Interstate High Speed Rail Funding
American Highway and Airport infrastructure yielded productivity gains to form the world’s best 20th century Transportation Infrastructure. Since 1974 however, America’s underinvestment in High Speed Rail, Regional Rail, and Rapid Transit failed to prepare for the 21st century. Today, we need more political leaders to defy opponents that never want sustainable Green Transportation to succeed. — Thomas Dorsey, Soul Of America
The World Bank ranks America’s Infrastructure a lousy 13th. American leaders must accelerate Transportation Infrastructure investment now to capture the benefits described in Part 2 and mitigate the punishment described in Part 3 and Part 4 of this series.
Fixing Intercity Passenger Rail, Rapid Transit and Electric Energy infrastructure are our biggest challenges. On the chart below, Yonah Freemark of the Urban Institute illustrates the failing trend line of Federal Railroad investment since 1977.
If Yonah Freemark’s chart went back to 1964 it would illustrate that, excluding 1980-81 and 2009-10, America has underinvested in Intercity Passenger Rail, not to mention Rapid Transit and Electric Energy underinvestment.
Let’s give our political leaders a pass for underinvestment during the Vietnam War (1964-74). That said, the 1973 Oil Embargo should have motivated them to ramp up Intercity Passenger Rail, Rapid Transit and Electric Energy infrastructure investment in 1974. Instead, Democrats and Republicans squandered one opportunuty after another.
Political Courage to Rescue Transportation Infrastructure
In 2020, American voters finally pressured enough political leaders to fix our sorry state of Transportation and Electric Energy infrastrucure compared to other advanced nations. For that reason Joe Biden introduced these Presidential Campaign proposals:
$135 billion Highways
$ 85 billion Rapid Transit, Bus & Ferry Modernization
$ 80 billion Intercity Passenger & Freight Rail
$ 25 billion Aviation
$100 billion Electric Energy
Progessive members in the House of Repsentatives proposed $205 billion/5 years for High Speed Rail. But many political factors led to difficult Senate Democrat and Republican negotiations that produced only $1.2 trillion/5 year Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) signed by President Biden in November 2021.
Highways and Aviation will get enough Infrastructure funding over 5 years to be real difference-makers. Not so for other infrastructure:
$110 billion Highways
$ 8 billion EV Charging Stations
$ 66 billion Intercity Passenger & Freight Rail
$ 39 billion Rapid Transit, Bus & Ferry Modernization
$ 25 billion Aviation
$ 73 billion Electric Energy
In March 2022, Biden submitted his FY2023 USDOT budget proposal to Congress that would add $4.7 billion to Intercity Passenger Rail projects. If a Congressional majority agrees and continues that annual amount for 5 years, Intercity Passenger & Freight Rail would receive $90 billion/5 years of federal investment.
Freight rail companies invest $25 billion/year on 140,000 miles of infrastructure & equipment. They would also contribute about $15 Billion/5 years on 21,000 miles shared with Amtrak. Federal and Freight Rail funds could total $105 billion/5 years.
One thing is certain. The Northeast Corridor will get $30 billion/5 years in federal railroad grants. Though California’s federal railroad grant amount is currently undefined, its large state contribution and Ready-to-Build projects have it well-positioned to get about $20 Billion/5 years. That would leave $55 Billion/5 years from federal & freight rail funds.
Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, North Carolina and Virginia already support 110 mph Amtrak Regional Rail projects. To attract $12-15 billion from the $55 billion remainder, they would likely contribute $8-10 billion/5 years.
The $40-43 billion remainder would leave a “Crabs in a Barrel” situation for 34 other states that have yet to show similar commitment. Their Amtrak Regional projects will be limited to 80-90 mph projects with few daily roundtrips. Amtrak Regional ridership will not boost much in those 34 other states.
Rapid Transit projects face a Crabs in Barrel situation too. Ready-to-Build projects in NYC, Los Angeles, San Francisco Bay Area, Chicago, Atlanta, Boston and Seattle with large local & state contributions easily justify over half the $39 billion allocated for Rapid Transit, Bus & Ferry Modernization.
More Intercity Passenger Rail Funding Needed
We know where to invest more HSR funds. If you’ve read Part 6 of this series, then you understand which 160-220 mph HSR and 110 mph Regional Rail projects should be prioritized over the next 6 years. For purposes of investment and coordination, consider Northern California, Southern California & Las Vegas as one mega-region on the America 2050 Mega-Regions Map.
Congress and President Biden should add $40 billion/5 years for Intercity Passenger Rail above Biden’s FY2023 USDOT Budget Proposal to build HSR in more mega-regions. Boosting BIL and USDOT budget funds for Intercity Passenger & Freight Rail to $130 billion/5 years is large enough to attract $60 billion/5 years from states, freight rail, and Transportation-Oriented Development (TOD) companies.
$190 billion/5 years is large enough to execute Interstate HSR & Regional Rail Phase 1 projects list on Part 6. High Speed Rail is “Apex Infrastructure” that makes other Ground and Air Transportation infrastructures more efficient. Therefore, I’d like to see $145 billion go to HSR projects Under Construction, Ready-to-Build, and Near-Ready-to-Build. That amount will also reduce project inflation costs by opening routes sooner.
