WASHINGTON (January 28, 2010) -- President Obama's announcement of $8 billion in state grants for high-speed intercity passenger rail systems is a much-needed, and long-overdue, step forward in improving connections between our nation's urban areas.
This level of commitment is a key signal that the federal government recognizes the importance of transportation investments as both a way to create jobs and ensure that U.S. cities are globally competitive in the 21st century. For decades, the United States has fallen far behind Asia and most of Europe in virtually all aspects of mobility-related infrastructure - airports, public transit, roads, bridges, and certainly passenger railway systems.
Beyond the creation of the interstate highway system, America has become more of a follower than a world leader when it comes to infrastructure. This investment shortfall is well documented in the Infrastructure research report series published annually by ULI and Ernst & Young. By 2025, China will have more than 13,000 kilometers of high-speed rail lines either planned, under construction or in operation. Currently, the U.S. has little more than 1,000 kilometers, with most of that in the planning stages. (See chart below.)
We must do better, and this high-speed rail program from the Obama Administration is a sign that we will do better. The system for allocating funding to states through a competitive, merit-based system encourages the type of collaboration among urban regions that is critical to the success of any transportation system serving multiple jurisdictions. This is a significant improvement over the traditional formula-based system long used for allocation of federal transportation funding.
Our cities, regions and states will benefit from this new approach to both the funding of projects and the types of projects funded. For years, other countries have developed best practices in leveraging public financing and providing innovative, highly efficient systems that emphasize high-speed rail. In the U.S., we have tended to focus exclusively on maintaining what we have, rather than rethinking our options and looking for new solutions. Relying on existing networks and systems will only hamstring future success. It's time to invest in the infrastructure we will need to keep America's urban areas viable in the global economy.
We are an increasingly urban nation. Projects such as high-speed rail will help position metropolitan areas, and the U.S. as a whole, for prosperity. With this decade, we have entered a new era that will require new approaches to infrastructure, land use and energy efficiency. These three factors must be considered not in isolation, but together, in terms of fostering urban sustainability. The nations that get this right will be the ones that attract and retain investors, companies, and talented workers. It's a matter of economic, social and environmental stability.