We’re increasingly hearing that a reworked Streetcar proposal will be contingent on help from our friends in Washington, but what happens if they never come to our rescue? Certainly, changes will come when a new presidential administration takes the reigns in 2009, but what kind of changes will they be?
Some people, like columnist Neil Peirce at the Washington Post, have their doubts that federal funding in transit is something that should be counted on. He notes that cities with vision have decided to act like big boys and girls, and do it on their own.
Metros Move to Forge Their Own Transit Futures
By Neal Peirce
America’s major metro regions may be on the verge of transit independence.
They tap federal aid whenever they can. But increasingly they’re being obliged to find money for system expansion right at home. They’re learning to get cities and suburbs on the same page as they prepare for a post-petroleum age.
And where they’re not succeeding, anger is mounting. Take the Atlanta region, legendary for its traffic tie-ups. It added 2 million people in 20 years but built little new capacity, and now needs to invest $50 billion in rails and roads. As recently as April, Georgia’s legislature refused to let citizens of the region even vote on a sales tax boost to finance transit lines and roadway expansion.
“The business community is screaming for relief at the top of our voice,” says Sam Williams, president of the Metropolitan Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. He’s not only urging early transportation investments but warning that “failure to invest would spell economic disaster for Georgia.”
The good news: only few other regions — metro Detroit, for example — are as stalemated as Atlanta. Indeed, just check what’s happening elsewhere:
Houston, legendary capital of Big Oil, has decided to plunge ahead with building an integrated five-corridor light rail system. “With gas headed to $8 a gallon and oil to $200 a barrel,” said Councilman Peter Brown, “we have to rethink Houston as a happy motoring paradise.”
The Denver region continues to construct its ambitious 119-mile, $4.7 billion “Fastracks” system of light rail and commuter rail that voters decided, 57 percent to 42 percent, to fund in 2004.
Charlotte is celebrating 13,000-passenger-a-day patronage, 4,000 ahead of projections, on the first corridor of its Lynx rail system, inaugurated last November.
The Seattle region’s Sound Transit Board has just voted unanimously to put a 15-year mass transit package, including bus, commuter rail and a 53-mile regional light rail system, on this November’s ballot. It’s a daring move because just last autumn the region’s voters turned down a combined highway-transit funding measure. But Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels is hailing the big rail expansion as the right response to high gas prices and rising congestion: “the right plan for us, our kids and our planet.”
This December, Phoenix opens a 20-mile light rail link from its downtown to neighboring Tempe and Mesa, using funds from a designated sales tax voters approved 2-to-1 in 2000.
And so it goes across the U.S.– check Dallas, Salt Lake City, Sacramento, Washington, Portland, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Norfolk and more. In amazing numbers, rail transit systems are either experiencing record ridership, or expanding, or both.