Debate Forum: Left 2/16/11

High-speed rail can’t wait

By Maha Kashani

Maha Kashani

“There’s a fundamentally new competition going on in the rest of the world,” said Vice President Joe Biden on Feb. 8 when he announced the six-year, $53 billion plan to invest in high-speed rail for the future of our nation. I cannot understand how the rest of the world, including countries like Iran, Morocco, Russia, Turkey, Brazil, etc., are embracing high-speed rail and our elected officials believe that diversification of transportation options is a thing of the past. Unfortunately, we cannot continue to delay this responsibility to modernize our nation’s infrastructure.

Yes, I know. I get it. There is a major deficit in our budget. But whose fault is that? The taxpayers? No, although we are paying for it. I do agree that we need to control government spending; it is out of control … but we must continue to invest in our nation. It is a sad and unfortunate position between a rock and a hard place that Washington has put us in, but does that mean that we turn our backs on solutions that would help address our problems? This is where my blood starts to boil. Yes, we need to control federal spending. Yes, money is being wasted. Yes, I believe there needs to be more oversight happening in Washington. No, we cannot turn a blind eye to our country and the growing needs of our tax-paying citizens, especially when it comes to transportation.

Did you know that in late 2010, the Ohio Department of Transportation’s Review Advisory Committee recommended spending $646 million for new-capacity highway projects over 2012 and 2013 in an effort to keep up with the growing number of vehicles and cargo on the roads? Keyword is new-capacity; this does not include maintenance to our current roadways. So, instead of taking the $400 million in federal grants to invest into our current rail infrastructure to provide a viable transportation option, helping take semi-trucks off our roadways, saving Ohio’s existing rail industry that employs 26,000 people, creating 8,000 additional jobs and bringing an innovative new industry to Ohio, we said, “No thanks. Investing in transportation options for our future is a boondoggle.” Are we on Mars?

Let’s talk about economic development for a second. Transportation infrastructure affects our economy, specifically economic growth. This is very critical for us as a nation right now. The project will not only provide viable and cost effective transportation options for our citizens, but it also is introducing a new industry to our country. Think about the construction, manufacturing jobs and spin-off industries. Yes, those jobs will be great …  but what really gets me excited are the innovative opportunities. The world is investing in high-speed passenger rail – why are we not looking at this as an opportunity? Can’t we take a step back and say, “We are America, the land of opportunity, with some of the most talented researchers, engineers and architects in the world. We can take this technology that the world in embracing to make it more efficient, cost-effective and ultimately faster so we can compete in this global economy.” We have the means, intellectual capital and tools to become the global leader in this transportation revolution. Instead, many want us to turn our backs and say, “No, we’d rather not compete.” Seriously?

There needs to be a culture shift. We have a lifestyle issue in this country with 58 million people who are overweight, 40 million people who are classified as obese and 3 million people classified as morbidly obese. Eight out of every 10 Americans over the age of 25 are overweight. The numbers are only going up. There is this lazy mentality that when we need something, whether it’s five blocks or 50 miles away, we can get in our cars and drive. If we don’t shift this culture, then our country is in major trouble. If we don’t have viable multi-modal transportation options to present to our citizens to encourage living healthier lifestyles, then we’re bringing this upon ourselves.

Here are some facts from All Aboard Ohio to chew on:

Generation Y (ages 21-30, the largest demographic group in American history) represents just 14 percent of miles driven vs. 21 percent for the prior, smaller generation in 1995 (Source: Kiplinger Business Research).

The second largest group, the baby boomers, starts turning 65 years old in 2011 and will become less physically able to drive as often or as far. They will represent 20 percent of Ohio’s population in 2020 (Source: Census).

America imports two-thirds of its oil, and an equal amount is used for transportation. U.S. motorists’ fuel consumption alone accounts for 11 percent of global oil production (Source: USDOT, Bureau of Transportation Statistics).

Global oil use outpaces new oil discoveries, with the world using about 12 billion more barrels per year than it finds (Source: International Energy Agency).

There was an alarming fact and question that I brought to surface during our last rail debate that I’d like to highlight again. With our nation’s population estimated to increase by 70 million people in the next 30 years, how are we going to safely and cost-effectively transport all these people around our country? At what point will we realize that driving or flying are not the most effective or environmentally responsible forms of travel? When we are sitting in traffic jams, late for our appointments with smog infiltrating our lungs wondering, “What if there was a better way?”

Reach DCP freelance writer Maha Kashani at MissMaha@daytoncitypaper.com.

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