Megaregions

As metropolitan regions continued to expand throughout the second half of the 20th century their boundaries began to blur, creating a new scale of geography now known as the megaregion. Interlocking economic systems, shared natural resources and ecosystems, and common transportation systems link these population centers together. As continued population growth and low density settlement patterns place increasing pressure on these systems, there is greater impetus to coordinate policy at this expanded scale.
Most of the nation's rapid population growth, and an even larger share of its economic expansion, is expected to occur in 11 megaregions: large networks of metropolitan regions, each megaregion covering thousands of square miles and located in every part of the country.  
The megaregions of the United States are defined by layers of relationships that together define a common interest; this common interest, in turn, forms the basis for policy decisions. The five major categories of relationships that define megaregions are:

•    Environmental systems and topography
•    Infrastructure systems
•    Economic linkages
•    Settlement patterns and land use
•    Shared culture and history

While every megaregion may not share every one of these characteristics, the possession of several indicates a stronger and more cohesive megaregion. For instance, the Northeast Megalopolis, identified as early as 1961 by geographer Jean Gottman, is defined by relationships in each of these categories and, accordingly, is one of the strongest and most easily recognizable megaregions.


Challenges Span Regional Boundaries
Across the nation, community leaders, businesses, and policymakers are confronted by challenges that affect their cities and neighborhoods but which cannot be solved by actions taken solely at the city or metropolitan scale. Protecting public watersheds that span multiple state and regional boundaries is one example of a challenge that requires coordination at the megaregional scale. Another is the challenge of moving goods efficiently from coastal ports through congested metropolitan areas to reach inland destinations; or providing new jobs in the face of major economic restructuring to a post-industrial economy.

The recognition of megaregions enables cooperation across jurisdictional borders to address specific challenges experienced at this scale. One way megaregions can prepare for future population pressures is by marshaling resources to make bold investments in high-speed rail and other mobility infrastructure. But there are others, just as crucial: protecting environmental resources, coordinating economic development strategies, and making land use decisions that comprehend all of these.

Global Integration Zones Are the New Competitive Unit

Our competitors in Asia and Europe are creating Global Integration Zones by linking specialized economic functions across vast geographic areas and national boundaries with high-speed rail and separated goods movement systems. The increased mobility of workers, business travelers, information, and goods between the networked cities of these megaregions enables greater collaboration, flexibility, and innovation. Efficient mobility is also a competitive advantage in the global playing field, where value is created by time savings.

In the United States, the coupling and chaining of industrial activity to take advantage of "just in time" production and delivery is increasingly critical to the success of our economy. The limited capacity to move goods quickly and "on demand" is a serious obstacle that firms face in congested regions. Efficiently providing these services in a constrained and congested transportation system is among the greatest challenges for businesses trying to compete in the global economy. This challenge can be met with coordinated new investments in infrastructure development at the megaregional scale.

A New Framework for Federal Investments and Policies
The recognition of the megaregion as an emerging geographical unit also presents an opportunity to reshape large federal systems of infrastructure and funding, such as future surface transportation bills, the reorganization of Amtrak, housing and urban development authorizations, and farm policy. Just as the Interstate Highway System enabled the growth of metropolitan regions during the second half of the 20th century, emerging megaregions will require new transportation modes that work for places 200-500 miles across. The key new links in this mobility system are likely to be High-Speed Rail (HSR) lines, which are uniquely suited to trips of this length.

To function effectively, HSR systems must be fully integrated with modernized commuter rail, highway systems, and airports, providing seamless connections between all these modes.  The metropolitan legs of the Interstate Highway System will continue to play an important role but must be better managed through smart highway tolling and information systems designed to reduce congestion and increase reliability, speed, and capacity.

In addition, new freight systems will be needed to meet growing goods movement needs, including Truck-Only Toll (TOT) lanes on key interstate highway corridors, linked to improved rail freight systems and airports and seaports.  These improvements will create new capacity, making the nation's goods movement system more efficient and reliable as it becomes increasingly integrated with global markets. This, in turn, will pave the way for a dramatic expansion of the nation's logistics sector, providing new jobs to make up for losses in the ailing U.S. manufacturing sector.

Recent Entries

Photo: MTA / Kevin Ortiz

The New Haven Line needs such substantial repair work that at the current pace of investment it will take two decades to restore the line to full operating capacity, a new study by Regional Plan Association found. An analysis by RPA determined that $3.6 billion will be needed beyond what is currently budgeted to modernize the rail line, the busiest in the U.S.

