At a U.S. Congressional hearing Dec. 6, Rick Geddes, associate professor of policy analysis and management in the College of Human Ecology, urged lawmakers to concentrate on the crowded Northeast corridor for high-speed rail development, rather than less populous regions that lack existing infrastructure and ridership demand.
He also stressed the importance of funding railway upgrades through public-private partnerships, which could attract fresh capital and lessen dependence on taxpayer funding.
Geddes, an economist who studies transportation policy and infrastructure investment, delivered his testimony at a House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure hearing called to assess the Federal Railroad Administration's High-Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail Program. The program formed in 2009 with $8 billion in federal stimulus funds but has made scant progress toward President Barack Obama's stated goal to provide 80 percent of Americans with access to high-speed rail within 25 years.
Critics, including Geddes, contend that the Department of Transportation has funded high-speed rail projects in underdeveloped and sparsely populated areas that can't generate ridership to cover high capital and operating costs.
In his testimony, Geddes argued that the Northeast "may be the only corridor in the United States that meets the necessary requirements to have self-sustaining high-speed rail," due to its population density, demonstrated demand, clear access to rights-of-way and strong local transit systems.
"Scarce public dollars must be directed first to making much-needed improvements to high-speed rail in that corridor," he said. "That's likely to be where market returns are the highest."
He added that the federal government should seek public-private partnerships -- contractual agreements between public entities and private firms to jointly provide a public good or service -- to accelerate the development of high-speed rail and "mitigate taxpayer costs, improve performance and enhance innovation."
Geddes, the author of "The Road to Renewal: Private Investment in U.S. Transportation Infrastructure" (AEI Press), also testified before Congress about high-speed rail June 22.
Ted Boscia is assistant director of communications for the College of Human Ecology.