The Light Rail Economy


Passenger rail took the spotlight this the weekend after Seattle opened its first light rail, named Link, to successful ridership numbers. The project is being hailed as forward-thinking and economically fruitful for the city. Indeed, Jon Talton, veteran financial journalist for The Seattle Times, published a provocative commentary about the rail line, which boasts of the system’s financial benefits and opens readers’ eyes to some unknown facts about light rail. For instance, he mentions that “modern light rail has succeeded in every city in which it has been built,” citing auto-loving Phoenix as a surprising success story. Talton believes that rising energy costs, frustration over traffic congestion, and a distaste for sprawling developments will nudge most metropolitan areas into making smarter transportation choices and funding rail projects. Couple these reasons with evidence that rail attracts investments and business centers, and Talton’s prediction might ring true sooner than later.

However, before any big decisions are made, the question always seems to center on funding mechanisms, or “Who will pay for the projects?” While the issue of light rail is still being debated, the Obama administration has made it clear that a high-speed rail system will be a high priority over the next few years. This investment is a top administrative goal, as a recent Miami Herald article notes, since $8 billion of the stimulus funding has been allocated solely for high-speed rail projects. As reported last week, the United States Department of Transportation already received over 270 project applications from states vying for a piece of the funds. While this tremendous demand will mean that some projects will be turned away, it certainly suggests that rail is the way of the future.

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About Beata Bujalska

Beata Bujalska is the former Campaign Coordinator for Renew Lehigh Valley. She currently lives in Panama, a place that fascinates her due to (among other reasons) its recent development boom.

Posted on July 20, 2009, in Media Coverage, Public Infrastructure, Transportation, Trends, Urbanism and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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