Ambitious plans for a vastly upgraded rail system in New England and the Northeast could collide with severe money problems, transportation planners were told Friday.
Rep. John Olver, D-Mass., warned a group of about 50 representatives of federal, state and local agencies that the Interstate highway system built beginning in the 1950s relied in part on the gasoline tax for funding. That's no longer possible, he said.
"It's not that reliable a funding mechanism as we move away from fossil fuels," he said.
All levels of government — federal, state and local — will have to come up with money, Olver said at the meeting called to review updated plans for a revamped rail system in the Northeast.
"This is not going to work unless we have a robust appropriations," said Olver, a member of the House Appropriations Committee. "We're going to have to figure out what that funding will be."
Planners have no choice but to push forward, Olver said after the meeting.
"The alternative is, 'Oh, this cannot be done. We'll never have high-speed rail," he said.
At least initially, trains will be faster — up to 80 mph or so — but will fall short of true high speed of more than 110 mph as transportation officials seek to increase train frequency to give passengers moving between cities an alternative to cars.
For example, plans in Massachusetts also call for an east-west connection between Springfield, Worcester and Boston to relieve highway traffic.
Federal transportation officials said plans are being pursued to buy freight rail rights of way.
He said federal transportation officials are proposing to buy access from freight rail companies with the message, "We need your right of way. We're willing to put our money where our mouth is."