Growing Conservative Strength Puts Transit Improvements in Doubt

» The next few years are likely to be difficult for advocates of public transportation because of increased hostility to government investment.

1987, 1991, 1995, 1998, and 2005 share a significant feature: In each of those years, members of Congress were able to come together to pass a multi-year bill that codified how the U.S. government was to collect revenues for and allocate expenditures on transportation. Not coincidentally, in each of those years, one political party controlled both the House and Senate.

In the 112th Congress, set to enter office in just one month, Democrats will run the Senate and Republicans the House. This split control will make passing any legislation difficult. Unlike in those aforementioned years, there is little chance that this group of legislators will be able to pass a multi-year transportation bill either in 2011 or 2012.

These circumstances, combined with increasingly strident conservative rhetoric about the need to reduce government expenditures, may fundamentally challenge the advances the Obama Administration and the Democratic Congress have been able to make over the past two years in expanding the nation’s intercity rail network, promoting a vision for livable communities, and reinforcing funding for urban transit. Continuing those efforts would require identifying sources of increased revenue and a steadfast commitment to reducing the role of the automobile in American society.

But there is little support for increased taxes from any side of the political table and there is a fundamental aversion from the mainstream Republican Party to the investments that have defined the government’s recent transportation strategy. Meanwhile, declining power of the purse resulting from a fuel tax last increased in 1993 means that the existing situation is unacceptable, at least if there is any sense that something must be done to expand investment in transportation infrastructure. Gridlock — and myopic thinking about how to improve mobility in the United States — will ensue.

The opening shot in this game was fired this fall by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, whose decision to cancel the ARC tunnel connecting his state to New York City was framed in the rhetoric of fiscal conservatism, his fear of cost overruns evidently outweighing the massive economic gains his constituency would have received thanks to improved connections to Manhattan. Now Mr. Christie is suing the federal government to prevent it from taking back the $271 million it granted to the state for the project, despite the fact that the New Starts grant agreement New Jersey signed with the Federal Transit Administration to receive funding clearly states that entities that fail to complete the projects for which they have received federal aid must return the grant in full to Washington.*

Governor Christie, of course, is not alone in his approach: His colleagues in Wisconsin and Ohio, newly elected Republicans soon to enter gubernatorial offices, have promised to shut down their local federally funded intercity rail corridors that they fear will overwhelm them with future operating expenses. Of course, those complaints are patently absurd when put in context of each state’s respective overall transportation budget. Wisconsin, for instance, spends more than a billion dollars on roadway construction annually and would have been asked to contribute a mere $7.5 million to train operations. Is such a small contribution really such a huge price to pay for a transportation alternative?

Members of Congress have been all too ready to support these efforts to close the book on the nation’s nascent intercity rail program before it can begin. A Republican Congressman introduced a bill this week that would rescind stimulus funds not yet obligated, a move that would pull $6.3 billion out of state hands, most of it designated for passenger rail.

Common across this discussion is the claim that investing in transportation infrastructure can be wasteful — this is an argument that has been made successfully since Alaska’s “bridge to nowhere” achieved national notoriety during the 2008 presidential campaign. And indeed, there are plenty of examples of spending on projects that are less than economically beneficial. Yet it has become clear that the preponderance of criticism is being heaped on infrastructure that is designated for non-automobile transportation, in spite of the fact that the Alaskan bridge was, after all, for cars.

Mr. Christie is considering allocating to road improvement $1.25 billion once supposed to help to pay for the ARC tunnel. Outgoing Ohio Senator George Voinovich is hoping to change the law before he leaves to allow his state to transfer to highway construction funds once designated for the Cincinnati-Cleveland intercity rail line. The expected new speaker of the House, Ohio Congressman John Boehner, simply doesn’t think the federal government should be getting involved with funding bike and pedestrian improvement projects, which are at the heart of the Obama Administration’s livable cities goals. Cutbacks to the overall federal transportation budget, at least according to preliminary reports on GOP efforts, are likely to hit transit far harder than highways.

Some have suggested that this is acceptable policy, that the Obama Administration was failing to address the needs and desires of the U.S. population in its focus on developing new and better modes of transportation. I would suggest that the alternative is disastrous: More sprawl, more environmental devastation, more repetitive, identity-less cities.

Thus the issue here is not so much fiscal sanity as it is remarkably differing visions about how Americans should get around in the future. Whereas the current Congress and the White House have staked out relatively progressive policies in terms of providing adequate and equal funding to non-automobile modes of transportation, the incoming House leadership appears poised to take advantage of fears about increases in the federal budget deficit to reduce spending on everything but roads.

There is, as always, an alternative. The bipartisan — though ideologically more right-wing than centrist — National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility suggested in its plan for reducing the nation’s debt a 15¢ per gallon increase in the fuel tax, though it said little about how exactly those new revenues would be utilized. A more progressive group called Our Fiscal Security released a far more equitable program for reducing the U.S. deficit that would introduce a carbon tax (or cap and trade) and expand the motor fuels tax by 25¢ or more per gallon. These revenues, the group notes, could go towards expanded public transportation for the purposes of “reduc[ing] our dependency on fuel and increas[ing] productivity by reducing the amount of time people sit in traffic.” Neither group’s ambitions, however, appears to be supported by enough members of Congress to be taken completely seriously.

This adds up to a thoroughly inconvenient situation for the future of U.S. transportation. Despite a well-documented need for more spending, the newly Republican House is unlikely to authorize any new revenue source for the purpose. Based on recent decisions by party members at the state and national level, that will mean a renewed emphasis on roadway projects and less proposed funding for transit. How will the GOP delegation be able to compromise with the Democratic Senate? Any effort to make 2011 replicate the achievements of past years in which transportation bills were passed seems bound to fail.

* See U.S. Code Title 49, Section 5309 (G)(3)(B): “If an applicant does not carry out the project for reasons within the control of the applicant, the applicant shall repay all Government payments made under the work agreement plus reasonable interest and penalty charges the Secretary establishes in the agreement.”

106 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • poncho

    how could we possibly build more roads in the US? we dont need an inch more of new road.

    • Buckeyeman

      I’m afraid that doesn’t matter now. The Republicans will be running the show for at least the next two years and the best we can hope for is that voters get tired of the Republicans in 2 years just as they did the Democrats this year. They voted out the Republicans 2 years ago because of the horrible economy and then voted them back in with a vengeance this year because nothing had improved.So we’ll see how much the economy improves, if at all between now and 2012. That should be the biggest factor in how they do then.

      • Matt Fisher

        That better happen. I’ll be damned if Obama loses. Of course, since the re-emergence of conservatism, and that my parents don’t want to talk about transit again with me following something earlier this year, I have become more skeptical of rail stuff. Nothing seems to improve now as it did so far. Aside from this, I have become more and more convinced that BRT is more likely to be cost-effective than rail will ever be, given what we have here in Ottawa.

