Contractors: High-speed rail plan needs companion highway spending

The Obama Administration’s announcement on Feb. 8 of a $53 billion, six-year commitment to developing high-speed passenger rail nationwide should be complemented by a similar focus on investing “at least as much” in America’s highway and bridge infrastructure, says a spokesman for Pennsylvania’s transportation engineering and construction industry.

“High-speed rail works well in Europe and in the Far East and, where’s it’s available, it works well in the United States,” said Robert Latham, executive vice president of Associated Pennsylvania Constructors, in a written press statement. “Investing in rail infrastructure is good and it’s long overdue. And we’re hopeful that it’s part of a comprehensive transportation program to be advanced by the Obama Administration to generate jobs and to create a surface transportation system worthy of the 21st Century.”

Latham said the choice of Philadelphia to announce the plan on Feb. 8by Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was fitting because Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station serves as a link between high-speed interstate, rapid intrastate, and extensive local commuter rail lines.

Philadelphia’s existing rail service takes a lot of pressure off airports and highways, Latham said, “but it doesn’t mean we don’t have substantial highway and regional public transit needs as well.”

He said both road and railroad investments are sorely needed in America and are “one of the best ways to jump start job creation and economic growth because these investments can be truly public-private partnerships.”

He noted that infrastructure construction, while undertaken with public dollars, is almost always executed using engineering, management and labor from the private sector.

Infrastructure investment today means jobs now,” Latham said, “but it also positions us well for jobs tomorrow as we provide the means to move people and goods more rapidly and efficiently between America’s cities.”

He said he was hopeful that the Biden rail announcement would soon be followed by a plan to fund a surface transportation reauthorization bill that is long overdue in Congress.

Blue Ribbon panels have suggested that surface transportation reauthorization, known as SAFETEA-LU requires at least a $225 billion annual increase in funding for highway and public transit improvements.

“Eighteen months of inaction by Congress and the administration on surface transportation reauthorization make it clear that improving Pennsylvania’s roads and transit systems will have to be accomplished by the Corbett administration and lawmakers in Harrisburg,” Latham said.