Public transport trade group's Millar discusses high-speed rail in U.S.

With $20 billion allocated for roads and bridges, how has the stimulus affected employment in the transportation sector? During today's OnPoint, William Millar, president of the American Public Transportation Association, discusses unemployment numbers and the impact high-speed rail development could have on job growth. Millar also discusses his expectations for the reauthorization of the transportation bill.


Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to the show. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is William Millar, president of the American Public Transportation Association. Bill, it's good to have you here.

William Millar: Monica, my pleasure.

Monica Trauzzi: Bill, we're beginning to get the some initial numbers about the impacts of stimulus cash on job growth. Twenty billion was allocated for roads and bridges, but it seems to not have had an effect on local unemployment rates. Is that figure indicative of future employment growth in the transportation sector?

William Millar: Well, we don't agree with the study that you've referred to. We think it was a flawed study. We don't think it analyze the fact that many jobs are saved. In other words, people would have lost their jobs had the stimulus funding not been put there, as well as we know for a fact that the many thousands of jobs, both rebuilding the nation's road system as well as its public transit systems have created many tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of jobs. So, we think the study that you referred to was flawed. We don't think it accurately presents the picture of what's going on. We think the stimulus funding in the transportation area has been the most successful area of all the different stimulus funding that has been put out.

Monica Trauzzi: What would revamping of the high-speed rail system do for employment numbers?

William Millar: Well, if America makes the kind of commitment that syndicated by President Obama's initial commitment of $8 billion this could be a major growth industry for America. It could result in hundreds of thousands of direct jobs and literally millions of spin-off jobs. Let me give you an example. Regular public transit that people think of as their local bus or their local subway system, when you add those that across the country almost 400,000 people are directly employed in those businesses, 1.7 million jobs total depend on public transit in America. So imagine if we make a major commitment to inner-city and high-speed rail, we could be talking about millions of jobs in hundreds of billions of dollars of positive economic impact in our country.

Monica Trauzzi: And to that end, your organization recently launched the Center for High-Speed Rail to advance and promote high-speed rail in the United States. So, what role will the center play in the discussion that's happening on high speed?

William Millar: Well, we hope the center will become the clearing house for information on high-speed rail, that information from successes and, frankly, less than great successes from around the world can be available in one place so that we can learn from other people's experience so that America can jumpstart its high-speed rail program and have great success. We hope it will become a forum for conversation. We hope it will be a place where people come together to advance higher-speed as well as high-speed rail in America.

Monica Trauzzi: What kind of timeline are we looking at though for high-speed rail? I mean it all sounds wonderful, but when will it actually be implemented?

William Millar: Well, we expect within the next few weeks the Obama administration to make its announcements about the first $8 billion worth of projects. They have received many tens of billions of dollars of applications for that initial $8 billion investment that's been approved by the Congress. The Congress, in turn, has approved another $2 1/2 billion on top of the eight, so they're responding to the interest from across the country. We would expect that there could be a groundbreaking on some of those projects perhaps even by the end of 2010, but certainly in 2011 and beyond.

Monica Trauzzi: One of the key hurdles the transportation sector is currently facing is the reauthorization of the transportation bill and it was set to run out last September. It's been extended sort of month to month since then. What are your expectations for how that may be resolved and how the Senate may address it in their jobs bill?

William Millar: Well, we certainly are hopeful that as the Congress returns that they take up not only a jobs bill, one passed the House before it left, but also get on with the business of the long-term authorization of the nation's surface transportation programs. You know, to build a highway, to build a rail line, to improve bus service, these are all things that take many years to accomplish and we have to get started with a long-term bill. So, Chairman Oberstar in the House of Representatives, the chair of the Transportation Infrastructure Committee put out last year, in a bipartisan way, an outline for a very good authorization bill going forward, included some $450 billion for highways and transit improvements and would authorize $50 billion for high-speed rail. We think that that bill would make a very good foundation. We would hope the Senate would consider Mr. Oberstar's ideas, add their own improvements and then let's get on with it. We don't want to miss the construction season that's coming up. We don't want to delay jobs. We want to make sure that America gets back to work and having a good transportation bill, well-funded, is a key part of that strategy.

Monica Trauzzi: Everyone seems to have something to contribute to the discussion over high-speed rail. Are there too many voices in this discussion?

William Millar: Well, we live in a great democracy and there are never too many voices. You know, transportation is one of those things that everybody thinks they're an expert on, just like everybody went to school, so they think they know all about education. And certainly, in a great country, a great democracy like ours, we are all free to express our opinions. But, at the end of the day, the Congress, the administration need to have heard everybody, but then come together on a course of action forward. You know, it's often said that to start you've got to begin. Well, we've been at the beginning for a while now. We need to get going. We're very hopeful that the Congress and the administration will come together on a proposal. We were very pleased at a meeting of the Transportation Research Board. Secretary LaHood recently announced that the administration hopes to have a long-term transportation bill passed before the end of the year. We certainly pledge to work as closely as possible with the administration, with the Congress, to make that happen as soon as possible. Extensions merely cause delay. Delay increases costs. Delay doesn't give employers the confidence to hire men and women to do the project that we need to have done in this country. We need to get on with it.

Monica Trauzzi: And the Obama administration recently announced that it's revamping rules on federal transit funding and focusing its evaluation of projects on environmental benefits and community benefits. Will that make it easier for projects to get funding? I mean does that really take away a major hurdle that we may have seen in previous years?

William Millar: Yes, regrettably, over the last 20 years we've gone from about a five-year time frame to develop projects to now almost 15 years to develop projects. This is a major step forward. It keeps cost effectiveness as one of the major pieces of criteria, but recognizes that transportation has many impacts. It certainly has environmental impacts. It certainly has community impacts. It certainly has economic development impacts and what the administration did was make their rules conform with existing law. Existing law passed by the Congress in 2005 requires that all those factors be considered, but the previous administration chose not to follow the law. So, we're very pleased with the announcement from the Obama administration. We believe it will move many worthy transit projects forward while still making cost effectiveness one of the pieces of criteria. No one wants to build a project that isn't cost-effective. I think this will give us more flexibility to allow better projects to move forward.

Monica Trauzzi: OK, we'll end it right there. Thank you for coming on the show.

William Millar: Thank you, my pleasure.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]



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