We have plenty of proof that retail and hotel TOD is highly attracted to HSR stations. That will help pay for station upgrades.
Focus Funding Remainder on Regional Rail, Not Long-Distance Rail
Prior to 2022, only one Amtrak Regional route received enough federal funding for 110 mph upgrade and 16 daily roundtrips. All Amtrak Regional Rail routes need 110 mph upgrades to average 72-75 mph with 18-20 daily roundtrips, plus easy transfers to/from HSR and Rapid Transit.
Based on similar 2021 projects in the Northeast and California, 110 mph Amtrak Regional Rail upgrades average $3 billion per 100 miles. With a $190 billion/5 years funding pot, 11 of 25 Amtrak Regional routes can be subsumed in the HSR projects named in Part 6. The remaining $45 billion/5 years can upgrade 1500 miles in 14 Amtrak Regional routes to 110 mph Regional Rail status.
Florida also has a privately-owned Regional Rail-HSR route operating at 80-125 mph in 2022. Privately-owned Las Vegas-Southern California HSR project is Ready-to-Build. Another privately-owned Dallas-Houston project is Near-Ready-to-Build.
If we connect many 110 mph Regional Rail routes and good Rapid Transit networks to a growing Interstate HSR System, I’m optimistic that America’s annual train ridership would pass 125 million in 7 mega-regions by 2029.
Intercity Passenger Rail Can Blossom Again
With more public and private HSR & Regional Rail Phase 1 projects open and under construction by November 2028, voters will demand larger investment in Ready-to-Build and Near-Ready-to-Build projects in Phase 2. Under those conditions, $250 billion/8 years in federal funding is possible and 35-40% more funding should come from the state and private sources. That will be enough for HSR and Regional Rail to operate or enter construction in all mega-regions by 2035.
The USDOT should target Interstate HSR System build-out by 2045, but anticipate another recession, pandemic, war, and natural disaster stretching it to 2050.
A Google search for “U.S. High Speed Rail Maps” produces no shortage of visionary 2050 Interstate HSR Maps. Based on my HSR training at Mineta Transportation Institute and much of what I learned from TheTransportPolitic, PedestrianObservations, and America 2050 Research Framework, the U.S. High Speed Rail Association conferences and High Speed Rail Alliance website and videoconferences have the most credible vision.
Most of their route alignments are grounded in sound principles to achieve high Benefits over Costs. I favor the bold and inspring 2050 U.S. High Speed Rail Association Map that connects so many 220 mph routes.
There’s one catch. 200-220 mph routes need very high ridership potential to justify very high costs for more property acquisition, longer tunnels, longer viaducts, and significantly more earthmoving. Even by 2050, a number of USHSRA’s proposed 220 mph corridors will not have enough population density or regional air travel poach in order to justify their costs beyond 160 and 180 mph designs.
Consequently, I’d like the USHSRA map to reflect 160-180-200-220 mph HSR routes plus only grey-colored 110 mph Regional Rail routes. With that modification, USHSRA can form the definitive “2050 Interstate HSR System Map.”
America Can Afford Higher Infrastructure Funding
China invests 5.6%, while South Korea, Japan, UK, France, and Germany invest 0.7% to 1.3% of GDP on Infrastructure. South Korea, UK, France, China, Germany and Japan invest only 2.8% to 1% of GDP on Military Spending.
In contrast, America invests 3.7% of GDP on Military Spending and 0.5% of GDP on infrastructure. The world’s largest economy can afford higher Infrastructure funding, particularly for Transportation and Electric Energy.
Politifact says that America spent over $6 trillion on two Middle East wars from 2001-21. If America can afford $6 trillion/20 years on two Middle East Wars that stabilized nothing, our now $20 trillion/year GDP economy can certainly afford $5 trillion over 25 years to modernize Transportation and Electric Energy infrastructure.
We don’t have to shake down couches to pinpoint funding sources.
As Scientific American explained in 2020, “The Pentagon has a track record of profligate spending. If it were a private corporation, gross mismanagement would have forced it into bankruptcy years ago. Dysfunctional internal controls, abetted by years of lax congressional and administration oversight have enabled it to waste tens of billions of dollars annually on a parade of overpriced, botched, and bungled projects.”
With better fiscal oversight, America’s political leaders can invest 1% of GDP on Infrastructure and only 3% of GDP on Military Spending. America would still have a distinct Military Strength advantage over China and Russia combined.
And if you naively believe the Military recently reformed its profligate spending, the next funding source is Billionaire-Millionaires who don’t pay their fair share of taxes.
By building a world-class Interstate HSR System, comprehensive Regional Rail & Rapid Transit networks, plus modernized Highways, Aviation & Freight Rail, America’s Transportation Infrastructure can embrace the 21st century, rather than be punished by it. We only need more courageous politicians to defy fossil fuel opponents.
USDOT High Speed Rail Program
U.S. High Speed Rail Association
High Speed Rail Alliance
Brookings Institution: Vision for High Speed Rail in America
California High Speed Rail Authority
Southeast High Speed Rail
Texas High Speed Rail
U.S. Conference of Mayors – High Speed Rail
PedestrianObservations HSR Map