The American south is known for a nostalgic way of life, slow to change and steeped in reverence for the past. But in the next few years, this region could potentially join the highly modernized cities of Europe and Japan with its very own high-speed rail line.

Several major cities along Interstate 20, including Dallas, Jackson, Shreveport, Birmingham and Atlanta, are contemplating a proposal to build an 816-mile high-speed railway connecting them all. Known as the Interstate-20 High-Speed Rail Express or Interstate 20 eXpress, this high-speed rail would run parallel to Interstate 20 and have its terminus points at the airports in Dallas and Atlanta, with several stations in between. High Speed Railway

The plan is far from new. First proposed more than 20 years ago by executive Richard Finley, the high-speed rail has been his pet project ever since. His last campaign for the project took place in 2009, but it was blocked by Alabama state leaders’ failure to complete the feasibility studies necessary to receive federal funding for the project.

According to Finley’s proposal, the high-speed rail would travel at 163 miles per hour, allowing passengers to make the trip from Atlanta to Dallas in less than five hours, a trip that highway drivers are lucky to make in eleven hours. For anyone who has ever sat in Atlanta metro area traffic, Finley’s idea has its attractions.

Indeed, Finley used Atlanta’s notorious traffic problems to support his argument before the Birmingham City Council.

“If you go to Atlanta, all of the major highway arteries are clogged. There are thousands of people killed every year in auto accidents so we have to have an alternative,” he said.

The high-speed rail project would cost $400 million to build and take about ten years to complete. (The section between Birmingham and Atlanta would likely require about five years.)

Those in favor of Finley’s proposal maintain that high-speed rail is a faster means of long-distance transportation than driving or even flying, is easier and cheaper to maintain than highways, relieves environmental pollution, lessens the burden on nonrenewable energy, and even stimulates local economies.

Those against it argue that the project would be disruptive to local economies, and that the money would be better spent elsewhere.

For Birmingham in particular, local leaders are weighing the high-speed rail line’s potential for encouraging people to live at lower cost in Alabama while working in Atlanta for higher salaries.

At this point, Finley has funding promised for the project from several private investors as well as the Federal Railroad Administration, as well as verbal commitment to the project from Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Georgia. That simply leaves Alabama, where he is currently meeting with the Birmingham City Council’s transportation committee and seeking support from local leaders around the state to move the project forward.

Lee Pittman

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Lee Pittman is one of the founding partners of Pittman, Dutton & Hellums, P.C. Learn more about his background and featured practice areas here.

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