By Guest Columnist HARRY WEST, professor of Practice for Georgia Tech’s Center for Quality Growth and Regional Development.
Appropriately so, both the term and measurement “shovel ready” has been applied to the selection of projects funded in the first round of federal stimulus spending. Getting the program underway with projects that could be implemented quickly had to be a priority.
As additional projects and programs are taken into account, time is available to consider other measurements in establishing selection priority. I am compelled to advocate funding the steps necessary to bring other needed projects to the point of being “shovel ready”.
In addition, the announcement in Mid-April of the “Vision for High-Speed Rail in America” has proposed an expenditure of $8 billion now and another $1 billion a year for the next five years to begin implementation of the federally-designated, high-speed passenger rail corridors beyond the northeastern United States.
Again, the corridor or corridors that are “shovel ready” will likely have an advantage over those that are not.
One such project is the federally-designated Southeast high-speed passenger rail corridor. Much of the necessary work has been completed to extend the Washington D.C./Boston Acela Express Rail service to Raleigh, North Carolina. The designated Southeast corridor would then connect Atlanta, Georgia and Charlotte, North Carolina to the extended service in Raleigh.
A recently completed study by the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts concluded that the proposed service from Raleigh through Charlotte and Atlanta to Macon, Georgia is feasible.
At an America 2050 conference on the nation’s infrastructure needs in March at Georgia Tech, both John Horsley, Executive Director of the American Association for State Highway and Transportation Officials and Bill Millar, President of the American Public Transportation Association strongly endorsed the need for high-speed rail passenger service in this corridor.
The next steps in the process are to begin designing and engineering for the environmental analysis process and ultimately design of the complete project. Obviously, the preceding description is an over simplification of a complex and complicated process that takes, in most instances, several years to complete; “shovel ready” projects do not just happen.
If we are serious about getting vital projects completed and in operation, they must be pushed along, one step at a time, through the pipeline to get to the point of being “shovel ready”.
Why push for the Southeast high-speed passenger rail corridor? The corridor is perfectly aligned with the major metropolitan areas that define the Piedmont Atlantic Megaregion (PAM). PAM comprises the entirety or parts of six states, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.. This area is projected to increase in population by almost 70 percent by 2050.
Anchored by the major metropolitan areas of Raleigh, Charlotte, Atlanta, and Birmingham, there are also several gateway cities including the seaport cities of Wilmington, Charleston, Savannah, Brunswick, Jacksonville, and Mobile as well as other smaller but vibrant cities such as Chattanooga, Greenville/Spartanburg, and Macon.
While some of these gateway cities are not located directly on the designated corridor, they provide important domestic and international links that facilitate the flow of goods, people, information, and culture. All of these rapidly developing cities and metropolitan areas are connected to each other by infrastructure, shared natural resources, social and cultural ties, and economic challenges.
When people need to move from one metropolitan area to another, however, they unfortunately have only two options: the highways or the airways.
High-speed passenger rail service connecting the cities and metropolitan areas will be necessary if PAM is to recognize its potential in the global economy. The Southeast high-speed rail corridor needs to become “shovel ready”. To get there, it is vital for the necessary steps to be prioritized and funded.
The Southeast high-speed passenger rail corridor is just one example of many across the nation that are in the same or similar position needing leadership and funding to get to the “shovel ready” category.
Hopefully transportation infrastructure policy and financing to meet the needs of a nation desperately needing high-speed passenger rail service connecting metropolitan areas will be addressed in the Congressional transportation reauthorization this year.