Interest groups fight for more funds for high-speed rail in 2011

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) have joined other interest groups in a campaign urging Congress to appropriate $4 billion for high-speed rail projects next fiscal year rather than the $1 billion proposed in President Barack Obama's 2011 budget.

During at event at Washington's Union Station last week, the coalition linked arms to push for greater federal rail funding next fiscal year as well as a dedicated long-term source of revenue to support development of high-speed rail lines across the United States.

"We see the rest of the world moving ahead with ambitious high-speed rail programs," said Robert Yaro, president of the Regional Plan Association and co-chairman of the infrastructure advocacy group America 2050. "The Chinese plan to have theirs more or less done in five years. At the level of funding the administration has proposed, we'll be doing well to finish ours in 500 years."

In fact, the coalition has launched a website to promote its message.

"President Obama began our nation's renaissance with high-speed rail one year ago by putting $8 billion in the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act — the biggest investment our country has ever made in high-speed rail. However, his request in the 2011 annual budget was only $1 billion," according to the coalition. "Now that the stimulus dollars have been awarded and it is clear that this country needs to dramatically increase our investment in high-speed rail in order to grow our economy, drive down business costs, create jobs, and reduce our addiction to foreign oil, it's time to ... spend $4 billion on high-speed rail in the 2011 annual budget."

In addition to the increased mobility and improved national transportation network brought about by high-speed rail, studies and estimates from around the country compiled by the coalition show investing in the technology could generate more than 2 million U.S. jobs, avoid 11 million tons of greenhouse-gas emissions annually, and cut the nation's oil dependence by nearly 600 million gallons each year.

In addition to the $8 billion provided by the recovery act in 2009, Congress appropriated $2.5 billion for high-speed rail this fiscal year. The strong need for significantly higher appropriations is illustrated by the fact the Federal Railroad Administration received high-speed rail applications from 24 states totaling $57 billion this year, while only $10.5 billion in federal grants have been made available, according to the coalition.

"Many state DOTs are working hard to move their high-speed rail projects forward," said John Horsley, executive director for AASHTO. "Congress can help give these states a big push by quadrupling the president's budget request for high-speed rail for Fiscal Year 2011 to $4 billion. This will help keep the recovery act's momentum going toward realizing our goals of having swift passenger trains connecting America's major cities, which would expedite travel, create hundreds of thousands of good-paying construction jobs, and help to relieve highway congestion."

The House Highways & Transit Subcommittee has endorsed a $50 billion high-speed-rail allocation as part of a six-year surface transportation reauthorization measure. The revenue source for that allocation has yet to be determined, however.

More than 100 House members wrote Obama last month in support of establishing a dedicated funding stream for high-speed rail. House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar, D-Minnesota, and House Railroads, Pipelines, & Hazardous Materials Subcommittee Chairwoman Corrine Brown, D-Florida, joined 104 other Democrats in signing the letter. It did not suggest how to raise the dedicated revenue, however.

"We cannot just focus on building more roads. We have to find broader solutions to address our transportation problems. That is why we must develop high-speed rail here in the United States," the representatives wrote to Obama. "But given budget constraints, we cannot continue to rely on general authorizations and appropriations to finance high-speed rail."

For AASHTO’s high-spead rail information center, or to read the letter to Obama from the representatives, please visit www.highspeed-rail.org, or tinyurl.com/HSRletter0416, respectively.
 


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