The world has changed. Just a few years ago, many people thought that high-speed rail development here was just a dream. Now, it's moving to reality. President Obama has made high-speed rail development his #1 national transportation priority fifty years after President Eisenhower advanced the build-out of the nation's interstate highway system.
On July 27th, eight Midwest Governors led by Governor Quinn, and Chicago Mayor Daley, joined together in signing a Memorandum of Understanding, committing to combine regional and state planning and development work, prioritize corridor buildouts, and coordinate applications for federal funding. Senators Durbin (D-IL) and Lugar (R-IN) and Congressmen Oberstar (D-MN) and Petri (R-WI) have formed a new bipartisan Midwest Congressional High-Speed Rail Caucus.
This structural transformation of our transportation system will improve mobility with a new modern, fast, comfortable and convenient transportation option for everyone. It will create jobs and spur economic growth by pulling together the regional economy. It will protect our environment through less pollution, reducing congestion, and counteracting sprawl by pulling jobs, people and businesses into downtown areas.
There is broad national support for high-speed rail development. Forty states have proposed 278 projects seeking more than $100 billion in federal funding. In addition to the $8 billion in federal economic stimulus funding approved earlier this year, the House has appropriated $4 billion more for FY 2010 and has proposed $50 billion in the federal transportation reauthorization legislation.
Good passenger rail service has been the weakest link in our intercity transportation system for too long. Not surprisingly, service improvements have resulted in more ridership. When Illinois invested state funds to increase the frequency of Amtrak service in the Chicago-St. Louis corridor a few years ago, ridership then almost doubled. "If you build it (well), people will come."
For many years, federal and state taxpayers have provided trillions of dollars of support for highways, airports and air service. It's now time for public investment in high-speed rail service to provide a third intercity transportation option that works better. According to an economic study conducted for the Midwest state Departments of Transportation, the new Midwest high-speed rail network can create 57,000 permanent new jobs across the region, produce more than a billion dollars in additional household income, and spur almost $5 billion in private new development near Midwest rail stations. Let's seize the opportunity to capture these benefits. This is a winner.
Let's be clear, though: what happens in Illinois and the Midwest is key to the nation's rail future. All eyes will be on the home region of President Obama, Chief of Staff Emanuel, Secretary of Transportation LaHood, Federal Railroad Administrator Szabo and Amtrak Chair Carper. Critics will look for proof that this is just hometown pork. They will search for railroad bridges to nowhere. And if they find much, the strong support could evaporate.
That's why what's good for the Midwest is good for securing our nation's high-speed rail investment for the future. Here's how we can make Midwest high-speed rail development work well:
First, as FRA Administrator Szabo urges, we need "one region - one voice." We should support a regional vision of a vibrant Midwest tied together by high-speed rail connections. The Midwest Governors are working together to coordinate their states' plans and federal funding bids. The rest of us should support this vision and this cooperation.
Second, let's not let perfection stand in the way of progress. The Midwest Regional Rail Initiative's ultimate vision includes 3,000 miles of passenger rail serving 65 million people in nine Midwest states. With a vision this ambitious and complex, there are sure to be details that are less than perfect. Let's not permit controversies over particular stations, routes or speeds stand in the way of a united front and overall progress.
Third, the Federal Railroad Administration's rules for the federal economic stimulus funding competitive bids make clear that this isn't only about trains. This is about mobility. This is about job creation. This is about economic development, growth and revitalization. This is about livable communities and less pollution and a better environment.
So, as we move closer to realizing the big vision, let's also focus on synergies to make these rail investments really succeed. Let's invest in train stations, as Milwaukee, St. Louis, St. Paul and others are doing. Let's bolster transit, bus, taxi and airline connections so that rail stations can serve as truly intermodal hubs of economic activity. Let's creatively build up vibrant communities around train stations, as Normal, Illinois is doing. Let's work to rebuild the rail manufacturing industry, and let's expand the market for using cleaner biofuels as Governors Quinn and Culver are discussing.
Working together, we can create a win-win-win for our region: good for jobs and our economy, good for the environment, and good for people and our communities. Let's get on board together and advance the smart Midwest high-speed rail development on a fast track.