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2010-02-05 Economy
Washington's ears are still plugged
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Posted by Fred 2010-02-05 00:00|| E-Mail|| Front Page|| [10802 views ]  Top

#1 I have benefited from engineering contracts for transit in Dallas. (Now I'm working on a big roadway job in DC.) The Dallas transit ridership vastly exceeded initial projections and several communities that had opted out wanted in when they saw it.

A lot of people want an option to sitting in traffic. Metro in DC carries 750,000 people a day, saving some 600,000 trips by car. It, too, suffers from a budget shortfall and will have to raise fares.

The powerful airline lobby and even more powerful highway lobby don't want any funds diverted to other modes.

Subsidized? Get a grip. There's not enough lanes on the roads we have, too many potholes, bridges falling down, and not enough gas-tax revenues. Which came first, the B-52 or the 707? Many airports are disused military facilities - Chicago, Orland, Austin. Who built the new ones - DFW and Dulles? Not the airlines. Do airlines really pay all the costs of air-traffic control?

Because of their powerful lobbies, the public costs of other modes of transportation are not listed on a line called "subsidy". Dallas (Texas) was very nearly a seaport, but the barge companies were not fronting the money. You were.

Do you count the cost of your city streets as part of the cost of driving? Your home's cost included the local streets (and other utilities). Parking lots at the malls are built into the cost you pay for purchases. Free parking? Somebody pays, we just don't have any idea how much.

A lot of you folks here are smarter than this.
Posted by Bobby 2010-02-05 06:34||   2010-02-05 06:34|| Front Page Top

#2 Good points, Bobby and thanks for making them.

I'm torn about the whole 'high-speed rail' issue. Sure, nice to have, and perhaps it would take pressure off our transportation grid. I do think we have plenty of options to travel 500 or 1000 miles already. Personally I'd like to make the 30 miles I travel daily to work easier but that's just me.

But there's one reason I'm against high-speed rail right now:

we seriously don't have the money.

The California proposal will be $60 billion (at least). The state pays half. Really? California has $30 billion in change laying around? Someone tell the Governator. And does the Federal government, running a current $1.35 trillion deficit, have the money to put into projects like this?

Show me a state that has a balanced budget right now and can afford to sell bonds for a high-speed rail system. There isn't one.

Even if 'high-speed rail' could be built efficiently and then operated without too much of a subsidy, I'd argue that we can't afford it now. Bring it back sometime when the federal budget is nearly in balance and the states can afford to take on new projects.
Posted by Steve White 2010-02-05 08:40||   2010-02-05 08:40|| Front Page Top

#3 Bobby:

Always wanted to chat with someone involved in roadway construction like yourself. I've traveled a bit and have been perplexed at how our roads and bridges continue to, as you say "fall down" while many of the ancient roads and structures in Europe built by predominately by Roman engineers and soldiers, appear to have stood the test of time. I speak of the Ponte Saint-Martin, Pont du Guard, the Alvantara, the stone pillar bridge in Trier to name a few.

Were the Legions of Rome and it's soldiers better trained in engineering and construction, or had programmed obsolescence and the need for future contracts simply not caught on yet?
Posted by Besoeker 2010-02-05 08:44||   2010-02-05 08:44|| Front Page Top

#4 One interesting custom of Roman engineering: When an arch on a bridge or viaduct was completed, the man in charge would stand under the arch as the wooden scaffolding was taken down. It's no surprise that so many are still standing.
Posted by Grunter 2010-02-05 10:06||   2010-02-05 10:06|| Front Page Top

#5 I'd be interested in hearing what knowledgeable folks have to say.
I have a fuzzy memory from about 25 years ago of someone complaining that the older Chicago tracks and bridges were in better shape than the new El stations and bridges. They suggested that the new structures were "over engineered" for minimal materials use while the old ones were overbuilt with extra safety factors. It sounded plausible, though there might be Chicago-specific factors as well.
I don't suppose the Romans ran a lot of 18-wheelers on their bridges.
Posted by James  2010-02-05 10:14|| http://idontknowbut.blogspot.com  2010-02-05 10:14|| Front Page Top

#6 Highway construction money has been political money down to the local level with graft and kickbacks and various family connections for generations [google anti-trust highway construction]. Roads could be built at higher related costs of better materials and practices, but then you couldn't put a new contract out sooner to 'repair' them, which is basically ripping up what remains and putting back the same materials. Less opportunity for graft and kickbacks.
Posted by Procopius2k 2010-02-05 10:31||   2010-02-05 10:31|| Front Page Top

#7 Steve, the reason you have a 30 mile problem has much more to do with the geographical spread of population than Transport.

The only way Mass Transit works is if you have a true mass of people to get from point A to B. Because of our development patterns, which have a lot to do with ideas of individual freedom, you can't get enough of a mass at at least one end of the connection.

Look at metro Boston. There are two major ring roads next to which the high tech businesses built. The bedroom communities that provide the workers are spread all over the place. There's no way to make trains effective in such an environment. Time is another key factor. Even with traffic it takes twice as long for me to take a train the 40 miles to Boston as it does to drive. You have to factor in the drive to the train station and the walk/subway to the office as well as the wait between scheduled trains.

If you have very high density domiciles and a high density industrial center this can work, if not, not.

