“We don’t need a high-speed train.” This all-too-common sentiment is short-sighted.
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s allocation of hundreds of millions of dollars is the latest major headway Florida has made on the high-speed rail front. However, individuals continually attempt to politicize new transit projects without understanding the full benefits.
First, transit creates jobs — thousands of them — and not only just short-term jobs from construction. The Surface Transportation Policy Partnership estimated that transit creates 19 percent more jobs than building roads because transit additionally creates sustained, long-term jobs from train maintenance, operation and dispatch. The construction job market has one of the highest unemployment rates, and for us to move beyond the recession we need to jump-start the economy. Transit can do this better than roadways.
Second, America has an addiction to foreign oil that is a major threat to our national security. With so much of our nation’s energy needs met by petroleum, Florida’s and America’s energy economy is dangerously at the mercy of other international oil producers like Venezuela, Libya and Iran. Not only does public transit use less fuel per person (taking pressure off demand), but it has the capacity of being fully electric. We need a transportation infrastructure that is dependent on nothing but the work of Americans.
Further, high-speed rail has a market of riders. There is a travel range where it is uncomfortable to drive but just not worth the hassle to fly. For distances of 100 to 500 miles it is ideal to take a train. A recent study for the American Public Transit Association (APTA) found that 62 percent of Americans definitely, or probably, would use rail, compared to 11 percent who probably or definitely would not, and 27 percent were not sure.
High-speed rail will not drive Central Florida bankrupt, especially since Central Florida is not paying most of the bill. The vast majority of high-speed rail lines run at surplus profits. So much so, that in other countries profits often help subsidize local light-rail lines. As far as investments go, this train is pretty secure.
Study after study and example after example have shown high-speed rail to be a worthwhile investment. The London School of Economics and Political Science demonstrated that towns connected by rail saw a 2.7 percent increase in growth compared to neighboring, unconnected towns.
In addition to creating jobs, rail provides increased mobility and, thus, better access to jobs, goods, services and other markets. Just like the national highway project after the Great Depression, Florida and our nation need to make investments that will encourage new growth.
The new 2060 Florida Transportation Plan estimates a 70 percent population increase in the state over the next 50 years. Viably, we cannot continue an infinite road expansion. Our current pace of road construction is outpacing our ability to maintain the current network.
Our highways cannot sustain 70 percent more people who drive more and longer distances. A single railway, however, can support the traffic of a six-lane highway. Highways may be adequate now, but we cannot give in to naivety. We must keep the future in mind.
Patrick Gittard is a transit issue associate for the Florida Public Interest Research Group, based in Tallahassee.
Post Link: http://www2.tbo.com/content/2010/nov/10/PMEOPINO1-a-fast-way-to-jump-start-economy/