$53 Billion - Too Much or Not Enough? The Debate over High Speed Rail
Reuters reports that on Tuesday, Vice President Biden announced an “ambitious” $53 billion dollar federal program to build and improve high speed rail (HSR) corridors throughout the country. The plan, announced at Philadelphia’s 30th street station, drew criticism from Republican members of the House who feel that any investment in high speed rail should be financed by the private sector.Transit advocates, on the other hand, are making the point that it’s too little. The plan would include $8 Billion in the FY2012 budget that the President will release next week, with the rest to follow over the next six years.
The 2009 Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) actual budget totaled nearly $58 Billion. That’s $58 billion, in one year alone – to maintain the nation’s highways. Additional funding comes from the state and local level, without barely a peep from taxpayers, or a significant contribution from the private sector, which benefits immensely from this government investment. So why are house members up in arms about HSR?
A chart by The Transportation Politic reveals why the idea of transit is so likely to be split along party lines and give rise to cries of “wasteful spending!” from mostly Republican lawmakers in Washington – most districts represented by Republicans are in less dense, suburban, exurban, and rural districts. The cities that HSR would serve lean heavily Democratic. And so, the fate of HSR is tied to a political and ideological battle.
Why do some feel we should move past this partisan divide and invest as much as needed in HSR? According to Reuters, “advocates say U.S. investment in high-speed rail lags many other countries and point to China, which plans to invest $451 billion to $602 billion in its high-speed rail network between 2011 and 2015, according to the China Securities Journal.”
Is this a case of “keeping up with the Jones’?” Would the private sector step up to finance the cost of HSR? Is HSR necessary to maintain our economic competitiveness?