By MICHAEL SKIPPERExecutive Director, Nashville Area Metropolitan Planning Organization
I say it’s time for the next infrastructure revolution! And as the backbone of trade and commerce, our transportation system should be at the top of the list for investment. While recent “stimulus” funding has provided a much needed boost to shovel-ready transportation projects, this nation needs bold action to ensure our continued competitiveness in the world and a clean and safe environment for future generations. Among the few ideas being tossed around these days is the notion of high-speed rail. I know some see the idea as another example of government waste, but many said the same about the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways a half century ago. That system took 35 years and nearly a half trillion dollars (adjusted for inflation) to build; and while the implementation of that system was at times painful and imperfect, nearly everyone in America understands the value and importance of that investment now. I believe we are at another critical point in our history with regard to our national transportation system. Many economists are now saying that America should catch up with other modern nations of the world and add a high-speed rail network to compliment automobile and air traffic systems. In considering high-speed rail, forget what you know about Amtrak or other types of passenger rail service that exist in our region and across the nation. As valuable as those services are, high-speed rail is different. It is cleaner, more fuel-efficient, much faster, extremely reliable and competitive not only with automobiles, but air travel too.
High-speed rail service in this and other nations has proven to be less costly to build than urban interstate highways, uses significantly less foreign-oil per user than other modes of transportation, and with a shift from more polluting modes, can help improve air quality by reducing the toxic emissions that contribute to personal health problems. High-speed rail also provides infrastructure that can be used locally for regional mass transit service and freight movement, offsetting the frightening projections of increased auto and truck traffic on our highways.
Our economy is dependent upon this nation to travel – locally to get to work, school, or shopping, but also regionally and nationally for business and pleasure. Throughout our history, even the most minor hindrances to our ability to travel have had significant consequences on our growth and prosperity. Given the importance of visitors, tourists and conventioneers to our region's economy, we are especially vulnerable to declines in travel.
A high-speed rail network which includes the greater Nashville region on the map will provide greater choices for travel and much needed system redundancy as energy costs soar and airline and auto traffic congestion worsens. No doubt it will be expensive to build, but imagine the costs to our region if we had been left off the map for the U.S. Interstate Highway System or if we had passed on the construction and expansion of the Nashville International Airport and other regional airports because we thought the expense was too much to bear. Both were and are long-term investments with beneficial returns for generations to come. Investments in high-speed rail will not mean the end of auto and air travel; but it could mean their survival as convenient transportation options and, in turn, ours as a world leader.
Editor’s Note: The Nashville Area Metropolitan Planning Organization is a multicounty regional planning agency for the greater Nashville region of which Wilson County and its municipalities are members.