Dear Borg-like Washington Policy Center

Michael Ennis at the right-wing millionaire funded Washington Policy Center takes exception to my post about his group’s attempts in Clark County to scuttle light rail.

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.

MORE– At Seattle Transit Blog, Daimajin catches a refutation of the WPC study by one Michael Setty at a place called Publictransit.us. From Seattle Transit Blog:

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.

Comments

  1. 1

    michael spews:

    John, good job taking the righties to school.

    Light rail tends to have higher startup costs, but lower operating/long term costs so it saves money over the life of the system. Plus there’s that whole not sitting in traffic thing, that whole bikes, strollers and wheel chairs roll right on thing and the electricity to run the thing comes from close by.

    It’s, also, a nice little value add that the BPA isn’t funneling its profits to Al Qaeda or South American narco terrorists.

  2. 2

    Marvin Stamn spews:

    Simple answer why he’s considering 750 million dollars is going to be a billion. Read the facts and figures about the “Big Dig” if you don’t understand how government budgets get inflated.
      
    Name a government program that cost as predicted.

  3. 3

    michael spews:

    Shit for brains @2

    The DOT has all sorts of projects that are on time and on budget. Go look it up.

  4. 4

    ArtFart spews:

    2 In my (not so) humble opinion, BushCo’s “liberation” of Iraq has been a far better example of government budget inflation. In fact, it’s the most massive example of such in the history of the human race.

  5. 5

    s-choir spews:

    re 2: So, by distorting the truth, he was only trying to be more accurate?

    Come on. We’re generally thoughtful people who read this blog.

    Name one private contractor who doesn’t bid cheap and then have ‘cost overruns’ — if they even have to bid at all.

    Your one-size-fits-all solution of blaming the government is wearing a little thin. Name some private companies who’ve saved us money since this whole privatizing frenzy began.

  6. 6

    YLB spews:

    Plus I just enjoy attacking right-wing stink tanks. It’s fun…

    A man after my own heart. Welcome aboard Jon!

  7. 7

    Mr. Cynical spews:

    3. michael spews:
    “Shit for brains @2
    The DOT has all sorts of projects that are on time and on budget. Go look it up is on-time and on-budget. Did you know Budgets & Timetables often get revised during a project and often times there are change orders or additional projects to get the job done.
    Kind of a shell-game where the goal is to make DOT look like they actually know what they are doing.
    It’s all HOW you count the beans!

  8. 8

    s-choir spews:

    re 7: You’ve inadvertantly stated a truth.

    Wanna explain to us again how great the Bush economy has been?

  9. 9

    Jane Balough's Dog spews:

    ArtFart spews:

    2 In my (not so) humble opinion, BushCo’s “liberation” of Iraq has been a far better example of government budget inflation.

    Actually it is a prime example of what the Federal guvmints main job should be, making war. Military spending should always be priority #1. A lot of what the guvmint spends money on is for bullshit.

  10. 10

    Jane Balough's Dog spews:

    e 7: You’ve inadvertantly stated a truth.

    Wanna explain to us again how great the Bush economy has been?
    04/24/2008 at 6:31 pm

    I will take the economy of today over the economy of eight years ago anyday. roof roof.

  11. 11

    s-choir spews:

    re 10: Great explanation — for a dog. But we’re not canines (‘dogs’, for the layman) here. We’re cheerful, gun-totin’ liberals with no bitterness.

  12. 12

    Jane Balough's Dog spews:

    3. michael spews:
    “Shit for brains @2
    The DOT has all sorts of projects that are on time and on budget.

    Yeah, the ones where they revised the budgets. Of course there maybe some legit “on time and on budget” projects run by WSDOT….. and stopped clock is right twice a day also.

  13. 13

    Jane Balough's Dog spews:

    11

    It is call perspective. Of course you liberals can’t get the events right from last week let alone eight years ago.

