Trains For America

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Are state DOT’s capable of handling Obama’s high-speed rail plan?

Pat pointed to Mark Stencel’s Congressional Quarterly article this past weekend about the political hurdles Obama’s federal HSR plan faces. One of these issues is well, federalism itself. The Atlanta Journal Constitution has a good piece about how woefully unprepared the state’s Department of Transportation is for implementing any sort of passenger rail improvements. This is despite the fact that Altanta is supposed to be a regional HSR hub under the plan. Here’s what one metropolitan Atlanta policymaker said:

“Let’s face it, our Department of Transportation has for years been primarily a department of highways,” said Chick Krautler, director of the Atlanta Regional Commission.

That’s hardly surprising; this is the same DOT that allowed metro Atlanta to become the hellish asphalt sprawl we know today. When endless freeway widening and traffic engineering cause issues in my hometown of Knoxville, TN, people say “Gee, this place is becoming just like Atlanta.”

And the article rightly frets about what this backwardness means for Atlanta’s position as the cultural and economic capital of the South. North Carolina and Virginia, as we’ve seen here at TFA, are taking the initiative when it comes to rail, and it’s helping them to stay vibrant and enticing in a tumultuous national economy. But hey, Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce President Sam Williams isn’t worried. At least they’re not as backwards as South Carolina!

On the other hand, he said: “Virginia and North Carolina are way, way ahead of us, probably by 20 years. I have been very disappointed that GDOT has not gotten onto this thing a lot sooner. But South Carolina’s worse off than we are. I think this is a great shot in the arm to rejuvenate Georgia and South Carolina.”

Well, I suppose. Whatever helps them sleep at night. And we’ve known for a while that GDOT isn’t the only one in trouble. But there’s no time like the present to start retooling your state’s rickety and traditional DOT for a more sustainable transportation future.

Filed under: Regional USA Passenger Rail, United States High Speed Rail, ,

7 Responses

  1. Andrew in NorJpn says:

    Many of these agencies would be better named “DOR”- as in Department of Roads, or (even better), Department of Asphalt, or “DOA”, because any HSR proposals end up that way upon reaching their desk!

  2. Logan Nash says:

    DOA. Zing!

  3. Andy Lynch says:

    Sounds like it’s time to hire consultants.

  4. Rafael says:

    Not all DOTs are created equal. I suspect that NY, Illinois, California and several other states have at least a few staff members who know a thing or two about passenger rail.

    But yes, there’s an urgent need to train or re-train state-level bureaucrats in environmental review processes related to intercity rail projects. At a minimum, FRA should get resources to prepare and host such training classes. State DOTs would have to fund sending their staff to attend.

  5. Mad Park says:

    We had a terrific passenger rail advocate in the WA DoT until mid-march when he was let go; the department as a whole is run by a former asphalt paving contractor…

  6. A. Schirmer says:

    What about the other logical, reasonable rail programs, such as expanding MARTA (the Atlanta metro/subway)?

    Not too many people know that we are one of the few cities in the USA where the metro/subway actually has a station in the airport terminal (no need to take the taxi!). Yet MARTA has only had 3 lines operating in the last 15 years, and while many opportunities to expand the system have come and go during that time, local governments have opted to keep MARTA out of their turf, opting for highway widenning instead, and leaving the vast majority of Atlanta’s 4 million people “high and dry” when it comes to public transportation. Naturally, ridership has never grown to the critical mass it needs to adequatelly fund operations, which is the main argument detractors use to “not put any more money into a commercial failure”.

    And what about the “Georgia Light Rail” initiative, intended to refurbish unused freight right-of-ways and old passenger lines for commuter rail systems (to Athens, Macon and Chattanooga)? Never saw the light of day. Now we are stuck with 2+ hours getting out of town during the holidays….

  7. HockeyFan says:

    I may be a biased Yankee here… but if the Georgia DOT or other states’ DOTs can’t get their acts together to use money that’s already on the table, fine. There have been other more proactive states that have studied, studied, studied rail and HSR routes for decades. Let’s build these first. CA, Midwest HSR, Pac NW, and the Empire Corridor come to mind. After a ride on one of these trains, then maybe some light bulbs will go on upstairs. HSR supporters have a much easier time building support once the first route is built and a success.

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