High Speed to Insolvency

By Will, George F. | Newsweek, March 7, 2011 | Go to article overview

High Speed to Insolvency


Will, George F., Newsweek


Byline: George F. Will

Why liberals love trains.

Generations hence, when the river of time has worn this presidency's importance to a small, smooth pebble in the stream of history, people will still marvel that its defining trait was a mania for high-speed rail projects. This disorder illuminates the progressive mind.

Remarkably widespread derision has greeted the Obama administration's damn-the-arithmetic-full-speed-ahead proposal to spend $53 billion more (after the $8 billion in stimulus money and $2.4 billion in enticements to 23 states) in the next six years pursuant to the president's loopy goal of giving "80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail." "Access" and "high-speed" to be defined later.

Criticism of this optional and irrational spending--meaning: borrowing --during a deficit crisis has been withering. Only an administration blinkered by ideology would persist.

Florida's new Republican governor, Rick Scott, has joined Ohio's (John Kasich) and Wisconsin's (Scott Walker) in rejecting federal incentives--more than $2 billion in Florida's case--to begin a high-speed rail project. Florida's 84-mile line, which would have run parallel to Interstate 4, would have connected Tampa and Orlando. One preposterous projection was that it would attract 3 million passengers a year--almost as many as ride Amtrak's Acela in the densely populated Boston-New York-Washington corridor.

The three governors want to spare their states from paying the much larger sums likely to be required for construction-cost overruns and operating subsidies when ridership projections prove to be delusional. Kasich and Walker, who were elected promising to stop the nonsense, asked Washington for permission to use the high-speed-rail money for more pressing transportation needs than a train running along Interstate 71 between Cleveland and Cincinnati, or a train parallel to Interstate 94 between Milwaukee and Madison. Washington, disdaining the decisions of Ohio and Wisconsin voters, replied that it will find states that will waste the money.

California will. Although prostrate from its own profligacy, it will sink tens of billions of its own taxpayers' money in the 616-mile San Francisco-to-San Diego line. …

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