        • Drewski

          Ottawa’s own numbers on BRT capacity show that it’s far from the miracle it’s been presented to be. Conversion of the main BRT lines to LRT sends capacity much higher, but requires fewer drivers, which does a lot to reduce costs. This is assuming that Ottawa LRT manages to avoid the mess currently going on in Toronto. There’s a very strong possibility that Hudak’s Conservatives will take over government in next election, and Hudak is a Tory very much in the same city-hating mould as Mike Harris. Politicians in Ontario have a history of cancelling rail projects that’re already under construction (Eglinton Subway, GO-ALRT both come to mind).

      • Actually, if the 2010 electorate had been the 2008 electorate, it would have been President John McCain. We have a very substantial demographic swing between midterm and Presidential election years, and with the substantially different partisan affiliation in different age cohorts, we could be in for a two year partisan pendulum for several more cycles.

        The 2006 masked this because of policy disenchantment with the Bush war policy, and 2010 amplified this because of the 14% real unemployment rates, but if you look at the demographics of the turn-out, and the long term trends of partisan affiliation, there is an underlying pendulum locked in place for several more cycles until more of the Reagan electorate dies off.

    • There’s still lots of poor areas in the cities we could pave over.

      /sarcasm

  • The law citation sparked this in my mind… for any attorneys out there- might emphasising highway infrastructure in lieu of non-auto infrastructure potentially violate civil rights laws by discriminating against users whom cannot afford the initial investment in a vehicle?

    • No. It didn’t in the 1960s, when fewer people could afford cars and the courts were more liberal than they are today; it has no chance today.

      • Adirondacker12800

        Might violate citizen’s right to breathe. I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop on Gov. Christie’s head when the EPA says “fine don’t build the tunnel. What are you going to do about air quality” and “we think that odd even driving days might do the trick”

  • Louis

    Yonah–

    Wouldn’t it make sense for Democrats to not cooperate in a reauthorization of the transportation bill? My sense is that the most successful transportation projects are funded at the local level (through dedicated sales tax or toll revenue) and that the federal government just delays things because states and cities wait to see if they can get the feds to share the costs. Also, the transportation bills are already heavily tilted to the highway interests, so if Democrats come out against the “wasteful” spending on highways, we could all be better off, as the transportation bill is really a net transfer from the economically productive states to economically unproductive states that nonetheless have high need for roads.

    As someone who thinks that the biggest problem with transportation in this country is the subsidy of driving, removing part of this subsidy, even if it also takes away from public/alternative transit funding, seems like a net gain. And, perhaps Dems could focus instead on an infrastructure bank, which would take away from the Congress some of the power it has in distributing dollars.

    For example, while I think Chicago’s decision to privatize its parking system was a dumb idea, it’s smart to charge more for parking. If the government won’t do it because of entrenched interests, it’s better to give it over to a private authority who doesn’t have to worry about an election.

    For the same reason, I’m open to the privatization of roads, as private companies will do a better job of congestion pricing that the government does today.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts on this approach.

    • DBX

      In general, I think there’s a strong case for aggressively downsizing the federal government wherever possible. It has become a venue for rampant institutionalized corruption; it is a brake on the marketplace of ideas; a force for inertia in the country. Some places will make tragic errors like Chicago’s parking meter giveaway to the banks, but taking away the federal gas tax and the 80/20 matching for roads and in some cases 95/5 matching for airports would finally make state departments of transportation and state politicians think a bit more about how they spend scarce resources. Look to Canada and Australia for what the decentralization I advocate means in practice in thinly populated areas. We don’t have such an obvious blueprint for the thickly populated areas but European cities have tended to go for transit wherever left to their own devices and I see little reason to assume that US cities and city-regions, with the powerful opposition to new roads, would be any different.

      • Adirondacker12800

        Never happen. The blue states in the Northeast and Midwest would put up toll booths where they don’t already have them and go merrily on their way. The red states would go into shock and after a few years of pot hole ridden Interstates the Feds would have to bail them out.

        • Nathanael

          Why *should* we bail out states which vote consistently against the interests of themselves, and frankly of *everyone*?

          The majority of the “donor” states (pay more into the Federal kitty than we get out) are “blue”; the majority of the “grifter” states (get more out than they put in) are “red”. We’d be better off if a bunch of the right-wing parts of the country seceded; we’d be richer, they’d be poorer. And the nutters would be permanently out of power in the “blue” country. We’d still have political problems, but they’d be more tractable, less of the “how do we deal with these deranged lunatics elected from Wyoming” variety.

      • DBX,
        Anti-federalist … I guess you blame the Wall Street meltdown on the Feds too.

        • DBX

          Well, Phil Gramm, Larry Summers and Bill Clinton deregulating derivatives at the end of the 1990s didn’t help. Nor did the continual cuts in capital gains taxes which drove bubble waves of speculation.

          Those are important reminders that the first duty of government should be maintaining law and order including maintaining sound rules and regulation, and the sad truth is that increasingly, we depend on the states for initiative in these areas. Microsoft, the tobacco lawsuits, the NY attorney generals going after Wall Street and so on. It’s inadequate, but it’s better than nothing, which is what we’re increasingly getting from Washington.

          • If the bank installs a broken alarm system, the banks fault in a bank robbery is negligence, while the bank robber’s fault is criminal behavior.

            The reason it was a gross mistake to eliminate the distinction between commercial banks and investment banks (and the reason why it was a gross mistake to allow investment banks to incorporate in the first place), is because left to their own devices, an unfettered private banking system sooner or later builds a house of cards that causes a lot of damage when it collapses.

            But its still the responsibility of the people who engaged in the control fraud for setting up the fraudulent systems in the first place.

  • huricano

    I realize where you are coming from, but LaHood comes from the Republican Party and cities in red states, such as Denver/Salt Lake City/Charlotte (see American City podcast with Robert Puentes), have all been expanding rail. Maybe if the federal government spends less on all transportation it will make localities look at tailor made solutions on smaller budgets. If transit is more efficient and cost-effective than roads are, as this blog argues, and highways prevail due to federal policy, as many advocates argue, might not a dip in all funding lead to mode-share evolution through a process of creative destruction and greater regionalism? I’m not advocating for or against this, just toying with the idea of what a pro-transit argument from a budget cutting point of view.

    • Nathanael

      “might not a dip in all funding lead to mode-share evolution through a process of creative destruction and greater regionalism? ”

      If localities weren’t cash-constrained, it almost certainly would. The trouble is, with deflation, practically all localities cash-constrained, the mode-share evolution will be limited by the inability to build new capital projects. So it will be away from cars and roads, yes…. towards walking and bicycles. Even where it really *ought* to be towards trains.

      This gets us into macroeconomic issues. There’s a fundamental national shortage of money supply at the moment. The Federal Reserve is supposed to expand the money supply, but every attempt it makes to do so fails because the money goes no further than the megabanks, who sit on it; even if they passed it on, most people and smaller businesses are so debt-laden they don’t *want* to borrow.

      There are obvious solutions to these problems, and FDR used several of them — one involves governments founding and operating their own banks, which actually lend money (states can do this, see Bank of North Dakota); one involves relaxing the bankruptcy laws to eliminate past debts, and one involves direct cash transfers (“bailouts”) for the poorest people, who will promptly spend the money, putting it in circulation. But we’ve got a powerful lobby opposing anything which threatens the power of the megabanks, and *all of these do that*.

