February 8, 2011 By Sarah Rich
U.S. rail authorities are on board with a $53 billion high-speed rail proposal unveiled by the White House on Tuesday, Feb. 8.
Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced a proposal to invest $53 billion into continued high-speed rail construction efforts and existing rail infrastructure over a six-year period. President Barack Obama could take the plan to Congress as soon as next week.
An initial $8 billion investment in high-speed rail next year would help revitalize the domestic rail industry, and assist with innovation and job creation by connecting major population centers, the administration said.
Rail coalitions across the country are supporting the new proposal. Rick Harnish, executive director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, said he was excited to hear the news, but that it will be crucial for leaders to get aggressive in order for high-speed rail service to get under way.
For his area’s rail authority, improving transportation in and near Chicago is critical because public transportation there is generally unpleasant and expensive. High-speed rail can help improve these flaws, Harnish said.
The High Speed Rail NY Coalition supports the new proposal as well. Ben Sio, a representative for the coalition, said high-speed rail will impact the state by increasing tourism and reducing commute times between Rochester, Syracuse, Buffalo, Albany and New York City.
“We’re really, really encouraged that the federal government is continuing to make the down payment in rail that they’re doing,” Sio said. “I think that’s one of the major keys to this thing moving forward, but as we move forward another challenge we’re about to face is the [funding] match that many of the state governments have to put into this thing. It remains to be seen which states will be jumping on board and pushing this forward.”
California also could see big changes as a result of the administration’s new proposal. In 2012, the state will begin construction on a high-speed rail system, creating nearly 100,000 jobs over five years with the federal funding already awarded, according to the California High-Speed Rail Authority.
The authority is currently developing an 800-mile true high-speed train system that will operate at speeds of up to 220 mph, connecting the state’s urban centers, including the Bay Area, Fresno, Los Angeles and San Diego.
Although Obama’s plan appears to enjoy broad support among transit agencies, high-speed rail has been panned by many fiscal conservatives at the state and federal levels.
House Transportation Committee Chairman John L. Mica, R-Fla., and Railroads Subcommittee Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., said via a statement Tuesday that they had “extreme reservations” about the rail plan.
“This is like giving Bernie Madoff another chance at handling your investment portfolio,” Mica said.
In another move, the New Hampshire GOP said Tuesday that the party will attempt to repeal the state’s rail transit authority via legislation.
Biden and LaHood announced the administration’s proposal Tuesday at Philadelphia’s 30th Street train station.
“High-speed rail will not only revolutionize transportation in America,” LaHood said on his official blog, “it will reinvigorate our manufacturing sector, create jobs and enable economic development all along its corridors.”
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