Anti-transit ideology endangers Silver Line
Transit advocates should take heed of Steven Pearlstein's insight into the battle over the Silver Line and fight back against the anti-transit ideology that lies just under the surface and threatens transit projects everywhere.
This weekend, Pearlstein wrote in the Washington Post, "So what are we arguing about here? Politics. Ideology. Certainly nothing that is worth risking the most important economic development project in the region."
To see the ideological anti-transit forces at work, compare the recent death of a rail megaproject in New Jersey to the situation unfolding in Virginia with the Silver Line extension.
In late 2010, New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie rejected $6 billion in funds from Federal and other non-state sources to build a new commuter rail tunnel under the Hudson River into Manhattan. The project would have provided tens of thousands of jobs now and in the future, created over $100 million of business activity per year, increased the value of homes nearby, created huge amounts of tax revenues for the State of New Jersey, and eased the commute for hundreds of thousands people who have to get in to Manhattan from Northern Jersey every day.
And the independent Government Accountability Office confirmed these lost benefits just last month in a well-researched and detailed report.
Despite those cold, hard facts and the fact that New Jersey would have been on the hook for only about 14 percent of the project's total cost, the New Jersey Governor killed the project. The Governor veiled his anti-transit actions in the ideology of austerity
A closer look at the facts reveals that Governor Christie falsely inflated the short-term economic cost of the project in his mission to kill a well-funded, well-planned, and hugely beneficial public transit project. Now that his assertions about funding have been largely debunked, we can see what anti-transit forces have attempted to hide: an ideological opposition to transit itself.
Simply put, there is a vocal movement that rejects the notion that public transit has or should have a place in our development, let alone a place of priority. And some politicians are responding to that movement.
Now, anti-transit forces in Virginia are also pursuing a similar veiled anti-transit ideology as they attempt to kill phase 2 of the Metro Rail extension to Dulles Airport.
The project is the largest expansion of Metro rail lines in the D.C. Metropolitan Area since Metro was built in the 1970s. Like the Hudson River tunnel in New Jersey, the Silver Line would move thousands of people a day by rail through one of the most congested areas in the United States. It would (and has already) created jobs and other economic benefits. The project is being managed by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority and is currently in Phase I, which extends the rail from East Falls Church through Tysons Corner.
Phase I has been an unqualified success. It is scheduled to be completed on time and it is on budget. The project also has an exemplary safety record
Then anti-transit forces stepped in and Governor McDonnell changed his mind, threatening to withhold funding unless the Airports Authority changed the requirement that the biggest contractors on Phase II use the same union hiring halls that were used to staff Phase I
To avoid a fight, the Airports Authority was flexible and it changed the bidding to accommodate Governor McDonnell's request, implementing a system that would give bidders using the same hiring halls from Phase I extra points in the competition for the contract but not requiring their use.
Apparently this hasn't appeased Governor McDonnell's anti-transit donors because the Governor is now threatening to kill the project unless the preference system is dropped entirely.
Anti-transit forces in Virginia have now created a full-blown crisis on account of their ideological opposition to using union labor on any project
Transit advocates should be wary of the stated ideological reasons given for killing these projects because they veil another ideology that fundamentally opposes the expansion of public transit.
The Virginia and New Jersey cases
Anti-transit ideologues veil their opposition to transit projects with other ideological memes that incite their base
But make no mistake, if the anti-transit ideologues had any predisposition to implement real transit solutions, they would cast aside those ideological battles in favor of the compromises and heavy subsidies they have been offered to move the transit projects forward.
Their absolute refusal to do so in favor of other pet ideological battles
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