  • I have a question. If Congress just passes a continuing resolution before the lame duck ends, what happens? Say they extend it for a year. Does that mean the funding level of every part of last year’s budget is extended to the following year at the same level? For example, does that mean that there would be the same amount of TIGER and HSR money?

    • jim

      No. A CR sets variances from the previous year’s spending. We’d have to look at the details of the CR that eventually gets passed to know effect it has on transportation funds.

  • DBX

    Wisconsin was only actually being asked fro $750,000 a year in subsidy due to a 90 percent federal rebate. And given the recent performance of new Amtrak routes I doubt they’d have even needed to come up with that.

  • New Jersey, Ohio and Wisconsin can kiss off federal funds their governors are turning down. They can’t change the laws to funnel these funds to highways and they don’t have a 60% Congressional majority to make such a change. With transportation luddites as governors, let those three states pay the price as gasoline creeps above $4/gallon in 2012.

    That said, there need not be gridlock. Though new bills have to begin in the House of Reps, the President, Rep and Senate Demos have leverage to barter transportation funding, compared to 2010 Transportation Budget:

    2010 U.S. DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION BUDGET LEADERS
    (Dollars in Billions)

    Federal Highway Administration $41.8
    Federal Aviation Administration $16.0
    Federal Transit Administration $10.3
    Federal Railroad Administration $ 2.7

    1. They can agree with Repub deficit hawks on No funding for new freeway lane additions. That alone would save $10 billion.

    2. They can horse-trade remaining funds for Highway (State of Good Repair-only) projects for Conservative states in return for the same Rapid Transit funding and higher HSR projects to Progressive states.

    Suggesting a gas tax hike before unemployment goes down to 7% is a tough political sell for both parties before the 2012 election. But cutting ALL transportation projects by 10% is so dumb, even rightwing nut-jobs shouldn’t let campaign rhetoric trump the most practical PR arrow in their quiver — high profile groundbreakings for good jobs that increase economic activity in their state.

    Besides, who wants another bridge collapse in their state? The NJ governor better pray that no NJ-NY tunnels have to close for safety reasons. The Repubs who try to pull back already delegated Intercity Rail funds are playing with political dynamite. When they come to the funding trough for Highways, Demos will remember and it will be ugly. Consider the Blue states already getting far less in Federal funds than they contribute.

  • The case of Wisconsin is a very frustrating one. $7.5 million is a minuscule amount of money for a state which has an annual (or was that biennial?) budget on the order of $30 billion and a gross state product of $240 billion. It borders on the sort of thing that disappears due to rounding error, and is a fraction of the cost the state spends on mowing grass and weeds along its highways. The cities of Madison and Milwaukee could cover the deficit on their own (the mayor of Madison has proposed the idea, but the Milwaukee mayor was opposed to it last I heard).

    Neighboring Minnesota is finally moving forward on selecting a route to the Twin Cities. As soon as the corridor gets extended to Saint Paul and Minneapolis and starts carrying six or eight round trips a day with travel times competitive with the car, the operating deficit will get wiped away. Mn/DOT is expecting to use extra revenue from the route to help offset losses on shorter regional lines planned in Minnesota and western Wisconsin.

    So, Walker has the choice of whether to lose $50 to $100 million immediately by shutting down the project or slowly losing $7.5 million a year for the 3-6 year period before the link to Minnesota is up and running. Looking at operating costs, he’s clearly pushing in the wrong direction.

  • True conservatives would at least know better than to spend money on the likes of this:

    http://bit.ly/htU4Pw

  • Tim Ekren

    Wisconsin is suppose to start new round of in state hearings for the rail grant. It will become painfully obvious to residents that turning away $810 million to improve infrastructure and provide rail service to Madison is idiotic. Especially when a good chunk of the money goes into rails that the residents already own but lease to Wisconsin Sourthern.

    In the scheme of things I think the Wisc. gov elect will swallow the pill in his mind and seek political cover by stating he will make hard choices because the Feds won’t let him cover his highway budget with rail funds, come up with a gimick for the 7.5 million, and accept the grant.

    On the oher front, I think the Ohio 3C grant as well as the most recent FY10 grant to add service to Iowa from Chicago were mistakes. These funds could either provide more leverage for CA (matching funds for approved bonds, 650 million becomes 1.3 billion), complete the Tampa/Orlando line without a nasty fight with funds to spare for Orlando/Miami engineering or smaller bottleneck grants, Replace a bottleneck bridge for the Northeast Corridor (get Christi onboard), or make a big difference in getting North Carolina connected to the Northeast corridor.

    Heck, if anything give it to IL and MO who are much more committed to rail service on the Chicago, St Louis, Kansas City corridor then OH is for its 3C. Plus, you are already on course to get 110 mph for that corridor.

    • Tim Ekren,
      Although you make a good case that $810M should go to 110 mph Chicago-St. Louis-KC, I think there’s a stronger case to eliminating auto crossings, curve straightening and upgrading track profile between Milwaukee-O’Hare-Chicago.

      In the short term, it enables Amtrak to add 2-3 daily trains of daily trains between Milwaukee-Chicago-St. Louis with shorter trip times and operate at a profit. Long term, it completes a necessary step on the way to 200-220 mph Milwaukee-Chicago-St. Louis-KC service.

      • Yeah, upgrading the track between Milwaukee and Chicago would be a great idea. In theory, it wouldn’t need much help, though — historically, the Milwaukee Road ran express trains between the two cities, and some runs went almost the entire distance at speeds over 80 mph.

    • Adirondacker12800

      Governor Christie just canceled the tunnel that would have alleviated the worst bottleneck.

    • Nathanael

      Governor-elect Walker has not been known for sanity. I hope for the sake of everyone who travels through the Midwest that he makes the obviously-correct choice, but I expect he will make the stupid, wasteful choice which will make even more of Wisconsin, and most of Minnesota and Illnois, detest him. The only upside is that that may help get Republicans out of office in Wisconsin sooner.

      The Iowa service is, I think, pretty important; it establishes service to a massive pair of conurbations in Iowa, and keeps the Iowa state government firmly on board. And we may need that route to Minnesota. :sigh:

    • Ohio did have (still does, its written into the transport funding, which has too many logrolls to get cut out even now) guaranteed $12b subsidy if required.

      But certainly, with no experience with daytime intercity passenger rail service in the last half century, it is far easier to con suburbanites and rural residents in Ohio that there are no benefits for them from intercity passenger rail than states where there are effective corridor services up and running and providing benefits to small towns and suburban areas.

      While the 3C Quickstart plan was quite sound on any reasonable benchmark of transport benefit, it was weak in terms of offering actual excitement. And without weakly affiliated voters anywhere excited by the project, there was no incentive for the Republican party to do anything except go for the Asphalt Lobby money.

  • David "Buster" Fitzpatrick

    It fightens me that this country could wind up into a third world nation if the Republicans win big in 2012. It will because we’ve wasted money on building more highways with their high accident and fatality rates and suburban sprawl that contributes to eviromental and economic problems that we can ill afford. To say nothing of the crappy archetechure that typify such developments. There many people some of whom do drive that would like to be able to to live someplace that doesn’t require an aotomobile in order to have a viable social/economic life. In other words don’t vote for the GOP or we’ll wind up becoming a third world country like Mexico which lost most of it’s passenger trains more than 10 years ago when their national rail system was privatized.

