Some columns and rantings out there are so bad, there aren’t enough hours in the day to address all their crazy “facts” and the conclusions they draw from them. It’s probably important to say SOMETHING about Robert Samuelson’s Washington Post column, and let others pick up other pieces. After all, with the Transportation Reauthorization funding bill coming up soon, along with Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood’s vision for a high-speed rail system, it’s important the funds are there. If you’d like an explanation of why mass transit beats roads at the state and local level, see my op-ed from last January on stimulus transportation spending.
A large chunk of Samuelson’s argument is devoted to how we’ve poured $35 billion dollars worth of subsidies into Amtrak since 1971. Hence all high-speed rail will be like amtrak and fail. If I pull out a calculator, that’s less than a billion dollars a year on average. Cry me a river.
Now, lets take a look by comparison at the costs of maintaining the nation’s existing roads and bridges. Four years ago, the Department of Transportation said they needed $500 billion dollars over 6 years to just maintain them. No need to pull out the calculator on that one. According to the Transportation National Journal, the difference between what our gas tax revenues bring in versus the expenditures needed for our road and bridge upkeep is $240 billion dollars ANNUALLY through 2020. By that math, it would take over 240 similar Amtrak systems to cost us as much in upkeep as the current highway system.
Now, unlike Samuelson, I’m going to be fair. I’m not trying to compare one high-speed rail system to our nation’s entire highway system. I’m simply showing that infrastructure, believe it or not, costs money to upkeep. Rail or road. Right now, the upkeep of Federal road+bridge infrastructure is costing us dearly, and if you’re pleased with gridlock and traffic congestion on the highway you commute on, raise your hand…..*tumbleweed blows in the wind*.
So, as our population increases, traffic worsens, peak oil hits, gas becomes obscenely expensive, and we try to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions….would you be happier if the Federal government was putting down more asphalt, or high-speed rail?