Obama to Announce Major High-Speed Rail Initiative in State of the Union

The white whale of mass-transit advocates will be a centerpiece of the jobs-creation package to be announced tonight.

high speed rail


Big news for urban planners and mass-transit fans: Tonight, President Obama will announce an $8 billion “downpayment” to build high-speed rail linkages in 13 areas, across 30 states. The plan is meant to be a centerpiece of his new focus on jobs creation; it’ll be sold as a way to create thousands of jobs. Those funds were part of the original $787 billion stimulus package, but the HSR funds haven’t begun to flow just yet, as the Federal government mulled what states would get funding.

Why now? The news comes on the heels of news that the $20 billion of funds in the last stimulus package appears not to have created jobs, even though they took high priority. Mass-transit advocates have attempted an explanation. As Autopia reports:

According to [Smart Growth America], public transportation spending leads more directly
to job growth than highway spending for several reasons. First, less
money is spent acquiring land, which means more money is spent actually building something. Second, all those buses, trains and subways need people to operate them and maintain the infrastructure. And third, public transit requires a workforce with more diverse skills than highway construction.

Even better, Schroeer said, public transit can help savejobs because it allows people to get to work–and those are jobs Smart Growth America didn’t include in its analysis. When transit programs are cut or don’t exist to begin with, “there’s a negative impact on folks’ mobility to get to work, to get to education,” Schroeer said. “It’s part of the fabric of communities, whether you use it or not.”

Of course, $8 billion is a piddling sum compared to the hundreds of billions that a high-speed rail network would eventually require. So “down payment” is really the operative word–the hope, presumably, being that with the government kicking in the initial sums, states will then have added momentum to sell bonds that will sustain the HSR programs.

When the stimulus passed, extensive rail projects were squashed because they were seen as not “shovel ready,” and thus unlikely to influences jobs in the near term. But mass-transit advocates say there are far more projects that could be close to groundbreaking than has commonly been assumed, including in Florida and California.

[Via Washington Post. Image by OiMax]


About the author

Cliff was director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.