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Economists Analyze Costs and Benefits as President Obama’s High-Speed Rail Plan Takes Shape

Publications such as “Stretched Thin” and “A Heavy Load” from NHC’s research affiliate, the Center for Housing Policy, have clearly demonstrated the connections that exist between housing and transportation, reinforcing the need to create comprehensive policies that take into account the full “costs of place” for families and individuals.

In March, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Transportation, and Department of Energy recognized the need to work more closely together to accomplish these goals and announced an interagency partnership to promote sustainable communities. While this initiative is working to create better transit options that tie together local communities, President Obama is also looking to transform America’s transportation policy on a larger scale, spearheading the creation of a high-speed rail system.

President Obama has described his vision of “whisking through towns at speeds over 100 miles an hour, walking only a few steps to public transportation, and ending up just blocks from your destination.” As part of this, the Administration is envisioning 10 high-speed rail networks scattered throughout America, not only in the Northeast, but also in California, Texas, Florida and Wisconsin. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 included $8 billion for this plan, and the House of Representatives voted for an additional $4 billion towards high-speed rail projects less than two weeks ago.


While high-speed rail systems have worked well in other countries, spurring economic growth and improving quality of life, some economists are skeptical about how this will work in America. The first in a series of three, a recent New York Times blog post from Edward L. Glaeser focuses on this issue, weighing the costs and benefits of such a system in the U.S. – specifically when it comes to the costs of building the system, and whether or not Americans would actually take advantage of it.

In this first post, Glaeser touches on the costs associated with producing rail systems in other countries, noting that in Europe the cost can be anywhere from $37 million to $53 million a mile. Cost estimates in the United States range from $22 million a mile, for a Victorville, Calif., to Las Vegas route, to $132 million a mile for connecting Baltimore and Washington.

To learn more about plans for the high-speed rail system, watch President Obama’s remarks below, and make sure to stay tuned to “Open House.”

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