Notice I did not even mention relative cost.
Posted by AlanC 2010-02-05 10:42||   2010-02-05 10:42|| Front Page Top

#8 Maybe we could take some baby steps with buses. They don't have to be the stinky, old diesel monstrosities of old with the uncomfortable naugahyde seats. And the way it is at our airports you don't have to go 168 mph to beat an airplane from Anaheim to San Francisco either. Buses are a lot more flexible in that they can go where ever there are roads which is a lot more places than trains or airplanes can go. Buses use existing infrastructure and you can start out with just one bus to see how many people find that it meets their needs. If ridership is good you can add more buses. If ridership declines you can leave a few buses in the parking lot for a while.

Bobby, one question I've always had for road builders is why do they insist on carpool lanes? In San Diego we need more lanes for everybody, not just an elite few, but the only lanes they're building are designated for carpools only. That's my money they're pouring down the drain. Unless you have a fleet of buses to take advantage of them they make absolutely no sense at all. It looks like just one more way that Big Brother is trying to bully people into doing something that doesn't make sense for them. That's what they mean when they say the politicians aren't listening. They just do whatever the hell they want regardless of the reality on the ground.

Marie Antoinette: Did you hear something?

Louis VI: Non.
Posted by Ebbang Uluque6305 2010-02-05 12:14||   2010-02-05 12:14|| Front Page Top

#9 That's Louis XVI. Spell checking doesn't work on Roman numerals.
Posted by Ebbang Uluque6305 2010-02-05 12:28||   2010-02-05 12:28|| Front Page Top

#10 Slugging is the ultimate answer. I recommend a US Bureau of Slugging (USBS), modeled after the highly successful TSA scheme. Free slugger mileage awards and lunches at the Pentagon. Special licensing and fees/gummit insurance for slugger drivers. 'Three rider minimum' to enter the beltway. High fines or vehicle confiscation for repeat violators, inflatable riders, etc.
Posted by Besoeker 2010-02-05 12:33||   2010-02-05 12:33|| Front Page Top

#11 EU, HOV lanes are a political ploy to "encourage" carpooling, not an engineering solution.

Cost, materials, forecast of use are all factors in Transportation Engineering. Note that before computers (slide rules or a sheet of paper) that the Safety Factors in the design were at least 2-3 times more than was calculated as needed for the design. Meant that things lasted much longer than the design estimate and in many cases almost forever. But--In many cases that structure or road needs to removed as it no longer meets needs or serves the purpose intended and is just in the way of bigger, better, faster, safer.
Posted by tipover 2010-02-05 12:38||   2010-02-05 12:38|| Front Page Top

#12 Low bid drives contractors right to the edge and more thorough engineering (computer)analysis drives agency designs closer to the edge.

But that's OK, in 50 years the whole thing is obsolete anyway, (nobody uses the Roman stuff anymore, right?) and if a bridge doesn't fall down every once in a while, we're wasting our money. The Minneapolis bridge that fell had the defect for 40 years before added dead weight from improvements and unbalanced weight from the rehab contractor finally overloaded the factor of safety. The gussets that failed were about half the thickness they should've been.
Posted by Bobby 2010-02-05 16:13||   2010-02-05 16:13|| Front Page Top

#13 And I agree with Steve, we don't have the money now.

But in 1969 we went to the moon while maintaining 500,000 troops in another country. Oh, but that was before the Great Society.
Posted by Bobby 2010-02-05 16:15||   2010-02-05 16:15|| Front Page Top

#14 Bobby, it was always my understanding that light rail is the darling of leftist politicians because it directly benefits urban populations (is highly visible and benefits them for transportation) and doesn't do anything to help business or commerce.

Why can't some of these projects be heavy rail? Many cities have heavy rail as a part of their transportation systems, and it could have dual use in terms of moving goods. This also has the added benefit of removing trucks from the streets of crowded cities. And it still provides work for folks like you.
Posted by no mo uro 2010-02-05 16:36||   2010-02-05 16:36|| Front Page Top

#15 Y'all forget the huge drawback of rail travel, when you get there how do you move about with your automobile parked a couple of hundred miles away?
Plus worying if your wheels are being towed, stolen, or Vandalised.

I think a form of rail that includesauto transport, either roll on/ roll off or towed behind, I'll ride that.
Posted by Redneck Jim 2010-02-05 16:46||   2010-02-05 16:46|| Front Page Top

#16 Free parking? Somebody pays, we just don't have any idea how much.
A lot of you folks here are smarter than this.

There's no such thing as a free lunch.
in 1969 we went to the moon
Buddy can you spare a trillion?
Were the Legions of Rome and it's soldiers better trained in engineering and construction Their leadership was thinking in terms of centuries, while our leadership is only thinking of the next election. There are middling-quality houses in Europe that have been used for homes for 250 years, and should last indefinitely into the future. How many homes in the US are like those?
Many cities have heavy rail as a part of their transportation systems, and it could have dual use in terms of moving goods. Chicago can serve as a bad example. It's a choke point for both rail and truck traffic. It would be easier to build a highway and rail bridge across Lake Michigan from southern Wisconsin to NW Indiana than to deal with the political crap heap that is Chicago.
Posted by Anguper Hupomosing9418 2010-02-05 18:48||   2010-02-05 18:48|| Front Page Top

#17 Even if they build it, it will probably be too expensive to ride. Look at Amtrak, they have a decent commuter line in the Bay Area that can get you from San Jose, San Fran, Sac. But its expensive, and its subsidized already.
Posted by Elmick Johnson1148 2010-02-05 20:26||   2010-02-05 20:26|| Front Page Top

#18 Not to worry, soon they will suggest we swallow a tiger to get the dog who got the cat and so forth, so all Yurtle the Turtles can be a shell higher.
Posted by swksvolFF 2010-02-05 22:52||   2010-02-05 22:52|| Front Page Top

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