Desirable Transportation and the Road There

I’ll admit that I’m generally in agreement with benjones on transportation:

In Rhode Island, we’ll never be able to retool our local enonomy to produce the vehicles people are driving today, but we could use our small size and largely non-existent manufacturing industry to our advantage.
We can design a transportation supply chain from scratch that gives us choices that make sense for our lives, and removes us from the mythology that we can have economic prosperity by using up a finite resource.

A thorough reworking of public transportation wouldn’t affect my daily commute (except to the extent that it reduces traffic), given the fact that my job requires me to have a workshop’s worth of tools at ready access on a mobile basis, but given the nature of my second job (or primary hobby) at Anchor Rising, I’m certainly in a position to appreciate a change in opportunities. No matter the job to which I’m commuting, I would love access to public transportation, even if it were to add to my actual commute time. With a netbook mini-laptop and high-speed, mobile-based Internet access, it would hardly be like “commuting” at all; I’d gain back most of the hour and a half that I spend controlling my vehicle each day for more productive and enjoyable tasks.
The problem, often the case with initiatives of a leftish bent, is that the issue becomes a vehicle for a broader agenda. It’s not just an efficient public transportation system on which we’re to focus, but an efficient public transportation system that runs on “environmentally friendly” energy sources and supplies jobs to union workers. The vision expands effortlessly from a rail system to a new paradigm that has commuters driving “cars like go carts.” And the investment always requires additional government revenue, not a restructuring of government expenditures.
The question — and this could transform very quickly into a turgid discussion of government philosophy — is whether progressives could back public transportation as a principle that might not advance their other objectives, having enough faith in the rightness of their views that they think establishing principles will lead people down the path that they prefer. For example, even if it initially runs on that evil ol’ oil, a public transportation system that extricates Rhode Islanders from their cars on a daily basis might save enough general wealth to make the clean-energy premium more palatable. And the increased ease might attract businesses and broaden opportunities, making residents more amenable to the employment higher-cost public-sector labor.
All along, investing in infrastructure has been one of the three pillars of my prescription for Rhode Island’s economy. For the state to advance, however, we’ll have to be careful not to bring too many of our bad habits and erroneous impulses along with us to the project.

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14 years ago

Minnesota’s Hiawatha Line is a 12 mile light rail system that was completed a few years ago. The cost was around $60 million per mile. If we were to do this here in RI, it wouldn’t be surprising if that jumped to $80 million per mile – an inflation and corruption driven increase. All the issues we have with new roads would still need to be addressed – eminent domain condemnation, funding, construction inconvenience, etc. For the better part of a billion dollars, we’d get 12 miles. From where to where? What does a rider pay? It can’t be free. Where do they park their cars at the stations?
We have roads because they are convenient and cheap, not because they are the best solution, whatever best means. We also have RIPTA and the rails used by Amtrak. Why come up with another system that will be underfunded, incompletely realized and consequently underutilized?

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