Last week President Obama and the Federal Railroad Administration unveiled the “Vision for High-Speed Rail in America.” This plan to build 100-600 miles of high-speed lines finally gives hope that our nation may develop a sustainable alternative for intercity travel. The funding for these high-speed rail investments will be the $8 billion in the Recovery Act, and a proposed $1 billion per-year high-speed rail grant program.
However, the Recovery Act money has the stipulation that it can only fund “shovel ready” projects. For rail that means preliminary engineering and environmental work must be completed. That is a pretty big stipulation. Since major federal funding for rail transit was a pipe dream under the Bush administration, few regions had the resources or took the time to carry out engineering and environmental review for these ambitious projects.
This stipulation has created a challenge. In
In the long-term I hope this Vision is only the beginning of a shift in priorities to make rail (rather than highways) become the focus and growth engine for our nation. The Recovery Act is a one-time funding source. However, every six years Congress re-authorizes the federal transportation funding bill, and it is up for re-authorization this year. The real test will be how the re-authorization reflects a change in priorities, putting more emphasis on rail expansion, while reducing funds for new highway construction. We will have to wait and see how this issue evolves.