High Speed Rail: NIPRA Weighs In
Northeast Indiana Passenger Rail Association Continues to Advocate High Speed Rail for Fort Wayne
The extension of Interstate 69 to Evansville emphasizes the importance of transportation and the future development of our state. The completion of I-69 to the southern tip of Indiana will more easily connect thousands of Hoosiers to our state capital and create jobs and economic activity, just as the northern leg to Fort Wayne has for the past 40 years.
However, building new highways is very expensive and controversial. There is a heavy price to pay in taking precious farm land, forests, and other environmental habitats. It is also hard to imagine widening highways beyond the four and five lanes constructed in many large urban areas. After seeing the environmental havoc being wreaked by the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, we need to be reminded again of our need to develop other means of transportation that utilizes less foreign and domestic oil.
The Northeast Indiana Passenger Rail Association (NIPRA) has been advocating the development of high speed passenger train service as the interstate highway system of the 21st Century. In 2009, the Federal Rail Administration awarded Indiana about $71 million to begin that process. This money, referred to as the Gateway Project, will build passing track and overpasses in a congested area of Lake County, so passenger and freight trains can more easily traverse our state and arrive in Chicago in less time. This $71 million was part of the federal stimulus money awarded to over a dozen projects that will benefit some 30 states. NIPRA is optimistic this is just the beginning of an effort to build a hub-and-spoke high speed rail system connecting Chicago to Fort Wayne and many other cities in Indiana and in the Midwest.
Linking Fort Wayne with Chicago and Cleveland will create thousands of jobs in Indiana. Restoring train service would add some $30 million in economic activity to our area each year and add value to our properties, particularly downtown. The Indiana Department of Transportation estimates the Chicago/Fort Wayne/Cleveland route would be self sustaining. Support in the community is growing, as seen by nearly 1,000 people who attended rallies in support of rail service.
NIPRA is currently meeting with members of our legislative delegation. We are emphasizing the importance of committing state funds to build this connection. We are asking State Legislators to consider the following points as they plan for future state funding in the biennial budget:
- Much like the Interstate Highway plan of the 1950s and 1960s, future federal funds dedicated for high speed rail development will be awarded to states that commit matching funds, probably at 20% of the cost of construction.
- While our state is slowly recovering from the worst recession in 80 years, now is the time to set state funding priorities, and passenger rail development must be one of those.
- Dedicating just 2% of the state transportation budget could generate as much as $70 million for the next budget cycle. Considering the Gateway Project cost some $71 million, this would be a significant commitment for rail development.
- The orthopedic industry and the steel industry in Northeast Indiana would benefit tremendously by developing a high speed rail connection to Chicago.
- In all, some 4,500 jobs would be created with this statewide rail system, and about 350 to 500 of those jobs would be in Fort Wayne.
- Reliable passenger train service, accompanied with Citilink bus service, could bring more travelers to the Fort Wayne International Airport.
- Amtrak believes Fort Wayne is an underserved area and has potential to bring in a large number of passengers.
- By encouraging passenger rail service, in addition to air and automobile transportation, we can initiate a more responsible energy policy and utilize less domestic and foreign oil.
- Surrounding states of Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio are already moving ahead with rail funding. Indiana must act now to catch up.
NIPRA will continue to promote this cause as planning for next year's state budget begins. We believe high speed passenger rail service through Fort Wayne and the rest of Indiana is the future for a strong economic development base. We are making progress toward this goal. Please contact your State Legislator today to voice support for state funding for this cause.
- Geoff Paddock is a founding member of the Northeast Indiana Passenger Rail Association. He is also a Fort Wayne City Councilman.