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In a bold and far-sighted move, Congress added $9.3 billion in the American Reinvestment and Economic Recovery Act for development of high speed rail and other intercity rail. This amount was a large increase from the U.S. Senate version of the bill and came on top of $8.4 designated for other public transit agencies.
"The money for high speed rail in the Recovery Act marks a bold step for 21st century transportation," said Alex Nelson, Transportation Associate for the Arizona Public Interest Research Group (Arizona PIRG). "After decades of looking on with envy at efficient bullet trains overseas, American high speed rail is finally leaving the station."
The additional high speed rail funds mark the second time that public transportation has bucked the general trend in the Recovery Act. When the bill came to the floor of the U.S. House, dozens of amendments were defeated – with the sole exception of a measure to add $3 billion to public transportation. That amendment passed on a voice vote without opposition and with speeches of support from Republicans.
The $8.4 billion total for transit agencies is the same amount as in the earlier U.S. Senate version and less than proposed by the U.S. House. According to a statement from Speaker Pelosi’s office outlining the amounts, the transit money, “Includes funds for new construction of commuter and light rail, modernizing existing transit systems, and purchasing buses and equipment to needed to increase public transportation and improve intermodal and transit facilities.” Speaker Pelosi’s office noted that “states have 787 ready-to-go transit projects totaling about $16 billion.”
The money for high speed rail development and for intercity rail will be spent largely on projects to build and improve tracks, signals, and stations, as well as to make pedestrian, auto and transit crossings safer near corridors where trains will reach speeds in excess of 150 mph. Some of it will be spent to modernize Amtrak, which has seen six years of record ridership gains. Californians recently passed a $10 billion ballot question for a North-South high speed rail link for trains which will travel over 200 mph. The project will avoid the need for costly airport and highway expansion and millions of gallons of oil consumption.
The push for rail and other transit comes at a time of record levels of public transportation and Amtrak ridership and growing frustration with airports. Europe, Japan, and China, our major economic competitors, already have thousands of miles of high speed rail. Experts generally see high speed rail as a more efficient and time-saving option than airplanes for trips less than 500 miles.
"Funds for transit and other rail will get Arizonans back to work while reducing dependence on oil and congestion at highways and airports," Nelson stated.
The stimulus bill also includes for transportation: $27.5 billion for highways, $1.5 billion for competitive state and local grants, and $1.3 billion for investment in air transportation systems.
Although Arizona does not currently have a federally designated high-speed rail corridor, Arizona has the opportunity to match federal funds, which would move a study forward.
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