Paving the rails with gold

John A. Charles, Jr.QuickPoint!

Since the voter defeat of Measure 28, public officials in the Portland region have proposed numerous emergency tax plans to stave off service cuts such as shortened school years. Oddly, these same elected officials are warmly embracing the joint proposal of Metro and TriMet to spend $850 million building two new light rail lines.

According to Metro’s Environmental Impact Statement, each new trip on light rail will cost approximately $16.23, though TriMet only charges $1.55 per ride. If the new lines would significantly reduce congestion or improve air quality, this expense might be justified, but they won’t. The estimated reductions in air pollution and traffic will be so small no one will be able to measure them.

TriMet could achieve the same or better results at a fraction of the cost by simply improving bus service, especially adding more express routes. Unfortunately, that option was never considered.

TriMet is also seeking legislative approval to increase its regional payroll tax, which already raises more than $150 million annually and accounts for more than half of the agency’s operations budget. If increased, that tax will take money away from businesses that could be used for higher wages or more investment.

Transit is a valuable service, but it can be provided inexpensively through buses, vans and jitneys. The insistence by local officials that we build gold-plated rail systems simply reinforces the public concern that politicians cannot be trusted with more money.

John A. Charles, Jr. is president and CEO at Cascade Policy Institute, a Portland, Oregon based think tank.

© 2006, Cascade Policy Institute. All rights reserved. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and Cascade Policy Institute are cited. Contact Cascade at (503) 242-0900 to arrange print or broadcast interviews on this topic. For more topics visit the QuickPoint! archive.

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