America 2050 Update: June 22, 2010

  • America 2050 comments on FRA Preliminary National Rail Plan
  • Northeast Rail Planning Speeds Ahead
  • Imagining Greater Tucson in the Sun Corridor
  • Large Landscape Conservation: A Framework for Policy and Action
  • In Cascadia, Livability comes to the Land of Livability

America 2050 Comments on FRA National Rail Plan:  America 2050 recently submitted comments on the FRA's preliminary national rail plan with recommendations for its long-range plan due to Congress this fall. Our comments built on America 2050's analysis of intercity ridership demand in the nation's megaregions and recommends that the FRA develop a map of priorities for investing in "HSR Express," "HSR Regional, and "HSR Emerging" based on where the strongest ridership is likely to exist,  now and in the future.

Our comments were also informed by the Forging a National Rail Plan panel discussion we hosted in Washington, D.C. on May 11. You can download the audio recording and powerpoints from that discussion here. America 2050 staff also participated in the FRA's public outreach sessions seeking input on the National Rail Plan in five locations across the country May 19 - June 4, presenting our research on investment criteria for high-sped rail. Visit the federal docket website to review other comments on the rail plan.

Northeast Rail Planning Speeds Ahead: Despite hosting the highest intercity and regional rail ridership in the nation and connecting directly to the majority of the nation's urban transit systems, the Northeast Corridor was largely passed over by the FRA when it announced the first round of ARRA high-speed rail grants in January 2010. One reason was that the Northeast Corridor was actually behind states like Florida and California in developing plans for what the FRA calls HSR Express (dedicated tracks for trains reaching over 150 miles per hour); another reason was that the Northeast Corridor lacked an updated environmental impact statement (the last one was completed in the late 1970s.) A third reason, which we surmise, is that the Administration may have decided a high-speed rail program would garner stronger political support if grants were spread out around the country. While we can't do anything about the politics, the Northeast Corridor states are now moving ahead to address the first two reasons for missing out on substantial federal funding.

Last month, eleven northeastern states and Amtrak submitted a planning proposal to the FRA seeking federal funding for an $18.8 million four-phased planning study. The study will explore investments needed to meet travel demand in the Northeast Corridor, including both incremental improvements and investments in dedicated tracks for true high-speed service. This proposal represents an historic collaboration of states and a necessary step to bring the Northeast's rail infrastructure into the 21st century. Meanwhile, as the states and Amtrak take this critical step, planners at the megaregion's universities have been thinking about a plan for HSR in the Northeast Corridor to rival California's ambitious high-speed plan. A U. Penn graduate planning studio has developed a vision for high-speed rail in the Corridor which would cut travel times in half, achieving 90-minute service from New York to Washington, D.C. and 105 minute service from New York to Boston. The executive summary is now available for download on the America 2050 website and describes the type of plan that could be included in the scope of the official Northeast Corridor planning study.

Imagining Greater Tucson in the Sun Corridor: Tucson, Arizona recently joined the ranks of regions like Salt Lake City, Portland, and Sacramento that have engaged their residents in scenario-based visioning efforts to shape future metropolitan growth. I had the opportunity to give the keynote address at a kick-off event for Imagine Greater Tucson hosted by ULI-Arizona and other partners this May. Read coverage of the forum in the Arizona Daily Star. The forum also focused on the role of Tucson in the larger Arizona Sun Corridor megaregion. A new report by the Sonoran Institute makes the case that the economic health of Tucson is closely tied to the much larger Sun Corridor economy that is focused in Phoenix, 100 miles to the north. It suggests that Tucson's best strategy is not to compete with Phoenix, but to advance its own economy while viewing Phoenix's proximity as an asset -- all the while capitalizing on Tucson's unique advantages of a spectacular natural environment and relaxed desert lifestyle.

Large Landscape Conservation: A Strategic Framework for Policy and Action
A new policy focus report issued by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy -- an America 2050 partner -- focuses on strategies for regional collaboration to protect large landscapes in the United States.  Like megaregions, large landscapes span political boundaries and require ad-hoc and formal partnerships for their conservation. Regional Plan Association and America 2050 are now engaged in a large landscapes and wildlife conservation program focused on the Northeastern United States, in partnership with the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the Lincoln Institute. 

In Cascadia, Livability comes to the Land of Livability: In a commentary piece for America, Ethan Seltzer of Portland State University discusses how the Obama Administration can learn from the Cascadia megaregion, a.k.a. the "land of livability," as they implement the federal livability initiative. Ethan's students at PSU recently completed the fourth edition of their Cascadia megaregion study, Ecolopolis 4.0: Livability in Cascadia.

America 2050 will also be in Cascadia this July for a workshop to develop a vision for high-speed rail in Cascadia in partnership with PSU, the Discovery Institute, and the Oregon governors office, which will be a prototype for a series of megaregion-scale rail planning workshops that we would like to sponsor around the country.