Right now, we are paying over $15 million each year to keep the Hiawatha Line operating. Adding in the amortized costs of building the line, it's more than $56 million in taxpayer dollars each year. Yes, some of the costs were federally funded, and other revenue streams are bearing some of the burden. But with trillions of dollars of deficit spending, do we really want to add to the debt that future generations will pay for decades to come?No, actually I don't. Osmek, who is critical of light rail spending, marshals a series of statistics to buttress his argument. You may or may not agree with the idea that building these trains is a public good, but there's no doubt it's an expensive proposition and will never, ever come close to making enough money from its operation to cover the costs.
A lot of people don't want to hear that, of course. And the comments directed at the article are pretty silly. Consider this example, which is actually one of the more reasoned responses:
Very weak reasoning. Of course this assumes that gasoline prices will stay the same forever, and that gasoline will remain readily available for the lifetime of the rail system. It also requires that we not consider any of the direct and indirect costs of automobile travel and petroleum usage, and that those costs will never be considered. It further assumes that current financial conditions will never change, and that all public policy decisions should be measured first and foremost against current financial conditions.Every one of these assertions is wrong, of course. No one assumes that gasoline prices will stay the same forever -- the retail prices change nearly every day in the Twin Cities. As for availability of gasoline, we have an adequate supply for many years into the future and there's potentially a lot more available than we even realized -- the recent discoveries in North Dakota are just one example. But my favorite assertion is the last one, which seems to imply that policy decisions shouldn't be measured against current financial conditions. What would be a superior measure?
The thing about roads is this: everyone uses them. Unless you grow it yourself, the food you eat likely arrived at the market via truck. The furniture in your home did, too. You can't haul grain on a light rail train. And unless you live close to a light rail line, you likely have to consume some gasoline to get to the station.
The reason fixed rail transit works better in places like Chicago is that the city and the suburbs grew along the existing rail lines. You can cavil and kvetch all you want about how spread out the Twin Cities are, but the suburbs have grown where the highways are. That's not going to change. Imposing light rail lines will benefit certain communities, but it's a nonfactor for most people in the metropolitan area. We all enjoy having other people subsidize our lifestyle choices, of course, whether we want to admit that or not. That's human nature. But it doesn't change the need for someone to tell us the truth. And David Osmek deserves credit for laying out a plausible analysis. Read the whole thing.