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NJ high speed rail advocates call on Congress for funding

(The following story by Andy Lagomarsino on NewJerseynewsroom.com on December 4, 2009.)

Support $4 billion investment

A new high speed rail network will put people to work, clean our air, cut our energy-consumption, facilitate travel and assist in the resurgence of American manufacturing.

That was the message that Representative Donald M. Payne and New Jersey Public Interest Research Group (NJPIRG) Program Associate Rebecca Alper along with Zoe Baldwin of Tri-State Transportation Campaign, and Jay Corbalis of NJ Future made crystal clear during a teleconference on Dec. 3.

As part of a nationwide "High Speed Rail Day of Action," public officials and high speed rail advocates called on Senators Menendez and Lautenberg to support a full $4 billion investment in high speed rail in this year's federal transportation spending bill.

Tenth District Congressman Donald Payne, a strong supporter of the new high speed rail network, urged the Senate to join the House of Representatives in providing the full $4 billion for high-speed rail.

"Funding for this critical transportation project is a great investment in the future of our state," Payne said. "Implementation of the modernization plan will provide environmental benefits by keeping more cars off our highways, thus decreasing pollution. It will also allow residents and tourists to travel more efficiently from one place to another."

Payne added, "I am pleased to join with New Jersey PIRG in pushing to see that the full $4 billion is included in the final package so that our state will reap the important environmental and economic benefits it will provide."

The House version of the FY10 transportation appropriations bill, which passed with bipartisan support, included a $4 billion allocation for high speed passenger rail. The majority of the members in the House voted repeatedly to deny attempts to lessen the high speed rail funding. The Senate then cut the appropriation down by nearly 75 percent to $1.2 billion in their bill in late September. The two bills now move to a conference committee which will decide the final amount of funding before the end of the month. Senator Lautenberg, a champion for transportation solutions for New Jersey, sits on this committee.

"The development of a faster, stronger rail system would make it easier for New Jerseyans to get around while creating tens of thousands of quality American jobs in the technology, construction, and engineering sectors." said Alper.

New Jersey has sought $38.5 million in economic recovery funds to replace the 98-year old Portal Bridge which carries Amtrak's northeast corridor train service, NJ Transit's Northeast Corridor, North Jersey Coast Line, and Midtown Direct commuter service to Penn Station in New York City over the Hackensack River. The additional $4 billion investment could make that possible.

Today, nearly 500 NJ Transit and Amtrak trains make use of the bridge. During peak periods, the bridge supports upwards of 23 trains per hour operating at near capacity. The replacement of Portal Bridge is expected to reduce travel times between major cities and extend service for NJ Transit and Amtrak.

As part of the same effort, earlier this fall New Jersey Public Interest Group joined other rail advocates to set up fourbillion.com to show Congress the overwhelming nationwide demand that exists for high speed rail investment.

Along with the more than 150 organizations and public officials, more than 3,500 individuals have signed on.

"NJ residents deserve a 21st century transit network that offers convenient, efficient and affordable travel options for all. Federal investment in rail will help pull us out of the dark ages, shortening commute times for tens of thousands of NJ Transit commuters each day," said Zoe Baldwin, New Jersey Advocate.

"New Jersey already sees tremendous benefit from its position along Amtrak's Northeast Corridor, and additional investment in high-speed rail will provide even more travel options for NJ residents," concluded Jay Corbalis, Policy Analyst, NJ Future.

Monday, December 7, 2009

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