Infrastructure on the 60-mile stretch of track between New York and Connecticut has been allowed to deteriorate, largely due to decades of underinvestment in critical repairs and upgrades. Delaying the repair work significantly raises the risk of unplanned outages and limits the line’s capacity to accommodate growing ridership. 

The New Haven Line carries 125,000 passengers every day on the Metro-North commuter line and on Amtrak trains between Boston and New York and plays a vital role in the economic life of the Northeast. The line's owners, the states of Connecticut and New York, have made significant progress improving the rail infrastructure they inherited in the 1970s in poor physical condition, despite major funding constraints. But funding shortfalls have forced both states to defer long overdue capital investment necessary to protect the line's operations and passengers.

The age-related problems that plague the line can be felt by passengers nearly every day. Five movable rail bridges, all well beyond their replacement age, get stuck open several times a week, delaying train traffic and causing ripple effects up and down the line. This year, the line suffered two major outages, including a derailment and collision in May that injured 76 people and an electrical outage in September that disrupted service on the line for more than two weeks.

RPA’s study, Getting Back on Track: Unlocking the Full Potential of the New Haven Line, documents the key issues affecting the rail line and outlines critical capital investments necessary for the line to function as a reliable, four-track railroad. RPA researchers found that an additional $3.6 billion is needed to repair or replace aging and obsolete infrastructure, beyond the $1 billion already budgeted by the state of Connecticut for this work.

“The New Haven Line supports the biggest and most diverse economy in the country, yet this crucial piece of infrastructure is no longer up to the task,” said RPA President Robert D. Yaro. “If we don’t maintain our vital infrastructure, we will be subjecting a generation of commuters and long-distance travelers to relentless, disruptive repair work and jeopardizing the growth and prosperity of our region,” he said. 

Expediting construction would mean disruptions to service in the short term, but would get the line back to its full, four-track capacity far sooner. This would allow the line to accommodate anticipated population growth and economic development along the New York-to-New Haven corridor. The upgrades also are crucial to accommodating passengers transferring from the region’s branch lines, including from the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield commuter line, which is expected to begin service in 2016.

The study outlines an emergency action plan for the rail line to address major needed improvements, including: upgrades to power and signal systems; repairs to tracks and station platforms; and rehabilitation or replacement of the five movable bridges that are a source of continued service disruptions.

The full study can be viewed here: http://library.rpa.org/pdf/RPA-Getting-Back-on-Track.pdf

Rail freight traffic is expanding throughout North America, particularly to serve ocean ports. Assuring that transportation infrastructure capacity keeps up with demand is important for global trade competitiveness and national economic security.

A key growth area is in the Great Lakes Megaregion, where an industrial heartland route links Montreal, Toronto, Detroit/Windsor and Chicago. About 60% of Port of Montreal container traffic moves inland by rail, mostly to and from markets in Ontario and the U.S. Midwest - a corridor hampered by a bottleneck at the Detroit River, the world's busiest commercial border crossing. A century-old rail tunnel between Detroit and Windsor handles more than 400,000 rail cars each year. The Port of Montreal is doubling container-handling capacity by 2020. The current tunnel can't handle 9' 6" double-stacked container rail cars or Auto-Max vehicle carriers, the most efficient rail shipping modes.

The Continental Rail Gateway (CRG), formed in June 2010, unites Canadian Pacific the Windsor Port Authority and the Borealis Infrastructure investment firm in a replacement rail tunnel venture. The public-private partnership owns the existing tunnel and rail corridor. Project funding calls for $200 million from the partners and $200 million from government sources in each country.

Members of the U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure convened in New York City on Friday for a hearing about the importance of the Northeast Corridor. The hearing took place in the Farley Post Office, home of the future Moynihan Station. Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA), chair of the Railroads Subcommittee, wielded the gavel while Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA), chair of the full committee, participated along with Ranking Member Corrine Brown (D-FL) and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY). The witnesses included the President and CEO of Amtrak, Joe Boardman; Commissioner of New York State Department of Transportation, Joan McDonald; President of Drexel University, John Fry; and President of Regional Plan Association (RPA) and Chair of the Northeast Alliance for Rail (NEAR), Bob Yaro.

The impetus for the hearing is that the current federal rail bill, PRIIA, expires this fall and Congress will begin negotiating the next bill this summer. The next federal rail bill will authorize a five to six years worth of appropriations for the Federal Railroad Administration and Amtrak, and hence capital improvements to the Northeast Corridor (NEC). The FRA's High-Speed & Intercity Passenger Rail Program is a potential source of future funding for NEC improvements. After Florida Governor Rick Scott rejected $2.4 billion in federal high-speed rail funds in 2011, nearly $1 billion was redirected to the Northeast. Amtrak's federal funding for capital improvements is also largely dedicated to the NEC, where nearly 40% of their capital budget is spent.

