Barack Obama and his family on stage at McCormick Place last night. Photo by John Tolva.
President Obama was elected to a second term yesterday, defeating former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. We are glad for this as we believe it will maintain the excellent ideas, initiatives, and enthusiasm for sustainable transportation for at least four more years. President Obama hired Ray LaHood to be the secretary of transportation. Partnering with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Transportation crafted six livability principles that changed how grants would be distributed.
This Amtrak Lincoln Service train will be moving a bit faster this year. Photo by Eric Pancer.
The Obama administration created the first-ever plan for high-speed rail corridors and after Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA, “stimulus”) in 2009, Illinois rebuilt hundreds of miles of track from Chicago to St. Louis, Missouri, to speed up its busiest passenger train line. The plan is the best chance for European and Asian-style high-speed rail to connect Midwest cities, giving people more options and alternatives over driving with expensive gas and unfairly-subsidized roads.
A Lincoln Service Amtrak train passes Joliet, Illinois. Photo by Eric Pancer.
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn joined United States Department of Transportation secretary Ray LaHood (who’s from Peoria) and Senator Dick Durbin on a special Amtrak train in Joliet on their way to Normal. They met to ride on a rebuilt stretch of track which carried their train at a top speed of 111 miles per hour (MPH).
The high-speed portion is between Dwight and Pontiac, Illinois, according to the LaHood’s blog, Fast Lane. The map below highlights the cities in this article along the route of the Lincoln Service Amtrak route to St. Louis, Missouri. NBC5 reporter Anthony Ponce joined the politicians for the demonstration ride saying the 15 mile high-speed portion lasts less than 5 minutes. “Amtrak says that by 2015, 75% of the route between Chicago and St. Louis will be high speed”.
Governor Quinn, Senator Durbin, and Federal Railroad Administrator Szabo celebrate reaching 111 MPH (visible in the lower-left corner of the TV). Photo by Harvey Tillis.
LaHood said on the train, “Four years ago, we were nowhere. Illinois and the country was a wasteland when it comes to high-speed rail”. Grid Chicago readers know that Illinois secured over $2 billion in federal grants through President Obama’s ARRA stimulus program to build new tracks, buy new trains, and study a possible new double-track alignment for the Lincoln Service route. Governor Quinn claimed that 111 MPH is the fastest train speed outside of the Northeast Corridor (NEC) in America’s history; however, the Pioneer Zephyr ran from Denver to Chicago and hit a top speed of 112 MPH. The train is on display at the Museum of Science & Industry. The Northeast Corridor is fully electric and has routes that stop at Boston, New York City, and Washington, D.C.; Amtrak’s fastest train, the Acela, hits 150 MPH for a short distance.
View this map in a new browser window. Red markers indicate Amtrak stations; larger red markers highlight major stations on the Lincoln Service route from Chicago Union Station to St. Louis, Missouri. Map created using TileMill and freely available GIS shapefiles.
Amtrak’s state-subsidized routes in Illinois have seen year-over-year ridership increases. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has said he would eliminate federal subsidies to Amtrak. Lincoln Service trains have seen speeds improving since last year when significant lengths of brand-new track was laid. Cutting subsidies would likely slow the ridership increases which are based on Americans’ desire for additional and reliable transportation options; passenger rail provides an alternative to high gas prices.
Representative John L. Mica, Florida Republican and chairman of the House Transportation Committee, whose state rejected high-speed rail funding from Washington, supports the profitable Amtrak routes (some in the NEC).
While recognizing the need for a central entity to coordinate routes nationwide, Mr. Mica said the government has no place handling Amtrak’s day-to-day operations. But he acknowledged that some less profitable routes can’t get by without some subsidies.
“I’m for the privatization, and if we can end them, we can,” he said.
The next time Representative Mica goes back to the office, concerned about the profitability of transportation routes, he should check the balance sheets for the nation’s non-tolled highways: 100% of them will be in the red.
At a press conference in Englewood Friday, CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein announced a $4.1 million project to repave roads under 14 viaducts in 13 different wards across the city (average cost $250,000 per viaduct).
He explained that seeking federal funding for this project would free up more locally generated funding for neighborhood street repair and repaving projects. The entire project is federally funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).
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The Metropolitan Planning Council graciously provided me with a free entry to a seminar in October about infrastructure funding and financing at their office at 140 S Dearborn. The seminar featured Rob Puentes of the Brookings Institution, Illinois Senator Heather Stearns, and Dr. Paul Hanley a professor at the University of Iowa. They talked about three innovative ways to fund construction of highways, airports, transit, and other capital-intensive projects: the surface transportation bill (Puentes), public-private partnerships (Stearns), and distance-based taxing (Hanley).
This article will be presented in two parts: presentations from Puentes and Stearns today, and Hanley on Friday. It is my intention that by presenting that discussion to readers, you can learn about some of the ways infrastructure in the United States is paid for.