Will They Ever Learn?

Arizona Shuttle offers 19 buses a day between Tucson and Phoenix. Greyhound offers at least eight. But that’s not good enough for some people, so the state is spending $6.3 million studying the idea of running passenger trains between the two cities.

The state’s first guess is that the start-up cost would be a mere $1 billion. Phoenix and Tucson are about the same distance from one another as San Diego and Los Angeles, where Amtrak runs something like 11 trains per day. Of course, those trains run just 35 percent full despite the fact that they serve urban areas whose combined populations are four times greater than Phoenix and Tucson.

To make the case for rail, the state is spreading scare stories about how bad congestion will be in 2050. Of course, trains won’t do anything about that congestion, since so few people will ride them. Given that most cars on the road in 2050 are likely to be driving themselves, congestion will probably be a lot less than today even if the region’s population doubles, as planners forecast.

Arizona is not the only state wasting taxpayers’ money on such schemes. Texas DOT is spending $14 million studying a high-speed rail line from San Antonio to Oklahoma City. Considering the quality of studies done for other states (the first studies for California’s high-speed rail project estimated a cost of $15 billion; current estimates are more than $115 billion), Arizona and Texas would do better to put their millions of dollars in the bank, collect interest, and then use the money twenty years from now to do things that will actually relieve congestion.


15 thoughts on “Will They Ever Learn?

  1. metrosucks

    My parents have a place in West Phoenix, and I’ve been to Phoenix multiple times. One thing Phoenix doesn’t have is a congestion problem. Thanks to forward-looking planners who built, and are building, a full network of modern freeways and 45mph arterials with synchronized green lights, traffic flows smoothly.

    However, it would be shame if they were to switch gears and start copying the lunacies going on elsewhere aka Portland. Phoenix has a definite low density look that many find appealing; you can actually breathe over there, versus the suffocating, built-up appearance of much of Seattle proper.

    Frank Reply:

    Traffic troubles put Phoenix in top 20 congested cities.

    bennett Reply:

    19th aint bad if you ask me. Anybody who has had to drive in the top 5 would scoff at rush hour complaints in Phoenix.

    Phoenix has a lot of forgiveness in it’s street system and does not have many of the geographic constraints you see in other highly congested cities. Flying into Phoenix you notice a street grid that seems to go into oblivion without any meandering. This is nice because if there is an obstruction on a given road/highway, there is an easily accessible alternative route to avoid the obstruction. This is not the case in S. CA, Atlanta, San Fran, Austin, to name a few.

    Frank Reply:

    “19th aint bad if you ask me.” True. It beats Seattle, which was fourth in congestion during Q1 of 2012. But to say that it doesn’t have a congestion problem is not accurate. As far as actually being able to breathe in Phoenix, well, at least we don’t get these in the PNW.

    bennett Reply:

    “…you can actually breathe over there, versus the suffocating, built-up appearance of much of Seattle…”

    Ha! I get what you’re saying but this is a bad analogy. There is no harder air to choke down than air in Phoenix in August. Despite the Tacoma aroma, I can’t think of more wonderful air than what cities in the Pacific NW have. Maybe it a bit of “the grass is greener” being down here in TX, but the air in Seattle is just fine to me.

    metrosucks Reply:

    Yeah you got my analogy Bennett. Probably not the best one, but it’s the one I thought of. I wasn’t referring to air quality at all, just to density.

    Frank, Phoenix does have the usual slowdowns in downtown and the Superstition Freeway, but like Bennett said, 19 out of 20 isn’t bad at all.

  2. rationalitate

    Randal, where are you getting that “more than $115 billion” figure for California HSR?? The current estimate is $68 billion, and the highest estimate was $98.5 billion, both in year-of-expenditure dollars. Not sure where you got $115 billion, but it’s wrong.

    LazyReader Reply:

    Whenever government’s give cost projects. Personally take that number……….and double it.

    Frank Reply:

    Good question. I could find no reliable source, but I did find this phrase, spammed on a dozen blogs back in February: “California wants to take out $115 billion in new debt“.

  3. OFP2003

    There must be a market for honest transportation planning consultants. As in “honest” I mean “factual” and “taking in consideration the public’s interest” as in “lowering taxes.”

    bennett Reply:

    I consider myself a “honest transportation planning consultants,” but never really concern my self with taxes. By the time I’m hired the tax thing is already figured out. Consultants are generally hared after the “we’re building rail,” decision has already been made and our fees are fixed. If the project runs over budget in the engineering, construction (capital), or even operation phase we don’t get any more money.

    Having said this, I do usually advise against expensive rail projects, and as a result do not work on very many. However, I do not believe that “lowering taxes” is always in the best “public interest.”

    Public transit does not pay for itself, and I’m okay with that as long as the goal is to serve the public interest. To me, fist and foremost, this meas service designed for people that can’t otherwise drive (teens under 16, the elderly who do not driver anymore, people with ambulatory disabilities, households without cars). If you can pick up “choice” riders along the way, bonus!

    I drive to work almost every day. I live in a single family house. I’m not trying to take anybody’s car away or make anybody live in a highrise. I’m just trying to move as many people as efficiently as possible by focusing on the people that do not have the same choices and opportunities that I have.

    OFP2003 Reply:

    Well, for starters you could offer me a job as a proof-reader! 😉

    bennett Reply:

    Sure. I’m still waiting on my check for all of my brilliant comments. Once it comes in, you’re hired!

  4. Sandy Teal

    The time to travel from somewhere in Phoenix to somewhere in Tucson is probably 90 to 150 minutes. Buses can travel into multiple locations, say from ASU to UofA directly, and beat any train by an hour.

    Buses just have more options than a train as to where to start and where to end. If trains aren’t cheaper, and they never are even with huge subsidies, then what is the point?

    the highwayman Reply:

    So use hi-rail buses.

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