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BusINess » BusINess Story of the Week Business Transportation » Obama’s goal for high speed rail has Ind., Ill. advocates smiling

Obama’s goal for high speed rail has Ind., Ill. advocates smiling

High-speed trains are shown in the Part-Dieu train station in Lyon, central France. The Indiana High Speed Rail Association is pushing for a “signature” high speed rail project for Indiana, such as a Chicago to Indianapolis to Cincinnati route via a high-speed rail station at the Gary/Chicago International Airport. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani, file)

High-speed trains are shown in the Part-Dieu train station in Lyon, central France. The Indiana High Speed Rail Association is pushing for a “signature” high speed rail project for Indiana, such as a Chicago to Indianapolis to Cincinnati route via a high-speed rail station at the Gary/Chicago International Airport. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani, file)

Advocates for high-speed rail in the Midwest received new hope Tuesday when President Barack Obama set a goal of providing 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail within 25 years. For Illinois, that means routes where trains reach 220 miles per hour.

With a goal of putting 35 million people within a three-hour trip to Chicago, the Midwest High Speed Rail Association advocates building four bullet train routes. It also hopes existing Amtrak service will be modernized to bring trains up to speeds of at least 90 miles per hour by 2020.

“It’ll bring the cities much closer together, and that means the people in those cities can meet with each other more often,” said Rick Harnish, executive director of the rail association. “They can have more meetings and more productive travel. Meeting more often will also make them more innovative.”

It has also raised hopes for high speed rail in Indiana, where the state last year failed to win any federal stimulus funding that would create a high speed route in the state. The Indiana Department of Transportation did win $71.4 million for a project known as the Indiana Gateway, which would help cut Amtrak times from Chicago to Detroit.

“Indiana is a business-friendly state,” said Dennis Hodges, founder of the Indiana High Speed Rail Association. “We are doing well attracting businesses. But I think we could do even better with 21st-century transportation.”

The Indiana High Speed Rail Association is pushing for a “signature” high speed rail project for Indiana, such as a Chicago to Indianapolis to Cincinnati route via a high-speed rail station at the Gary/Chicago International Airport.

In the State of the Union address, Obama said one of the steps to a successful U.S. future is rebuilding infrastructure and creating the “fastest, most reliable ways to move people, goods and information-from high-speed rail to high-speed Internet.”

Obama said Russia and some European countries are investing more in roads and railways than the U.S.

“Meanwhile, when our own engineers graded our nation’s infrastructure, they gave us a ‘D,’” Obama said.

If Obama’s plans are enacted, more Americans will be put to work repairing deteriorating roads and bridges-something that manufacturers say they have been asking for from Congress for years.

“To compete globally, America’s farmers and manufacturers need the White House and Congress to cooperate on new policies that repair and modernize transportation infrastructure,” said Dennis Slater, president of the Milwaukee-based Association of Equipment Manufacturers, in a statemetn.

Slater said the country’s infrastructure is crumbling and “is a roadblock to commerce that hurts America’s farmers and manufacturers.”

Manufacturers across the country are now counting on Congress to pass a surface transportation bill that would boost employment and help infrastructure by putting Americans back to work repairing roads, Slater said.

Still, the Republican party has sworn not to approve additional spending without commensurate budget cuts.

Times Business Writer Keith Benman contributed to this report.

If you go

What: Indiana High Speed Rail Association annual business and government leaders luncheon.

When: 11:30 a.m., March 18

Where: The Center for the Visual and Performing Arts, 1040 Ridge Road, Munster.

Keynote speaker: Barry Bateman, director Milwaukee’s Mitchell International Airport.

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