Monthly Archives: December 2009

History, Not Learning From

A couple weeks ago, I posted this “Quick Hit” about the fact that the Feds rated what is now the Red Line very poorly back in 1998-2000. To be more precise, they actually panned a doubletracked light-rail proposal on what is the current Red Line’s route (i.e. running down the existing freight rail corridor rather than going down Lamar and Guadalupe as in what eventually became the 2000 proposal). This Red Line proposal was floating around for years as the primary rival to the Red/Green Line (that 2000 LRT route). To refresh your memory, from the old Chronicle article:

The prevailing wisdom has been that a project in Smart-Grown Austin, serving major trip generators like UT and the Capitol complex, supported by Cap Met’s ample sales tax revenue, would be a slam dunk for a “highly recommended” rating. (Conversely, the original Red Line, which had far lower ridership and — even though it was on existing rail right of way — only marginally lower projected costs, was headed, Cap Met insiders say, for a “not recommended” kiss-of-death rating, which is why the transit authority switched tracks at the 11th hour.)

The “original Red Line” they’re talking about is, to be clear, a proposal floated around 1998 which would have put down two new tracks and run light rail vehicles on the current Red Line. Note key phrase: far lower ridership.
Now, Jeff Wood picks up the history angle, pointing to his masters’ thesis on the 2004 debacle. Note that even today Capital Metro’s Doug Allen is claiming that the Red Line should have been done with two tracks from the getgo (although the quoted $300M would pretty much have to be two tracks with those stupid DMU cars, not electric trains), yet, once again, two brand new tracks in the Red Line right-of-way still doesn’t go anywhere worth going. Nor would three, or four, or ten tracks. The problem isn’t the number of tracks; the problem is where the tracks are.
As Jeff points out,

I don’t think this should be hard for everyone to understand. 38,000 riders for LRT in 2000 versus 2,000 riders for Commuter rail in 2004. It’s not rocket science. The politics was messy and Capital Metro allowed themselves to get pushed into it. This didn’t start with the current contractor, this started back before 2000 with Krusee who was head of the House Transportation Committee.

As I’ve pointed out on what seems like a billion occasions, Mike Krusee is why this happened back then. Go read Jeff’s article for independent confirmation, if for some reason you doubted me.
Again: 38,000 riders for the 2000 light rail plan, 2,000 riders for the 2004 commuter rail plan (with or without second track).
The Feds figured this out before 2000. For one brief moment, Capital Metro knew it too. Why are they being so obtuse now, and more importantly, why are our City Council members on their board allowing them to continue this delusionary path to spending hundreds of millions of dollars MORE on a line that will never be a functioning part of our transportation system? This is how Tri-Rail wasted almost two decades and a couple hundred million dollars in South Florida – adding a second track to the wrong line. Will our elected officials have the courage to make Capital Metro stop before we make the same mistake here?

MetroFAIL

A project of a former cow orker and friend of mine, Mike Kaply:

As for the contract stuff with Veolia and the new guys, I’m sorry, folks, but I know my limitations – and I don’t know enough about contract law to be able to say anything worthwhile other than it sure seems like Veolia had their act together (specific and detailed rebuttals of many CM charges, while CM kept things vague). I also find it hard to believe you can switch contractors at this point and not push back the start date, as I told KUT, but then again, Allen probably has some experience with the new guys from up in Dallas, so who knows.
I see that over the weekend I also missed a second good KUT story by Mose Buchele on Veolia’s response to being thrown under the bus. This is something I’ve hinted at for a long timeCapital Metro used Veolia as a scapegoat way back in March when the line didn’t open, when in retrospect it clearly wasn’t their fault. Highly recommended.

Rush Limbaugh Framing Award Goes To…

“The taxpayer should not be subsidizing the density proposed in this downtown plan . . . When you know the value of property downtown is $15 to $25 per square feet, these are incredibly huge entitlements we’re giving developers.”—Neighborhood activist Jeff Jack.