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Opinion: High-speed rail a clean win for commuters

(The following column by John D. Porcari appeared on the Boston Globe website on December 23, 2009. Mr. Porcari is the US deputy secretary of transportation.)

BOSTON — As Americans travel this holiday season, many will be frustrated by long lines at airports and congestion on the roadways, caused by years of neglect to our national infrastructure. President Obama has an ambitious plan to fix these problems, which includes the creation of a nationwide network of high-speed and intercity passenger rail routes.

To advance this goal, the president made an $8 billion down payment through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and proposed another $1 billion for each of the next five years. Nearly 40 states have applied for this money.

To assist states, the Department of Transportation is providing funding and technical expertise as they meet important environmental planning benchmarks created by federal law. These benchmarks must be met before large-scale high-speed rail programs get underway, and they apply to every region of the country. Our goal is to make sure states follow these rules and are not burdened later with unnecessary project delays that drive up costs and hinder the long-term success of projects.

As a former secretary of transportation for Maryland, I know the issues faced by communities on the Northeast Rail Corridor. The Obama adminsitration is committed to the region and the Northeast Corridor will certainly be part of our future high-speed rail network. Just last year, we opened up a new bridge over the Thames River in Connecticut, and there is a $100 million project underway to replace the Niantic Bridge through Recovery Act dollars. There are plenty of other opportunities to maintain and improve Amtrak’s current high-speed service on the Northeast Corridor.

The benefits of high-speed rail also include improving the environment by reducing carbon emissions, lessening highway congestion, and providing a much needed alternative to the frustrations of air travel.

We are building long-term relationships with states and coalitions of states to build world-class high-speed rail service, something that already exists in Europe and Asia. The US program will provide tens of millions of Americans with transportation options that have not previously been available.

The program will also offer relief to communities around the country that rely on manufacturing and that have been hard hit economically. In fact, nearly three dozen rail manufacturers and suppliers, both domestic and foreign, have committed to establish or expand their operations here in America if they are chosen by states to build their high-speed rail lines.

This effort will take work from all sides: a continued commitment from the federal government to support these investments, real oversight to make sure these new lines are safe and reliable, and a sustainable funding stream from states to maintain these routes. Through these efforts, we will improve the quality of life in many communities across the country, including those along the Northeast Corridor.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

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