“High Speed” Rail Plan Put On “Life Support”

The “High Speed” rail plan pitched by President Obama a couple of years ago was given $100 million of “life support funding” by a Democrat-controlled Senate subcomittee last week. The funding came a day after the Senate’s transportation subcommittee omitted any funding for the “High Speed” rail plan altogether.

What is newsworthy here is the fact that the plan, which would bring a line through Raleigh requiring elevated segments and closure of some streets in downtown, is a lot further off than we thought. Just a year ago we were debating the merits of NC5, NC1, and the like. Now, however, these concepts, like so many, seem decades away, not years..

Raleigh planners have been busy deciding how to adapt development planning for the ensuing variants of high-occupancy rail transit, however it is clear that these operations cannot survive without massive amounts of federal funding; money that isn’t there and isn’t going to be there for a long, long time. Cyclists like Paul Farrell and John C. Dvorak have actually called for the Great Depression 2 hitting in 2012, rendering the winner of next year’s presidential election irrelevant. While it seems that an Obama re-election gives “high speed” rail a better chance at seeing the light of day any time in the moderate future, the stark reality is that Washington isn’t going to have money for new projects like this for a while. Infrastructure maintenance will trump new projects for a while even after the economy eventually turns around.

What this means to us as a region is that we probably need to do what we can as a region within fiscal means to mimic the actions of rail. Because a light rail system would rely on heavy federal funding, in the moderate future out focus should be on better integration of the Triangle’s bus services. A merger between Chapel Hill, Durham, Raleigh, Cary, and Triangle transit groups will not happen, for political reasons, however we can still meld these five systems to seemingly create a cohesive network that provides short, medium, and long distance travel in the region. For sure, these groups must come together and provide good shuttle networks to large sporting and music events in the region.

In lieu of “high speed” rail, we can still work on presenting a marketing effort focusing on the advantages of train over plane for short-distance trips. Free internet connectivity on board would be a start. Perhaps a more elite line of regional bus services that more closely resemble charter services than a bus-of-the damned could do well.

Great bus services sure isn’t as sexy as the dream of multilevel trains through downtown Raleigh. However the role of our government here is to provide reasonable means to move people, and we have those means.

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