High-Speed Rail Infrastructure

Fast Forward

Comparing the TGV to United States Rail Corridors

The development of high speed rail, beginning in the 1950s and 60s in Japan and France, radically altered the way developed countries could plot out their transportation futures. Already developing their nuclear power plants, and neither with any native oil resources, each country saw the advantages of electricity-based transportation. As a result, neither automobiles nor airplanes, both oil-based, would work. So both embarked upon the world-changing quest that has been made manifest in the success of the Train à Grande Vitesse (TGV) (beginning in 1981) and Shinkansen (beginning in 1964). In both Japan and France, the equation for traveling distances less than 500 miles was suddenly altered as it became quicker, more economical, and more convenient to travel by train than by any other mode.

Little by little, countries all over the world followed suit, building high speed rail lines fit for trains moving at speeds more than 150 miles per hour. – Germany, Belguim, Spain, Italy, South Korea, China, England, Taiwan. Today, there are high speed rail lines under construction or soon to be built in Argentina, Russia, Austria, South Africa, Turkey, Israel, Portugal, and Morocco. The implication is obvious: with the exception of the United States, all wealthy, developed countries have come to recognize the value and benefits of high speed rail.

The U.S. has not always been behind on the development of faster railways. Back in 1969, Penn Central introduced the Metroliner, which sped from New York to Washington in three hours, quite fast for the time. But the bankrupcy of Penn Central, which was in itself a last minute merger between the Pennsylvania Railroad and New York Central attempting stave off their own financial problems, meant that high-speed rail development in America had little support. Simply enough, the government’s decision to step in with the creation of Amtrak solved one problem: the railways would remain open, albeit with limited service. Compare the services provided around the U.S. with those offered in France in the image above (click on image to expand, PDF here). The difference is remarkable, especially when considering how much shorter travel times would be in the U.S. were trains to move at TGV speeds (a chart detailing the differences is below). But in the intervening years, though Congress has provided enough funds for daily operation, subsidizing the entity on the order of $1 billion a year, but it never stepped in to consider radical enhancements to Amtrak’s funding. In fact, service around the nation remains remarkably slow.

That is, with the exception of the Acela Express. In 1976, just after the 1971 creation of Amtrak, the federal government took control of the Northeast Corridor (the tracks running from Washington to Boston), and commenced the Northeast Corridor Improvement Project. This project lasted until 1998 and cost $4 billion dollars; it resulted in the upgrading of significant number of stations as well as improvements on the tracks themselves, with the goal of speeding up service. It also, importantly, electrified the tracks between New Haven and Boston, which had until then required diesel locomotives. This in itself was a significant improvement for New York-Boston service because until 1998, electric trains from New York had to change to diesel locomotives in Connecticut – a time-consuming operation – the opposite was true going the other way.

Amtrak’s goal was to take advantage of the improvements along the line to introduce its own high-speed train that would finally provide the United States with a TGV-like service. Between 1994 and 2000, Amtrak worked with Bombardier to develop a TGV-like trainset that would be able to tilt (like the Italian Pendolino) in order to operate smoothly on the old, curvy tracks of the Northeast Corridor. And indeed, when the Acela Express began service, it did, in fact, provide high levels of interior comfort and lounges at stations for first class customers. The problem was that it wasn’t any faster than the Metroliner it replaced. Embarassingly, Bombardier built the trains 4 inches too wide. This tiny error – which has yet to be corrected – makes it impossible for the Acela to tilt on the vast majority of its journey, making the design of the train basically worthless.

Also, high-speed trains necessitate weighted catenaries to handle the immense amount of power being pressed against them as trains speed below, and only the new section east of New Haven has these. In order to achieve high speed throughout the corridor, the catenaries above tracks from Washington to New Haven would have to be upgraded, an expensive operation. The train does travel at its 150-mph top speed (nothing compared to 220-mph service now offered in Spain and China), but only for 18 miles in Rhode Island and Massachusettes, as widely noted. In much of Connecticut west of New Haven, it travels at a miserable 60-mph or less. But with new, slightly skinnier trainsets and upgraded catenaries, Amtrak could reduce travel time significantly – this is a must for future service in the Northeast.

