Two Competing Visions

September 09, 2011
Richard Harnish

Here’s the deal:  On September 8 the House Transportation, Housing and Urban Development committee threw the national transportation-funding process into turmoil when it cut the 2012  highway appropriation—a sacred line item in the federal budget--from $42 billion to $27.7 billion.  The appropriators determined that 2012 highway spending must not exceed the revenues collected from the Federal Motor Fuel Tax.  At the current federal gasoline tax rate of 18.3 cents per gallon, those collections cut the highway budget by more than one third.

But as roughly as the House treated highways, it reserved its severest abuse for passenger rail.  High-speed rail funding was zeroed out, and Amtrak was put on a diet that would terminate the company’s long-distance trains and strangle the 15 successful state-supported corridor-train programs, including the four fast-growing state programs in the Midwest.
 
Yet there is promise:  Where the House sees transportation as ripe for destruction, President Obama envisions it as a fertile field for construction, urging a $60-billion infrastructure fund as part of a proposed jobs bill.  "Building a world-class transportation system is part of what made us an economic superpower,” the president told Congress Sept. 8. “And now we’re going to sit back and watch China build newer airports and faster railroads?"

That clash of visions is our opportunity.   Powerful forces will work as never before to make sure that highway funding will be closer to historic levels.  Whether the gas tax is raised or a subsidy is found, the highway program will be bigger than what the THUD committee has proposed, because the difficult decisions will get made.  

And that’s our opportunity.  We want to make sure that passenger rail is included in the decision-making process, not eliminated to make the process easier.  Convenient and affordable travel is a critical part of making the economy successful. Trains make travel easier, safer and less expensive.  When trains thrive, so does the economy.

This month, thousands of constituents and members of organizations across the country will go to StandUpForTrains.Org and choose their side. Will you join them in making your voice heard? Let your elected leaders know that rail should be part of the solution.