Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Obama administration: Pacific NW a finalist for high speed passenger rail money

It sure feels good to have a Democratic president in the White House, doesn't it?

Today President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden announced a major new federal initiative to invest in high speed passenger rail across the United States of America. (Hurrah!) The goals of the strategic plan released today are to reduce dependence on the automobile, ease traffic, give Americans more transportation options, and protect our environment.

Obama High Speed Rail Map

Here's how it's going to work, according to the White House:
The plan identifies $8 billion provided in the ARRA [American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or the stimulus] and $1 billion a year for five years requested in the federal budget as a down payment to jump-start a potential world-class passenger rail system and sets the direction of transportation policy for the future.

The strategic plan will be followed by detailed guidance for state and local applicants. By late summer, the Federal Railroad Administration will begin awarding the first round of grants.
Cool, huh? There are only ten major corridors that made the cut and were identified as potential recipients for this initial round of funding. Two of them are on the Left Coast - in California and in the Pacific Northwest.

The Pacific Northwest's corridor is defined as the stretch between Eugene and Vancouver, B.C. which is currently served by Amtrak Cascades.

Washington and Oregon will need to work cooperatively together to pursue that grant money, because the Obama administration wants to move quickly:
The President, Vice President and Secretary of Transportation are urging states and local communities to put together plans for a network of 100 mile to 600 mile corridors, which will compete for the federal dollars. The merit-driven process will result in federal grants as soon as late summer 2009.

President Obama's vision for high-speed rail mirrors that of President Eisenhower, the father of the Interstate highway system, which revolutionized the way Americans traveled.
At last, America has a president who believes in rail - how exciting and refreshing! But let's hear from the man himself. Here's what the President had to say about the unveiling of today's strategic plan.
My high-speed rail proposal will lead to innovations that change the way we travel in America. We must start developing clean, energy-efficient transportation that will define our regions for centuries to come.

A major new high-speed rail line will generate many thousands of construction jobs over several years, as well as permanent jobs for rail employees and increased economic activity in the destinations these trains serve. High-speed rail is long-overdue, and this plan lets American travelers know that they are not doomed to a future of long lines at the airports or jammed cars on the highways
Amen, amen, and amen. That's all I can say in response to that.

Two types of projects will be funded by this new federal initiative. The first type would make existing service "incrementally faster". The other type would create new high speed rail lines in select corridors which would be more like the fast trains that Europe and Japan have already wisely invested in.

Readers will be pleased to hear that Governors Gregoire and Kulongoski didn't waste any time responding to President Obama's announcement. Said Gregoire:
Today Gov. Kulongoski and I sent the Obama administration a letter applauding their bold rail vision and supporting critical infrastructure investments that will improve mobility, create and preserve jobs, and benefit air quality across our country.

Our states, along with British Columbia , have a committed partnership with BNSF [Burlington Northern Santa Fe] and Amtrak. Together, we welcome federal ARRA funds – and the jobs that we’ll create with those funds – to help advance our service and improve our infrastructure.
Said Kulungoski:
To be competitive in a 21st Century economy, we need a balanced transportation system that allows us to move people, goods and commerce quickly and efficiently – and that reduces the number of cars on our roads.

I’m pleased to partner with Governor Gregoire to advance the vision for high speed rail in the Pacific Northwest.
Our governors can be proud that the States of Washington and Oregon have put money into Amtrak Cascades. Last year, Cascades had its highest ridership ever, reaching nearly 775,000 passengers. That represents growth of eighty two percent in just the last ten years!

The Pacific Northwest sent a capable advocate, WSDOT's State Rail and Marine Program Director Scott Witt, to testify on behalf of the region and showcase the possibilities for greater investment in high speed rail here.

As he observed:
Through this funding, we have a great opportunity to advance a proven corridor with a long and mid-range plan to enhance service, [and] create jobs. This corridor will provide options in congested areas such as the Interstate 5 area while addressing climate change and environmental issues.
The letter that Governor Gregoire mentioned in her remarks above is available at her website as a PDF, if you're interested in reading it.

Bravo to the Obama administration for today's announcement! It's a good start. This is exactly the kind of leadership we want to see from our President.


Blogger Konrad Roeder said...

It would be good to get the Pioneer route back ...

"Separate from the Recovery Act, Amtrak has hired a consultant to study how much it would cost to restore the Pioneer route, which in its heyday ran from Chicago to Seattle, with stops in Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, southern Idaho, northern Oregon and western Washington. Amtrak also is looking at reviving the North Coast Hiawatha across southern Montana, and restoring service from New Orleans to Jacksonville, Fla."

April 20, 2009 1:51 PM  

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