  14. 14

    ArtFart spews:

    9 Oh, really? This war is a ripoff even in terms of the dollars spent versus the people killed.

  15. 15

    ArtFart spews:

    10 Why?

    What’s “better” now than it was in 2000?

    You can’t be fantasizing that all that money funneled out of the federal treasury has landed in your paws? That’s pretty funny.

    Now, go look for a privately-operated fire hydrant to piss on.

  16. 16

    correctnotright spews:

    JBD continues to prove how stupid and ill-informed it is (I assume a dog as stupid as this must have been neutered).
    Gee – the military spending on Iraq is just “great”. Over one trillion now and at least 3 trillion in the future to turn Iraq into a terrorist hotbed and exhaust our military and reputation in the world – all while letting bin laden escape and not actively pursuing him.

    Yup – right wing idealogues are just plain stupid. thank you George bush and the 27% of rabid idiot believers that think the economy is doing well. Fine Kool-aid they are drinking…

  17. 17

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    I’m not very familiar with Clark County, but I’ve been through there, and my recollection is the geography there is a lot flatter than Seattle’s, making it more light rail friendly.

    And in this case, you’ve got an existing light rail system to tie into, have the Feds picking up the tab, and don’t have a 30-year construction schedule.

    But here’s the kicker: The most expensive lanes you can build are ones that cross one of the continent’s largest rivers, so if light rail saves money anywhere, it’s here, because you can pack 10 times as many passengers onto a set of rails as you can into a highway lane.

    This may be an example of where light rail makes perfect sense.

  18. 18

    spews:

    Comment on the statment from Mr. DeVore, “In all seriousness, we don’t have the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the CRC project yet, so costs are still kind of fuzzy.”

    In all seriousness, draft EIS documents on big construction projects may have only fuzzy cost estimates. The EIS is not about costs; costs are not considered an environmental impact.

    As an example, the Final EIS for Link Light Rail in Seattle came out in 1999 with very fuzzy cost estimates. The big cost blow up on just a part of this light rail project occurred in fall 2000 when a billion dollar increase in tunnel construction costs was announced by Sound Transit. Costs then went even higher in 2001.

    On rail project cost overruns in general, a peer-reviewed paper presented at the January 2006 annual meeting in DC of the Transportation Research Board of the National Research Council titled “Trends in U.S. Rail Transit Project Cost Overrun” by Nasiru A. Dantata, Ali Touran, and Donald C. Schneck reported that 10 U.S. Federally-funded rail projects completed before 1990 had an average cost overrun of 50%. 16 projects completed in 1994 or later had an average cost overrun of 30%.

    This appears to be a positive trend over time, but a look at the individual projects shows that the two most recently completed researched in this paper, a heavy rail subway & elevated train line in San Juan, Puerto Rico and the Hiawatha Light Rail line in Minneapolis, came in at 133% and 49% over budget respectively.

    Sound Transit’s Initial Segment light rail line scheduled to open in 2009 is at this point still forecast to come in on budget, but the Federal monitoring consultant notes that not all contractor claims have been received.

  19. 19

    spews:

    18. I agree that cost overruns are not a trivial matter.

    While the draft EIS may not be directly about cost, at least it will give us a fuller proposal that can conceivably be analyzed for cost. This has been a fairly lengthy process and lots of folks are anxious to see the details.

    Lots of projects have cost overruns, including highway projects and private sector projects. You don’t ever seem to hear all that much about cost overruns on interchanges for some weird reason.

    It is a legitimate concern and I think all taxpayers want projects to be accurate about costs. Easier said than done on mega-projects, I would imagine.

  20. 20

    michael spews:

    @18

    How do the cost over-runs on rail construction compare to cost over-runs on road construction?

    Trimet has built a lot of rail, how have they done on on time construction and cost overruns?

  21. 21

    Jane Balough's Dog spews:

    9 Oh, really? This war is a ripoff even in terms of the dollars spent versus the people killed.
    04/24/2008 at 7:06 pm

    Actually the biggest rip off is that ponzi scheme called social security. We can have 100 Iraq wars and it still wouldn’t come close to that rip off. roof roof.

