By Jay Fidell
Believe it or not, in this very scary recession, rail is still going on, as if we didn’t have to pay for it, even though we clearly do. There’s no way in the world that we can afford this. Yet it goes on like the Eveready Battery, oblivious to the storm clouds that are right out there, coming for our economy, something like the car that runs after you’ve turned the ignition off.
Now they’re looking for bones, 24 by 7, with lots of midnight commotion and much more to follow. This is going to depreciate QOL in our city and it will cost way more than $5 billion. My guess is $10 billion and rising. Remember the incredible cost overruns in the Boston Big Dig. We have only begun.
Do we really need this aggravation? Every day I get stuck in traffic, worse and worse it seems, and every day I ask myself whether our city is concerned for me and all the other people stuck in traffic around me, comrades in congestion, and what in fact the city is doing to alleviate my pain. I always conclude the same thing - nothing. Nobody is doing anything about the traffic. They’re only telling us that if we just go along with them, rail will solve the traffic. Not true.
Building rail isn’t going to alleviate my pain, or yours, at all. What we need to do is go block by block, mile by mile and figure out why our highways are so congested. We need to identify the sources of every jam and then deal with each of those sources. It’s like the police in Japan, they work block by block. That way, after a while you know everything you need to know to keep the neighborhood working, and then you’ve solved the problem. It’s about being systematic.
We haven’t made any serious effort to solve the congestion problem. Our mayor, just as his predecessor, would like us all to believe that rail is the grand panacea, which is simply not so and is ringing pretty hollow these days. At some level, we all know this. All our intellectual capacity tells us the same thing – rail is a huge waste. It’s not going to solve the problem. It’s rather an excuse for not solving the problem. And for reasons not clear, we go along with it.
Notice we don’t have any significant incentive for carpools anymore. We don’t have staggered work hours or days. We don’t have HOT lanes. We haven’t widened the freeways or the access ways. We haven’t installed sensors or smart traffic signals. In short, we haven’t done anything to deal with the congestion. And indeed it’s getting worse every time you look. It’s almost as if the people responsible want the traffic to be congested so they can make their argument for rail.
We should subsidize our bus system instead. With this kind of money, we could make it into a really world class bus system. We don’t do that, and we’re apparently hypnotized by rail and determined to spend $10 billion of what will probably be our own money on a painful frivolity.
Bottom line - this is an overwhelming expense for a project which is an extravagance at best. It’s not going to do what they say it’s going to do but is going to cost much more than they say it’s going to cost. We need to drop it already. Better now than after $10 billion.
The sad truth, however, is that by the time we figure it out, by the time we understand the wool over our eyes, it will be too late and there’ll be nobody around left to blame. We’ll just have a monumental and irreversible problem that will blight our city for the rest of time, leaving us with faint recollections of how it might have gotten this far, and faint recriminations about why we let it get this far.
The suit that Ben Cayetano, Walter Heen and Randy Roth have filed is a great idea, although a little late, but frankly it may or may not stop the project rail. More likely, it’s just going to delay the project and in the process further increase the cost of the project. That’s not really a solution.
What we need is legislative action that will summarily stop this rail project right away, at the City Council or the Legislature, before any more time goes by and before any more money goes in. We need to redeploy that money into the highways and buses and toll ways and the technology that should have been installed years ago to properly ameliorate our congestion.
This is essential for the preservation of our economy and way of life.
We can’t afford to turn our backs on the risks of rail. It all feels like we’re picking opii with our backs to the ocean, knowing very well that a big wave is coming that will knock us over. This $10 billion wave, with all the other unpaid liabilities we have incurred over recent, is going to knock us over.
We’d better turn around, face the music and get this thing back under control.