Monthly Archives: February 2011

South Island Tragedies

In 2007, an American scholar teaching in Christchurch uncovered a public-land scandal: New Zealand was giving grazing lands to local farmers at prices that were well below market. In fact, the government often paid farmers to take land that they sometimes turned around and sold at a huge profit.

The scholar was Ann Brower, who as it happens had audited the Antiplanner’s courses in incentive-based conservation at both Yale (where she was a masters student) and Berkeley (where she was a Ph.D. candidate). We even shared an office for at least one semester at Berkeley.

After getting her Ph.D., Ann received a Fulbright scholarship to study in New Zealand, where Lincoln University in Christchurch offered her a teaching position. Her current title is “senior lecturer,” which I believe is roughly equivalent to associate professor in the U.S.

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Missing Comments

Some people have noticed that some of the comments people made on Wednesday’s post are missing. Apparently, the server went down and my ISP lost the last dozen or so comments. It also lost this morning’s post.

I was able to recreate this morning’s post, but not the comments. Feel free to remake the comments if you like.

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Giving and Taking Away

When Wisconsin and Ohio elected governors who promised to cancel high-speed rail, Secretary LaHood took their money away before the governors-elect even took office. But when Florida’s governor cancelled that state’s high-speed rail, LaHood gave local governments a week to see if they could form a consortium able to take on the project.

Why didn’t LaHood make the same offer to cities in Wisconsin and Ohio? I am sure there are enough rail advocates in Madison and Milwaukee that it was at least worth considering.

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Intercounty Connector Opens

Maryland’s Intercounty Connector opens for traffic today, either one day or 41 years late depending on how you count. The toll road connects Montgomery and Prince George County in the suburbs of Washington, DC, an area that has grown by more than 75 percent since the road was first planned in the 1960s.

Click to download a larger map.

Although only 7.2 miles of the six-lane road opens for traffic today, the full 18.8 miles will open in 2012. At a total cost of $2.6 billion, the road costs an average of about $23 million per mile, which is typical of some urban roads but high for a rural road. About $350 million of the total cost was for environmental mitigation and enhancement.

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The Anti-Driverless Car Movement Strikes Back

“Hands-free driving. Cars that park themselves. An unmanned car driven by a search engine company. We’ve seen that movie. It ends with robots harvesting our bodies for energy.”

Some men get a testosterone thrill from having their hands on the wheel of a car, or so they tell the Antiplanner. I just remind them that, when we have driverless cars, open-container laws will be a thing of the past and they can get their testosterone thrills with their girlfriends in the back seat of the car. That usually placates them.

True freedom is not having to have your hands on the wheel at all times.

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Stop Me Before I Spend Again

The debates over public employee pension benefits in Wisconsin and high-speed rail are, at heart, the same question: what to do about growing government debt? There seem to be four basic views.

On the Democratic side are the Krugmanites, who think we need to stop worrying about deficits and spend, Spend, SPEND our way out of the recession. While the 2009 stimulus bill preserved some government jobs, it did little to stimulate the rest of the economy, and Megan McArdle reasonably asks if, possibly, Keynesian economics, even if valid in theory, is just not practical because no country can afford the prescription.

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Updates from All Over

California Republicans are proposing to divert federal grants for the state’s high-speed rail program to improving U.S. Highway 99 instead. Highway 99 is the major route through California’s Central Valley connecting Modesto, Fresno, and Bakersfield, while Interstate 5 skips those major cities. Highway 99 is highly congested and is in relatively poor shape, and Representatives Denham, Nunes, and McCarthy argue that fixing and expanding it would do more for the region’s economy at a lower cost than high-speed rail.

Over in China, the head of the country’s high-speed rail authority was fired for some combination of corruption and poor quality construction. Recent reports found that low-quality concrete was used in constructing some Chinese high-speed rail routes, which is likely to create maintenance headaches and force slow-downs in the trains in as little as five year.

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Sticking It to Your Employer

Many people seem to think that high-speed rail won’t work in Florida but still makes sense in the Boston-to-Washington corridor. For example, in a commentary on Governor Scott’s decision to cancel the Florida high-speed train, Michael Barone writes in the Washington Examiner,

“I have written rather extensively about the foolishness of most high-speed rail projects. Personally, I would love to see a really high-speed train from Washington to New York, one much faster than the current Acela, with speeds comparable to those of France’s TGV and Japan’s bullet train. As a business traveler I would be willing to pay (i.e., would be willing to have my employer pay) the high fares necessary to cover all or most of the cost of such service.”

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Reaction to Florida

Ray LaHood says Florida’s loss is someone else’s gain, as he will immediately redistribute the funds to other states. More like, Florida’s gain is someone else’s loss as any other state taking on a high-speed rail project will end up spending a lot of money on that project.

Meanwhile, Florida Senator Nelson (D) says he wants the federal government to simply build the Tampa-to-Orlando route even if the state won’t cooperate. This is probably just bluster on Nelson’s part.

Does he think the feds should take the right-of-way (most of which is state owned) by eminent domain? Governor Scott noted that projected ridership for the Florida route was nearly as great as on Amtrak’s Acela even though the Acela serves a corridor with eight times as many people — if those projections are wrong, operating costs are likely to be much greater than fares. Does Nelson think the feds should agree to cover all operating losses?

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