Thoughts about the dismal state of transportation planning in Chicago, Illinois and the nation.
Thankfully, someone had the courage to step in front of the runaway train called "high-speed rail."
Republican Gov.-elect Scott Walker campaigned against the Badger State
accepting the $810 million in federal stimulus money earmarked for an
80-mile Madison to Milwaukee line. Ohio Republican Gov.-elect John Kasich has also demurred on spending $400 million on a 249-mile Cleveland
to Cincinnati route, arguing that the money would be better spent on
repairing sagging infrastructure, including roads and freight lines. For
both, it's a case of pork on a high-speed rail.
Naturally, Illinois' own tin-eared Gov. Pat Quinn,
who hears in his razor-thin election a mandate to raise taxes, has told
the feds to send the money to pork-starved Illinois. As if we weren't
already wallowing in $1.1 billion set aside for a fanciful Chicago to St. Louis route.
Altogether the American Recovery and Investment Act allocates an
"initial" $8 billion (estimates of the final cost range up to $50
billion) for assorted fast train routes on which some speeds will be
capped as slow as 79 mph, which laughably means that it will barely beat
motorists on adjoining expressways.
High-speed rail is an article
of faith for some greens who accuse any challenger of carrying water
for road builders and big oil. But the nonpartisan Congressional
Research Service tossed cold water on the idea, suggesting to Congress
that it seriously think twice about going down this path. Last December
its study warned of multiple shortcomings, challenging, for example,
claims about supposedly significant environmental advantages. The CRS
study also suggests to open minds that the idea cannot withstand serious
None of this should be surprising. You don't have to look too far to
discover the kinds of obsessive thinking that infects high-speed rail
and other transportation dreamers. Exhibit A is Mayor Richard M. Daley's enchantment with the idea of express service to O'Hare International Airport, whether on an existing CTA line or with a fanciful magnetic levitation train. Metra
tracks already run out to O'Hare, but Daley is irrationally fixated on
having his or his successor's CTA run the service, providing the
Democratic machine with more jobs and contracts. Never mind that Daley's
O'Hare express idea already has flushed away more than a hundred
million for an unused transit center under Block 37.
So, now we
come to the CTA and its $1.2-billion plan to extend the Red Line into
"underserved" South Side neighborhoods. Again, Daley and his machine
can't tolerate a more economical use of underused, existing rail lines;
they demand a much more costly new construction project under the
control of the city-dominated CTA.
The cheaper alternative to the
CTA's extension is plain to anyone who can look at a map. The Metra
Electric Division Main Line runs directly through the "underserved"
neighborhood. The stations already exist. All that has to be done is put
the Metra service on a more frequent 15-minute or less headway, similar
to the CTA's schedule, do some track, signal, station and other
upgrading and buy additional rolling stock.
This idea, described
as the "Gray Line Solution," has been proposed by a group of local
community groups and is backed by National Taxpayers United of Illinois.
(Details are at grayline.20m.com/). Its backers assert that it can be done for $200 million, $1 billion less than the CTA's Red Line.
building of such grandiose, new infrastructure is lunacy when so much
of the CTA is crumbling, facing, by the agency's own estimation, more
than $5 billion in unfunded work to reach a "state of good repair." If
the American taxpayers, creditors and future generations can afford to
cough up billions, it should go to keep the present system safe and
But lunacy has pretty much been the hallmark of the
Chicago regional transportation system. The creation of the RTA in the
early 1970s was meant to create a rational, integrated system, but the
self-interested politics of the two mayor Daleys and the Democratic
machine have destroyed that idea.
Instead, it's as if nothing
happened in the last election. Illinois, Chicago, and federal officials,
elected and appointed, are proceeding in their normal loathsome mode,
content to waste billions to shore up political interests and political
correctness. No amount of reason will deter them.