Chris Briem points to an interesting proposal to connect Pittsburgh to Columbus with high-speed rail. As he mentions, it seems like there is always some kind of ambitious rail plan afoot. (Maglev, anyone?) That being the case, can I proose something even more bold and transformative?
If we are going to spend a hundred kazillion dollars on a high-speed rail line, why not connect it to DC? It's about 250 miles, sure. And there's a mountian range in the way. But imagine: it would solve our "population problem" by transforming Pittsburgh into a sleepy (and affordable) bedroom community overnight.
Too far, you say? Sure, even a really fast train would require more than two hours to get to DC. But I lived and worked there. And it REGULARLY took me more than two hours to make my 30-mile drive home from work. (I was off the transit grid on both ends, as I didn't work downtown.) Baltimore already has made the transition to bedroom community, with scads of people taking the MARC train to DC everyday. (And scads more grinding to a halt in I-95.) And most preposterously, some commuters there are now driving more than 130-miles to work.
That is, if you made it possible to commute from Pittsburgh to DC in less than two-and-a-half hours, tens of thousands of people would likely take you up on it. Particularly if they could get some work done en route. Which is possible on a train.
At Maglev speeds, Pittsburgh/DC would be less than an hour. (An express line, at least.) And I am here to tell you that it took me almost an hour to make a left-hand turn out of my apartment complex in Silver Spring.
Now, I am not really serious about this. It would cost too much. And politics basically make it impossible to consider a 250-mile rail line without stops along the way. (The Baltimore/DC Maglev proposal called for a stop at BWI, which meant that the train could never even really get up to speed.)
But the fact that it does not seem all the preposterous (at least compared to the people driving 130 miles to work) says a lot about... what? I don't even know anymore.