No one can escape the fact that light rail across a new Columbia River Bridge would add over $1 billion dollars to the project costs. This means adding light rail would increase costs by 40%, but only serve between 2.4% to 9.8% of all bridge crossings by 2030. That presents a significant gap between public costs and public benefits.
There is a better way: maintaining the current transit configuration (rubber-tire buses) across a new bridge would carry just as many transit riders as light rail or BRT, yet cost a billion dollars less.
But of course, DeVore doesn’t address these facts and only engages in an Ad Hominem attack. The people of Clark County deserve to know both sides of an issue when public dollars are used.
Facts are funny things, actually. I mean, Ennis was at this forum on Apr. 10, agitating in our community, when a director of the Columbia River Crossing project put forth a different figure than one billion dollars:
Crossing officials likely will seek up to $750 million in Federal Transit Administration’s grants to pay for construction costs of bringing light rail over the Columbia River and into downtown Vancouver.
Doug Ficco, co-director of the Columbia River Crossing project, said the $750 million figure comes from federal officials and roughly matches how much crossing officials estimate light rail would cost.
But what’s a quarter billion dollar difference when it helps you make your right-wing millionaire funded point? All that Coors (or whatever) money has to be used for something I suppose. Follow me past the jump and we’ll talk about the issues.
In all seriousness, we don’t have the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the CRC project yet, so costs are still kind of fuzzy. The CRC cost estimate sheet (PDF) gives a range of roughly a half billion to $1.17 billion for light rail (LRT) and a range of a little less than a half billion to almost a full billion for bus rapid transit (BRT.) There’s not much difference in cost, it turns out, so exactly why is the Washington Policy Center trying to sabotage light rail in Clark County? Would it be hmmmmmm ideology?
It’s inaccurate at this point to say with certainty LRT will cost over a billion dollars. It seems to depend on the final configuration, which isn’t yet known. Either mode will cost a lot of money.
As for ridership, west side light rail in Portland is already quite successful. The CRC estimates 20,000 trips for a Clark County line, which isn’t as big, but it could be part of the solution. I never could understand why rail opponents think LRT should be magical and solve every conceivable congestion problem. The most likely benefit of light rail would seem to be not having to build more vehicle lanes in the future, as happened on the US 26 (Sunset) corridor on the Oregon side.
So the Washington Policy Center prefers bus rapid transit. Great. They should make the case for it instead of publishing anti-light rail screeds in our local newspaper.
Truth be told you can make a reasonable case for BRT in the abstract, and while I tend to support light rail I haven’t found the decision to be an easy one to make. But local circumstances do bear consideration.
Probably the key determining factor in the Portland-Vancouver metro area, as opposed to the Puget Sound region, is that Portland already has an extensive and still expanding light rail system, with commuter rail set to come on line soon. Someday one could travel to all areas of the metro region on light rail, and since Oregon has such a massive head start, that day is sooner rather than later.
Throw in rising oil prices, climate concerns and the desire of ordinary people to find a better way to get about than sitting in rush hour traffic, and light rail is hardly the unreasonable boondoggle opponents claim. It has limitations, as all things do, but in particular places it can work well.
The CRC project put out a fact sheet (PDF) about the transit choices. Each mode has its benefits and drawbacks. While BRT is cheaper initially, LRT has lower operating costs. But with BRT we would be creating a separate system to run a few miles to connect to an already existing LRT system, which frankly doesn’t make a lot of sense. Conservatives like to talk a lot about “common sense,” but here they are arguing for wasteful duplication and higher operating costs. Weird.
What Ennis doesn’t mention is that the feds are going to want a transit component, and those choices have been whittled down by the CRC task force to either LRT or BRT. (Sadly, my personal choice of monorail didn’t make it, so thanks again Seattle.)
Building a new highway-only bridge isn’t an option. Period. Even if the feds allowed it, Oregon wouldn’t. Ennis may not have noticed that there is another whole state involved in this.
The problem with buses, except when they are in dedicated or HOV lanes, is that they are subject to the same congestion and delay as every other vehicle in the corridor. Again, none of this is all that cut and dry, which is why I vigorously objected to Ennis’s “local opinion” piece in The Columbian in the first place. It was a one-sided assault on one particular aspect of the project made by someone who doesn’t even live here.
Plus I just enjoy attacking right-wing stink tanks. It’s fun, if not profitable.
These propaganda shops don’t speak for anyone except their ideological backers. If stating that obvious fact constitutes an ad hominem attack against them, so be it. Progressives have allowed the far right to define the debate too many times on too many issues, and the right wing tactic is always the same: distort and obfuscate the real issues using their funhouse institutions, paid for with the largess of wealthy right-wing extremists. They have that First Amendment right, of course, and we have the same right to call them on their baloney.
The Washington Policy Center is trying to kill light rail in Clark County because, like the Borg, that’s what they do. Residents of Clark County would be advised to ignore highly ideological groups like them and draw their own conclusions.
Michael Setty at publictransit.org has written a convincing rebuttal to the methods, arguments and facts of the study. For example, WPC uses San Francisco to talk about how expensive transit is, but fails to mention that one third of all commute trips in the three counties served by BART and Muni are taken on transit. Setty also shows that LRT is cheaper per passenger mile (38¢) than buses (55¢), in direct contrast to WPC’s claim that buses are 12% cheaper to operate.
You can download the Publictransit rebuttal here in PDF format.