High-speed rail creates new opportunities for cities through increased accessibility, increased connectivity, reduced travel times and reduced emissions since high-speed rail consumes nearly 10 times less fuel than cars and six times less than planes (according to the U.S. Department of Transportation). Linking transportation, environmental and natural resources management with a push to develop clean fuel alternatives has ushered in an increasing focus on sustainability, economic development and quality of life. Our commitment to reduce dependence on foreign oil has fueled the search for cleaner fuels and more efficient sustainable ways to move people and commodities. The current environment has served to underscore the wisdom and the significance of Warren Buffett's recent purchase of Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railroad. The federal role and a newly implemented transportation vision support an expanded role for rail and transit.
The Triple Bottom Line
One definition of a sustainable corporation is one that creates profit for its shareholders, protects the environment and improves the quality of life for its employees, clients and society at large. It strives to minimize its impact on the environment and development of the capacity to regenerate many of the resources it consumes in order to assure its long-term success and survival. While there is no standard definition for sustainable transportation, several adopted definitions suggest that a sustainable transportation system is effective and efficient and provides safe and equitable access to basic economic and social services, promotes economic development and supports environmental integrity.
Investment in rail and public transportation has great potential to affect the triple bottom line contributing to our country's ability to develop and implement environmental, social and economically sustainable strategies that enhance our competitive advantage while meeting our mobility needs and preserving our quality of life. The challenge is to develop new approaches to maximize the triple bottom line through adoption of sustainable practices and procedures that apply to both commodity and people movement. Major organizations such as the World Bank, the Organization for Cooperation and Economic Development (OECD) and Transport Canada have adopted definitions for sustainable transportation. The OECD, for example, defines sustainable transportation as transportation that does not endanger public health or ecosystems and meets the needs for access consistent with (a) the use of renewable resources at or below their rates of regeneration, and (b) the use of non-renewable resources below the rates of development of renewable substitutes (OECD 1999).
Global climate change and our dependence on the availability of fossil fuels are creating greater urgency to develop new transportation strategies in response to global dynamics and competitiveness. Edward Kershner, a Wall Street strategist suggests, “Climate change is a market force as profound as the changes ushered in by the baby boom, globalization, the aging of populations and the digital age.” To make a positive contribution on the issue of global climate change, transportation policies must focus on reducing our dependence on foreign oil, reduce energy consumption and reduce travel demand.”
The Obama Administration has made a commitment to the development of sustainable transportation and sustainable communities. In June 2009, EPA joined with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to help improve access to affordable housing, more transportation options and lower transportation costs while protecting the environment. They jointly outlined a set of guiding livability principles and a partnership agreement that will guide the agencies' efforts; this partnership will coordinate federal housing, transportation and other infrastructure investments to protect the environment, promote equitable development and help to address the challenges of climate change.
One new interagency agreement is the HUD-DOT-EPA Interagency Partnership for Sustainable Communities. The partnership is committed to enhancing integrated planning and investment between housing, transportation, water infrastructure and land-use planning and investment. HUD, EPA and DOT make planning grants available to metropolitan areas and create mechanisms to ensure those plans are carried through to localities. The partnership provides a vision for sustainable growth, develops federal housing affordability measures that include housing or transportation costs and other expenses that are affected by location choices, redevelops underutilized sites, achieves critical environmental justice goals and other environmental goals by targeting development to locations that already have infrastructure and offer transportation choices, and to research, evaluate and recommend measures that indicate the livability of communities, neighborhoods and metropolitan areas.