Detroit, Mich. — Greens are lining up at the stimulus trough to fund a wish list of alternative-energy boondoggles. But an old green favorite — public transit — is also looking to sneak a few million through the back door while the gettin’ is good. Sen. Harry Reid’s Vegas-to-L.A. train has gotten the headlines, but with a staggering $8 billion in stimulus set aside for public transit, every pol with a pet rail program is looking to bring home the bacon.
But what happens when the federal stimulus runs out and taxpayers are left holding the bag maintaining unprofitable public systems? Oh, stop your quibbling.
Take Metro Detroit, which already struggles to maintain its public infrastructure and needs more liabilities like a hole in the head.
“Momentum is building” towards a regional transit system, thrills the left-wing Detroit Free Press today. Actually, there was no momentum until Uncle Stimulus came along. Now local activists have been given new hope for projects no one in their right mind would have financed two months ago.
Why? Because Midwest metro areas like Detroit simply do not have the population densities to sustain public transit. Wayne County, the core of Metro Detroit, has a density of 3,000 souls per square mile — compared with Boston’s 12,000 or the 27,000 per square mile in New York’s five boroughs.
As a result, cockamamie schemes like spanning the 45 miles from the university town of Ann Arbor (population density: 450) to Detroit have gotten little traction. Until now.
“Congress approved a $950,000 earmark for a Detroit-Ann Arbor route,” reports the Free Press, “and regional leaders expressed hope late last week that some of the federal stimulus money could go toward a regional transit system.”
How much would all this cost? Who knows. In fact, pork queen Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) secured $110 million of taxpayer money in 2005 simply to study the Ann-Arbor-to-Detroit line.
But with $8 billion in “free” stimulus money now to be had, greedy greens are eying “high-speed rail lines being built throughout the Midwest,” reports the Detroit News. “The Midwest’s proposal would use Chicago as its hub, with spokes traveling to Detroit and Grand Rapids.”
But doesn’t Obama’s stimulus bill contain a “shovel-ready” standard? No problem, say Midwest Regional Rail System advocates. Much of the 3,000 miles of rail lines in the system are already used by freight operators and could be “repurposed” to accommodate high-speed rail.
“Regional rivalries have stymied multiple attempts to create a regional system,” simplifies the Free Press, glossing over the larger issues of cost and population density. “Elsewhere, New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Boston and other cities have long benefited from regional transit systems.”
Build it and they will come. But who will maintain it? A sober Detroit News editorial last week observed: “There’s no guarantee that after the stimulus dollars run out, the state will be able to afford to maintain the system. Michigan can’t even keep its existing infrastructure in good repair.”
But these days, DC’s trough is open for business, and such common sense is in short supply.