[IMAGE]obama-rail-town-hall-meeting-full.jpg[/IMAGE]President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden were in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday to announce that the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) is awarding $8 billion to states across the country to develop America's first nationwide program of high-speed intercity passenger rail service.
Funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), these dollars represent an historic investment in the country's transportation infrastructure, which will help create jobs and transform travel in America. The announcement is one of a number of job initiatives the President will lay out in the coming weeks that follow up on the continued commitment to job creation he discussed in last night's State of the Union Address. A full list of the awards can be viewed here.
"Through the Recovery Act, we are making the largest investment in infrastructure since the Interstate Highway System was created, putting Americans to work rebuilding our roads, bridges, and waterways for the future," said President Obama. "That investment is how we can break ground across the country, putting people to work building high-speed rail lines, because there's no reason why Europe or China should have the fastest trains when we can build them right here in America."
Thursday's awards will serve as a down-payment on developing or laying the groundwork for 13 new, large-scale high-speed rail corridors across the country. The major corridors are part of a total of 31 states receiving investments, including smaller projects and planning work that will help lay the groundwork for future high-speed intercity rail service.
The grants are not only expected to have an up-front job and economic impact, but help spur economic growth in communities across the country, provide faster and more energy-efficient means of travel, and establish a new industry in the U.S. that provides stable, well-paid jobs.
This historic $8 billion investment is expected to create or save tens of thousands of jobs over time in areas like track-laying, manufacturing, planning and engineering, and rail maintenance and operations. More than 30 rail manufacturers, both domestic and foreign, have agreed to establish or expand their base of operations in the U.S. if they are hired to build America's next generation high-speed rail lines — a commitment the Administration secured to help ensure new jobs are created here at home.
The majority of the dollars announced today will go toward developing new, large-scale high-speed rail programs. This includes projects in Florida, which is receiving up to $1.25 billion to develop a new high-speed rail corridor between Tampa and Orlando with trains running up to 168 miles per hour, and in California, which is receiving up to $2.25 billion for its planned project to connect Los Angeles to San Francisco and points in between with trains running up to 220 miles per hour.
In April 2009, the Administration released a long-term plan for high speed rail in America. In addition to the $8 billion awarded today, the plan also included $1 billion a year for five years in the federal budget as a down payment to jump-start the program. Applicants submitted over $55 billion in project proposals for the initial $8 billion in funds awarded today.
Obama Administration officials are traveling across the country this week to announce funding for the high-speed rail projects and discuss how this investment will create local jobs and rebuild the economy.
Although a few, such as U.S. Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla), criticized some of the projects receiving awards as not being true high-speed rail projects, many throughout the industry who have fought for high-speed funding are excited about Thursday's announcement, including Rick Harnish, executive director, Midwest High Speed Rail Association, and American Public Transportation Association President William Millar.
"I am especially pleased that President Obama recognizes that investment in transportation infrastructure is one of the key ways that Americans can get back to work," said Millar. "Our nation has a backlog of transportation projects that need to be addressed, and passing a jobs bill to employ Americans in infrastructure rebuilding is a solid policy. In regard to public transportation investment, research shows that for every $1 billion invested in public transportation capital and operations, 36,000 jobs are supported and created."