Thursday, February 4, 2010

Stop the I-75 and Brent Spence Bridge Boondoggles!

The seemingly unstoppable reconstruction of I-75 and the Brent Spence Bridge will be the biggest boondoggle in local history. Why? The ROI numbers for this 15+ mile multi-billion project depend on increased use of automobiles and increased trucking. How, exactly, is this going to happen if casual driving and long-distance trucking are doomed by the inevitable exhaustion of their present fuel source? Easily extractable oil will be exhausted by the end of the useful life of the new Brent Spence Bridge, and likely much, much sooner. Nobody knows quite when because the Saudis and others refuse to allow an outside audit of their reserves, and there is more than anecdotal proof that the world's players are cooking their advertised figures.
If you think the I-75 project is expensive now, just wait for 2040~, when we're stuck maintaining a 10-lane half-empty monster while having to build major rail infrastructure for twice the cost to do it now.
High speed passenger trains, commuter trains, and streetcars use something called electricity, an invisible force that makes things go (yeah, it sounds like make-believe, but The Provost assures you that is is very real!). It is produced at what are called "power plants", which are fueled by things we've got a lot of within our borders. When you fuel your car, more often than not some of that money goes to Canada, Mexico, Venezuela, or the Middle East. If you ride an electrically powered train here in the US, it's fueled by coal, uranium, hydropower, or something else from within our own borders. Your money stays here. If you ride a diesel-fueled train (or a city bus) in the U.S., much less of your money is being transfered out of the country than if you drove a car.
This just in: Cincinnati is home to one of the world's finest railroad stations:
Union Terminal is the present-day stop of The Cardinal, Amtrak's primitive every-other-day service to Chicago and Washington, DC. Famously, these trains arrive and depart at 1:30am and 3:30am. Why is that? Because some congressman from West Virginia made The Cardinal happen, and he dictated that it must travel through his state during convenient daylight hours, never mind that the Cincinnati metro area has more people than the entire state of West Virginia.
COAST and their friends across the country bash Amtrak's unprofitability, but never, ever, acknowledge that much of its service outside the profitable Eastern Corridor is mandated in obscure legislation and doomed to unprofitability. These same clowns say yeah well um how come UPS makes all this money and the Post Office doesn't? Because UPS isn't mandated to serve every single address in the country. UPS doesn't have to drive 10 miles down a dirt road in Nebraska, every day, to one farm house to drop off junk mail. UPS doesn't have to drive 10 miles down a dirt road in Montana, every day, to check some Unibomber's remote mailbox.
The arguments in defense of huge highway expansion projects are weaker today than at any point in the Interstate Highway era. Let us count the ways -- two of the Big 3 car companies are owned by the government, the Federal Highway Trust Fund is being bailed out yearly by the general fund, Ohio is subsidizing its highway funding by $1 billion per year, gasoline is much more expensive per gallon than it was when studies for these projects began, and cheap gasoline is doomed no matter what. Oh, and we've had 100,000 troops hanging out in Iraq since 2003 to prevent their oil fields from falling into the hands of the Russians or Chinese.
The old stretches of Interstate 75 between the Ohio River and I-275 need to be rebuilt in order to replace 50+ year-old overpasses with new ones, widen emergency shoulders, and to increase the safety of its interchanges. However, increased capacity in the form of building new through lanes is an entirely foolish endeavor for the reasons listed above and because more lanes don't necessarily improve capacity.
A five-lane interstate simply does not carry 20% more cars than a four-lane one.
So why not scrap the I-75 project, send it back to the drawing board, and replace these foolish new lanes with a pair of railroad tracks running down the center median?
By reserving the center median for railroad tracks, connections to Union Terminal for intercity trains and The Riverfront Transit Center for commuter trains can be built as cheaply as possible:

Instead, we're on a path that will see all this crap rebuilt with no way for passenger trains or commuter trains to easily reach Union Terminal or the Riverfront Transit Center. Although the Transit Center can still be reached by commuter trains from Lawrenceburg, IN fairly easily, any approach to it or Union Terminal from the north will require a fourth mainline built next to the triple-track yard approach that parallels I-75 north from I-74:

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