Commentary by Petra Todorovich Messick

Why we Need a Trans-American Network

This week President Obama announced his Administration's plans for the most significant investment in intercity and high-speed rail in a generation. With the $8 billion down payment made in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and an additional $5 billion in his proposed budget, Obama has signaled the start of a new era of commitment to intercity passenger rail after decades of disinvestment and lack of federal support.
    But as the President noted, these investments are just the beginning of building a smart transportation system equal to the needs of the 21st century. Infrastructure investment should, and can, play a central role in repairing America's economy and positioning the country for long-term, sustainable economic growth. But to do so requires investments on the scale of the nation's Interstate Highway System, which shaped America's landscape in the post-war era as the nation added 130 million residents from the years 1950-2000. This time around, as we project the growth of 140 million additional people by 2050, the investments should go far beyond building roads.

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We need a "Trans-American Network," of national intercity passenger travel and goods movement investments organized around our nation's megaregions--vast regions formed around the travel patterns, business relationships and manufacturing chains of the global economy. In our nation's metropolitan regions--like the NY-NJ-CT region--we need investments in road pricing and congestion management, regional rail, local transit, walking and biking improvements and transit-oriented development. The Trans-American Network and the regional and local investments will likely take a generation or more to implement--which is why we must get started today.

    In the spirit of President Obama's announcements, this brief offers recommendations to help shape America's approach to and investments in intercity passenger travel. In the coming months, America 2050 will release additional briefs on a national goods movement network and policies to support metropolitan mobility.

These recommendations were informed by the America 2050 Intercity Passenger Travel Working Group, which met from October - December 2008 as part of America 2050's efforts to develop a Trans-American Network  and recent reports, such as the report of the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) on high-speed rail  and the Passenger Rail Working Group of the National Surface Transportation Policy Revenue and Study Commission.