President Obama's announcement of $8 billion in state grants for high-speed intercity passenger rail systems is "a much-needed, and long-overdue, step forward in improving connections between our nation's urban areas," according to the Washington-based Urban Land Institute's (ULI) Chief Executive Officer Patrick Phillips. The new funding signals a recognition that transportation investments are needed to create jobs and keep the country globally competitive, Phillips said in a statement.

Obama announced the grants in January as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). In total, 31 states and the District of Columbia will receive awards, primarily for new, large-scale high-speed rail programs — such as $1.25 billion for Florida to develop a high-speed rail corridor between Tampa and Orlando, and $2.25 billion for California to connect Los Angeles to San Francisco — though several grants were included for improvement projects and planning, according to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "For decades, the United States has fallen far behind Asia and most of Europe in virtually all aspects of mobility-related infrastructure — airports, public transit, roads, bridges, and certainly passenger railway systems," Phillips said in his statement.

Phillips also said that America "has become more of a follower than a world leader when it comes to infrastructure." "By 2025, China will have more than 13,000 kilometers of high-speed rail lines either planned, under construction or in operation," he said. "Currently, the U.S. has little more than 1,000 kilometers, with most of that in the planning stages."

Phillips said the proposed system for allocating the high-speed funding to states through a competitive, merit-based system will encourage more collaboration among urban regions, an improvement over the traditional formula-based system used to allocate federal transportation funding.
"For years, other countries have developed best practices in leveraging public financing and providing innovative, highly efficient systems that emphasize high-speed rail," Phillips said. "In the U.S., we have tended to focus exclusively on maintaining what we have, rather than rethinking our options and looking for new solutions. Relying on existing networks and systems will only hamstring future success."

Read Phillips' entire statement and more information on the ARRA High-Speed and Inter-city Passenger Rail grants.

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