The Train To Nowhere? Mica Project Draws Criticism Over Wasteful Spending and Corporate Windfall

The late Senator Ted Stevens was once mocked for the “bridge to nowhere” — a massive construction project that would have connected the town of Ketchikan, Alaska with Gravina Island — with 50 residents. Now, during an economic crisis and painful cutbacks, Rep. John L. Mica, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is pushing through a $1.2 billion rail line that is expected to serve just 2,150 commuters a day.

The SunRail project has been widely denounced as a giveaway to Mica’s campaign donor, CSX, which will receive hundreds of millions for its rail line and upgrades. When confronted over the CSX windfall, Mica responded “Everybody has different vested interests. But you look at what is being proposed on paper, and it just make sense.” The problem is that a wide array of Republicans and Democrats have looked at the project (as well as federal officials) and found it to be wasteful.

Yet, even at this time of tremendous budget cutbacks and suffering, our Congress is still incapable of blocking such pet projects. If you recall, the solution to Stevens’ absurd bridge showed how out of touch our leaders have become. In proclaiming the end of the bridge to nowhere and congratulating themselves on actually stopping a single wasteful project, Democratic and Republican leaders promised to let Alaska keep the money. Problem solved.

Source: NY Times

10 thoughts on “The Train To Nowhere? Mica Project Draws Criticism Over Wasteful Spending and Corporate Windfall”

  1. G’Day! Jonathanturley,
    On a similar note,, Red Flag is the United States Air Force’s airborne net-centric war game training. It resembles the United States Navy’s famous Top Gun School only with added components. As warfare training and simulation gets better and our SmartBombs and Smart Munitions get smarter the future of war will be fast, furious and permanent for the players. You live or die based on your ability to communicate and execute.

  2. maybe if they put in a couple of loop-d-loops and a corkscrew or two we can call it the suncoast coaster.

    it is scary watching people drive through traffic while looking at a gps navi and talking on a cellphone with a couple of hyped up rugrats with mouse ears on.

  3. Pete, having lived for a time on the “Space Coast” I can’t imagine that ever passing. Seems everyone I ever talked to thought there was never in the history of the country any public works project other than highways they approved of – and they only approved of highways because the money to build them came from Uncle Sam.

    25% of all the cars rented in the WORLD on any given day are rented in Orlando FL(source: Orlando C of C). I would guess there were some pretty powerful forces aligned against an effort to make public transportation better.

  4. here in florida we’ve been trying to get this rail line built for some time. the original idea was to connect tampa, orlando and the space coast. add in another going up the I 4 corridor and tourists don’t have to rent cars to go from orlando attractions to the beach (either side) and they don’t have to keep widening I 4. it passed a vote back when JEB! was governor, he ignored that vote, said people didn’t understand what they were voting for and rewrote the amendment so to vote for the rail line you had to vote no on the amendment to pass. oddly enough that one failed.

    i don’t know where they got the 2,150 number from but almost anyone who’s been stuck on I 4 in august can tell you something needs to be done.

  5. Duh! I missed the part where the NTY writer decided to translate the industry-standard way of reporting ridership into a technically-problematic “round trip rider” figure.

    I’m glad that the NTY is reporting on situations where someone writes a politician a check and the politician then takes official actions that benefit the donor. (bribery? what’s that?) But I wish that they had run this story past someone who knows something about public transit – it would have cleaned up some problems and could have even strengthened the story overalll.

    For example, the story mentions that the system bought cars years early from a Colorado producer of train cars. They might have also mentioned that that company went out of business a couple of years ago making this a really, really bad deal.

    (It didn’t help that their DMUs were butt-ugly compared with European and Japanese manufacturer’s trains…)

  6. Shame on the NTY for doing a lousy job reporting parts of this story. If you read the wording closely, the projection of 2,150 riders a day is for essentially “opening day” for phase 1 of this system. I can’t find a source that matches that 2,150 projection either – the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) number for initial ridership is 4,300 daily. (Several recent new rail projects have outperformed their FTA projections.)

    I am not familiar with this particular project, but generally, there needs to be a serious justification for a new commuter rail system to get it off the ground. Often there are serious problems with local roadway congestion, and the cost of the rail line offsets money that would have to be spent building new and/or bigger highways in the area. And if you want to look for pork and politics, look at the highway industry!

    None of this says that this is either a well-justified or a well-managed project – rather, you need to have a set of good facts to start from when judging those issues. From what I can tell, implying that this line would only serve 2,150 riders or pointing to a $1.2 billion capital cost without discussing the trade-offs is a poor starting point.

  7. This is part of the ‘return to real American values’. In order to get the railroads built in the first place the lines were given the all the land for 10 miles either side of the railroad right of way. That is how guys like JJ Hill became billionaires. They never ran the trains to make a profit, they didn’t have to.

  8. Professor:
    Talk about one of your post hitting close to home,this one came through the front door sat down at the kitchen table and poured itself a cup of coffee.

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