    • Nathanael

      Could? We’re halfway to third-world status already. What do we have going for us? Sewer and water treatment (actually both very very important), and other environmental protections; gender equality. On most other rankings, we’re down there with the top tier of the “underdeveloped world”.

      If Mexico managed to upgrade its sewer and water systems, it would beat us. China *is* upgrading its sewer and water systems, of course….

    • If I were a betting man, I’d say Obama gets reelected for at least 3 reasons:
      1. His Democratic base will come out in much larger numbers.
      2. Instead of helping to create jobs, nutjob Tea Party folks are causing a mini-rift in the Republican party; Indie voters will remember this.
      3. Two more years of healing the economy does wonders for a Presidents approval rating; just ask Bill Clinton.

  • Danny

    How shocking it is. I never would have guessed that the consequence of spending like drunken trust-funded teenage girls would result in fiscal disaster, requiring shifts in power that ultimately result in cutbacks on things that actually benefit us.

    • Nathanael

      “Spending like drunken trust-funded…” you’re talking about GW Bush, right? The one who failed upward and then enacted giant tax cuts for the superrich while starting two wars?

      • Certainly, because the flaw in Stimulus II was dumping hundreds of billions into tax cuts that could have gone into actual stimulus spending, and in spending too little. Spending a fraction of the amount that is needed is certainly not “spending like drunken trust-funded teenage girls” … where spending money on two foreign wars helped get us to the massive trade deficits of the middle of the last decade fits that much better.

        Of course, that was after the lies at the start of the decade about the brilliant impacts of a bonus tax cut for millionaires and billionaires, on top of sharing in the same tax cut as everyone else, which were debunked by the lack of real income growth for middle America throughout the decade, and then the catastrophic crisis from the bursting of our housing bubble, the oil price shock boosted by our decades of bipartisan neglect, and the collapse of the control frauds in our financial system.

  • Vernoy Levy

    You forgot to mention that in 2010 both houses and the president were the same party and they did not act on reauthorizing a transportation bill but instead wasted precious time on Obamacare.

    • That’s a valid point — but I never suggested that having both houses controlled by one party would assure passing a transportation bill. Rather, I simply noted that having split control would make it more difficult.

      • Yonah, the problem with your suggestion is that in that entire period, there has been only one period other than today when the House and Senate were controlled by different parties – namely, 2001-3.

        In contrast, out of those five times you mention, in three the White House and Congress were controlled by different parties. And one of them includes 1998, at the height of Republican intransigence and obstructionism.

    • Don’t pass judgment on the Health Care debate without first goring the real nemesis to balance budget — military spending. Why are we spending $710B/year (that we know about) with the lion’s share going to B1 bombers, aircraft carriers, ballistic missiles for a cold war enemy who no longer exists? Russia wants a START treaty with us so they can spend money building their economy.

      If America stops spending like drunken sailors on defense and we’re on our way to solving the budget deficit and would still have $20B for HSR and $20B for Rapid Transit each year. Before anyone complains about those numbers, note that China is spending over $100B each year on HSR and Rapid Transit. Spain is spending 8% of its GDP building HSR. Meanwhile, sugar daddy USA pays for everyone else’s defense to the detriment of our taxpayers and economy.

      If that doesn’t chap you, get this. I have it on sound authority from someone who used to make procurements, the US army wastes billions on weapons that don’t work. Makes you appreciate $3-5B spent on a good subway or HSR project that DOES work.

      • Nathanael

        One of the few optimistic things I’ve heard recently is that certain right-wing groups, including some of the right-wing members of the ridiculous and largely dishonest “Deficit Commission”, and the “Americans for Tax Reform” (a Gingrich group) have *actually come out in favor of cutting military spending*.

        This has never happened in my lifetime. No matter how stupid or wasteful it was, right-wingers in positions of power *always* demanded *more* military spending. That some of them may have woken up to the elephant in the room is genuinely good news.

        • Influential Senator L. Graham (I used to respect him) thinks we should set up a permanent outpost in Afghanistan. So I’ll believe so I’ll believe Republican defense custs when we can count the votes on $150-200B cuts in wasteful defense spending, not a token $20-25B.

          • Nathanael

            Well, I did say *some* of them. Graham wasn’t one of ‘em, and it seems that the majority of Republicans in national positions of influence still subscribe to Reagan’s crackpot “defense spending doesn’t count” (actual quote) theory of budgeting.

        • Does it include DeMint? He just showed this week that he is the real power in the Senate, not McConnell.

      • Even if the money could materialize, which at current construction efficiency is a complete fantasy, it’s wrong to spend equal amounts on intercity and urban transit. The vast majority of travel is urban; even if you count vehicle-miles and not passengers, about two-thirds of US car travel is urban. This should be reflected in spending priorities – based on passenger accounting, and not a one-mile-one-vote principle, urban transit should get at least 75-80% of the money. Some HSR lines are useful as profit generators, but beyond a few high-value corridors, the benefits drop like a stone, and scarce dollars would be better spent on good exurban regional rail.

        • Alon,
          You are correct to point out that urban transit moves far more people than intercity transit, but there are sound reasons to boost both to $20B a year for 20 years:

          1. Outside the Northeast, we don’t yet have respectable interstate HSR service. Thus, we have a lot more catch up to do with that transit mode. America can easily invest $20B/year for 20 years without building “HSR to no where”.

          2. Double current Transit funding to $20B/year will get key HRT, LRT, CRT and Streetcar projects across the country completed without underfunding BRT and improved bus service. I’m not sure that we need triple current Transit funding to do that.

          3. Even with President Obama’s $13B/5 years committed to intercity passenger rail, that pace of funding leaves Intercity transportation at risk by 2020 and severely threatened by 2030. We already know that Americans reduce traveling when gas hits $4-$4.50/gallon. Every vacation destination, airline, hotel and car rental got stung badly in Summer 2008. Now imagine the economic damage caused by gasoline inflation to $10/gallon — much faster than wage growth.

          As we know it will take 7-10 years to get one 500-mile HSR line built in America and some projects have to be phased. Hence we need $20B/year of assured HSR funding across the lower 48 states to build multiple 185-220 mph lines simultaneously. Improved Rapid Transit, comprehensive Interstate HSR Network + 110 mph feeder lines can be our transportation savior, if only ….

          • The problem with what you’re saying is that there’s still a lot more room to build urban transit. In New York alone, I could name you important projects that, in a counterfactual universe where New York can build things for the same cost as comparable non-US cities rather than 7 times that cost, would cost about $40 billion. And New York needs less than other regions because it already has a subway. I don’t want to even think what Los Angeles would need to have a respectable transit mode share – probably the same funding the city wants for 30/10, repeated every decade.

            Conversely, HSR really needs some connecting transit to succeed. Once you go out of the Northeast and California, and maybe a few Midwestern corridors, you start running into situations where urban rail has to be built first, and has to be built well. If those few initial ready corridors really cost $20 billion a year to build, you might as well not build them and tell people to teleconference.

