Thursday, July 13, 2006

Mineta Legacy - Must We Go On?

We are still praying for a Secretary of Transportation with a railroad background. We have received several suggestions that David Gunn would make the best choice. We agree that he would be a good choice for those of us who advocate a strong Passenger Rail system. We do not agree that he would be a good political choice.

Why play politics? The answer should be clear to any voter. Politics drives the engine that gets public money into transportation projects.

David Gunn, though an extremely confident administrator, railroader, and executive, does not have the political confidence of anybody inside the Beltway. He is damaged goods, and will remain so for the foreseeable future. (It took Bill Richardson getting elected NM Governor twice to quench the taint - blow off the stink, if you will - of what happened in the national labs during his tenure as Bill Clinton's Secretary of Energy. And believe us when we say that all the stink ain't gone yet.)

The next Transportation Secretary probably will be in the position for less than 3 years, potentially much less if he doesn't play by the rules of the Bush Admin. Cabinet posts rarely carry over from one admin to the next. (Proof.) He/she will have to deal with the Mineta Legacy before ever moving forward with public projects that make sense.

What is the Mineta Legacy in transportation? First and foremost, it is a shortsighted view of how the various modes of transportation fit into the larger picture. Mr. Mineta's tendency to favor road projects over all others suggest this if nothing else does. Second, it is the old song of politics as usual with respect to Amtrak in particular and railroading (including freight) in general. It is an inability to factor in the ways in which spending money on certain modes may yield greater public good than on others. Dollars spent on rail transport, for instance, versus equal dollars spent on trying to maintain the Antique Interstates. Or dollars spent on bolstering the (almost equally antique) airlines that have instead stifled innovation that could, perhaps, still save the airlines.

Must we go on? If any of our readers have other suggestions for The Mineta Legacy, please comment and we will be glad to post a longer list.

© 2006 - C. A. Turek - mistertrains@gmail.com


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