So the federal intervention on behalf of the national railroad was a failed one. But all is not lost on high speed. As has already been pointed out, Amtrak doesn’t have to do that much to upgrade the Northeast Corridor to higher speeds. And the service is already popular: it accounted for 50% of travel (air and rail) between Boston and New York at the end of 2007, and much more between Washington and New York. This market share would increase even with incremental decreases in travel time. But Amtrak CEO Alex Kummant has argued that 200-mph service on the Northeast Corridor is simply unlikely because no one is willing to provide the billions of dollars required to build new tracks and a new right-of-way that would be required to envision speeds that high. That may be true. But Florida Representative John Mica, who sees Amtrak as “Soviet-style” rail transport because it is a “government monopoly,” has introduced a solution: a declaration of willingness to accept private bids for new service between Washington and New York in less than two hours. Considering that every other high speed rail system in the world has been initiated through government investment, such private bids seem unlikely.

Another bill seems more likely to produce real results: Massachusettes’ John Kerry and Georgia’s Johnny Isakson’s high speed rail bill, which has not yet been introduced, but which is likely to pass under the probable Democratic government next year. This bill would give billions of dollars in bonds to improvements to the intercity rail system, and there’s one project likely to get the bulk of funds starting next year, California’s High Speed Rail Project. We won’t get into the depths of this project now, but suffice it to say that it’s a $40 billion affair that proposes to move trains between San Francisco and Los Angeles in 2h20. Its fate depends on a favorable vote from voters this fall.

There are other major projects we’ll talk about soon as well, including Midwest High Speed Rail (pushing out from Chicago), Florida High Speed Rail, the Texas T-Bone Corridor, Southeast High Speed Rail, a connection between New York and Montreal, and the maglev projects proposed between Baltimore and Washington, in Pittsburgh, between Chattanooga and Atlanta, and between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. All of these projects have at least some value, and in the Obama Administration, we’ll be talking a lot about them. Quite an exciting a future we have for high speed rail in the United States! And what a lot of catching up we have to do!

The table below demonstrates how much travel time would be saved if select Amtrak routes were converted to HSR technology (this table corresponds to the image above).

Potential travel time
Corridor Existing travel time Based on TGV Current proposals
Los Angeles-Sacramento 13h45 3h10* 2h20 (C)
Los Angeles-San Francisco 11h15 3h10* 2h40 (C)
Charlotte-Atlanta 5h30 2h20+
Chicago-Detroit 5h30 2h20+
Chicago-St. Louis 5h20 2h20+
Washington-Raleigh 5h50 2h^ 4h (S)
Kansas City-St. Louis 5h30 2h^
New York-Boston 3h40 2h^
New York-Washington 2h45 2h^ 2h (X)
Chicago-Indianapolis 5h 1h30~
Atlanta-Birmingham 4h 1h”
Raleigh-Charlotte 3h15 1h” 2h50 (S)
New York-Albany 3h 1h” 2h (N)
Cleveland-Pittsburgh 2h45 1h”
Los Angeles-San Diego 2h45 1h” 1h20 (C)
Philadelphia-Harrisburg 1h45 45m`
Chicago-Milwaukee 1h30 45m`

* – As exemplified by the Paris-Marseille corridor, which is of similar length
+ – Paris-Strasbourg corridor
^ – Paris-Lyon corridor
~ – Lyon-Marseille corridor
” – Paris-Tours corridor
` – Paris-Reims corridor

(C) – From California High Speed Rail
(S) – From Southeast High Speed Rail
(X) – From Congressman John Mica’s Plan for the New York-Washington Corridor
(N) – From New York High Speed Rail Task Force

Commuter Rail Infrastructure Light Rail Metro Rail

Priority Number 1

As of this year, there are ten cities that provide more than 100,000 rides a day on their rapid transit, light rail, and commuter rail lines. The renewal and strengthening of these lines, which represent the backbone of America’s transit infrastructure, must be the first transportation priority of the next Presidential Administration. Here is the simple rationale: these systems have been chronically underfunded and together represent the vast majority of the nation’s fixed-route transit riders. About half of these systems are crumbling, having been built a century or more ago; the other half, built since the 1960s, need to be renewed and strengthened if they’re going to be able to last another century themselves.