          • Adirondacker12800

            You can’t teleconference dinner. Or trying on shoes. There’s less and less need for cubicle farms but there will always be a reason to go to the city.

          • jim

            Alon is right in his priorities. Transit is, on any absolute scale, more important that HSR. But nearly 30 years as a bureaucrat has taught me that absolute priorities aren’t necessarily a good guide to conduct. Political feasibility has to play a part.

            Over the next two years, the FTA budget is likely to be stagnant, if not shrinking. There is little hope for any major heavy rail investment that requires Federal assistance. Even light rail and commuter rail will have difficulties. Initiatives that can be largely funded with locally generated monies will, in practice, be the ones undertaken.

            But there is a ray of hope for HSR, at least in the Northeast. Mica has partially opened a door. We should push on it.

          • Jim: oh, yes – the NEC is very valuable, precisely because of those other issues at play: profit potential, Republican support, good connecting transit, Amtrak ownership making it not a competitor for the same pool of funds as other transit.

          • Adirondacker12800

            Alon don’t get you hopes up. The High Speed Ground Transportation Act of 1965, the NECIP for instance. How many decades have they been saying “The B&P tunnels need to be replaced”. The ARC tunnel had serious issues, it needed to open in 1995. East Side Access was first proposed when the state bought the LIRR. They even went and built tunnels for it. Which then sat there for a few decades, unused.

          • Alon,
            Of course NYC needs completion of Second Avenue Subway and some other LIRR, Metro North projects. Unfortunately, NYC angers many Repubs in red states with its exorbitant transit costs/mile.

            Nevertheless, does need LA needing 30/10 funding equivalent funding for 2 decades to reach a 30 Transit/70 Highway mode share by 2030. We also need huge amounts for the SF Bay Area, DC, Chicago, Boston to reach 50/50 mode share and for Philly, Baltimore, Seattle and Portland to reach or 40/60 mode share by 2030.

            I could go on concerning the needs of other major metro areas, but it seems the best case scenario is Defense spending cut, gas reaches $5/gallon in 2012 and some OPEC nations threaten to sell oil to China/India instead of America. Under that scenario, its not a fantasy to forecast Transit funding reaching $20B/year. Would Red state Repubs go along for $30B? I don’t know if they would go that far.

          • I find it equally doubtful the Republicans will agree to $20 billion a year for HSR and that they’ll agree to $30 billion for transit.

          • jim

            FTA funding in recent years hasn’t gone over $10B.

  • Kris R.

    Kind of strange to me, having lived in Germany, France, and Belgium the conservatives here aren’t usually anti mass-transit. Of course, our conservatives also don’t deny global warming is a problem like your Republican party amazingly does.

    Part of it might be that our political systems make gridlock less likely because our political parties are more dynamic and form coalitions instead of just working against one another. If you play obstructionism, you’re going to find yourself our of power quickly because others will ‘play the game’ if you won’t. In America it seems, it pays off politically for the Republicans to be obstructionists since most of their goals are to defund and minimise the public sector and they can do this by inaction as well as proactive behavior.

    The U.S. seems to be a breed apart in a lot of ways, no offense intended. Think of what type of transit investment you cold have accomplished for 1/10 of what was spent on the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts over the past 8 years!

    At this rate Europe and Asia are going to be in much better positions to weather the upcoming peak oil crisis than America. I hope for your sakes the Republican party and your conservative Democrats are able to realise that the U.S. can’t continue down the Auto/Sprawl path it’s currently on.

    • The right-wing populist parties often do oppose mass transit – for example, the Swiss People’s Party. They don’t engage in straight-up global warming denialism, but they do make the standard “Let other people reduce emissions” handwaving.

      Of course, those parties are also obstructionist and anti-consensus, and care about governing as little as the Sarah Palin wing of the Republican Party.

      The main difference between the Europe and the US is that the business conservatives (i.e. right-wing liberal parties) don’t need populist support to govern, so they instead cooperate with the left and center.

      • Kris R.

        Yes Alon, that’s true about the right-wing populists, but overall a more conservative government coming in to power in Europe doesn’t mean that transit projects will be scuttled as happened in New Jersey with their new governor, or that service will be dramatically cut as so often happens in the U.S. We have our share of ignorant boors on the subject, but nothing like Governors Christie and Kasich. The new Conservative-dominated government in Britain (part of Europe geographically and culturally whether or not they want to admit it) didn’t kill off London’s Crossrail project.

        Also, I think American conservatives’ power base is in the rural areas and they see mass transit as something that solely benefits urbanites, the lower class, and the poor, who don’t seem to be high on their list of interests. Cooperation with pro-transit forces is seen as giving “something” to their “enemies” (city dwellers, who in America tend to be far more liberal on average than those from the countryside). This would also explain why they think things like bike lanes are a “waste” (despite the fact that bikes are actually PRIVATE transportation…I thought they liked privitisation?) because city dwellers are more likely to get use out of them.

        The two-year cycles of the American two party system are horrible for long term projects like High Speed rail because as soon as something gets started the opposing party scuttles it next term.

        • Max Wyss

          I am not aware of any country in Europe where an individual has so much power as governors and mayors in the US. So, even the most boneheaded right-wing extremeists can not cancel projects already underway, just because.

        • Wad

          Kris R. wrote:

          Also, I think American conservatives’ power base is in the rural areas and they see mass transit as something that solely benefits urbanites, the lower class, and the poor, who don’t seem to be high on their list of interests.

          Here’s the same message as high concept: Conservatives resent money spent on people who don’t look or think like them.

          • And aren’t rural like them.

          • Wad

            Thomas, rural has nothing to do with it. Metropolitan areas are equally bigsorted. “What’s the matter with Kansas?” was a popular book but asked the wrong question. America needs to be asking “What’s the matter with Beirut?”

            America’s political crisis is not geographical — red versus blue states. It is tribal. The teabaggers’ success confirms that American politics is now Lebanonized.

        • DBX

          It’s worth remembering that Crossrail was originally killed in parliamentary committee in 1994 by, essentially, small-minded process-obsessed nitpickers rather than right wing populists. It set the project back by 15 years. People who support transit probably have to start getting more political, in my view.

        • The two-year cycles of the American two party system are horrible for long term projects like High Speed rail because as soon as something gets started the opposing party scuttles it next term.

          This is why a transport infrastructure bank is critical to get established in one of the pendulum swings in a favorable direction, so that, just as will be the case with the ARRA funding, its not up for a cash grab to rescue the roadworks lobby from the increase in the share of subsidized suburban and rural drivers versus subsidizing urban drivers.

          There’s no doubt that the House will swing back in the other direction on a Presidential Year electorate, especially with the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party feeling their oats and certain to swing their weight in the Republican primaries. What is entirely up in the air is whether the Democrats will shoot themselves in the foot or position themselves to take full advantage.

      • Matt Fisher

        Alon,

        On the other hand, I found that there is the right wing Progress Party in Norway, which is VERY right wing and doesn’t believe that global warming exists. And they are anti-rail and pro-road, as well as anti-immigrant. They have also opposed the new light rail line that opened this past June in Bergen. It’s definitely like the Sarah Palin wing of the GOP.

