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Obama Announces Plan For High-Speed Rail

President Barack Obama, along with Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, yesterday announced a new plan to spend $13 billion to transform travel in America, creating high-speed rail lines from city to city, reducing dependence on cars and planes and spurring economic development.

The President’s plan identifies $8 billion provided in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) 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. Additional funding for long-term planning and development is expected from legislation authorizing federal surface transportation programs.

With the boost from the stimulus bill, the Obama Administration is 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 strategic plan will be followed by detailed guidance for state and local applicants. By late summer, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) will begin awarding the first round of grants.

“There are those who say high-speed rail is a fantasy — but its success around the world says otherwise,” Obama said. “Building a new system of high-speed rail in America will be faster, cheaper and easier than building more freeways or adding to an already overburdened aviation system, and everybody stands to benefit.”

President Obama’s vision for high-speed rail mirrors that of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the father of the Interstate Highway System, which revolutionized the way Americans traveled. Now, high-speed rail has the potential to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil, lower harmful carbon emissions, foster new economic development and give travelers more choices when it comes to moving around the country.

“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,” said President Obama. “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.”

The plan identifies two types of projects for funding. One would create new corridors for world-class high-speed rail like the kind found in Europe and Japan. Another would involve making train service along existing rail lines incrementally faster.

Under the plan, high-speed rail development will advance along three funding tracks:

  • Individual Projects. Providing grants to complete individual projects that are “ready to go” with completed environmental and preliminary engineering work – with an emphasis on near term job creation. Eligible projects include acquisition, construction of or improvements to infrastructure, facilities and equipment.
  • Corridor programs. Developing entire phases or geographic sections of high-speed rail corridors that have completed corridor plans, environmental documentation and have a prioritized list of projects to help meet the corridor objectives.
  • Planning. Entering into cooperative agreements for planning activities (including development of corridor plans and State Rail Plans) using non-ARRA appropriations funds. This third approach is intended to help establish a structured mechanism and funding stream for future corridor development activities.

The government has identified 10 corridors, each from 100 to 600 miles long, with greatest promise for high-speed development. They are:

Only one high-speed line is now operating, on the Northeast corridor between Washington and Boston, and it will be eligible to compete for money to make improvements.

In his remarks, Obama confronted critics who say the plans are too expensive, don’t go far enough, or will shift resources away from the roads and airports.

He dismissed all those concerns. He said the money is needed now to put people to work and will serve as an investment for later years. He acknowledged that more money will be needed but said the billions committed now are a downpayment to get the program started. And he noted that there are billions more in the Stimulus Package for road and airport improvement.

“President Obama’s vision of robust, high-speed rail service offers Americans the kind of travel options that throughout our history have contributed to economic growth and enhanced quality of life,” said Secretary LaHood. “We simply can’t build the economy of the future on the transportation networks of the past.”

A Vision for High-Speed Rail in America

Highlights of Strategic Plan

April 16, 2009

This plan outlines the President’s vision to build a network of high-speed rail corridors across America. It is the first high-speed rail requirement under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act 0f 2009.

  • Vision—Proposal is to transform the nation’s transportation system, by rebuilding existing rail infrastructure while launching new high-speed passenger rail services in 100 to 600-mile corridors that connect U.S. communities. Similar to how the interstate highways and U.S. aviation system were developed in 20th century: partnership between public sector and private industry, including strong Federal leadership that provided a national vision.

  • Obama ADMINISTRATION IS MOVING Ahead of Schedule to stand up this new program—Strategic rail plan issued just 58 days after passage of ARRA, before the Congressional deadline. Application procedures expected to be published also before Congressional deadli
    ne—this spring. First round grant awards expected to be announced before the end of this summer, up to three years ahead of the schedule required by law.

  • Commitment to HIGH-SPEED Rail—Unprecedented $8 billion investment in high-speed rail: $8 billion in ARRA considered a down payment on a national network of corridors, along with $1 billion per year for at least 5 years (proposed in FY 2010 budget). Completion of vision will require long-term commitment from both the Federal Government and States.

  • Benefits of HIGH-SPEED Rail—Promotes economic expansion (including new manufacturing jobs), creates new choices for travelers in addition to flying or driving, reduces national dependence on oil, and fosters urban and rural community development.

  • High-speed rail is green— Today’s intercity passenger rail service consumes one-third less energy per passenger-mile than cars. It is estimated that if we built high-speed rail lines on all federally-designated corridors (on map), it could result in an annual reduction of 6 billion pounds of CO2.

