Foxx: high-speed-rail link will keep regional growth on track

July 24, 2015

Source: Nate Delesline III, Inside Business | The Hampton Roads Business Journal 

RICHMOND - An improved, high-speed-rail link between Washington and Richmond, where trains would run up to 90 mph, would help keep growth and development in America's southeastern corridor from going off the rails, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx said.

"We've been preparing for greater rail connectivity in the Southeast and in particular in Virginia for a long time," said Foxx, who was the featured speaker at a Wednesday luncheon organized by Virginians For High Speed Rail.

After years of discussion, Foxx said action is needed. "If we come back here next year and we're having the same conversation, something has gone wrong," Foxx said. "I want to take this thing out of the crock pot and put it in the microwave. Let's get this done."

Foxx, who formerly served as mayor of Charlotte, N.C., acknowledged that completing complicated transportation projects requires local cooperation and insight, and he lauded Virginia's state leaders for maintaining the D.C.-to-Richmond project's momentum.

Getting that rail segment up and running, Foxx said, will unlock the rest of the region and hopefully prompt Alabama, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina to join North Carolina and Virginia in creating a system that will mirror the service and reach of the Northeast Corridor rail line, which runs from Washington to Boston.

"We are committed to doing this, and we are very close to being able to lay out our specific needs," Aubrey Layne, Virginia's secretary of transportation, told luncheon attendees who gathered at the Greater Richmond Convention Center.

The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration are working jointly on the 123-mile project, which is presently in the environmental, preliminary engineering and service development phases.

As a native of the South, Foxx said, "I'm very familiar with what the South used to be like and what it's going to be like. We used to have wide open spaces," but in many communities, that's not the case anymore. "I believe firmly that if the Southeast doesn't figure out intercity passenger rail, the South is going to be stuck in traffic for a very long time."

Among millennials, "when it comes to transportation, we are seeing some important trends," said Danny Plaugher, executive director of Virginians for High Speed Rail.

For example, in 1990, 11 percent of 16- to 34-year-olds in Virginia did not have a driver's license. By 2010, he said, that number had increased to 25 percent.

"This tells me that my generation is not married to the idea of an automobile-centric lifestyle," Plaugher said. "Millennials are moving into communities that offer us transit, bike and pedestrian choices and of course, inner-city passenger rail."

Whether people are on the move for business or fun, improving and expanding passenger rail will facilitate more mobility for everyone, Plaugher said.

Jennifer Mitchell, director of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, who attended the event, agreed.

"We remind people that you can't get to Hampton Roads until you get from D.C. to Richmond, so obviously any improvements we make there are going to have a huge impact for the trains that we run today to Norfolk and to Newport News," Mitchell said.