  22. 23

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @2 I can think of a recreational war that was supposed to pay for itself from the host country’s oil revenues which is over budget. But then, Republicans run it, so that had to be expected.

  23. 24

    Jane Balough's Dog spews:

    I betcha the USA has a lot less trained terrorists now then in 2000… especially the type that know how to take off in airplanes but not land them.

  24. 25

    michael spews:

    @12

    OK, so find me some. We both know that if you dig deep enough that projects everywhere: public, private, repainting your bedroom, going on vacation, can windup costing more more than was initially thought. So go find me some. And for every project DOT screwed the pooch (sorry, couldn’t help it) on there’s an equal or better screwing of the pooch (there I go again) in the private sector. So, I guess I don’t really get what the fuck your point is.

  25. 26

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @10 “I will take the economy of today over the economy of eight years ago anyday. roof roof.”

    Of course you would, because you’re a stupid dog. That’s why we don’t let dogs vote.

  26. 27

    michael spews:

    @10 “I will take the economy of today over the economy of eight years ago anyday. roof roof.”

    Why?

  27. 28

    Jane Balough's Dog spews:

    Jon

    Projects are only on budget when donks try to pass light rail before the real costs are in. roof roof.

  28. 29

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @21 How is social security a ripoff? Unlike Iraq, the people who pay taxes for it get substantial benefits for their money. Iraq has produced no benefits whatsoever for anyone.

  29. 31

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @24 “I betcha the USA has a lot less trained terrorists now then in 2000…”

    Yeah, because they accomplished their suicide mission and took 3,000 Americans with them.

  30. 32

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    This is a good point at which to review how the Bush regime’s criminal negligence caused the deaths of those 3,000 Americans:

    “Bush’s approach in most situations seemed a reactive combination of calculations to avoid his father’s mistakes and to reject Clinton’s policies. This was especially clear in international affairs: in his first nine months he reversed Clinton’s policy toward China, proclaiming it no longer a ‘strategic partner’ but a ‘strategic competitor’; in the Middle East, by withdrawing U.S. involvement in the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians; toward Korea, by abandoning the negotiated accord that had frozen the North’s nuclear program and by humiliating President Kim of South Korea, who was promoting North-South reconciliation, during his March 2001 visit to the White House, contributing to a wave of anti-Americanism in a country that was among the staunchest American allies; by withdrawing U.S. support from the Kyoto treaty on global warming; and by forsaking Clinton’s efforts to address the dangers of international terrorism.

    “During the transition between administrations, National Security Adviser Sandy Berger arranged several extensive briefings on this last subject for Bush’s incoming national security adviser, Condoleeza Rice, and others on the Bush team, including Vice President Cheney. One briefing lasted half a day. Berger told them that Osama bin Laden was an ‘existential threat’ and told them that he wanted ‘to underscore how important this issue is.’ In another briefing, Richard Clarke, head of counterrorism in the NSC, the single most knowledgeable expert in the government, gave them a complete tutorial on the subject. In yet another briefing, CIA officials were brought in to go over all the intelligence available on terrorism.

    “Don Kerrick, a three-star general and outgoing deputy national security adviser, overlapped for four months with the new Bush people. He submitted a memo for the new National Security Council warning of the danger of terrorism. ‘We are going to be struck again,’ he wrote. But as Kerrick explained to me, he received no answer to his memo. ‘They didn’t respond,’ he said. ‘They never responded. It was not high on their priority list. I was never invited to one meeting. They never asked me to do anything. They were not focusing. They didn’t see terrorism as the big megaissue that the Clinton administration saw it as. They were concentrated on what they thought were higher priorities than terrorism.’ The Principals meeting of national security officials took up terrorism only once, after constant pressure from Clarke, on September 4, 2001, and at that meeting they discussed using unmanned Predator drone spy aircraft, but no decision was made. ‘Unfortunately,’ said Kerrick, ‘September 11 gave them something to focus on.’”