These are the two groups of transit systems:

1. Systems built in the first decades of the 20th century:

  • New York’s MTA, PATH, and NJT (metro and CR) – 9.2 million weekday rides
  • Chicago’s L and Metra (metro and CR) – 1 million weekday rides
  • Boston’s MBTA (metro, LRT, and CR) – 900,000 weekday rides
  • Philadelphia’s SEPTA (metro, LRT, and CR) – 500,000 weekday rides
  • San Francisco’s Muni (LRT) – 150,000 weekday rides

2. Systems built starting during the Great Society:

  • Washington’s Metro (metro) – 1 million weekday rides
  • San Francisco’s BART (metro) – 400,000 weekday rides
  • Los Angeles’ Metro (metro and LRT) – 300,000 weekday rides
  • Atlanta’s MARTA (metro) – 300,000 weekday rides
  • Portland’s MAX (LRT) – 100,000 weekday rides
  • San Diego’s Trolley (LRT) – 100,000 weekday rides

All five systems in the first list have been provided billions of dollars in upgrades in the past few decades. Chicago’s L, which until last year lacked enough funding to provide even basic service, has been working feverishly to reduce its number of “slow zones,” which hamper train speeds. The federal government has provided enough money to make the goal achievable. Philadelphia is in the process of upgrading its Market Street Elevated. New York City invests more than $2 billion a year to spruce up its gigantic system of tunnels, elevateds, and commuter rails.

But these systems are hardly in states of good repair. Any visitor to subway stations in each of the five cities will see huge maintenance problems. In New York City, the program to renew the system that began in the mid-80s has a long way to go; Lee Sander, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s CEO, recently admitted that only about 100 of the city’s more than 400 stations are in acceptable condition. Earlier this year, a teenager in Brooklyn fell onto the tracks when the ancient wooden edge of the platform literally fell apart at his feet; these are not acceptable conditions. Because of new funding shortfalls, however, even New York’s slow transformation team will be significantly slowed in coming years. Both Chicago and Philadelphia’s metro systems are relatively lightly used compared to those cities’ overall populations and densities (both are larger than Washington, D.C. but achieve far lower ridership), arguably because the service they provide is of such poor quality. Chicago’s Bid for the 2016 Olympics will likely have trouble competing with other world cities because of the failures of the L.

Why has this happened? Why are early-20th century mass transit systems in the United States in so desperate need of repair? Because they simply have not been provided adequate funding to produce the massive transformation that is required for them to provide the quality of service and livability that we should expect of modern transportation systems.

These systems are old, of course, but their age does not have to doom them to permanent obsolescence. In fact, by looking abroad at what other old systems have done, we can learn a thing or two. Take Paris’ one-hundred-year-old Metro, for example. Beginning in 1999, the subway authority began a comprehensive remaking of the system, with the goal of renovating more than 200 stations; by 2002, one hundred stations were done. The work continues today, with stations being renovated on three-month timetables in which they’re taken out of service to complete the work quickly and effectively. Today, there are six stations closed and undergoing renovation. The results are spectacular: ancient stations look virtually brand new. Across the Channel in London (a 2.5 hour ride away on the HSR Eurostar), Transport for London is in the process of renovating all of its stations in a ten-year plan, a process that will also include significantly increasing capacity in heavily used stations. A look at London’s Transforming the Tube plan (pdf) is worthwhile.