        • Well, in Europe, the extreme right does oppose transit, you’re right. Maybe in Norway it also denies climate change because of the country’s lush oil exports – I don’t know.

          However, the mainline right in most (though not all) European countries doesn’t need the support of the extreme right, unlike in the US.

    • Well, the U.S. definitely is a breed apart in many ways. Most towns and cities in the country didn’t have enough time to grow roots by the time the automobile came along (or even the electric streetcar, for that matter). The normal progression of settlement to hamlet to village to town to city was completely disrupted by the car and zoning codes to match. It became nearly impossible to do infill development anywhere, and many buildings which did exist were forced to rot away because they no longer conformed to the regulations.

      As a result, we have cities of incredibly low density. It’s believed that transit services need around 16 housing units per acre in order to really work well, but most towns and cities in the U.S. are somewhere below 5 units per acre. Even Portland, Oregon is down around 2.7. It’s not like it’s hard to build more densely — plop a modest 3-story 15-unit apartment building onto a block of single-family homes and you’ve doubled the density of the block. Replace 1/4 of the homes on the block with similar apartments, and you’ve achieved a transit-friendly level of population.

      • Mulad, do you have a reference for 16 units per acre? The number I’ve heard stated (not in reliable sources, mind you) is 7.

        Anyway, I don’t think America’s youth has much to do with this. Even very old cities like Boston and Philadelphia have a transit mode share of about 10%, lower than the nationwide share in Canada and Australia. Where transit planning is done well and on a long-term basis, even cities that barely even existed at the end of World War Two, like Calgary, can manage a transit mode share of 15%+, comparable to Chicago. This can be seen even entirely within the US: Washington has a higher transit mode share than Boston and Philadelphia, which have not invested in their subways as much.

        • mulad

          I’m probably getting my numbers mixed up. I was reading about the book Seven Rules for Sustainable Communities, which advocates a density of 10 units/acre, which works out to around 16,000 people per square mile if you assume 2.5 residents per unit. I was confusing the per acre number with the per square mile number. But thanks for making my point easier to make, Alon!

          Yes, Canadian cities have grown in a much more compact manner than American cities, partly because they don’t rely so heavily on zoning. The progression I’m thinking of was young country → car comes along → zoning happens. In Canada, you have young country → car comes along → zoning doesn’t happen. There are certainly cities in the U.S. which don’t have zoning codes and still have terrible sprawl — probably because developers end up just doing a cut-n-paste job from whatever they worked on most recently in nearby areas.

          • Those Canadian and Australian cities are more compact than Houston or Atlanta, but they’re not all that compact. For example, Calgary has a density of about 3,400 people per square mile. When you look at their weighted densities, they look even less compact than cities like Boston and San Francisco, where the exurbs sprawl a lot but most residents live at much higher densities.

            In Calgary specifically, the progression was young city –> rapid development comes along –> city decides to build LRT as the primary means of future transportation. Unlike supposedly no-zoning Houston, it does not mandate free parking everywhere: on the contrary, it limited parking in the CBD and opted for more buildings there, making LRT a better proposition than driving.

            I’m not so sure about what the progression was in Sydney and Melbourne. It looks like it was the same progression as in the US – postwar suburbanization leading to more car use, with the resulting problems leading cities to decide to go back to transit. But the reduction in transit use was somewhat smaller and the rebound has been much larger; I’m not sure why.

      • Wad

        The U.S. also had and has the problem of being anti-city at a sociological level.

        There’s a key arc that all human civilizations have had to go through in the urbanizing process, and it generally happens the same way across different cultural groups in history.

        The U.S. historically has smothered the process in the crib at most opportunities it had.

        At the legal level, the federal government still operates under rules designed for an agrarian stage of civilization. The U.S. doesn’t just have checks and balances on government branches. The government itself acts as a check and balance against economically productive city regions. Population growth caused by economic growth dilutes a region’s political influence.

        Then you have American social engineering, which has tied up anti-city prejudice in moralistic crusades. America has always believed that cities are a sign of a fall from grace. Able-bodied workers having to leave the nurturing bounty of the land for the wickedness and opportunism of the city was the sign of failure. Once out of the nuturing bounty, man will give in to licentiousness and intemperance. Man’s only salvation was to escape the city and return to the land to restore virtue.

        This would extend into legal codes as well. American laws, especially pertaining to land use, are predicated under what theologian Reinhold Neibuhr called “salvation by bricks.”

        • Drewski

          The problem with this argument is that Australia and Canada are both more overtly anti-urban in their governance. While more power is held at state/provincial level than in the US, the concept of municipal home rule is all but unknown in Australia or Canada. This is reflected in the ongoing inability of Canadian urban areas to have their needs met, with Ontario being an especially painful example. In the mid-90s, the “Common Sense Revolution” of Mike Harris’ Tories (they were Progressive Conservatives at the time) engaged in downloading of services to municipalities, without providing any new sources of revenue. Ontario also devolved GO Transit to the cities and regional municipalities in its service area. The downloading and cuts of that time have yet to be reversed. In Australia, New South Wales has a long history of thwarting the formation of Sydney as one large political entitiy, based on the fear that a Sydney which took in most of its urban area would be a political competitor to the state government. This is part of the reason why New South Wales has spent money (in fits and starts) on Sydney’s rail network, to keep voters sufficiently appeased that they don’t demand more local control. As it is, I think the state has changed Sydney’s city boundaries at least twice in the last 25 years. Back in Canada, Toronto suddenly absorbed its sister cities in Metro and went from 700,000 to 2.5 million overnight, because the province wanted to corral as many left-leaning voters in as few municipalities as possible. Canadian law doesn’t require strict proportional representation, so the provincial and Federal ridings in Toronto have far more voters than ridings in the rest of the province. It’s all about control, and in both Australia and Canada, control at the state/provincial level is almost invariably skewed in favor of rural interests, despite the fact that both countries are more starkly urban in population patterns than is the US.

        • Gordy

          The U.S. is highly urbanized. But the dominant form of urbanization in the U.S. over the past 50 years or so, as in Europe and Canada and Australia, has been car-oriented suburbs, not transit-oriented cities. Transit’s share of the total transportation market has been in long-term decline in most of the developed world for decades.

    • “Europe and Asia are going to be in much better positions to weather the upcoming peak oil crisis than America. I hope for your sakes the Republican party and your conservative Democrats are able to realise that the U.S. can’t continue down the Auto/Sprawl path it’s currently on.”

      Kris R, you hit the nail on the head. Right-wing nutjobs have hijacked the Republican Party. They would rather drive the country into 2nd class status over zealotry than common sense. Acknowledging Global Warming requires more intelligence than a pea, so its beyond them.

      I have faith that sanity will return, but I don’t know how it will take the nutjobs to stop being obstructionist. Will will need to import 95% of gasoline from foreign sources at $10/gallon or will half of Greenland break off first?

  • Chris L

    Europe? Australia? Nah, Europe?…

    Sorry, just sitting here trying to decide where I’ll move if things get really bad.

