Monthly Archives: January 2008

Review of Surface Transportation Commission Report

I’ve been meaning to do a detailed review of the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Commission report (which was previously mentioned), but haven’t had time. Fortunately, the Antiplanner’s faithful ally, Ron Utt has reviewed the report, which you can read on the Heritage Foundation web site.

In a nutshell, Utt says that the commission’s proposal to triple gasoline taxes is only one of several bad ideas in the report. Others include the report’s failure to acknowledge intercity bus service (which is practically unsubsidized yet must compete against heavily subsidized Amtrak) and further diversion from the highway trust fund. Utt also doesn’t like the proposed reorganization of the Department of Transportation.

I still will try to review the report in more detail soon. In the meantime, thanks to Ron, I can spend a little more time on my real job.

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Pork Barrel Word of the Month: “Stimulus”

Lobbyists and pork-barreling politicians are opportunists, always trying to hitch their wagons to the latest political trends. A few years ago, the issue was national security. A few months ago, the fashionable political trend was “infrastructure.” Now, suddenly, it is “economic stimulus.”

The Bush-Pelosi stimulus plan calls for giving millions of people $600 each. This is going to do practically nothing about the recession we are entering, but both Republicans and Democrats want to look like they are doing something, anything, about the economy.

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The Antiplanner’s Library: Boomburbs

Quick: Rank the following cities from largest to smallest populations: Cleveland, OH; Kansas City, MO; Mesa, AZ; and Oakland, CA. Which did you list first? Many people will be surprised to learn that Mesa is not only bigger than the other three cities on this list, but bigger than Miami, Minneapolis, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh.

And that, in essence, is the message of this book by urban planners Robert Lang and Jennifer LeFurgy: some fast-growing suburbs are now bigger than many central cities. But really, when you think about the fact that the suburbs have been growing faster than central cities for nearly 60 years, is that so surprising?

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Is Dulles Rail Dead or Alive?

Dulles Rail All But Dead shrills the Washington Post. The idea of extending Washington’s MetroRail system 23 miles to (and slightly beyond) Dulles Airport has been around for years, but its huge expense — at least $5 billion or more than $200 million per mile — has been daunting.

To provide local matching funds, northern Virginia counties recently created a huge transportation authority that would tax home sales, hotel rooms, rental cars, and auto repairs to pay for local road and transit projects. It was generally understood that a large share of the authority’s money would go to Dulles rail, but local officials were counting on federal funding for at least half the cost of the project.

Only 12 percent of air travelers who fly out of National Airport use MetroRail to get to and from the airport. No other airport rail line in the country carries more than 8 percent of air travelers.
Flickr photo by sethladd.

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Park Barrel

An Oregon legislator, Fred Girod, wants to make Silver Creek Falls, a popular recreation area, into a national park. Such a park, he says, would be a “magnet for tourism,” which would be good for businesses in his district.

One of the waterfalls in Silver Creek Falls State Park. Trails take hikers behind many of the falls.
Flickr photo by John Hann. Click photo for a larger view

Of course, a state legislature cannot create a national park. But even if it could, would this be a good idea?

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Should Kansas City Build Light Rail?

I am in KC today helping the Show-Me Institute educate people about the benefits and costs of light rail. Long-time readers will recall that Kansas City voters approved a light-rail plan after having rejected such plans six times. The Show-Me Institute is releasing a report on the subject by the Antiplanner which you can no doubt find on their web site.

In a nutshell, the voter-approved plan is totally infeasible, as it calls for taking money from the bus system to build rail and presumes that the federal government will pay half the cost — which, the FTA says, it won’t if it means reducing bus service. Plus the current cost projections are 50 percent more than the costs initially projected by the line’s backers.

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Design Flaw Appears Responsible for Bridge Collapse

The collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis led immediately to calls for increased gas taxes for infrastructure repair. The fact that at least 20 percent of such increases would be likely to be spent on transit, and who knows how much more would be up for grabs by Congressional earmarkers, was carefully kept quiet.

Now it appears likely that the collapse was not due to inadequate maintenance. Instead, it was a design flaw. According to a Federal Highway Administration report, the bridge probably collapsed when one or more gusset plates failed. (See also this press release.)

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TriMet Crime Coverup

Light-rail associated crime has been a big issue in Portland, so you would think the media would be all over the story when a woman was assaulted at a light-rail station in Portland last Christmas Eve. Instead — nothing.

Normally, says the Gresham Outlook, the police inform the media about such crimes. But in this case, the police were silent. Why? Because the woman reported the crime to the TriMet transit police. Apparently, TriMet was not interested in more bad publicity for its fabled rail system.

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Democracy Is Overrated

Last month, a strange new ad appeared on your television sets.

In case you don’t have a fast connection, the following words roll up the screen over the image of a beauty pageant:

Why are we sitting watching I Wanna be the Galaxy’s Best Supernova Diva Star?
Dutifully phoning in our votes for the next big thing while we wait on our couches to die.
Continue in this so-called democracy and you just might stop thinking for yourself
That’s when you are officially dead.

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