The Secretary of Immobility Is Back

The governor of Virginia has asked former Secretary of Immobility Ray LaHood to figure out how to fix the Washington Metro rail system. That’s a little like asking someone who blew up your house to figure out how to rebuild it.

LaHood is proud of the role he played in getting the Silver Line built. Yet that line caused many of the problems Metro is facing today, all of which were known when the decision was made to build it. Most important, long before LaHood was secretary, Metro knew it needed billions of dollars to rehabilitate its system. Instead of finding the money to do that, LaHood insisted they build a new rail line. In addition, because the Silver Line merges with the Blue Line, which was running at capacity, they had to reduce service on the Blue Line and may have lost more Blue Line riders than they gained on the Silver Line.

Now Metro is on the hunt for funds to reduce some of its $25 billion maintenance backlog. LaHood thinks he’s going to find a consensus for how to do that, but the one thing everyone agrees on is that someone else should pay for it. With Republicans in control of Congress and fiscal conservatives in control of the Republican Party, the federal government isn’t going to pay for it, but neither Maryland nor Virginia want to pay for it either.

One solution is to not finish the Silver Line in Virginia and not build the Purple Line in Maryland and use the money that would have been spent on those lines to help rehabilitate the Metro system. But the governors of both Maryland and Virginia are committed to building more rail lines that the region can’t afford to maintain.

So the question has to be asked: why put the person who made the wrong decision before in charge of making hard decisions today? It’s not like LaHood really understands transportation. In a recent interview, he said, “If you’re not into autonomous cars, you’re not in the game.” If he understands that, why doesn’t he understand that autonomous cars are going to replace transit in a few years so spending $15 billion to $25 billion to rebuild a rail transit system is a complete waste of money?

Instead, what LaHood understands is raising taxes. Though a Republican, LaHood was one of two Republican candidates for Congress in 1974 who refused to sign Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America because he disagreed with Gingrich’s plan to cut taxes. He will no doubt come up with recommendations to raise taxes in Virginia (and, by extension, Maryland) to rebuild Metro.

In fact, the most sensible plan is to phase out Metro rail and replace it with buses. But LaHood has never seen a rail project, no matter how expensive, that he didn’t consider worth funding, so he isn’t likely to reach that conclusion.


10 thoughts on “The Secretary of Immobility Is Back

  1. Henry Porter

    Why is it that, whenever we talk about funding highways, it always comes down to user fees but, whenever we’re talking about transit, we’re NEVER talking about user fees. Even the Antiplanner omits it. Look, if Metro is running at capacity, it’s underpriced. Raise the ticket prices already and leave taxpayers alone!

  2. LazyReader

    If it’s less than 300 miles, you can take a bus for a fraction of the price. Rail transit is an obsolete technology that makes no sense outside of New York City or maybe the Northeast, the only place in the nation with the population and job densities that require rail transport on a day by day basis. But the midwest, the Southeast, the Southwest and Westcoast trains constitute an insignificant portion of riders and useful transit. California’s 100 billion dollar boondoggle is proof of that. The United States has the best rail system in the world, for freight, which carries a trillion tons of cargo across the nation annually.

    The NAACP sued Los Angeles’ transit agency for building rail into white neighborhoods while it let transit to minority neighborhoods decline. They cut bus service to pay for the expensive light rail construction in Los Angeles; The court ordered the agency to restore bus service for 10 years, which restored ridership to its mid-1980 levels. But when the court order expired, Los Angeles began cutting bus service to pay for even more new rail lines like the Gold Line which goes through Hollywood………HOLLYWOOD Shhaaaaa, and ridership has again declined. Buses are cheaper and better than trains and most importantly they serve the customers that actually need transit. Buses or cars where ever there are streets, a bus or car can go through it, trains only go where they’re routed. Rail transit is obsolete because buses can move more people, faster and distribute them across a broader geographic range. Los Angeles is a broad geographic range! It’s 500 square miles not including the cities in the LA county. Seattle’s regional rail transit agency, wants voters to approve a $54 billion light rail ballot measure, for Seattle a city with less than a million people and they wanna spend 54 billion to move half a million people around.

  3. prk166

    Why is it that, whenever we talk about funding highways, it always comes down to user fees but, whenever we’re talking about transit, we’re NEVER talking about user fees
    ” ~ Henry Porter

    It’s funny that you mention it. As construction costs on the Silver Line hit $7 billion – over $200 million / mile – they’re paying for a chunk of the project using tolls on the Dulles toll road

  4. Henry Porter

    Government takes billions of dollars annually from road users and diverts it to rail while roads fall further into disrepair. Someone who calls himself “highwayman” says highways aren’t expected to be profitable and accuses government of being anti-rail and of stealing rail lines. What a world we live in.

  5. Henry Porter

    I would suggest that not a single mile of rail has ever been “stolen” in the USA. All it would take is a single documented incident to prove me wrong. Have at it.

  6. prk166

    Andrew Dawson’s claim that 100,,000 miles of rail were stolen since WWI goes beyond failure. It demonstrates a base ignorance of history. Such an puerile claim ignores the the hundreds of trolley lines that were built not because they were sound transportation businesses, they never were, but to increase the value of land for real estate ventures. It denies the reality that much of those route miles – like the Ettrick & Northern, the Colorado Midland, Tennessee Central, Midland Continental Railroad and so many other – were tenuous ventures that never did well enough to justify the huge outlays of capital sunk into building them. They limped along all their life, holding on by a thread.

    Claiming they were stolen ignores tens of thousands of route miles of railroads likely wouldn’t have been built had it not been for government subsidies of the days. It also ignores how much of governmental mucking and match making hurt the railroads. Railroads had to go to the Supreme Court to be able to charge customers lower prices, yes! LOWER PRICES when it came to unit trades. The Feds were dead set against the lower rates. The Feds also fancied themselves as grand match makers, with bureaucrats literaly drawing up plans on which railroads could merge – aka marry – which other ones. Roads weren’t preventing the Chicago & North Western and the Milwaukee Road from merging, a deal that would likely have left us with another Western Transcon today instead just the UP / BNSF duopoly. The same with countless other matches which could’ve lead to a viable entity, making route miles work that were otherwise lost. Heck, over the decades we have seen the industry do a better job of not creating the freight rail quagmire that is known as Chicago. After all, the Feds grand plans all revolved around the Windy City retaining it’s traffic. The government was sticking it’s hands in and making a mess, but it wasn’t just about giving roads money for nothing ( and chicks for free ).

    Most problematic is the claim flies in the face of Occam’s Razor. The reason why roads “won” is that it’s a better technology for much of what was being done with railroads. Just as railroads were more than horse carts and walking, roads were more efficient than railroads at moving small amounts of goods and people. The simplest explanation is most often the correct one.

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