Friday, January 28, 2011

High Speed Rail or High Speed Fail?

In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Obama spoke of high speed rail as a means of stimulating nearby business, increasing construction jobs, and providing travel alternatives:
We have to do better. America is the nation that built the transcontinental railroad, brought electricity to rural communities, constructed the Interstate Highway System. The jobs created by these projects didn’t just come from laying down track or pavement. They came from businesses that opened near a town’s new train station or the new off-ramp.

So over the last two years, we’ve begun rebuilding for the 21st century, a project that has meant thousands of good jobs for the hard-hit construction industry. And tonight, I’m proposing that we redouble those efforts.

We’ll put more Americans to work repairing crumbling roads and bridges. We’ll make sure this is fully paid for, attract private investment, and pick projects based [on] what’s best for the economy, not politicians.

Within 25 years, our goal is to give 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail. This could allow you to go places in half the time it takes to travel by car. For some trips, it will be faster than flying –- without the pat-down. As we speak, routes in California and the Midwest are already underway.

One of those routes in the Midwest goes between Chicago and St. Louis running through Springfield, Illinois. Eight billion dollars of stimulus money, supposedly aimed at jump starting the economy two years ago, has gone to high speed rail projects, and this particular project has not even broken ground and will not be completed until 2014, part way through Sarah Palin's first term as president. As a resident of Springfield, I can say that such a project does not instill a great deal of enthusiasm among residents. When the state of Illinois first received the $4 billion dollars in federal funding, even former Democratic mayor Tim Davlin and the county board discussed suing over the plans because the location of the high speed rail project would devastate downtown business and halt plans for rail consolidation elsewhere where it would be less congested and less of a problem for downtown businesses. The Illinois Policy Institute reports:
High-speed rail boosters have shown little regard for the devastating impact it could have on nearby homes and businesses. Writing in the State-Journal Register, Environmental Law and Policy Center head Howard Learner admonished readers to “not permit controversies over particular stations, routes or speeds stand in the way of a united front and overall progress.”

Note to the families who’d see their homes seized to make way for ramps and to the businesses who’d lose customer traffic as shoppers avoided a sliced up downtown: your concerns are trumped by the need for “overall progress.”

“Progress” would also build a hulking overpass on the street adjacent to the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Dana Thomas House. It would entomb the home’s renowned fa├žade. Concrete would block out much of the sun that sparkles through its famous art glass windows.

Springfield Mayor Tim Davlin, a Democrat, has stated that if the plan goes through “the whole city would look like crap.”

Would negatively affecting current businesses and homes cause new businesses to locate near the track, as President Obama suggests? No, it wouldn't. It would actually cause greater problems, which caused the local Chamber of Commerce to oppose the project along with the mayor and county board. Of course Governor Quinn, who pushed for this project, may have a better understanding of this if he spent more time in the capital city rather than in Chicago (the train would run just blocks from the Governor's mansion).
The Illinois Department of Transportation and the railroad company reached an agreement last month that is paving the way for the federal grant money to be given to Illinois this month. However, the funding will not cover the maintenance of this project that no one wants. That will be left to the railroad companies. It's not only that Springfield residents do not want it for aesthetic and business purposes, they will not likely not utilize the service. Estimates show that Illinois residents would ride high speed rail once every 8.7 years. If the Left understood supply-and-demand, they would realize this is not an efficient project. President Obama's claims that high speed rail would cut travel times in half. The project press release indicated that the trip between Chicago and St. Louis by high speed rail would take 4 hours and 32 minutes, a reduction of 30% compared to traveling by car. An improvement, yes, but nowhere cutting travel times in half.

So not only did President Obama show how out of touch he is by attempting to joke about "pat downs", he also showed that he is not in touch with the state he once represented as Senator, nor the city he worked in as a state senator. While he asserts that high speed rail is the travel of the future, it really shows how out of touch he is with the present.

Crossposted here.

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