greatly expand its network by 2035, adding 30 routes to cities currently unserved by intercity rail, like Las Vegas and Nashville, and improve service along 20 routes to cities like Houston and Cincinnati. Amtrak claimed that annual ridership would increase from 32 million today to 52 million, cutting greenhouse gas emissions by displacing car and air travel.

Yet attempts to expand America’s transit and rail systems may run into pitfalls.

Building infrastructure in the United States has become notoriously expensive and difficult compared with other countries. In California, a plan for high-speed rail between Los Angeles and San Francisco that received federal funding from the Obama administration has struggled with repeated delays and cost overruns, and it remains unclear whether even a partial segment will be finished before 2030. The Biden proposal mentions this cost problem, but is vague on ideas for how to fix it.

Another challenge will be ensuring that funding goes to the most effective projects. “When a lot of money is raining down from the top, states and localities will do whatever they can to get that money,” said Paul Lewis, vice president for policy and finance at the Eno Center for Transportation, a nonpartisan research center in Washington. “Sometimes, that money may go to projects that aren’t the best projects.”

Mr. Lewis noted that improving the nation’s transportation system isn’t always a question of laying down new cement and steel. Often, the most effective changes may be operational, such as charging people more to drive during rush hour to alleviate congestion, lowering speed limits to improve traffic safety or increasing the frequency of bus routes to make them more useful to riders.

pausing a planned expansion of Interstate 45 near Houston, amid concerns over increased air pollution and the displacement of Black and Hispanic communities. Separately, the Biden administration’s infrastructure proposal includes $20 billion to improve road safety, including for pedestrians, as well another $20 billion to “reconnect neighborhoods” that were harmed by past highway projects.

But it remains to be seen how these programs will work. For instance, without strict conditions from the federal government, some states could simply take federal money intended for road repair and safety and then use their own state funds for further highway expansion.

“If this money isn’t accompanied by real policy changes,” said Kevin DeGood, director of infrastructure policy at the Center for American Progress, “then states will just keep doing what they’ve always done, which isn’t equitable or green.”

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