So the age of our oldest and most-used systems is no excuse. We have the ability to reverse course and rebuild the stations and infrastructure of our subways, and the millions of riders in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, and San Francisco deserve higher levels of service. Productive and efficient cities demand good public transportation, and we would never accept the degrading and embarrassing conditions we see in these systems in our households – or even in our airports. We must develop a multi-billion-dollar funding plan for government investment that recognizes the value of these systems and acts quickly to ensure their continued usefulness. This should be the first transportation priority of the incoming President. If not, these networks will fall further into disrepair, reaching a point where descending into the subways means loosing all self-respect.

The second group of high-ridership transit networks has understandably far fewer problems than the first because of their relative youth – the first segment of San Francisco’s BART opened in 1972; Washington’s Metro began operation in 1976. But these systems, now more than thirty years old, are starting to show their age. As a 2005 Washington Post article pointed out, Metro has been attempting to upgrade its escalators, trains, and tracks for the 21st century (albeit with some mismanagement) as ridership climbs. As these train systems get older and more frequented, they will need significant upgrades. Those improvements should begin now to prevent the kind of systematic decline that has occurred along the lines of the first set of transit networks mentioned here.

Other cities – notably Miami, Baltimore, Denver, Dallas, and Salt Lake City – have made significant investments in their transit infrastructure in recent years. The federal government should continue to invest in the expansion of their networks, and the transport politic will invest plenty of time in the future discussing how that might be done. But their current demand is significantly lower than that of the nation’s largest transit systems: our primary focus must be improving the conditions in the nation’s largest and oldest train networks.

This initial push for increased infrastructure investment has been pushed by groups such as Transportation for America and Building America’s Future, both of which recognize the importance of upgrading our existing systems. In the context of the current economic recession, likely lower tax returns will result in a decrease in transit funding nationwide based on current spending priorities. Yet transit investment – a long-term, sustainable project – can provide a needed increase in jobs and would act as a Keynesian response to the financial crisis. We must put out a strong appeal for a massive investment in existing transit networks – that’s what we desperately need to push our cities and their transportation networks into the future.


High-Speed Rail Infrastructure President

The Promise of an Obama Presidency

It’s been repeated over and over: Barack Obama is willing and interested to consider investing more in alternative transportation, whereas John McCain seems completely obsessed and uninterested in discussing anything other than “drill, baby, drill,” that disgusting catchphrase screamed out by attendees at the Republican National Convention back in September. Though Senator McCain repeatedly spoke out against Bush’s anti-environmentalism in the beginning of the Republican’s Presidency, any sense that McCain would depart from the current GOP obsession with feeding cars as much gasoline as possible seems unlikely.

Obama’s time in the Senate wasn’t marked by much effort to sponsor increased federal outlays for transportation. In the Illinois State Senate, he pushed for better METRA (commuter rail) service for his Hyde Park neighborhood in Chicago’s South Side. In the Senate, he has voted predictably Democratic, meaning that he has voted in favor of transit funding, but never made a big show by sponsoring a major increasing in funding. And on the campaign trail, Senator Obama’s rhetoric has shifted back and forth between progressive visions of a transportation future and the typical road-hugging rhetoric: following the populist panic that erupted post-gas price increases, he endorsed the idea of increased offshore drilling. But Obama has also countered with other ideas, namely a focus on the potential power of high speed rail, local transit, and biking to reshape our commuting habits.

McCain’s obsession with the “unfairness” of federal earmarks (which his running mate took full advantage of) would bring great pain to transit agencies all over the country, whose budgets – like it or not – are often reliant on those Congressional subsidies. And Obama, correctly, does not envision getting rid of the earmark system. So while McCain missed a preliminary vote and then voted against the recent Washington, D.C. Metro bill that provides the agency with billions of dollars of necessary aid, Obama made a point to vote for the bill several times, even in the midst of the busy campaign season. We can expect an Obama presidency to encourage transit funding. While it is unlikely that major changes in financing the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) will come from the White House, if Democratic Congressional leaders get it together enough to see the massive need for infrastructure investment in transit, they should expect no veto from this President.

