Tuesday, April 18, 2006

More about kids and their trains...

There's one axiom that can be counted on. Always.

Even more so than death and taxes.

And that's cost-overruns of pork-barrel projects.

307 million, to be exact. 7.68 million per mile. And for what?

The proposed Northstar commuter rail line suffered another true-but-unavoidable blow Monday when it was reported that its price tag now sits at more than $307 million.

Yet before naysayers start claiming that it's an outrage to spend $7.68 million per mile to create the line between Big Lake and downtown Minneapolis, everyone needs to view the latest increase in the appropriate context.

For starters, even at $307 million, or about $7.68 million a mile, the 40-mile line remains the best overall option for improving transportation connections between the Twin Cities and Central Minnesota.

As previous estimates have shown, adding a lane each way to U.S. Highway 10 or similar interstates would be almost four times as expensive. In addition, adding a dedicated busway is almost six times more costly than commuter rail on a per-passenger trip basis.

And don't forget, the rail line can be operational by 2009. Plans to do any sort of major expansions to Highway 10 or Interstate Highway 94 are at least 10 and more likely 20 years away. How bad do you think travel on those roads will be by then?

What these yahoos who promote commuter rail between St. Cloud and Minneapolis conveniently neglect to mention is the fact that commuter rail doesn't exactly go from door-to-door. It's a single line; and unless a person works within walking distance of a train station along the way, how likely is it to be utilized? Minnesota winters don't exactly look kindly on the option of walking for any great distance, do they?

Commuter rail works--in some cities.  Take Chicago for instance.  Commuter rail is the preferred, practical mode of transportation from the western suburbs to downtown Chicago, for the simple reason that there are many affordable, efficient options of transportation once you get downtown.  The "El" trains and subways, for instance, make a convenient loop around the downtown area, dropping people within walking distance of their workplaces. What's in Minneapolis?  Buses, which have to fight city traffic and thus are notoriously slow; and taxicabs, which even for short distances will cost as much if not more than your original commuter train ride to get to the downtown area.  And the Disney train that goes conviently from Bloomington to downtown is only a one-line ride as well; and again, unless you work within walking distance of a stop, it does you no good. 

So what are you left with?  Driving.  On outdated interestates and Highway 10; the money of which to fix the highways will have been poured into a sieve-like train line that only a select few could find it practical to utilize on a daily basis. 

Northstar rail is a cart-before-the horse proposition.  Until the infrastructure for fast and efficient transportation exists within the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, ridership will be sparse, at best.  And potholes the size of the Grand Canyon will be the norm on Highway 10 and Interstate 94 due to lack of funds, while a shiny, taxpayer funded, woefully empty train zips by. 

But never let common sense get in the way of a good porkbarrel project

(Filed under pass the pork, overtaxed)