As I watched President Obama’s State of the Union speech tonight, I was excited to see the President connect the nation’s most pressing priorities with his vision of a modern high-speed rail network, following in the footsteps of President Dwight Eisenhower.
President Eisenhower told the nation in his 1955 State of the Union Address, “A modern highway system is essential to meet the needs of our growing population, our expanding economy, and our national security.” A year later, construction began on the largest infrastructure project America had ever attempted: the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways. Building the Interstate System would put Americans to work, help our nation’s businesses to prosper, and make the country more secure.
In tonight’s State of the Union Address, President Obama pledged economic recovery and national security through a similarly historic commitment to build the other half of America’s transportation system. The president will announce the first $8 billion of high-speed rail investments tomorrow, a down payment on a bigger plan to connect America with fast, efficient, modern trains. But I don’t need to hear his plan to understand how it will move this nation forward, because I know from experience.
I frequently travel between NRDC’s New York headquarters and our Washington office. My priority is getting there quickly, safely and with minimal impact on the environment. I choose high-speed rail whenever I can. It’s the quicker, easier, and cleaner than driving or flying. I don’t have to deal with airport delays and I am reducing pollution. The fact that these trains frequently sell out tell me many others agree. But too few Americans have this choice to begin with.
As much as America needs high-speed rail service, we will also see its benefits before a single high-speed train leaves the station. These investments will have an immediate impact on the U.S. economy, creating construction, manufacturing, and engineering jobs that can’t be outsourced. Last year, 32 rail manufacturers and suppliers pledged to expand or establish U.S.-based operations as a result of the Administration’s funding of high-speed rail.
High-speed investments will have a lasting impact on America as well. An efficient high-speed rail network will help us cut oil use in transportation, which will increase our energy independence and enhance our national security. It will help to improve the environment and avoid the impacts of climate change. It will also help America grow and prosper by improving mobility across the country, relieving gridlocked roads and crowded airports, which helps American commerce to thrive.
Eisenhower’s transportation vision helped America to prosper for 55 years. President Obama’s commitment to high-speed rail and a modern, efficient transportation system will put America on track to another century economic success.