Last week I blogged about finalizing a high-speed rail grant agreement with Maine that will extend the Northeast corridor up to Brunswick. Yesterday, we finalized another high-speed rail grant agreement, this one with North Carolina.
Yesterday's agreement will help North Carolina complete mechanical upgrades and refurbish its passenger coaches and locomotives. This will allow the state to further expand service on its increasingly popular Charlotte-Raleigh run and begin preparing its leg of the Southeast High-Speed Rail corridor.
With these agreements in Maine and North Carolina, American high-speed rail is rolling out of the station and gaining momentum.
And what it's delivering to North Carolina is, as Senator Kay Hagan said, "first-class, high-speed passenger rail that will make traveling across our great state easier and more efficient, reduce congestion on our roads, and lessen dependence on foreign oil."
"Most importantly," she added, "This project will create jobs."
That sentiment was echoed emphatically by Rep. David Price, who said, "This funding will further what must be our highest priority: putting North Carolinians to work."
North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue also put employment benefits at the top of her list, saying, "For our citizens, it means jobs, economic development, reduced congestion and a cleaner environment."
And they are right about that.
The initial $20.3 million creates 34 new jobs for mechanical workers who maintain the trains and for train engineers and conductors on North Carolina's expanded service.
But that's just the beginning. North Carolina's $545 million total share of high-speed and intercity passenger rail funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will create or maintain as many as 4,800 private sector jobs in the state over the next four years, with 1,000 of those expected this year alone as ready-to-go projects get under way. Those jobs will come from more than 30 projects in 11 counties, all part of improving North Carolina's rail service.
Then there is the economic development that will follow the rail line as companies choose to locate where high-speed rail service allows easy travel between business centers. The North Carolina Department of Transportation expects more than 19,000 new jobs as rail service attracts this kind of development.
Of course, there are other some pretty good transportation benefits as well. And North Carolinians seem to appreciate those, too, as the state recently added midday service on the Charlotte-Raleigh route, and plans to expand even more soon.
The highways and airports of the region simply cannot handle growing traffic volumes. We need an affordable, modern, and timely alternative to driving on crowded interstates or flying short distances.
In addition to drawing traffic from North Carolina's increasingly congested highways and airports, the Charlotte-Raleigh route is a critical link to Richmond and Washington on one end and Atlanta and Jacksonville on the other.
“North Carolina has planned well and is set to build a world-class transportation network that will link the Tar Heel State to Washington, D.C. and the Northeast through high-speed rail,” said Federal Railroad Administrator Joe Szabo.
We're looking at speeds of 110 miles per hour between Charlotte and Raleigh, trimming current travel times by over 30%. Add to that the increased connectivity that President Obama's high-speed rail program will make available all the way up and down the line, from Brunswick to Miami, and we're talking about a new era in US travel.
As Gov. Perdue noted, “This award is an exciting first step in the state’s partnership with the federal government to make high-speed rail a reality in North Carolina and the Southeast.”Look, I've said it before, but it's worth repeating: the President's vision for high-speed rail is an absolute game-changer in American transportation.
And with these grant agreements with Maine--and now with North Carolina--we're starting to put the pieces of that vision in place.