MIPRC responds to FRA request for information on new federal Corridor Identification & Development Program
MIPRC on March 8, 2022, submitted comments on the new federal Corridor Identification and Development Program created by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The program creates a new framework to facilitate the development of new, enhanced, and restored intercity passenger rail corridors throughout the country.
The program’s broad parameters include processes for eligible entities – i.e., states, groups of states, federally-recognized tribes, interstate rail compacts, Amtrak or its host railroads – to submit proposals for the development of intercity passenger rail corridors and for the Federal Railroad Administration to review and select such proposals.
The program requires the FRA to work with states, Amtrak and others (as appropriate) to prepare or update service development plans (SDPs) for corridors that become part of the program. Such plans must be reviewed every five years if at least 40 percent of the work they outline has not yet been completed to determine if they should be updated.
The program parameters also include criteria for the FRA to:
• determine levels of readiness for federal financial assistance of intercity passenger rail corridors;
• create a pipeline of intercity passenger rail corridor projects;
• facilitate and provide planning guidance;
• determine other features the FRA considers relevant to the successful development of passenger rail corridors.
The law (H.R. 3684) gives the FRA 180 days to get the program up and running. As part of that process, the agency sought comments on how the program can best be operated, asking interested parties to answer 16 questions about appropriate roles for Amtrak, service development plans, and public involvement and input; as well as how a project “pipeline” should function, the readiness of projects for qualification, and how selective the program should be. The deadline for comments was March 9.
MIPRC’s comments were developed jointly with the Commission’s eight member states’ departments of transportation (some of which also submitted their own comments).
In choosing projects for the “pipeline,” MIPRC stressed the FRA should consider how a proposed corridor service is consistent with the development of coherent regional and national networks, as well as how the proposed service meets the needs of populations and regions that have limited alternative means of intercity travel.
MIPRC also suggested the FRA give preference to multi-state corridors and diversify the list of eligible corridor projects to include ones that either serve new or underserved communities, would address high levels of road congestion, and/or provide a high return on investment from transportation, equity, environmental and safety benefits.
In establishing its list of projects, MIPRC suggested it may be helpful for the FRA to establish a multi-tiered pipeline for projects at varying stages of readiness, rather than a “pipeline” for shovel-ready projects and a “pre-pipeline” for projects that aren’t yet shovel-ready, to avoid a perception that some corridors (i.e. the ones in the “pipeline”) are looked at by FRA as more of a priority than those in the “pre-pipeline.”
MIPRC’s suggested tiers include 1) initial feasibility; 2) partnering with FRA for SDP development; 3) being readied for implementation; and 4) ready for implementation. Clear benchmarks should be included for a corridor to move to the next tier, but FRA assistance and federal funding, as appropriate, should be part of each tier.
All 399 comments on the Corridor ID & Development Program can be seen here.