Why FL just got High Speed Rail
by NoFortunateSon, Fri Jan 29, 2010 at 01:54:54 PM EST
(cross-posted from Daily Kos)
As a Pinellas County native, I have been waiting 25 years for the announcement heard today: $1.25 billion would be granted for construction of a Florida high speed rail link. Estimated to cost $3.5 billion total, this award covers a substantial portion (35%+). High Speed Rail is finally coming to the rest of America.
But many have asked: why Florida?
The following map shows the county election results in Florida for the 2008 Presidential election:
The next map shows the shift in voting trend in the state of Florida from the 2004 Presidential election to the 2008 Presidential election:
In 2004, the I-4 corridor was the focus of intense political activity. The region was experiencing significant growth, and communities along the I-4 corridor were perceived by both parties as having higher proportions of undecided voters. The I-4 corridor region could be sufficient to swing the outcome of Florida and its 27 electoral votes. The I-4 corridor played an equally key role in the 2008 U.S. presidential election, but whereas the corridor had voted heavily for Bush in 2004, which helped Bush win the state, in 2008 it swung behind Democratic candidate Obama, helping Obama win Florida.
Florida is experiencing 11.8% unemployment, well above the national average. The I-4 corridor region is one of the hardest hit by the Great Recession.
So in a swing region experiencing population growth and crushing unemployment, you deliver a $3.5 billion high speed rail line. The project is estimated to bring 2300 jobs.
President Obama's Administration showed tremendous acumen in not getting bogged down with larger projects. The $8.5 billion was insufficient to fund any project in entirety, save the first phase of the Florida segment. Due to decades of myopia and neglect, any high speed rail construction in the United States is going to be a heavy lift. High speed rail lines can cost as much as $100 million a mile in difficult terrain, not counting right of way acquisition and eminent domain issues. Tunneling in urban areas can exceed $1 billion per mile.
The American public unfortunately lacks patience for and understanding of civil works projects. Frustration with perceived high costs and delays dovetail into conservative anti-government and anti-labor memes.
The Florida high speed rail project is expected to take a mere 4 1/2 years. Even accounting for construction delays, should President Obama be reelected, he can indeed fulfill his promise and ride the first train while in office. We are looking at a project that can be completed possibly before the 2014 midterm elections, and hopefully with certainty before the 2016 general election.
Allowing for the low cost of the 84mi rail line is Florida's uniformly low grade and plentiful right of way, with an elevation change of less than 150ft along the route. Interstate 4, known for its traffic and congestion, currently permits about 90min of travel time between Tampa and Orlando. At 160mpg, the Florida High Speed rail link could make the trip in a mere 44min.
3. The Domino Effect:
By starting with the easiest effort first, that is most likely to succeed and produce a tangible (and hopefully attractive) result quickly, other regions of the community will hopefully demand equal federal investment in high speed rail travel for completion long after President Obama has left office. It's no longer a matter of pointing to Europe or Japan, but come 2014, pointing to Central Florida. If they can build a high speed rail line there, quickly and inexpensively, why can't they build one everywhere?
As progressives, it is so tempting to be impatient.
Why only $8.5 billion for high speed rail? Why not $85 billion in high speed rail, especially when compared to the Pentagon's budget or what Nations like China are investing?
But we must never forget that something so appealing to the sane is still a hard sell in a country populated by so much insanity. A case in point would be the "We Don't Need No Stinkin' Bullet Train" bumper stickers, combined with successful lobbying from Southwest Airlines, that doomed the Texas high speed rail plan.
This is classical Obama strategy: Produce a tangible change first, even if small, and use that as a foundation to sway recalcitrant public support for future change.
Not to end on a sour note on this historic day for the Obama Administration, but we must always be cognizant that on top of our stated $8.5+ trillion dollar national debt, we face an additional $2.2 trillion dollar infrastructure debt; such being the amount the American Society of Civil Engineers estimates is required to simply repair our existing infrastructure, let alone start building new infrastructure. The $8.5 billion total high speed rail award is a mere 0.39%.
Note: the author is a licensed Civil Engineer in the State of Massachusetts.
Does anyone know how to get pictures to insert properly? They shouw up in my draft, but when I publish, they are absent. Can people see the maps?