In his testimony before the Committee, Bob Yaro outlined the main components of an improvement program that can be authorized in the reauthorization of the rail bill. RPA calls this program, "NEC Now." The NEC Now proposal addresses the corridor's highest-priority infrastructure needs: to remove bottlenecks, increase capacity, improve reliability and reduce travel times along the entire corridor. It also proposes funding for the construction of an Acela Express train optimization program which, along with other NEC Now projects, would cut trip times between New York and Philadelphia to well under an hour.

Download RPA's NEC Now Legislative Proposal & Infrastructure Program.

Download Bob Yaro's testimony as prepared.


In the most recent edition of the San Francisco Urban Planning and Research Association's publication, The Urbanist, two articles strengthen the already solid case for high-speed rail in California. The articles were written initially for an America 2050 research seminar sponsored by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy and Regional Plan Association this spring. Not only can the state afford to fund the project, argues SPUR Regional Planning Director Egon Terplan in "Getting High-Speed Rail On Track," but two of the state's most influential industries - the Hollywood media and entertainment industry and Silicon Valley technology sector - would be knit more tightly than ever before by a high-speed rail system that would realize "the economic potential of enhanced access and exchange across the state," a benefit discussed detailed in Executive Director Gabriel Metcalf's "Hollywood Vs. Silicon Valley."

Thumbnail image for cover_nelandscapes.jpgConservation needs to be approached at the regional level in order to ensure that wildlife habitat, water supplies and working farms and forests throughout the U.S. Northeast are protected for future generations, a new report by Regional Plan Association and America 2050 concludes.

The research examines how landscape conservation initiatives are working across the Northeast to protect vital natural and cultural resources. The report, "Landscapes: Improving Conservation Practice in the Northeast Megaregion," makes recommendations for improving conservation efforts that stretch across city and state boundaries, from addressing governance questions and ensuring adequate financial resources to creating tools for measuring the impact of these regional efforts.

Read the Release | Read the Report (Web) (Print) | Read the Project Summary

HSR-Charrette_invite-cover_small.pngA Business Breakfast Forum

The Hartford Club
46 Prospect Street,
Hartford, Connecticut
Friday, June 3, 2011
8:00 - 10:00 a.m.

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:

  • Bob Yaro, President, Regional Plan Association
  • Patricia Quinn, Northern New England Rail Authority (Downeaster Service, Portland, ME/Boston, MA)
  • Gene Skoropowski, HNTB (Capitol Corridor Service, Sacramento/San Jose, CA)
  • Matthew Nemerson, Connecticut Technology Council
  • Rob Little, Chief Investment Officer, Finance, Cornerstone Real Estate Advisers

There is no charge for attendance but registration is required at: http://bit.ly/knowledgecorridor.

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.

water map 1 water map 2 water map 3

Even in the damp northeastern United States, water is a precious resource. Whether it's to protect human health, sustain wildlife populations, or to support recreational opportunities, more than two thirds of the initiatives in an inventory of landscape conservation initiatives have protecting water resources as a priority.

To help understand how landscape initiatives are addressing water issues in the 13 state Northeast Megaregion, Regional Plan Association and America 2050 have compiled federal, state, and private information about water quality for inclusion in our Northeast Landscape Initiatives Atlas.

habitat map 1habitat map 2habitat map 3

Nature does not respect political boundaries, which is why landscape initiatives working across jurisdictions have been successful at conserving critical habitat. Landscape conservation initiatives protect the health of ecosystems by ensuring that core habitat needs are met, by providing corridors for movement and migration, and by helping to coordinate management. State wildlife action plans and other federal and state policies have stressed the need for landscape-scale planning to implement their recommendations. Pennsylvania's Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy underscores the importance of forest landscapes for critical habitats:

Where large areas of contiguous, high-quality forest habitat remain, forest-dependent species may reproduce at high rates, creating a large population surplus on a yearly basis. On the other hand, forest species occupying highly fragmented forests, especially those in an agricultural or developed landscape, may have lower reproductive rates as a result of the effects of predators and nest parasites. Area-sensitive species may not occupy these patches at all (12-25).

To help understand how landscape initiatives are addressing habitat priorities in the 13 state Northeast megaregion, Regional Plan Association and America 2050 have compiled federal, state, and private information about habitat priorities for inclusion in our Northeast Landscape Initiatives Atlas