But Obama may in fact stand out on an issue McCain has spent years fighting against: funding intercity rail. In vote after vote, McCain has made it more than clear that he has no interest in subsidizing the Amtrak network, and has vowed in the past to make every effort to push the system out of the government’s books. Stubborn in his commitments, McCain seems to have learned nothing from the success of European and Asian governments in constructing and maintaining high quality rail systems.

Obama’s choice of Senator Joe Biden as candidate for Vice President seemed to indicate that rail would indeed be a priority for the next Democratic administration. Biden, as has been widely reported, commuted each day to the Senate from his home in Wilmington, Delaware on Amtrak. He has indicated his strong support for the agency and the services he provides, and perhaps then it is no surprise that the Vice President of Amtrak’s board is Biden’s son. Biden, then, will contribute to Obama’s liking for intercity rail and the team is likely to explicitly suggest more funding for this transportation resource.

Perhaps more than any other specific investment, Obama has pointed out the potention of high speed rail in his “native” Midwest, where he has envisioned a corridor of railways connecting Chicago with Indianapolis, St. Louis, Columbus, and other declining formerly industrial cities. This does not depart significantly from the vision put forth by the Midwest High Speed Rail Association. Obama understands the ability of high speed rail to connect and revitalizing urban cores and also its great advantages over both automobile and airplane travel for trips of less than 500 miles.

So the growing interest in high speed rail – in California, the Southeast, and the Midwest – will be stimulated by an Obama Administration. Senator John Kerry’s gigantic future high speed rail bill – which was leaked in September – will be introduced in next year’s session. An Obama White House is likely to use its new power to force votes and eventual passage of the bill. An increase in high speed rail, then, seems likely to be one of the first projects of the new administration.

If like every President, Obama is interested in developing a built legacy, a potential model might be President Eisenhower’s Interstate System, whose thousands of miles of roadways, built with mostly federal support, have come to define the American built environment. An Obama Interstate Rail System, for example, would do the same for the 21st century.

One final note: when in Portland, Obama spoke of the importance of alternative forms of transportation such as biking, which plays a major role in the commute patterns of Oregonians. An Obama Presidency will find federal funds for alternative commutes – and encourage people to get out of their cars.

Tomorrow: what the next Administration needs to do to radically change the American transportation scene.

High-Speed Rail Infrastructure President

Bush’s Transportation Legacy: Corporatism

George W. Bush’s time in office has been marked by repeated and often successful attempts to use the power of the presidency for the benefit of large corporations. In fact, the Bush administration’s policy making, in opposition to the Goldwater/Reagan “limited government” views it claims to uphold, has erred on the side of increasing the size of the federal operation – in order to pass the goodies resulting from two wars on to some of the nation’s most wealthy and powerful corporations. As documented in Naomi Klein’s masterful The Shock Doctrine (2007), this policy was most disastrously implemented in the pursuit of the war in Iraq, during which giant corporate friends like Bechtel and Halliburton received giant, multi-billion-dollar contracts to conduct the failed “rebuilding” of that country, rather than allowing the Corps of Engineers or qualified Iraqis to do the job. As a result, the U.S. government spent large amounts of tax revenues to directly subsidize the growth of giant corporations whose productive output amounted to a few malfunctioning schools, a poorly maintained Iraqi electricity grid, and Taco Bell-outfitted U.S. military bases.

Less documented have been the results of a similar effort to remove the government from involvement in the production of infrastructure in the United States. Systematically, the Bush administration has attempted to sell off roads, railways, and ports to private investors, and has encouraged local governments, often the owners of such public assets, to do the same. This effort was made most conspicious during the Dubai Ports World controversy, in which the U.S. government tried to sell a series of ports (some of them already private). The heated congressional interchange mostly revolved around the dangers of selling ports to a middle eastern corporation, and the implication of the exchange was clear: the Bush Administration was more interested in selling public property to a private corporation than thinking about national security.