    — Sidney Blumenthal, The Clinton Wars (New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 2003), pp. 797-798.

  31. 34

    Jane Balough's Dog spews:

    @21 How is social security a ripoff? Unlike Iraq, the people who pay taxes for it get substantial benefits for their money.

    Try telling that to a twenty year old who will end up paying for your worthless ass in another 25 years. They will be lucky to see a paycheck let alone a benefit from paying SS.

  32. 36

    Jane Balough's Dog spews:

    @10 “I will take the economy of today over the economy of eight years ago anyday. roof roof.”

    Why?

    04/24/2008 at 8:43 pm

    Cause I own stock. I will gladly take your capital gains for the last eight years if you don’t want them. Somehow I think you are one of those guvmint leaches so it probably ain’t much.

  33. 37

    Jane Balough's Dog spews:

    contributing to a wave of anti-Americanism in a country that was among the staunchest American allies; by withdrawing U.S

    I wonder if that is the reason Sarkozy got elected…heheheehhe

  34. 38

    michael spews:

    @35

    Your one word reply proves nothing.

    @36

    You’d rather have an economy that’s built on deficit spending and is collapsing like a house of cards, than one that was built on actually paying your bills, building stuff and providing services because you own stock?

    I own stocks too, but I’d rather the working class had money in the bank and a little spending money in their pockets so that I didn’t have to worry about my Starbucks and Costco stocks taking a tumble.

  35. 40

    ByeByeGOP spews:

    @2 I finally agree with Marvin. Look at the lies Bush told about the Iraq war costs – we are now 900,000% over budget there. Do you hear Marvin and the other cum-drunk chickenhawks complaining about that? Nope!

  36. 42

    slingshot spews:

    Read their “study” on light rail over at the Washington Policy Center’s site. It’s just a comparison of the six up & running west coast rail systems, cost per passenger, construction costs, etcetera, etc. It apparently, as Mr. Devore has pointed out, used false data regarding the costs of busses. And it makes absolutely no mention or comparison of the cost of roadway/lane expansion, either direct or indirect such as, the effects of combustion engine exhaust on city dweller’s respiratory health. These indirect costs should really be included in the equation one of these first days.

  37. 43

    Marvin Stamn spews:

    29. Roger Rabbit spews:
    @21 How is social security a ripoff?

       
    All the illegal immigrants need to either make up a ss# or use someone else’s # (happened to me). Either way, those taxes going into the fund to get used for mostly white people retiring. Of course, like the democrats slave policy from years back, this one also benefits white people at the expense of others. All those $$ being paid into the system is theft. The immigrants pay into it and they get nothing back from it. It’s a great scam you liberals are playing on Mexicans now since the blacks have wised up.
    Has anyone noticed how nancy pelosi and how her golf course (Lion’s edge) with all the environmental violations is filled with non-union immigrants? How about her vineyards where once again the non-union immigrants are picking the grapes. Same with her resort, auege du soleil. Maybe you might want to talk about her restaurant.
    So you see how nancy pelosi is using slave labor, not paying a living wage and not allowing them to unionize. Everything she pretends to be against. But no democrats call her out so who cares how she screws over those poor immigrant workers.

  38. 44

    Marvin Stamn spews:

    40. ByeByeGOP spews:
    @2 I finally agree with Marvin. Look at the lies Bush told about the Iraq war costs – we are now 900,000% over budget there. Do you hear Marvin and the other cum-drunk chickenhawks complaining about that? Nope!

       
    It’s about time you used your brains and agree with me. Government’s best skill is to waste money. Can anyone find me a government project that came in at bid or lower? Go ahead and look, I’ll wait.
      
    p.s. I didn’t vote for bush so your BDS doesn’t bother me it only makes me laugh at you. You’ve NEVER seen me stand up for bush. If you believe otherwise, provide the link.