Crescent Corridor Rail Plan Brings No-Cringe Bipartisanship, At Last.
March 30, 2010 - 6:17am ET
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In theory, there's nothing that gets people riled up like government spending. In practice, everybody likes government spending that benefits them. Or, if you're a governor, that benefits your state. Last week, five governors wrote a Washington Post op-ed asking for additional rail funding for a joint project between their states, from which they expect a lot of benefit:
... A project called the Crescent Corridor, a 2,500-mile rail route stretching across 13 states from New Jersey to Tennessee and Louisiana, would offer significant economic and environmental benefits by creating tens of thousands of jobs and moving trucks off crowded highways such as I-81.
Our five states have joined together in a public-private partnership to apply for $300 million in federal funding to develop the corridor, which would dramatically increase rail capacity along the route and represent one of the largest additions of freight transportation capacity since the Interstate Highway System in 1956. The federal money would leverage more than $140 million in state investment and the $264 million that Norfolk Southern Corp., whose freight trains operate along the route, has committed to the project.
...We anticipate similar benefits for each state -- fewer long-haul trucks on our highways, fuel savings, cleaner air, less congestion and fewer accidents -- as well as new jobs and economic development opportunities.
... Bob Riley, a Republican, is governor of Alabama. Haley Barbour, a Republican, is governor of Mississippi. Ed Rendell, a Democrat, is governor of Pennsylvania. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, is governor of Tennessee. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, is governor of Virginia. ...
When you run out of money and space for freeways and your constituents are having a terrible time coming up with gas money or jobs, it seems that rail even starts sounding like a good idea to Republicans. Which is great, because times are tough and rail is a really good idea.
I kid the Republicans, but big public works projects have been neglected for a long time, on a regrettably bipartisan basis. Eisenhower build us highways big enough to drive tanks on all over the country in case we had to fight off a Russian ground invasion, but our vision has gotten so narrow that we haven't even kept those roads and bridges in good repair.
The United States has a very large backlog of deferred maintenance on public facilities and transportation, to the tune of $2.2 trillion in necessary repairs and upgrades. I like to think that not only could fixing that problem directly put more people back to work, but that building something useful and also exciting like a new rail network could get people inspired about creating a great society.
I don't mean that in the narrow terms of Lyndon Johnson's programs, either. I mean to put within reach a society where all the utilities and services just work, you can get where you need to go without much hassle, and you get the sense that things are moving in the right direction because there's progress everywhere you look. That kind of prosperity mostly has to be created for everyone in order to reach its full benefits, even Republicans.
Consider that a proposed high speed rail corridor in California is expected to create 450,000 permanent jobs, in addition to the 150,000 construction jobs needed to build it. The employment and congestion arguments are already winners before you throw in that the US uses about a quarter of the world's oil, which has both gotten very expensive and may be in much shorter supply than anyone wants to let on.
Yes, I'm once again suggesting that our strategies to solve our immediate employment problems should revolve around solving long-term problems that we know we're going to face. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
When the Interstate system was set up, we did it to keep up with the Russians, who were our stiffest competition. Though we weren't competing just in weaponry, but in cutting-edge modernity. We couldn't fall behind or the Russians would catch us. Now, Russia has tumbled into backwater status and the US decided to just let everything fall apart. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that our biggest military 'competitors' for the last couple decades have been dictatorships that also saw their development peak and decline during the Cold War. Maybe the fight just went out of us.
Prominent US talking heads have long been too busy mocking Europe for liking chocolate, cheese and wine (which are delicious,) to notice that they didn't tell the maintenance crew to take a 20 year holiday while they rested on their past glories. Public dialogue has been too busy wildly swinging from dismissing Asian nations as backwards souvenir makers to demonizing them for whatever we're worried about this week, completely missing that at every step, leading Asian economies have steered firmly towards creating prosperous, modern societies with all the amenities and plenty of jobs.
Other industrialized have spent recent years acting like their best days are ahead of them. Since they've been laying the groundwork to make that possible, it might even end up being true.
The US has been, effectively, mooning over its high school yearbook and reminiscing about how much cooler everything was when we were younger. That kind of behavior will make anyone tedious; unable to learn, unable to advance, unable to stop acting like a grumpy teenager stuck resentfully in an adult body. There's no future in such stagnation.
So anyway, good luck to the governors in getting that funding. I'll probably end up riding those rails if they put them up and I look forward to that.
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Views expressed on this page are those of the authors and not necessarily those of Campaign for America's Future or Institute for America's Future