Friday, December 15, 2006

Money, Taxes & Light Rail

Light rail is an important part of the transportation system, and part is the key word. Any future tax requests would probably need to be providing tax funds for all of the local transportation needs.

In the light rail context, it is also important to remember what Robert Bruegmann (2005) said in his book, Sprawl: A compact history, which I commented on in our upcoming ARPPS newsletter:

Much of the discussion around sprawl revolves around that which affects most of us, traffic congestion, but what the author discovered was the opposite of what had been proposed. He found that the suggested solutions to traffic congestion, mass transportation , light rail in particular, actually made the congestion worse and he [Bruegmann] found this in the city often used as a model of smart growth policies.

"[V]oters were promised that the Portland light rail system, the crown jewel in the Portland planning system, would relieve highway congestion, strengthen downtown, and help in the creation of new high-density mixed-use centers around the metropolitan area. However, despite billions of dollars in construction costs, much of it subsidized by federal funding, the percentage of Portland area residents taking public transportation has continued to decline. With transit use accounting for less than 2 percent of all trips in the region, it remains a fairly negligible factor in the vast majority of the metropolitan area.

"Critics further charge that the light rail system, like virtually every rail system in American in the last several decades, not only came in heavily over budget and failed to live up to ridership projections but also siphoned off scarce transportation dollars from all other transportation modes, particularly the more heavily used, more flexible, and more cost-effective buses. They also point to its slow speed and the fact that it was designed as a way to take commuters in and out of downtown, which houses a continually declining percentage of the jobs in the metropolitan area. Finally, they charge, as the population has grown and the region has failed to keep up with the building of new roads, roadway congestion has gotten much worse even on the highways that parallel the new light rail lines." (pp. 212-213)

Finances put the brakes on light-rail work
By Tony Bizjak - Bee Staff Writer
Published 12:00 am PST Friday, December 15, 2006

Light rail has been on an unprecedented roll in Sacramento.

Four expansions in four years, including a new line last week to the downtown Amtrak depot, have nearly doubled the 20-year-old system's reach and turned its boxy blue and gold trains from curiosities to daily habits for a growing number of Sacramento commuters.

The system appears poised to make its case as a serious player in Sacramento's ever more congested commute picture.

Instead, light rail is about to hit the wall, financially.

Regional Transit officials say they have money for just one more extension, the four miles from Meadowview Road to Cosumnes River College scheduled for completion in 2010.

Then, "we'll be tapped out," RT General Manager Beverly Scott said.

There still is federal transit money available for rail expansions. But, Scott said, her agency will no longer qualify for those crucial funds until it shows it has enough of its own money to run all of its new trains and routes.