Today, the Obama Administration and the Department of Transportation are awarding $2.4 billion for planning and construction of intercity passenger rail service. With these 54 projects in 23 states, we're moving full-speed ahead toward a nationwide high-speed rail system.
President Obama signed the Recovery Act to build bridges between the Americans who needed jobs and the infrastructure jobs that needed doing. One of those jobs was creating a 21st century rail system in the United States.
The $8 billion in the Recovery Act for high-speed rail was step one, a down payment on a national network that, within 25 years, will give 80% of Americans the choice of traveling from downtown to downtown by high speed passenger train.
With today's awards, we take a second step toward that future. A future that envisions riding from downtown Los Angeles to downtown San Francisco in two hours and forty minutes. Or Chicago to St. Louis in two hours. Or Tampa to Orlando in 55 minutes.
The intense demand for high-speed rail dollars demonstrates just how important this historic initiative is. We received 132 applications for $8.8 billion, more than three times the funding Congress made available. Across the country, states are seeing the future and clamoring for passenger rail routes. That's why we've already expanded to include a route from Iowa City to Chicago--running through the Quad Cities--and a route in Michigan connecting Detroit to Chicago via Kalamazoo.
States understand that high-speed rail represents a unique opportunity to revitalize our manufacturing base, spur economic development, and create jobs.
Workers will be needed to lay track and manufacture rail cars. And more than 30 rail manufacturers and suppliers, both domestic and foreign, have agreed to establish or expand bases of operations in the US if they are hired to build America's next generation high-speed lines. The Obama Administration secured this commitment to ensure that new jobs are created here at home.
And, because proximity to rail stations will be increasingly valuable, growing rail lines will also stimulate economic development.
There are other benefits beyond jobs, economic growth, and greater mobility. Rail routes will alleviate congestion on crowded highways and allow freight to flow more freely by truck. Train passengers will forego crowded airports often located more than an hour outside of a city's central business district.
And all of these intercity routes will be cleaner and greener than our current options, easing our reliance on imported oil and mitigating carbon emissions on our environment.
Every vision this nation ever realized began with a few courageous steps. If we put off high-speed rail by saying it will take too long to build, then it will never happen. President Eisenhower took a step forward at the birth of the US Interstate Highway network in the 1950s, and today that system is the life-blood of American commerce and mobility.
Now it's time for another bold step. The America I grew up in didn't just happen. Our nation's progress was only made possible through the imagination, investment, and hard work of those who came before. And I’m proud that, today, we’re adding to that legacy with President Obama's commitment to high speed rail.
Ray LaHood is the Secretary of Transportation