2012 is shaping up to be a year of significant high speed rail activity. In the first part of the year, more than $1 billion in high speed rail construction activity will be underway. As part of the program, 32 states already have work in progress. Contracts are being let around the U.S. by states for design work, planning work, construction materials, and supplies. And all of this comes as Amtrak continues to break ridership records on passenger rail routes across the country.
Over the next 40 years, America will be home to 100 million more people, largely concentrated in regions that make up only 25% of the land mass in the United States where congestion is already costing families and businesses nearly $130 billion each year. This growth will burden our already stressed roadways and airports well beyond their capacities. The cost of those bottlenecks in freight delays, loss of competitiveness, and forfeited productivity will be enormous and will ultimately cost our country jobs.
Without an alternative way of getting people where they're going, our economy will be choked by congestion. High speed rail is that alternative.
It's clear that moving an American high-speed rail network forward will require conversations with those who are not passenger rail's strongest advocates. So I was happy to speak about high-speed rail on Monday at the annual William O. Lipinski Symposium on Transportation at Northwestern University.
In many regions of the country, space is simply not available to expand highways or runways. In other areas, the costs to expand are outrageous. For comparably lower costs, connecting high-speed rail to other modes in these congested regions can add desperately needed capacity, improve the performance of all modes, and provide a boost to the entire American economy.
Let me be clear: there is no amount of money that could build enough capacity on our highways and at our airports to keep up with our expected population growth in coming decades.
High-speed rail can help alleviate congestion both in the air and on our roads--opening more gates to the international flights the America needs to stay competitive and providing more room on our highways to get goods to market. It can do so while relieving Americans from pain at the pump and emitting less carbon in our air. And, despite critics' objections, we can actually build rail cheaper than we can add the necessary highway or airport capacity.
Recently in Chicago, construction started on the Englewood flyover, a rail bridge that will, when completed, speed trains through what has been one of the nation's worst rail bottlenecks. This project is creating jobs right now improving freight and passenger rail service.
Upgrades like this will continue to add jobs and improve existing rail service as they pave the way for high speed rail. And we're not just talking about adding jobs; we're talking about revitalizing the American rail manufacturing industry. We have 30 rail companies that have pledged to hire Americans and expand their US operations if awarded contracts to work on high speed rail. Some companies, like Progress Rail in Indiana, have already expanded their US manufacturing facilities.
President Obama understands that we can’t shortchange future generations of Americans by failing to lay the foundation for growth today. President Obama understands we need to get busy building the capacity our transportation network needs for the next 100 million people. High-speed rail will play a large role in providing that capacity.