area.

Since coming to Congress in 1993, I have worked to persuade our nation’s leaders of the potential that rail systems hold to modernize our infrastructure and help lift our economy.

The good news for Delawareans is that, this fall, the United States Congress took the next step in bringing true high-speed passenger rail to the Northeast Corridor by passing legislation that sets forth an open competition requesting proposals for the design, finance, construction, operation and maintenance of high-speed service between New York and Washington.

Here’s a similar piece from New York State Assembleyman Sam Hoyt:

Just last week, the federal Department of Transportation took its first action on creating 11 “corridors” for advanced high-speed rail. One of those corridors is here in the Empire State. But it’s not a done deal.

By September, New York has to make the case to the Obama administration that the Empire State Corridor should get the funds to go forward. The competition will be fierce. State governments have to demonstrate commitment.

I certainly agree with Hoyt’s sentiment, but New York can’t just make a case to the Obama administration that HSR in the state is a good idea. While we do need to be letting our new president know what our transportation priorities should be in the 21st century, this request for bids by the USDOT requires action on our part. People like Hoyt need to be talking with local business and community leaders, perhaps leading the charge for New York State to submit its own plan to the feds.

As recent events have made clear, we can’t rely on the new administration to make the right choices when it comes to where our transportation money is going. This article from Bloomberg news points out that states are targeting stimulus spending to roads, not rail. There’s two failures there. The first is the failure of the federal government to provide guidelines as to usage of the money, and the second is the failure of states to apply this money to smarter projects. People like Assembleyman Hoyt may not be able to make much of a difference for the initial problem, but he can certainly try to do something about the second one.

Something  funny: the article I linked has the headline “Rail Takes Back Seat as States Target Obama Stimulus for Road.” Has rail ever been in the front seat in this country? The car metaphor tells us no.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Politics, United States High Speed Rail

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