Memo To Prez: Build Railroads
Need For Transit • Stimulus package should have rail focus
January 24, 2009
One disappointment in President Barack Obama's inaugural address last week was his failure to mention the need to invest in transit.
Mr. Obama spoke of building roads and bridges, but not rails. This may have been an oversight, but it seems to mirror what is happening in the stimulus package in Congress. The New York Times reported that the bill introduced in the House calls for spending $30 billion on roads and only $10 billion on public transit. Proponents led by House Transportation Committee Chairman James Oberstar wanted $12 billion, plus $5 billion for intercity rail, including high-speed trains. The latter figure was reduced to $1.1 billion.
This won't do.
As the Natural Resource Defense Council has pointed out, transportation drives our dependence on foreign oil and our global warming contribution. Transportation is responsible for 70 percent of our oil consumption and is second only to electrical generation in its greenhouse gas impact. Americans seem to get the picture — transit use was up 6.5 percent last year, the largest jump in 25 years.
Now government has to catch up with the people who want to catch trains. The highway funds should be used only for repair of existing bridges and roads, not new ones. The strategic vision behind the infrastructure portion of the recovery bill should be to lessen energy use and pollution. The way to do that is more trains, not new highways.
There is still time to change the bill, and some lawmakers are talking about adding transit money. Connecticut's delegation should be pushing for funds to build the New Haven-Hartford- Springfield commuter rail line and the Hartford-New Britain busway. Both of these projects will get cars off the road, clean the air and add vitality to the communities they serve.
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