Transportation Department (DOT) Secretary Mary Peters has spent much of her lifetime in in the transportation industry, working for the Arizona Department of Transportation in 1998 and becoming its director in 1998. Bush appointed her to the directorship of the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) in 2001, and she replaced Norman Mineta (a Democrat and Commerce Secretary during the Clinton Administration) at the helm of the DOT in 2006.

The focus of her efforts at FHA and then at the helm of the DOT were on roads. From the beginning, though, Peters disavowed the method that had been implemented at the beginning of the construction of the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System in the 1950s. Rather than allocating money directly to state DOTs, which would then implement the national highway network, Peters de-emphasized the construction of new roads and even limited spending on refurbishing existing highways. Rather, this secretary envisioned a different infrastructure-building process: one that focused on Public-Private Partnerships, or PPPs.

The Secretary took as example the Chicago Skyway, which was originally completed in 1958 and which connects Chicago to northern Indiana. In 1995, the city – starved for resources – began negotiating its lease, and the result was a $1.8 billion, 99-year lease on the road which privatized this public resource for the benefit of yet another foreign company. The city received a huge lump sum, but the lease certainly put into question whether the city was getting a good deal. If a company was willing to put up front almost $2 billion for a toll road, couldn’t the city have made more money if it had kept the roads in its own hands? And wouldn’t a steady supply of several million dollars a year be worth more than one giant transaction?

But Peters, instead of recognizing that Chicago’s decision to sell the road was in fact a desperate search for cash, saw the light in the deal. Repeating the time-worn conservative mantra, she insisted that private industry “knows” how to do things better than the government does. As a result, in 2008, she proposed a radical change in the manner highways in the U.S. are funded: instead of taking advantage of the readily-diminishing gas tax, she argued that people pay to use the roads they use. In some ways, her argument made sense: the gas tax could not continue to provide adequate revenues as electric and hydrogen-based cars replace gasoline ones, and a user fee makes sense. (And that’s ultimately what the gas tax is: theoretically, the more gas you use, the more miles you drive. This obviously punishes people who drive gas guzzlers and rewards people in more efficient cars, of course.)

But instead of pushing for public agencies, which continue to own and operate the vast majority of the nation’s roads, to work for this solution, she pointed to the Skyway again, and argued that private companies should be hired to build, operate, and profit from the nation’s roads, which would in her vision almost all become tolled. In some cases, the public should pay private industry to build the roads, and then allow those same companies to profit from the roads once they’re constructed. Using dubious evidence that “poor people don’t use toll roads,” Peters argued that any effort to provide an equitable solution – in which the impoverished living in transit-deficient areas might get a discount – was unnecessary. Her approach was to remove the roads from the public sphere and transfer their ownership, and profit-making mechanism, to private industry.

Peters’ anti-public philosophy has been demonstrated in full force in the transit sphere, an environment a highway woman is likely to feel uncomfortable in. Since she became full fledged DOT Secretary, Peters has been embroiled in the dispute over the construction of the Dulles Metrorail Extension of the Washington, D.C. subway to the suburban Virginian airport. After years of promises, Peters seemingly without justification, suddenly announced that the project would not meet federal standards, even though the year before, the project had been supported. Her evidence was that the now 40-years-old D.C. Metro was having increasing infrastructure problems; rather than providing a funding mechanism to solve the problem, however, she simply announced that Metro would not be able to handle the desperately sought and needed subway extension. After being pressured by some powerful Republican members of the Virginia Congressional delegation as well as the members of the Bechtel contracting team which had been hired to build the project, Peters suddenly reversed course, as if realizing that this public project would in fact provide some private benefits and was therefore acceptable. The D.C. Metro’s failings suddenly escaped her notice.

