Friday, April 17, 2009

Other thoughts from Albuquerque 

Anyone who is contemplating the pricing of fares on Northstar should come look at the Rail Runner between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. �Open less than six months, the train carries traffic between cities about 60 miles apart and takes about 90 minutes. �When I rode up to Santa Fe this morning at 10:30 for lunch, more than half the people on the train were clearly tourists; I thought this was a waste of taxpayer money to buy me, a nonresident, a cheap ride. �But the 4pm train back to Albuquerque was full of commuters who live not in the bigger city but in northern suburbs around Sandoval and Bernalillo. �The train may have been at 70% capacity at its peak ridership. �My ride was $8 round trip, much cheaper than contemplated for Northstar. �

I'm not a transportation specialist, but I'm willing to speculate that the demand for urban rail is elastic, so higher prices decrease quantity demanded greatly. �If so, would the fares being discussed for Northstar be too high? �It seemed to me and my colleague with whom I traveled that there was enough fare on that afternoon train to more than cover the variable cost of the train. �But the question is whether the benefits of less congestion, emission, etc., are enough to warrant the $385 million spent on the route. �

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Slightly better than burying dollar bills in bottles 

The stimulus bill will not result in much spending here in the St. Cloud area, at least not in transportation. Larry Schumacher reports:
A Waite Park road extension on the city�s southwest side is the only St. Cloud-area transportation project to receive funding thus far from a federal stimulus bill signed into law Tuesday.

Waite Park will receive $2.7 million from the stimulus bill to advance construction on a 28th Avenue extension between Minnesota Highway 23 and Stearns County Road 137, City Engineer Terry Wotzka said.

The project met the stimulus bill�s criteria of being �shovel-ready� and a job creator that would not have otherwise happened this year, Wotzka said.

...[APO Transportation Planner Kirby Becker] said the other two requests didn�t make the cut: $4 million to advance the West Metro Corridor realignment of Stearns County Road 134 and widening of Stearns County Road 4, and $3.5 million to extend the Beaver Islands Trail along the Mississippi River from St. Cloud�s Civic Center to Hester Park.

Duluth will receive $6.6 million for projects in the stimulus bill and Rochester will receive $8.5 million, he said.
Hard to believe we couldn't get the money for a bike trail in Oberstar's America. But I would have thought, given the Obama Administration's commitment to transparency, that we would understand why a road that goes to a park is chosen above a road widening that helps traffic flow between St. Cloud and growing Sartell.

The project begins in June, maybe.
Highlights of the project will include a four-lane, undivided roadway extension with a trail alongside and a new trail on County Road 137 near Quarry Park, plus a signal change at Highway 23 and the realignment of part of County Road 137 near the new intersection, he said.

Though the road project is 100 percent federally funded, Waite Park officials must still come up with up to $3.5 million in local funding to pay for a new sewer and water line installation, Wotzka said.

�This is a future growth corridor for the city,� he said. �The new sewer and water lines will facilitate that.�

City officials are still negotiating some right-of-way land acquisition that could delay the project, he said.
That's the last sentence of the story, and it says that maybe this project isn't shovel-ready. And it's a road to no businesses, only a residential area and a county park that could be "a future growth corridor." If it wasn't going to be otherwise funded, does anyone ask why? Could it be, perhaps, that it wasn't worth the money?

Labels: , ,

Monday, October 06, 2008

They can take my sponge when they pry it from my cold, dead hand 

Washing your car or boat in the driveway or street is a residential ritual as American as backyard barbecues. But the state of Washington is telling its local governments they must prohibit home car washing unless residents divert the wash water away from storm drains, where they say it causes water pollution. 'I understand this is something people have done for a long time,' says Bill Moore, water quality specialist with the Washington state Department of Ecology, which is requiring the ban. 'It's not something we should be doing any longer.'
Source, via the Amateur Economist.

Labels: ,

Monday, July 28, 2008

Controlling both price and quantity 

A few weeks ago I read a story on air (it's at the end of this podcast) that the idea of the gas tax holiday had not only foundered in Congress but that they were contemplating instead a gas tax increase. Today's Wall Street Journal carries a headline, "Americans Cut Back Driving, Straining Highway Funding". The problem is you are doing too much conserving, you nasty driver you.
A report to be released Monday by the Transportation Department shows that over the past seven months, Americans have reduced their driving by more than 40 billion miles. Because of high gasoline prices, they drove 3.7% fewer miles in May than they did a year earlier, the report says, more than double the 1.8% drop-off seen in April.

The cutback furthers many U.S. policy goals, such as reducing oil consumption and curbing emissions. But, coupled with a rapid shift away from gas-guzzling vehicles, it also means consumers are paying less in federal fuel taxes, which go largely to help finance highway and mass-transit systems. As a result, many such projects may have to be pared down or eliminated.
Remember when we joked "light up for the Twins" when it appeared a cigarette tax would help fund a new stadium? So at the same time you are advertising that driving big SUVs are harming your mother earth, you have to compensate for the effect of the advertising by increasing taxes to fund highway and bridge construction. This is supported by folks in the highway construction industry and the union leaders of those industries.
"We were losing ground to these incredible increases in construction costs, but then to see the erosion in driving -- it's a double whammy," said John Horsley, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.
The government has used a tax system that says, in short, the more miles you drive the more you erode roads so you pay more. Thus a tax system that charges you a per-gallon tax. If Americans are driving fewer miles, highways should be eroding more slowly and construction should be able to slow to match this.

But transportation policy now appears to both want to control your price you pay (through taxes that discourage consumption) and the quantity of gas you consume (so that they can collect revenues enough to meet their construction plans.) Controlling both price and quantity is hardly a market solution to roads and bridges. Tolls would be a solution that returns us to a benefit principle for highway financing.

Cross-posted at Outside the Beltway, where I will be guest-posting most of this week.

Labels: ,

Friday, April 04, 2008

Mrs. Scholar writes 

... whether the solution to the Desoto bridge could be the private sector. I will note that "privatization" means selling off a public asset more than it means a private agent building an asset and leasing or charging it to the public sector or for the public's benefit. Thus I don't think I would have used that title for the article, but you may think I'm splitting hairs. I'd prefer to say we are allowing competitive solutions to road transportation, just as we have for rail and air transportation. (Amtrak and state airlines are the rail and air analogs to a public road system.)

Labels: ,