Recent Research: The Case For Business Investment In High-Speed Rail & A New Strategy For America’s Highways

APTA has released a new report titled The Case For Business Investment In High-Speed And Intercity Passenger Rail (9p. PDF).

The overall growth in the U.S. rail passenger market growing at an impressive rate.

Of the 35 light rail systems in existence today, only 7 were present in 1980.  Of 28 commuter rail systems today, only 10 were in operation in 1980.

And despite chronic underinvestment, annual passenger trips aboard Amtrak have risen 37% between 2000 and 2010.

This report focuses on key issues critical to private investors as the yconsider investments or future expansion into business serving growing passenger rail markets.

It highlights national and international trends, the market potential in the U.S. future funding sources and the need for public support. 

Intercity rail services in the United States are provided by the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, better known as Amtrak. 

Amtrak operates a national network of routes that serve all regions of the country.

The Federal Railroad Administration has identified additional corridors where travel markets are ripe for high-speed corridor services to be managed by states or teams of states.

These corridors are at the core of President Obama’s vision for high-speed rail in America.

Many believe this vision will be a legacy of his Administrtaion and provides a forward looking transportation vision similar to the Interstate Highway system in the 1950s.

The report highlights how investment in rail is in-step with the need for jobs and economic development, the need to connect America’s economic engines, the need for transportation investments that are consistent with energy and economic policies, the need for a balanced transportation system with options, and the need for projects ripe for public-private partnerships.

The roads and bridges that make up our nation’s highway infrastructure are in disrepair as a result of insufficient maintenance—a maintenance deficit that increases travel times, damages vehicles, and can lead to accidents that cause injuries or even fatalities.

A new report from The Brookings Institution and The Hamilton Project titled Fix It First, Expand It Second, Reward It Third: A New Strategy For America’s Highways (36p. PDF) explains that this deficit is in part due to a prioritization of new projects over care for existing infrastructure and contributes to a higher-cost, lower-return system of investment.

This paper proposes a reorganization of our national highway infrastructure priorities to “Fix It First, Expand It Second, and Reward It Third.”

First, all revenues from the existing federal gasoline tax would be devoted
to repair, maintain, rehabilitate, reconstruct, and enhance existing roads and bridges on the National Highway System.

Second, funding for states to build new and expand existing roads would come from a newly created Federal Highway Bank, which would
require benefit-cost analysis to demonstrate the efficacy of a new build.

Third, new and expanded transportation infrastructure that meets or exceeds projected benefits would receive an interest rate subsidy from a Highway Performance Fund to be financed by net revenues from the Federal Highway Bank.

The report authors conclude that all three of their proposals provide incentives to states to move toward systematic road pricing.

The “Fix It First” proposal removes federal restrictions on tolling the interstate.

The Federal Highway Bank, a key component of “Expand It Second,” requires direct user fees from tolls to repay loans.

The performance fund of the third pillar of their proposal, “Reward It Third,” subsidizes projects that improve performance and reduce pollution.

Those concerned with highway funding would also be interested in the Congressional Budget Office’s report titled Alternative Approaches To Funding Highways (38p. PDF).

This March, 2011 document looks at charging for the costs of highway use (marginal costs and maintenance costs) as well as potential taxes on vehicle-miles traveled and the implications of alternative sources of highway funding (e.g. new federal user charges, taxes on trucks and tires, etc.).