I support mass transit options that can be teased into some kind of economic sense.
Which means I oppose almost all of them. In almost all cases, mass transit is like big box schools; they serve their main purpose badly, but they are superb monuments to the governments that built them.
Now, the Metro’s two big “commuter rail” projects, the Northstar and the Red Rocks lines, could be exceptions. They are very, very different from the Ventura Trolley and the proposed Central Corridor lines in that
- they use existing tracks (to say nothing of right-of-way), the same ones that all the freight trains use today. Other than stations, a few extra switches and sidings, they can be very cheap to build.
- The rolling stock – the cars and engines – can be relatively cheap. Indeed, it’s possible to buy used engines and cars from other commuter rail systems, refurbish them, and get them on the road for a fraction of the cost of buying new.
Via those factors – and given decent ridership – it’s actually possible, in theory, to make a commuter rail line self-supporting.
Now, the Taxpayers’ League once made a case against the Northstar; the lynchpin of which being that the line’s ridership was going to be much lower than estimated. The study took place, of course, back when gas was still below $2 a gallon; suburbanization and exurbanization shows no signs of slowing. I don’t know any updated numbers, but I’d suspect they’d be worth a second look.
But it’s the other part – the tendence to “monumantalism” – that will continue to cause problems. And the Strib feeds the monkey without killing it:
Moments after Thomas Barrett, the U.S. deputy secretary of transportation, signed an agreement Tuesday committing $156.8 million in federal funding toward the $320 million Northstar line, Sen. Amy Klobuchar said what others have hoped for a decade:
“I want it to go to St. Cloud,” she said from Washington in a taped message that was played to an audience that included Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Congressman Keith Ellison, state legislators, and officials from the three counties involved, Anoka, Hennepin and Sherburne.
Getting a “Klobuchar Wing” tacked onto a monument is good “Free” campaign publicity.
Watch for more pols to find way$ to tack their name$ onto this project, jacking the co$t$ waaay higher than they need to be.