America 2050 Update: May 27

  • EVENT: Dependable Rail in 2016: What will it Mean for the Knowledge Corridor Region? (June 3rd, Hartford, CT)
  • U.S. DOT Announces High-Speed and Passenger Rail Grant Awards
  • House GOP Plan Would Privatize Amtrak's Northeast Corridor
  • Governor Walker Proposes $2 Billion in "Questionable" Transportation Spending, Study Finds
  • Habitat, Water, and Open Space Maps Now Available on RPA & America 2050's Northeast Landscapes Website
  • Ecolopolis 5.0: High-Speed Rail in Cascadia
  • New Study: Midwest HSR System To Create $118 Billion in Wages and Nearly $300 Billion in Business Sales Over 30 Years

June 3: Dependable Rail in 2016: What will it Mean for the Knowledge Corridor Region?

Join America 2050 and Regional Plan Association for a breakfast forum in Hartford, CT on Friday, June 3, 8:00 -10:00 a.m. at the Hartford Club, 46 Prospect Street.

The New Haven-Hartford-Springfield Rail project will connect Hartford and Springfield to new business, educational, and cultural opportunities along the Knowledge Corridor, and in Southwestern Connecticut and New York City. What are these opportunities, and what should we do to maximize them? We'll hear from local business leaders as well as representatives from other successful rail corridors on how we can best leverage state and federal rail investments for economic growth. Speakers include: Bob Yaro, President, Regional Plan Association; Matthew Nemerson, Connecticut Technology Council; Patricia Quinn, Northern New England Rail Authority (Downeaster Service, Portland, ME/Boston, MA); Gene Skoropowski, HNTB (Capitol Corridor Service, Sacramento/San Jose, CA); and an additional speaker to be announced.

There is no charge for attendance but registration is required at: Sponsored by: America 2050 and Regional Plan Association, with support from the Rockefeller Foundation and Surdna Foundation. Co-sponsored by: Capitol Region Council of Governments and ULI Boston.

U.S. DOT Announces High-Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail Grant Awards

On May 9, after receiving nearly 100 applications requesting a total of nearly $10 billion, U.S. DOT Secretary Ray LaHood announced grant awards for fifteen states and Amtrak for high-speed and passenger rail. The money awarded, $2 billion in total, is funding that was reallocated after Florida Governor Rick Scott canceled the state's high-speed rail project. America 2050 released the following statement on the U.S. Department of Transportation's high-speed and intercity passenger rail grants:

"With gas prices on the rise, Americans are looking for alternatives to driving and flying. Today, fifteen states and Amtrak received grant awards that will enable them to expand and improve passenger rail service, providing a safe and convenient travel option that does not rely on imported oil," said Petra Todorovich, director, America 2050. "It's mystifying that Congress moved recently to cut new funding for high-speed rail for the remainder of 2011, given the strong interest by 24 states in expanding their rail service, as demonstrated in this round of grant making. The fact that the U.S. DOT was only able to fund one-fifth of the $10 billion worth of projects applied for in this round shows that there is pent up demand for improved rail service around the country.

House GOP Plan Would Privatize Amtrak's Northeast Corridor

In a House Transportation Committee hearing on May 26, Committee Chairman John Mica (R-FL) and Rail Subcommittee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) announced that they are drafting legislation to bring high-speed rail between Boston and Washington, D.C. by putting Amtrak's Northeast Corridor, its most valuable asset, up for sale to private investors. Amtrak has already released a plan to deliver high-speed rail along this same corridor, but Mica declared that this plan, which would be phased in over 30 years and cost $117 billion, would take too long and cost too much. Instead, Mica proposes "to separate the Northeast Corridor from Amtrak, transfer it to a separate entity, and begin a competitive bidding process that would allow for a public-private partnership to design, build, operate, maintain, and finance high-speed service." Mica estimates that this plan would deliver high-speed rail service in closer to ten years, and cost the government far less.

