Last month the nation learned that 31 states will receive one-time high-speed rail stimulus grants totaling $8 billion.
But what happens next?
The last time our country sought to achieve a national infrastructure vision was in the 1950s. Roadways between cities at the time were haphazard and largely mud or gravel. President Dwight D. Eisenhower had seen the future in the German autobahn and set out to construct a national network of limited-access highways connecting major American cities. It took over three decades of sustained investment to complete that vision. The result was "the greatest public works project in history," according to the Federal Highway Administration.
Constructing high-speed rail will take no less of a commitment.
In a new report released today, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group is calling for another great public works project - one that will connect, by high-speed bullet trains, all of America's major cities which are between 100 to 500 miles from each other.
A high-speed rail network that competes with intercity commuter air travel would have huge benefits for our economic, energy, and environmental problems. It will create up to 1.6 million construction jobs, provide thousands with jobs related to the new lines, cut our energy consumption, improve travel and assist in the resurgence of American manufacturing. Replacing short-haul airplane flights will also free up precious air space at our crowded airports, and let airlines concentrate on the cross-country trips where they make sense.
The first step in building the network is to set a national goal with an ambitious time frame, just like we did for the Interstate Highway System or getting to the moon. We can link all our major cities by 2050, if we set our minds to it.
Ten other principles should guide state, national and local leaders as they roll up their sleeves to get the job done:
We know that Americans will increasingly use high-speed rail to commute between cities, if it exists. But we won't get there if Congress treats these stimulus grants as the final destination rather than the first leg of the journey.
We can't let that happen. We need a new, great public works project that is in the public interest. We need to make sure high-speed rail is not left at the station.
Follow Phineas Baxandall on Twitter: www.twitter.com/uspirg