The Obama Administration today announced the recipients of $8 billion in high-speed rail funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The awards represent a major leap forward in federal investment in our long-neglected passenger rail system.
The big winners are California, which will receive more than $2 billion toward construction of the San Francisco-Los Angeles core of its proposed 220 mph high-speed rail system, and Florida, which will receive $1.25 billion for construction of a high-speed line between Tampa and Orlando.
Other projects receiving major funding include links between Milwaukee and Madison, Wisconsin; Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati, Ohio; Chicago and St. Louis; Raleigh and Charlotte; and the cities of the Pacific Northwest.
The overall thrust of today's decision seems to be - outside of the commitment to true high-speed rail projects in California and Florida - to spread the jam pretty thinly, supporting numerous small projects designed to make incremental improvements to passenger rail service in many parts of the country. That's a smart approach for several reasons:
Passenger rail can reduce America's dependence on oil, boost the economy, reduce congestion on our highways and in our airports, and lay the groundwork for an effective 21st century transportation system. Today's funding awards are a start toward achieving that vision, but are just a down payment on the investment America must make to have a passenger rail system worthy of the world's most economically advanced nation.
There will be much more on the case for high-speed rail - and the impact it can have on regions around the United States - in our upcoming report with U.S. PIRG Education Fund, "The Right Track," which will be coming out in the next couple of weeks.