Ignacio Jayanti of Corsair Capital, a private equity firm, testified before the Committee that $50 - $60 billion could be raised from the private sector to finance construction over a 10 year time frame. Representatives of Amtrak were not invited to testify, however, congressional supporters of Amtrak have questioned whether private investment could actually fund high-speed rail. Ranking Democrat Nick Rahall (D-WV) argued that the private sector had balked at the opportunity to invest in rail previously, noting that "two years ago, DOT issued a request for proposals for private companies to develop high-speed rail... [n]ot one single proposal was submitted by the private sector for developing high-speed rail on the Northeast Corridor."

Some legislators also expressed skepticism that any mode of transportation could be supported without public funding. Sen Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) argued that automobiles and highways were larger recipients of government spending than rail, testifying "Last year, we spent more than $40 billion on highways... over Amtrak's entire 40-year history, it has received just under $38 billion." Echoing that sentiment, Rep. Corinne Brown (D-FL) stated that "There is no form of transportation that supports itself. I don't support cherry-picking the best routes in our system and turning them over to the private sector."

Mica's plan did attract support amongst members of his own party, many of whom are keen to reduce what they see as wasteful government spending. He cited European models as successful examples to follow, including two British passenger rail lines which saw growth in ridership and began turning a profit after their privatization in 1997. "I believe that we have great potential in the Northeast corridor," Mica said. "The only thing standing in the way is Amtrak or the federal government or Congress."

Walker Proposes $2 Billion in "Questionable" Transportation Spending, Study Finds

Just months after rejecting $810 million in federal rail funding in order to avoid the possibility of paying $7.5 million in annual operations and maintenance costs, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has proposed $2 billion in highway projects that a recent report has found to be unnecessary and unjustified expenditures of taxpayer money. Read America 2050's full commentary here, and see the original report by Kyle Bailey and Bruce Speight of the WISPIRG Foundation here.

Habitat, Water, and Open Space Maps Now Available on RPA & America 2050's Northeast Landscapes Website

Competition over land use poses challenges to natural systems that support wildlife, human health, and industry. While land use issues are generally resolved locally, the health of these natural systems is best planned for at a landscape scale. For this reason, multi-jurisdictional, multi-objective landscape conservation initiatives are often well-positioned to address conservation needs.

Regional Plan Association and America 2050 are engaged in a project to evaluate landscape initiatives working in the Northeast Megaregion and to study the conservation and development context for their work. We're continuing to build our Northeast Landscape Initiatives Inventory, which now totals 165 initiatives. The website now also includes three new sets of context maps for Habitat, Water, and Open Space, as well as case studies profiling landscape initiatives that have been successful at protecting these important resources.

In the coming weeks, we will also publish maps highlighting challenges to landscape conservation goals from energy needs, transportation projects, and climate change.

Ecolopolis 5.0: High-Speed Rail in Cascadia

In the fifth volume of reports on the Cascadia Megaregion, students at the University of Washington and Portland State University have released Ecolopolis 5.0: High Speed Rail in Cascadia.

The report is the product of term-long projects conducted by graduate students from the two universities, taught by Professor Daniel Carlson and Professor Ethan Seltzer. The courses engaged the questions of identifying the impacts, maximizing the benefits, and exploring implementation options for high speed rail development in the Cascadia Corridor. Though passenger rail has long been a shared interest in the corridor, the recent U.S. initiative proposed by the Obama administration has accelerated high speed rail activity and discussions in Cascadia.

New Study: Midwest HSR System To Create $118 Billion in Wages and Nearly $300 Billion in Business Sales Over 30 Years

A new study, "The Economic Impacts of High Speed Rail: Transforming the Midwest," sponsored by the Midwest High-Speed Rail Association and Siemens, that was released today outlines the potential benefits of a high-speed rail system in the Midwest Megaregion with its $2.6 trillion economy, the fifth largest in the world, behind only the U.S., China, Japan, and Germany. Prepared by AECOM and the Economic Development Research Group (EDRG), the study found that a network of bullet trains reaching speeds of 220 mph extending out from Chicago along four main corridors to the Twin Cities, St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Cleveland, would generate tremendous economic benefits for the megaregion. Read America 2050's full commentary here. Download the Executive Summary (PDF 9MB).