The 2010 mid-term elections are just days away, and for a whole lot of reasons this has been a memorable election season to say the least.
The hottest of the hot-button issues has to be government spending, specifically the stimulus bill. A lot of Democrats view it as a success that has created jobs, built infrastructure and eased the Great Recession. And a lot of Republicans say it’s done nothing of the sort and it’s just more reckless spending.
High-speed rail is among the things to come out of the stimulus bill and its focus on infrastructure. Billions of dollars have been set aside for rail projects across the country — including $2.4 billion allocated just yesterday — and so of course a lot of politicians are weighing in on it. Infrastructurist put together a list of states facing large opposition to HSR spending. Some projects, including the high-profile, big-budget system in California, could be scaled back or killed outright after Nov. 2. It breaks down pretty simply, according to Yonah Freemark: in ever state with a contested congressional race, the Republican candidate opposes HSR and the Democratic candidate supports it.
We’re already seeing this New Jersey, for example. Gov. Chris Christie is wavering on funding the $2.7 billion New Jersey portion of the bill that would create a rail tunnel connecting the Garden State with the Big Apple. Christie feels the $9.7 billion project does not fall in line with the fiscal responsibility that his cash-strapped state should be following, especially when it will have to cover one-third of the bill.
In California, Republican candidate Meg Whitman has argued the state can’t afford it. In Wisconsin, Republican candidate Scott Walker has made cancelling a high-speed line between Milwaukee and Madison a key campaign issue.
But beyond the anti-rail fervor we’re seeing, there’s more for multi-modal transportation advocates to worry about. There’s evidence of far broader disdain for other modes that are far cheaper than rail, such as bicycle and even pedestrian infrastructure improvements.
Colorado Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes, for example, said creating more bike lanes and other bike-friendly amenities were “converting Denver into a United Nations community,” something he considers an attack on residents’ “personal freedoms.” And don’t forget that U.S. Rep. John Boehner — who probably will be Speaker of the House if the GOP takes control — told Face The Nation in regard to infrastructure spending, “I think there’s a place for infrastructure. But what kind of infrastructure? Infrastructure to widen highways to ease congestion for American families? …But if we’re talking about beautification projects or we’re talking about bike paths, Americans are not going to look very kindly on this.”
Trouble is, a lot of these candidates are completely out of step with what Americans want. A recent poll by Kelton research showed 69 percent of Americans think public transportation is a better option than driving on many occasions. Nearly 90 percent take mass transit to work if they have access to it. And 46 percent believe local, state and federal governments aren’t spending enough on public transportation. And don’t forget the data that show more people are biking. People are using the multi-modal transportation that exists, and they want more of it.
The election is about more than which side of the issues the candidates fall on. It’s about finding compromises that work.
Look, high-speed rail is expensive, but it won’t get any cheaper. Our rail system is slow, expensive and inefficient. To compete in a global marketplace, we must update our rail system to at least keep up with China and Europe. Our roads and bridges are literally crumbling. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave the nation’s critical networks a D on its most recent Report Card for American Infrastructure. The group’s estimate that we need $2.2 trillion over the next five years to bring everything up to par.
Transportation infrastructure spending is a down payment on the future. The cost may seem high, but the outcome can be extraordinary.
Photo of the Amtrak Acela Express: John H. Gray / Flickr
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