And in fact, the Bush Administration has done little to invest in the nation’s older transit systems, such as those in New York City, Chicago, and Philadelphia, which are grossly under-maintained mostly because they are provided far fewer resources per user than smaller systems as a result of the federal government’s spending formula, which prioritizes small and medium towns’ transit networks. The New Starts program, which was intended to provide grants for new “fixed guideway” projects all over the country, has not had its resources increased with the rest of the federal budget, and the result is increasing inability for cities to finance new transit programs. The Small Starts program, which was intended for the construction of streetcar and BRT projects, was never allocated much of anything at all. Seeing New York’s subway fall into increasing decline even as traffic on the streets continued to mount, Peters encouraged the creation of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Congestion Zone, which would have charged drivers to enter Manhattan below 72nd Street. Favoring the wealthy over the poor, however, the system would not have guaranteed revenues to the transit system nor would it have ensured a lower fee for lower-income business owners and artists, some of whom truly are dependent on vehicles even in Manhattan. The inequitable program was defeated in the back rooms of the New York State Assembly, but the conservative mantra – the rich above the poor, the corporation above the people – stayed alive.

Nowhere more evident has this been true, in fact, than in the Bush Administration’s approach to intercity rail policy. The President, beginning early in his term, decreased his proposed allocations to Amtrak to nil. He claimed that the national railways should be self-sustaining, even though highways and airports are paid for by the public. Never mentioning that Japanese and French rail systems only became profitable once they had invested tens of billions of dollars in high-speed rail infrastructure, the President simply assumed that he could pass off Amtrak to private industry, and find a way for the business people to make money off of it. And in fact, one of the President’s only solutions to the problem was considering auctioning off the railroad’s Northeast Corridor, perhaps the nation’s most valuable single infrastructure asset, to the highest bidder. Let business take care of it – why should government invest in the public’s right-of-way?

Peters has reciprocated, doing virtually nothing in her post to push for intercity rail. This year, she proposed $30 million to new intercity rail projects nationwide, but the sum is so minimal it would only pay for about five miles of high speed rail track. It’s quite clear that the Bush Administration will do all it can to push transportation off of the docket of the public, and into the hands of someone else.

But the problem of this lack of investment is quite clear, as evidenced in 2007’s infamous Minneapolis bridge incident. We need a strong transportation infrastructure in the United States, or our country will literally fall apart. The public sphere exists to provide resources that the private sphere cannot, and to do so in an equitable way. By systematically finding ways to move public resources into private hands, by encouraging the use of tolling mechanisms that favor the wealthy, and by de-investing in transit and rail, the Bush Administration has done just the opposite. The result is a nation whose roads and railways are in significantly worse shape than they were eight years ago. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, the country requires a mind-boggling $1.6 trillion dollars in infrastructure investment, just to bring it to a good condition. Clearly, we have a big task ahead of us.

It remains to be seen whether the next administration, whether Obama’s or McCain’s, will significantly change our broken system of infrastructure investment. Let it be clear, however, that for the future of this country, we better hope that it does.



Welcome to the transport politic.

This is a blog devoted to the politics of transit policy, with a focus on major investments in infrastructure improvements, notably in the construction of metro, light rail, commuter rail, and bus rapid transit lines.

Leading up to the election (in just two weeks!), we’ll be discussing how the future candidates are likely to influence transportation spending, what the Bush administration transit legacy will be, and how a number of initiatives being proposed directly to voters this year will affect future planning.

Stay connected for daily updates, covering news, political infighting, and the latest in the space wars.

We hope you enjoy this site and that it provides the relevant, up-to-date information you’re looking for.

Note: this blog’s emphasis is staying current on transit projects occuring all over the nation. As a result, we have included above a list (with helpful links) of all major voter initiatives in this fall’s election related to transportation, a list of major projects currently in construction or soon to be built, and a list of investments so far lacking in monetary support. This information will be updated regularly and eventually include links to blog posts related to each project.