Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Stakes of Stim

In track when teammates of mine used to get stim it was usually attaching wires to their muscles and turning a knob so that electricity would course through and loosen them up. Similar to the knob turn, folks in Congress are looking to pull the lever on a stimulus package to get things going. This idea isn't new. It was what got us through the great depression and built some of the most sturdy bridges, lodges, and infrastructure ever. These days when we build, it seems so cheap. We're always looking for shortcuts, but we shouldn't be doing that this time. We should be investing in our future, and hopefully it's a green one.
In Portland, city officials are already preparing lists of infrastructure projects they might launch with an infusion of federal money. It would be a nice silver lining for Portland if the economic crunch bought a refurbished bridge over the Willamette, or a streetcar extension.
This would be a big boon for cities that have projects ready to go. As I said in an earlier post, it will be a huge deal for cities like LA and Seattle to pass their transit measures. Salt Lake City, Denver, Portland, and Houston already have a lot of engineering done for their new lines and if infused with stim, they could push that money to other transit projects to extend thier networks furthering the gap between them and those which are falling further behind.

If for instance Seattle drops the ball, it will be harder for them to seek stim money for projects that were rejected on a ballot measure. Though it might be a boon for thier streetcar infrastructure, regional transit might suffer from a crisis in confidence where opponents claim the win and the upper hand in cash direction. With the stakes so high for federal funding opportunity, it's important that these measures pass, else an opportunity that happens once in a century to double up on much needed transit capital spending could be lost.


AJ said...

If I were structuring a stimulation package, I'd base it on a tier system to keep it all square and to make it easier to add/subtract programs:

Tier I (Safety): 100 most needed bridge repairs/upgrades/construction programs, Pedestrian elements upgrade fund

Tier II (Congestion management): SAS, Subway to the Sea, DART Expansion, LYNX Expansion, LINK Expansion, METRORail Expansion, MARTA Expansion, Metrolink Expansion

Tier III (Economic stimulation): Eastside Streetcar Loop, Lovejoy/Peachtree Streetcar, Seattle Streetcar expansion, ASA Rail, Woodward Light Rail, CTA slow zone mitigation, Metra expansion, THE Tunnel, TRAX expansion

Tier IV (General fund): Equivalent to 1/4 of the above total cost, can be used to fund acceleration of construction among other things

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

I think the system setup is good, but why are we so focused on congestion if the economy is going to be down and people are going to be driving less. I would argue that tier II and III are both economic stimulation with the added bonus of congestion management when the cars come back. In fact, if the Tier III projects stim like they are supposed to, they will reduce VMT by creating walkable communities.

AJ said...

Oh certainly, but the concept of "speaking to one's audience" extends to transit funding as well. If you listen to Madam Peters, you'll see that she tweaks her message like a mechanic tunes a hog.

In this instance, to you or I, "congestion" should be substituted with "higher priority". "Congestion" is a red flag in non-wonky circles, so it's easy to get people on board and keep the naysayers from turning around to say "Oh, we can't classify _their_ project as more important than _ours_!". It also boosts up the tier III projects by getting people who are in it for their own Tier I or Tier II projects to attribute a positive (High ROI) to a negative (Increasing spending).

Anonymous said...

Denver might need the cash just to get the original job done. The cost for our expansion has gone up dramatically and Denver voters are pissed. The board is looking at things they can cut, scale back or otherwise cheap-out on. It's really going to mess with the idea of having a full and effective transit system.

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

In Denver's case, this might allow them to complete the project faster and not have to cut because of cost escalation. I hate the thought that they might have to cheap out.

Jon said...

just think of the economic stimulus in CA if HSR can win. there needs to be a focus on projects that by their scale will drastically reshape our world, ports, power plants, levees, waterways, HSR, etc. i think roads need to be included for political support but almost entirely about repair which seems reasonable. rail and transit projects also need to be ambitious and at least on the scale of denver fastracks, this snail's pace 1 5-mile rail line or extension per region every 8 years won't cut it. obviously as discussed a handful of single transit routes will have a huge impact like SAS and Subway to the Sea, but i think most will need to be extensive and regional in scope. essentially accelerating the transit master plans of various regions from their current 30-50 time frame to 10 years.

didnt hear that about denver, thats very unfortunate because that seemed like a very bright spot for transit in the US. seems like LA metro rail 10-15 years ago.