  • Transparent Approach—projects selected for funding based on merit/benefits of investment.
    First round of applications will focus on projects that can be completed quickly and yield measurable, near-term job creation and other public benefits.
    Next round to include proposals for comprehensive high-speed programs covering entire corridors or sections of corridors.
    Additional funds will be available for planning to help jump-start corridors not yet ready for construction.

  • Ten major corridors are being identified for potential high-speed rail projects:
    California Corridor (Bay Area, Sacramento, Los Angeles, San Diego)
    Pacific Northwest Corridor (Eugene, Portland, Tacoma, Seattle, Vancouver BC)
    South Central Corridor (Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Dallas/Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio, Little Rock)
    Gulf Coast Corridor (Houston, New Orleans, , Mobile, Birmingham, Atlanta)
    Chicago Hub Network (Chicago, Milwaukee, Twin Cities, St. Louis, Kansas City, Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Louisville)
    Florida Corridor (Orlando, Tampa, Miami)
    Southeast Corridor (Washington, Richmond, Raleigh, Charlotte, Atlanta, Macon, Columbia, Savannah, Jacksonville)
    Keystone Corridor (Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh)Empire Corridor (New York City, Albany, Buffalo)
    Northern New England Corridor (Boston, Montreal, Portland, Springfield, New Haven, Albany)

    Also, opportunities exist for the Northeast Corridor (Washington, Baltimore, Wilmington, Philadelphia, Newark, New York City, New Haven, Providence, Boston) to compete for funds for improvements to the nation’s only existing high-speed rail service, and for establishment and upgrades to passenger rail services in other parts of the country.

  • OUTREACH—Administration will take a collaborative approach to formulate program; will work with stakeholders to gather feedback on strategic plan and help shape the program.

Valley METRO Light Rail Setting Records

Phoenix, Arizona’s Valley METRO Light Rail ridership is continuing to set records. Figures released for the month of March showed 972,962 boardings.

That’s up 7 percent from February. In February, METRO ridership totaled 908,052 boardings.

It’s also the highest monthly total since the system’s opening in December, according to METRO Spokesperson Hillary Foose.

The average weekday ridership was 34,376. Saturday ridership averaged 28,537 and average Sunday and holiday ridership was 20,508.

Ayres Associates Traffic Experts Lead ITE At International And State Levels

Kenneth Voigt, PE, a senior traffic engineer based in Ayres Associates’ Waukesha, WI office, is the 2009 international president of the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE), an educational and scientific association of transportation professionals who work to improve mobility and safety with nearly 18,000 members in more than 92 countries.

Voigt is an ITE fellow and has been a member of ITE since 1968. He has been a member of the International Board of Direction; has chaired Department 6 of the Technical Council, the Trip Generation Task Force, the Transportation Achievement Award Committee, and the 2006 annual meeting; has been vice president of the Midwestern District and president of the Wisconsin Section; and has been a member of numerous other committees.

He served as vice president in 2008 and began his tenure as president in January.

Voigt, who holds a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master of science degree in transportation engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is an adjunct professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Madison campuses. He is a registered professional engineer with more than 40 years of professional experience in the private and public sectors as a traffic engineer and transportation planner.

His goals include focusing on how economic, energy, and environmental factors will influence transportation.

Voigt’s election to this position will allow Ayres Associates, a consulting engineering firm with headquarters in Eau Claire, WI and offices in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Colorado, Wyoming, California, Arizona, Georgia and Florida, to build on its reputation of delivering innovative transportation services to public and private clients nationwide. Voigt continues to work with Ayres Associates clients while he leads ITE.

John Davis, PE, a supervisor of traffic services in Ayres Associates’ Waukesha office, has been elected 2009 president of the Midwestern District of ITE. Davis also was elected to the board of directors of the Transportation Professional Certification Board for 2009 – 2011, an autonomous body affiliated with ITE. He is a member of ITE’s Traffic Engineering Council Executive Committee and is responsible for managing the council’s technical projects. Davis has been an ITE fellow since 1998 and a member of ITE since 1981.

A certified professional traffic operations engineer and traffic signal operations specialist, Davis has more than 25 years of traffic engine
ering experience. He has recent private sector experience and spent more than 20 years serving the traffic divisions in large metropolitan areas. His project experience includes traffic control design and operations, geometric design, traffic impact studies, traffic control evaluations, traffic incident management, and freeway operations.

“Ayres Associates is delighted to support Ken and John in their new roles with ITE,” said Martin Hanson, PE, vice president. “Ken and John will be valuable contributors and leaders in their respective roles.”

Greg Sitek

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