  • The problem with transit is that insufficient numbers of rich and powerful people have a financial stake in it. Solve that problem, and politicians of both parties will be lining up to throw money at it. :)

    • You can’t get the rich to ride a subway, but you can get them to ride really fast, frequent and dependable trains.

      • Adirondacker12800

        All the Wall Streeters who pour on and off the Lexington Ave Subway at Grand Central …. aren’t poor… but then again they aren’t Real Americans(tm).

      • Getting the upper middle class to ride a metro is about having sufficient upper middle class employment density per square mile.

        But there’s a segment that will ride a train to be able to sit down and open up their laptop for their commute, because their time is too valuable to be their own chauffeur.

    • Nathanael

      The high prices of chauffeurs and limos mean that far more rich people will ride trains than would in the “old days”. It’s better than driving yourself.

  • Chris

    “Kind of strange to me, having lived in Germany, France, and Belgium the conservatives here aren’t usually anti mass-transit. ”

    Nor are they in the US; look at federal spending on mass transit (intra-city and suburban transit) from 2001-2007, when the US had both a Republican President and a Republican Congress. It increased significantly! Even Amtrak had a few good years then, with significantly increased funding during a portion of that period.

    With a GOP Senate and maybe a GOP President coming in 2012, supporters of mass transit and intercity passenger rail had better start being practical and pushing cost-effective projects– those will appeal to Republicans. Just waxing on about how wonderful trains and high-density housing are won’t do it; pushing projects with good rates of return (i.e., “Invest $5 in this project and the benefits will be $20), to appeal to Republicans’ business-like thinking will work though. Trust me- I am one!

    • Nathanael

      There was a major contrast between G.W. “Zero out Amtrak” Bush and the, well, let’s call it the LaHood wing of the Republican Party at that time.

      I’m increasingly seeing the sane Republicans being pushed out by the others at the national level. Hope you can help reverse that. :-)

      As an investor whose inclinations are fiscally conservative and socially libertarian, I welcome most business Republicans. Except for the ones who are all about getting an advantage for *their* business at the expense of others… which is what I think the denialism about global warming (funded by oil companies, natch) is really about.

  • Chris

    Here is a summary of Amtrak funding since the 1990s- note that it did fine under one-party GOP rule; not as much as I’d have liked, but it had some good years:

    http://www.narprail.org/cms/images/uploads/fund.pdf

  • From the Cuyahoga County Planning Commission Weblog:

    Jerry Wray will serve as director of the Ohio Department of Transportation under Governor-elect Kasich. Wray led the department from 1991 to 1999 during the Voinovich and Taft administrations, and more recently was a vice president at an asphalt industry lobbying association. He said that the department may reconsider its pledge to fund public transit.

    • Wad

      Does Ohio allow its voters to recall state officials?

      • Drewski

        Yep, this is where we stand in Ohio. Again, for all who have said that it was so pointless to give Ohio money for the 3C, understand that it’s the most densely-populated corridor in the US without any passenger rail service. Cleveland is two hours by car from both Columbus and Pittsburgh. I’ve had more than enough experience driving on 71, middle of a weekday, in stretches near Mansfield where there are 3 lanes in each direction. Traffic was comparable to outer suburban areas of Cleveland or Columbus. The Cleveland-Columbus segment of 3C, were it built now, would allow for 110mph service, which would put a trip on this Phase 1 line at just over an hour. One hour on a train, versus two in a car. If the $400 mill for 3C were spent on this segment, it would likely allow for more trackwork, possibly elevating speed to 125 or a little more, and that would bring trip time down to 1 hour or slightly less. Average speed on this section would’ve allowed the same number of trainsets to make not 4 roundtrips per day, but at least 7, possibly as many as 9 or 10. That’s basically hourly in AM and PM, every two hours midday and evening. Anybody want to question the suggestion that a train with that frequency and that speed advantage wouldn’t begin to grab major market share?

        Cleveland is a crucial point in any discussion of regional or national HSR. The regional population density is fully comparable to the East Coast. Cleveland Hopkins is directly on the 3C corridor, one of a very few US airports with that kind of access. Draw a 350-mile circle from Cleveland, and even with 100 mph trains, you’re talking about out-competing nearly all regional flights in that circle. You’re also talking about direct access to smaller cities–Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley; Akron; the string of towns between Cleveland and Toledo; Beaver Valley PA; and Pittsburgh itself.

        Columbus destroyed its old station; you can see part of the facade if you walk out the north side of the convention center. The old Cleveland Union Terminal is very close to having access on its east side all but eliminated, thanks to a developer planning a 5000-space parking garage for the new casino on this site. We have a long history of not getting viable local rail projects up and going, and it has almost always come down not to money, but to one suburban mayor worrying about commuters parking in their little strip-mall paradise. It happened with rapid-transit expansion past the airport, it happened again with the proposed commuter line from Cleveland to Lorain. We’re great at failure.

        But we’re also an increasingly valuable fallow opportunity. Northern and western Ohio are quite flat, with not much dense population. If you can connect Chicago to the Keystone Corridor, you can open up whole new opportunities. A train traveling at 220 mph can travel from Chicago to Cleveland in well under 2 hours; continuing east to Pittsburgh, at an average of maybe 150, you’re talking about less than an hour. Chicago to Pittsburgh in 2 1/2 hours. That’s competitive with flying, and the existing network (including unused rights of way) is so large that it can provide the basic bones for such service. There are no seismic issues to worry about. Imagine the impact of not only eliminating many of the regional flights, but of all those open gates at O’Hare and Detroit Metro. Ohio has the opportunity to take advantage of this “what-if” and become a major player in a recast transportation economy. But instead, we have John Kasich, and that well-demonstrated Ohio ability to cripple one’s self.

        There is some reason for hope. It may be that a foreign interest, like SNCF, will seek opportunity where Ohioans won’t do it for themselves. There’s also the fact that Kasich wants to slash state spending, but the state budget is 40% Medicaid and 30% local education. Of services directly provided by the state, we’ve had nothing but cuts for the last 20 years. Kasich is a smarter but equally crooked and entitled recast of former governor Bob Taft, and Ohio’s best hope is that Kasich either runs for President, or for Sherrod Brown’s Senate seat, or leaves for some other political reason. No, we can’t recall him. I think he’ll have enough reasons to run away by 2012, but it remains to be seen if Ohio will grasp its 21st century potential instead of living in some bizarre corporate/agrarian fantasy.

        • Wad

          Your only recourse then is Newtonian politics: Every action needs an equal and opposite reaction.

          Ohio probably has a unionized public sector, and unions have the muscle, money and organizational discipline to push back hard.

          Get them to confront Kasich, then join in.

          • It would also help if the DoT gave our money to improve the Wolverine Line.

          • Drewski

            Yes, state employees are unionized. But Kasich has a well-documented hostility towards both unions and state employees, and full GOP control of state government means that collective bargaining might be repealed. It remains to be seen how much damage will be done in the next two years, let alone four.

          • Wad

            Drewski, the GOP may try to withdraw collective bargaining, but an agreement is still a binding contract. The state cannot unilaterally void it in a fit of right-wing pique. The union could even file for damages.

