High Speed Rail

Transportation figured prominently in President Obama’s 2012 budget proposal released this week. The proposal included the outlines of a $556 billion, six-year transportation plan. While some praised the plan for “bold vision,” others believe the lack of agreement on a revenue source to pay for it all and other factors will make it very difficult to achieve that vision.

Vice President Joe Biden announced today a proposal to spend $53 billion over the next six years to improve existing rail corridors and designate new tracks for high-speed trains. The Obama administration wants to start with an $8 billion down payment included in the President’s proposed 2012 budget, which is expected to be released Monday. But as the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee prepares to host a series of field hearings on federal transportation policy starting Monday in West Virginia, Republicans on the panel say the administration’s high-speed rail plans are out of step with what the country needs to be doing.

High-speed rail continues to be a topic of debate in several regions of the country. Here’s a rundown of some of the developments in recent days.

With the holidays fast approaching, I thought it would be a good time to clear out the ol’ CSG Transportation inbox so that we can make a fresh start in the New Year. In doing so, I ran across a number of recent reports and news items that may be of interest and that may provide worthwhile reading should you have any downtime in between football bowl games in the weeks ahead. They address many of the themes we’ve examined here over the last year and look ahead to what might lay in store in 2011 on issues like federal transportation programs, the condition of America's infrastructure, gas taxes, highway finance alternatives, high-speed rail, freight transportation, transportation and the environment and intelligent transportation systems.

Ridership is on the rise on many passenger rail routes in the Midwest, as is federal support for strengthening the region's passenger rail system. But some newly elected governors opposed new state investments in rail.

Three weeks after the election of new Republican governors in Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin and a Republican U.S. House of Representatives, the debate continues about the future of high-speed rail in the United States. Recent days have seen a series of pro-rail rallies in Wisconsin, where Governor-elect Scott Walker has promised to shut down a planned rail line between Milwaukee and Madison. But while it may be too early to completely write off the prospects for Midwest passenger rail, it may also be too soon to assume that high-speed rail will move forward in other parts of the country. Rail supporters who were breathing a sigh of relief about the election of rail-supporter Jerry Brown as Governor in California may have new cause for concern. The top Republican on the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, California Congressman Jerry Lewis, introduced legislation last week that would rescind $2 billion in stimulus funds promised to the state to kick start a $43 billion high-speed rail project that would link San Francisco and Los Angeles.

My colleague Doug Myers and I are co-authors of a new Capitol Research brief out today entitled “Green Freight Transportation.” A follow-up to our previous brief “Green Transportation” which debuted in July, it examines the opportunities available to states to enact policies, get behind federal initiatives and support industry efforts to make freight transportation greener. The brief examines such strategies as truck anti-idling regulations, the development of alternative fuels for trucks and trains, truck-only toll lanes to increase mobility and decrease emissions-producing traffic congestion, investing in freight rail and developing our marine highways to shift some of the freight burden from highways to modes that produce less emissions. The brief also points out the need for a national strategic freight plan, examines how federal policy initiatives could be shaped to make freight transportation greener and makes the case for the role of state governments in ensuring a greener future for freight. While the brief and the resources that went into creating it hopefully offer a good overview for those interested in the subject matter, there are a number of other worthwhile reports, recent news items and other materials we wanted to recommend for those who may want to do some further reading.

Last week I blogged about how the outcome of last Tuesday’s election is likely to impact plans for high-speed rail in some parts of the country and about the future of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in light of Rep. James Oberstar’s pending departure as chairman. Now a week later, we already know a bit more about how both issues could play out.

There were lots of transportation-related headlines to take away from Tuesday’s election: The chairman of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee going down to defeat and what it might mean for authorization legislation… The future of high-speed rail put in doubt by the election of three new Republican governors opposed to rail projects… And a somewhat mixed message from voters on revenues for transportation. Although it will likely take a long time to sort it all out, here are some initial thoughts.

The 2009 election cycle was a much quieter one than the one we’re experiencing now if you’ll recall. Whereas this year, the U.S. will elect or re-elect 39 Governors, last year there were just two high-profile gubernatorial races. But the year since the 2009 election has been anything but quiet for the men elected governor in New Jersey and Virginia last November. And just as it played a role during last year’s campaign, transportation has been a key issue for both chief executives during their first year in office. As we wait to see who will occupy governors’ mansions next year, it may be worth pondering how the experiences of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell could shape how their future colleagues tackle transportation challenges in the years ahead.

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