Saturday, January 30, 2010

Grow Up And Act Normal

Yet another borderline ballistic rant wells up almost every day as I read the paper and think about the future of what looks like a nation run by infants. Mommy, Mommy, I want a Maglev! I want a Maglev!

But son, we are a little short right now and we need money for those roads and bridges you want. I need them to get to my new house, Mommy. The one you bought to avoid city taxes? Transportation is a right! OK, but we are having problems. The loans uncle Freddie and Aunt Fannie guaranteed for a lot of peoples houses have gone bad. You haven't made a mortgage payment on your house in the last two months. Mommy, housing is a right! You told me that. Do you need six bedrooms and a three car garage? It's what you gave Timmy! It's what you gave Paul! I know, but now there are so many bad loans and we need to bail out the banks and--. The banks can't fail! The banks can't fail! Banking is a right! But son, remember the health care you need. Mommy, we can't talk about that. Health care is a right! Life and death, Mommy, I don't want to die. I want to live forever, and ever. I know son, but sometimes we have to make choices and....

Mommy, Mommy, Mommy. We can't talk about this. I want a Maglev. I want a Maglev. I shouldn't have to choose! This is America, the greatest nation in the world. I have rights!! It's what you said. It's what you promised. It's why your my favorite mommy. You make me feel safe. You never used to talk like this. This is America! We can do anything. I want a Maglev! I want a Maglev!

Tedious, isn't it? And, You know I could go on and on with only slight exaggeration.

Null Space and the Post Gazette both things up about the childish antics that likely resulted in our relative lack of new rail funds. When Obama's administration starts to think your plans are unrealistic, you have a big problem.

Not going into the specific proposals too deeply, generally the bulk of funds went to states that--

A) Seemed to really want rail projects.
B) Had somewhat reasonable proposals to economically upgrade existing freight tracks and rights of way.
C) Point to point connections designed to link cities.

It also seemed like things tilted heavily to corridors with somewhat limited physical barriers like mountains. We can, quibble pretty heavily about the likely use of some of these lines (like the Buffalo one and the Chicago, Detroit One.)

So why so little for us? We are a big populous state with almost the only already viable existing line running along our coast. We are also a stones throw from Cleveland with no mountains between us along the former legendary Chicago, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia line almost everyone thinks needs to be reborn.

So, what happened? Well, it doesn't seem like projects linking either Cleveland to Pittsburgh or to Philly (or D.C.) were submitted. Instead, we asked for funds for a fairly reasonable commuter line from Scranton and this....

"Mr. Gurney said release of the funding was stalled because the railroad agency's attention was on awarding the $8 billion in new grants. Thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia submitted $57 billion in requests for the money, which was part of last year's economic stimulus package.

Pennsylvania applied for $2.3 billion in stimulus money to start maglev construction, but Mr. Gurney said it appeared from the start that the grants would all go to conventional steel-wheel-on-rail projects.

"What happened was not at all unexpected," he said. "While it's disappointing that no maglev project got any of the funding, we saw the handwriting."

The project calls for a 54-mile system from Pittsburgh International Airport to Downtown Pittsburgh to Greensburg. Mr. Gurney said the severe decline in flights and passenger traffic at the airport has not diminished its potential."

That's right we asked for one of the largest requested grants for a project that doesn't link us to any significant city, but whizzes us to our airport using technology that I think has yet to be proven cost effective.

In fact, we managed to come up with one of the few ideas that might not help Pittsburgh's central city and which worked against rail's great ability to take large numbers of people into and out of dense areas with little impact. This idea seemed focused on helping Monroeville, Penn Hills and the southern and eastern suburbs.

Older Yinzer's may be reminded of the ghost of Skybus, an earlier attempt to corner the market on what was likely a dubious technology.

I should say more but honestly, I'm just too angry.

To quote Null Space, "If your strategy was to actually not expand transit options would the results be any different."

(Clarification-- this is an fairly exagerated rant low on details. We, actually did recieve a tiny 26.4 million to beef up the Harrisburg--Philly section and a whole $750,000 to study improvements to the grindingly slow from here to Harrisburg. I actually don't know all the proposals but it's pretty clear that a heavy focus was put on the Maglev. To my knowledge, nobody here saw value in any link to Cleveland at all.)


Mr. Opine said...

We (Pennsylvania) have no one to blame but ourselves. It was clear last summer that PA would get little HSR funding (both related and unrelated to maglev). It was clear because:
#1 The adminstration said the funding would be for steel wheel HSR

#2 We only submitted for a small portion of money (which we got) to study passenger rail west of Harrisburg. If you want to know why states like Ohio and California got huge chunks of money, just go to their HSR websites. First and foremost they actually submitted applications for more $$$. Additionally, those requests were in depth, and well researched, with years of prep work already done. Pennsylvania is where Ohio, California, and Florida were 8 years ago.

Agreed that Pittsburgh to Cleveland should take first priority, however there is alot of legal wrangling that must be done because Pittsburgh to Cleveland was not labled by the DOT as an HSR corridor.

Bottom line, Pittsburgh looks to be missing the train (sorry) on HSR because Harrisburg to Pittsburgh is unlikely because of the mountains and Norfolk Southern, and the more logical Pittsburgh to Cleveland isn't designated as an HSR Corridor. (Although Ohio has Cleveland to Pittsburgh as an eventual addition to their 3-C corridor)

John Morris said...

I have to do a follow up on this. Something just doesn't pass the smell test in terms of the way this has been reported.

From the little I've read since, the amount offered by the federal government isn't really close to enough to complete these projects and the states are broke as it is.

My guess is that nothing will be done at all. The old formula of offering Federal Cash to inspire state spending is breaking down. It used to be one could push the long term costs off with bonds and shady accounting. Now we are too broke to get away with this.

This is good! States that really, really want to things will have to look at the only realistic pot of cash there is, which is state highway dollars. If they want High Speed Rail, they need to make serious choices between roads and rail.

Even better, would be to get the government entirely out of both road and rail.

We all know they don't have the cash to do this and refuse to make any cuts or choices to allow it either in union salaries, or public pension reform, or farm subsidies, or health entitlement programs or highway funding or war budgets or bailout budgets. Why don't they let private firms and investors in?