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Imagine traveling faster than ever before between any two major downtowns in the Willamette Valley and completing office work on your computer or just relaxing with a beverage during the trip. Besides providing a great option for potential train passengers, a new study indicates that bringing the vision of higher-speed rail service to reality will create jobs, boost economic development and more.
A study by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group -- "A Track Record of Success: High-Speed Rail Around the World and Its Promises for America" -- provides specific examples from all over the world of the wide array of benefits of high-speed rail: job creation, development opportunities, economic growth, reduced road and airport congestion, and reduced oil-dependence.
As the state capital, Salem sees thousands of commuters and visitors throughout the year, and as our region grows with private-sector jobs, providing alternative transportation choices will be even more crucial to enable efficient movement of people to their workplace, shopping and entertainment.
The process to develop the system and, most importantly, decide frequency and routes, will require early and consistent communication with affected communities and neighborhoods to ensure solid support. Nearly $9 million in high-speed rail funding recently awarded to Oregon from the U.S. Department of Transportation will bring us one step closer to reaping many of these benefits. The funding goes in part to an alternatives analysis for the corridor from Eugene to Portland. Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy will head a commission to oversee the Portland-Eugene study, which ODOT's rail division will conduct. Once the study is complete, Oregon will be eligible for more high-speed rail funds to start building.
With the region projected to grow 50 percent in the next 20 years, we must invest in capacity and affordable options on the Interstate 5 corridor. To meet new travel demand, it will be much cheaper to improve rail service than to widen I-5. But we won't get there without two things:
First, the $8 billion appropriated nationwide this year is a good start, but we need sustained annual federal funding of $10 billion for passenger rail authorized in the next federal transportation bill if we want to make progress on building out the nation's system. We also will need to look for ways to match that funding at the state and local level here in Oregon.
Second, we need an engaged public to guide the process of setting goals, studying alternatives and selecting alignments. The commission headed by Piercy creates a framework for the public to provide input so ODOT planners can do their work effectively and design a system that best serves the region.
Development of passenger rail in Oregon is a win-win. Train travel offers a travel option that will remain affordable even as gas prices inevitably rise. Furthermore, we can create jobs building the infrastructure. Investment in rail will be more affordable for taxpayers than widening I-5. And by delivering passengers close to the center of town, higher-speed rail offers the opportunity to reinvigorate and invest in our downtowns as walkable, economically vibrant places. It's good to see that we're getting on track.
Janet Taylor is mayor of Salem.
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