by Hon. Ray LaHood
The Northern Flyer Alliance is a group of 49 cities, 6 counties, and 19 Chambers of Commerce from Kansas City to Fort Worth that have joined together to promote passenger rail in their communities and in the tri-state region that includes Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.
Today, the Alliance is holding a Passenger Rail Symposium, and Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo was on hand with a message of strong support from this Administration.
President Obama's all-of-the-above energy strategy means investing in more fuel-efficient transportation. That means cars that go farther on every gallon of gas. It means using our nation's waterways for shipping freight. It means electric transit buses that can recharge in less than 10 minutes.
And it means more rail.
Passenger rail is three times more energy-efficient than car travel and six times more efficient than air travel.
And, at a time when the Texas Transportation Institute has identified 328 seriously congested highway corridors--stretches of roadway around the U.S. that experience hours of traffic jams each day--a single dedicated high-speed passenger rail line can carry more capacity than six lanes of freeway.
Of course, that's just the situation TTI identified right now. In 2050, we'll be home to 100 million more Americans. Just when our economic competitiveness will require our nation to move more people and more goods than ever, our highways will be choking at maximum capacity and our runways and airport gates will be overcrowded.
So, while our interstate highways unlocked our economy's potential in the second half of the 20th century, our success in the 21st century will require a more diverse toolkit of intercity transportation options. Including passenger rail.
"Local officials know that every dollar you spend on rail infrastructure generates three times more in economic output and job creation. And while these projects aren’t finished overnight, the economic benefits often arrive before initial rail construction takes place. That includes a rise in land values and wages. It includes new growth, new jobs, and a huge windfall for local economies."
Look, for example, at Brunswick, Maine, where an extension to Amtrak's Downeaster service is expected to bring more than $7 billion in new development, 10,000 new jobs, and $75 million in annual state revenue.
Or Normal, Illinois, where improved rail service to St. Louis and Chicago has already generated $200 million in private investment in the city's central business district where the occupancy rate is now 100 percent.
Texas, Kansas, and Oklahoma understand the threefold value of rail: as a job creator, as an engine of growth, and as a means of sustaining economic competitiveness. They've seen communities like Brunswick and Normal leverage the opportunity passenger rail offers, and they are ready to bring those benefits home to their own residents and businesses.
Administrator Szabo told today's symposium, "I am pleased to see the planning work currently taking place in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, proving that strong, long-term planning leads to the creation of a market-driven rail plan that benefits communities throughout the corridor.”
And he is not alone. We at DOT congratulate the tri-state region on its plan, and we look forward to working with you to make it a reality.