High Speed Rail Is Key to Economic Development

Just as the Interstate Highway System keyed economic development, new rail can do so moving forward.

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Patrick Hays is the mayor of North Little Rock, Ark.

With the adoption of the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, the largest public works undertaking in our nation's history began. Funded by an increased fuel tax--up to $0.03 per gallon--construction on the more than 40,000 miles of new Interstate began, and so did America's adoration for the automobile. The backbone of America's modern prosperity and of my own community, the Interstate Highway System has sustained us for generations and it will, of course, continue to provide for the movement goods and people to and through each of our communities. The country's population is growing incredibly fast compared to our European colleagues and it is becoming increasingly difficult to muster the votes needed to increase tax revenues for any reason, even for the purpose of investing in our transportation infrastructure. It is incumbent upon us--all of us--to maximize the resources available to make the biggest possible impact on the future of passenger and freight mobility in this country. We must seriously pursue complimentary modes of transportation to help ensure our continued economic growth, global competitiveness, and vitality--and I believe that high-speed intercity passenger rail must become a national priority and a collective pursuit.

High-speed intercity passenger rail, as the term implies and as it operates daily around the world is, well, fast. It is also exceedingly safe, comfortable, dependable, and energy efficient. Traveling at speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour in some cases, these trains are the norm in parts of Europe and Asia and have become economic engines for the communities they serve. I live in Arkansas and serve on the Board of Directors of the Texas High-Speed Rail and Transportation Corporation because I want to see these trains flying to and through my community traveling toward Memphis and other easterly destinations, and I know that enhancing and improving the connectivity of Arkansas will always be of vital importance to the economic well-being of my state. We find ourselves today witnesses of a collision of great need and an impressive, revolutionary technology. The extent to which we capitalize on this moment of great opportunity and of great responsibility will help determine the extent to which our children and grandchildren are able to compete for future opportunities.

Working closely with private industry willing to invest large sums of their own money and eager to employ tens of thousands of Americans along the way, high-speed intercity passenger rail can and will hold the key to at least part of our mobility crises. The high speed rail corporation and organizations like it around the country that are led by cities, counties, and other community leaders in an effort to develop high-speed rail in their communities, hold the key to the successful implementation of these large, transformational infrastructure projects. Communicating clearly and confidently the needs of the communities to be served by rail, and working side-by-side with private industry to deliver the projects, the corporation represents just the kind of creative approach that must be leveraged if we are to be successful.

During his State of the Union address in January, President Obama renewed his commitment to develop high-speed intercity passenger rail along with a promise for a more efficient and effective government. It is clear that in order to succeed on both fronts, we must approach this endeavor with a commitment to succeed and a determination to settle for nothing less than world-class. When we become convinced of a great need, this country can put a man on the Moon. We must now work together to put him on a fast train. Doing so will transform the way in which we all live, work, and travel--and will reignite the spirit of American industry, manufacturing, and innovation. The America that I believe in is capable of succeeding. The America we must become has no other choice.