            Just about the only way the state can void the terms of the contracts is through municipal bankruptcy.

            Needless to say, the union should hope the Ohio GOP tries for that move. The workers will win it at the neighborhood level, and the GOP will have a self-inflicted defeat.

            Think about this. Ronald Reagan was the greatest gift municipal unions ever got. Remember the traffic controllers? That provided the impetus for many government workers to unionize.

        • My fellow Ohioans, I feel ya.

        • Nathanael

          On the other hand, perhaps the continued bad policies of the Ohio state government will continue to cause the state to depopulate, and eventually you won’t *need* rail service.

          OK, I’m being grossly pessimistic. I really, really want Cleveland to get better rail service as part of an east coast-midwest connection, and I would use service to Columbus and Cincy myself. I hope Ohio gets some serious pushback against your worse-each-year state-level Republicans.

          • We’ll need rail service. As most of the state except for Columbus depopulates{*}, the fraction of the population who cannot drive will continue to grow. Plus as we are forced to abandon paved roads, we’ll be needing trains to get around during the winter (snow) spring (run-off) and fall (rain) seasons.

            {* hyperbole, of course ~ population is still growing, just well below national growth rates. We lose Congressmen because the quota for a Congressional seat goes up faster than our population does.}

          • Drewski

            To me, and I know this can sound melodramatic, the subject of rail is part of a larger and fundamental matter of sovereignty. Even if George Soros took pity on Ohio and donated a couple billion dollars to create a nonprofit to build the 3C, the technology would still be imported. Our country led the world; now, we seem incapable of stepping up to a challenge, and we retreat into a scary mix of technophobia, xenophobia, and fixation on short-term spending over long-term disinvestment. We could afford a massive return to passenger rail, we could do it with a business model, and we could do it with a clear understanding of what subsidies are and are not. Ohio is too afraid to do for itself partly because Ohio hasn’t had a net increase of even one job since 2000. The Ohio GOP is obsessed with destroying the system of taxation, making individuals the primary source of revenue (already done), and generally attacking anything seen as stopping business from doing anything it thinks about doing. Health and safety regulations? Labor laws? All bad. This means that there’s very little innovation or creativity. Remember that Cleveland led the US in per-capita patents issued for fifty years. It’s relevant in this case, because we need creativity to get the most speed and highest safety for the lowest cost. Ohio used to be the go-to place for those things, but now Ohio–like the rest of the US–seems too scared and insecure to face what would’ve been a minor challenge in our past.

  • Even with high unemployment, any “proposal” republicans have to balance the budget without related tax increases is a joke. Increasing the gas tax seems to be a less regressive way to bring in revenue than, say, tax cuts for the rich or cutting health care subsidies for the poor.

    • t1ewis

      i just want to know, trickle down economics, is that really why the Bush admin. pushed tax cuts for the rich? or is it truthfully because the majority of Republican voters are rich and are their constituents? “cut our taxes and we’ll keep u in office”. u know that sorta things.

      • Its simple. First Lady Rosalyn Carter hit the nail on the head when she said, “President Reagan makes people comfortable with their prejudices.”

        The Republican party shifted hard right under Reagan and they’ve been discrediting moderate fiscally responsible Repubs ever since they criticized Reagan’s Voodoo Economics, the source of trickle-down economics. By preying on prejudices and fears, Reagan Republicans (followed by NeoCons) convinced too many White Americans to vote against their best interests. Conventional dogma developed thats said its okay to kill the unions, let Wall Street lie & steal, states deliberately funding infrastructure for suburban sprawl that weakened cities, hate federal government except the military, AND perhaps worst of all, celebrate the growing rich-middleclass wealth gap. Fiscally responsible, socially progressive Repubs like Howard Baker and Jack Kemp were kicked to the curb.

        In spite of that dogma, race relations improved, though they still have a long way to go. New electronic devices improved capability & productivity (computers & Internet) and cars now last longer. The housing bubble got more people into homes that really couldn’t afford homes. So most Americans went along to get along until the great recession. No one effectively complained about the loss of manufacturing base until Senator Obama touched the subject (ie., save auto manuafacturing, building green industries that can’t be outsourced).

        In 2008, the majority of American voters blamed Repubs for what went wrong. But since the President Obama and the Demos couldn’t engineer a two-year economic miracle of job production, the majority of American voters blamed Demos and moderate Repubs for what is still wrong, but not of their doing. You have to give it to the Reagan Repubs/NeoCons/Tea Party for a 2010 come back that required selling ice to Eskimos.

        • Nathanael

          I basically agree with you, but I have to say that having Obama and certain Democratic Senators treating the Reagan Repubs/NeoCons/Tea Party/Oil Barons/Banksters as if they were reasonable people who could be negotiated with — they aren’t and they can’t be — was very damaging, and helped let them back in. Never legitimize a blatantly illegitimate enemy.

  • t1ewis

    Is Boehner even human? he reminds me of a robot. no feeling, pre-recorded speech, no heart. what is he in Congress for? i know what he wants, funding to go towards maintainence on his cold steel body. seriously why does he think he can do a better job? i actually recognize different party members (Rep and Dem) that provide support for the US. He just sits back and criticizes. i’ll tell u what guys, VA (Rep) congressmen won’t back getting rid of funding transportation. (don’t hold me on it, lol)I do know if Thelma Drake was still in Congress her vote would be “no”. Rigell on the other hand, well he sells cars so we know he’s a car man. um, i retract my statement, lol. especially Eric Cantor. he’s like Boehner’s wingman.

  • Bob

    It’s pure hypocracy and here’s why:
    According to a UMASS, Amherst study, transit creates twice as many jobs as tax cuts or defense spending per dollar. Transit jobs may be modest in pay, but they usually include benefits and give employees enough buying power to stoke the economy. As any right-thinking GOP member will tell you, jobs are the key to the economy.
    The hypocracy comes via the “privatization” push. Private sector jobs are increasingly poor, lack benefits and leave the employee with little spending money to stoke the economy, while making a very select few extremely rich. (Think Wal-Mart)

    • Nathanael

      Privatization is often used as a scam for the “private” company to skim money off. You get worse service than you would from a public service, the workers get paid less, but the government & taxpayers & users pay the same amount or more because it is skimmed off in profits and CEO pay.

      Because seriously, who doesn’t love skimming money off? Well, what dishonest person doesn’t love it? Privatization is a legalized method of doing so.

      • Not always – there are problems that privatization is singularly good at attacking, namely fossilized management and politically-motivated service plans. Since JNR’s problems came primarily from politically-mandated overbuilding, privatization did a lot of good, improving profitability independently of the debt problems.

        Conceivably, this could work to reduce construction costs. If construction were privately-funded, it could follow standard industry practices preventing the order-of-magnitude cost blowouts common in the US. But I’m skeptical about privatization helping operating costs much. The problems in the US are about inter-agency turf battles, FRA regulations, and rigid union rules, all of which are equally hard to reform publicly and privately.

      • Max Wyss

        Well, one could say that privatization is very often “privatize profits, nationalize losses”… which is another term for “skimming money off”.

        And, if there is only a slight component of “service public” involved, privatization will cause issues.

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