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Northeast Corridor businesses, APTA call for more transit funding in economic stimulus bill


Last  week, the Business Alliance for Northeast Mobility sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) urging them to increase funding in the economic stimulus bill for transit and rail.

The coalition — which includes more than 30 chambers of commerce and civic organizations along the Northeast Corridor — are calling for the bill to provide $15 billion to $20 billion for transit and at least $1.5 billion for intercity passenger rail nationwide.

The Northeast Corridor is the most heavily traveled portion of the United States' passenger-rail system and is an economic engine for the "Northeast Megaregion," which runs between Richmond, Va., and Portland, Maine, the coalition said. The region produces more than 20 percent of the country's total economic output and contains 15 percent of the nation's population on only 2 percent of its land area.

"The Northeast Corridor's economic productivity is heavily dependent on our transit and rail systems," said former Pennsylvania Gov. Mark Schweiker, who currently serves as president and CEO of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce and chairman of the Business Alliance, in a prepared statement. "The business community understands that the current and future success and vitality of our region is contingent upon making the needed investments in this essential piece of infrastructure."

The business alliance also released a report, "The Future of the Northeast Corridor," which details the improvements needed to increase rail mobility and stimulate economic growth. Amtrak ridership is expected to double by 2030, and volume on the Northeast Corridor is expected grow from about 250 million to nearly 400 million riders, the coalition noted. The report also shared concerns from business leaders who depend on the Northeast Corridor to remain competitive

"Verizon New Jersey's decision to retain its 700-employee presence in Newark, and to invest more than $25 million, was influenced strongly by the city's rail connections and access to the Northeast Corridor," said Verizon New Jersey President Dennis Bone. "As a company that spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year on our own infrastructure, we understand the importance of returning the corridor to a state of good repair."

Meanwhile, the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) also recently urged Pelosi to provide at least $12 billion for public transportation, including at least $2.5 billion for Transit Energy Assistance grants, in the economic recovery bill. While ridership on public transit systems has surged during the past year, many agencies are implementing service cuts because of budget shortfalls, APTA President William Millar told Pelosi in a letter.

The House Appropriations Committee has included $9 billion in the most recent stimulus bill for public transit. The bill also would give recipients of Capital Assistance Grants and fixed guideway program funds 180 days, rather than 120 days, to use 50 percent of the economic recovery funding. After that, unspent funds could be diverted to other recipients. In addition, the amended bill clarifies that funds need only be "obligated," rather than requiring recipients to enter into "contracts or other binding commitments," as previously specified.

The bill now will go before the full House, where it could be debated as early as Jan. 28, according to APTA.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 1/26/2009