Monday, November 06, 2006

A Wrong Approach?

The Albuquerque Journal has recently reported on Mayor Martin Chavez's efforts to move a modern streetcar system to the front of the line of projects previously approved by voters. What is wrong with this? Voters didn't approve the streetcar system.

A little history: Albuquerque once had a streetcar system. It was not terribly extensive and served the older parts of town. When motor coaches became practical, the streetcar system fell by the wayside. Unlike some other systems, the tracks aren't even buried in the asphalt somewhere.

Albuquerque now has a bus system. It is not terribly extensive and serves only a limited part of Albuquerque (based on total square miles of the metro area). Politicians of late have seen public transportation as a steppingstone to votes.

The bus system is, in our Passenger Rail-tainted opinion, poorly run, dirty, inconvenient, and unsafe. Nonetheless, the city poured lots of money into a transportation center (glorified bus station) that looks like a Passenger Rail depot but isn't. The state poured lots of money into a stunted Rail Runner train that looks like a commuter train but isn't. (It is, in our opinion, a poorly planned, truncated white elephant that we will be lucky if it ever gets to the stated termini of Belen and Santa Fe.)

Now the city wants to pour lots of money into streetcars that will serve only the limited corridor of old Route 66 and the airport. Only people who live near the UNM campus or downtown will take these cars to the airport. For the rest of us, it will be too inconvenient. And the buses won't help and neither will the Rail Runner unless it pretty soon gets to where it is supposed to go.

The political trick is to get the city council to put the streetcars at the head of the list that the voters DID approve. The political problem is that the money is limited, from a tax that is supposed to terminate when enough money is collected for the specified projects. Putting the streetcars first will not only postpone the projects the voters wanted, but it will extend the term of the tax without voter approval. Unless the city council has some brains or balls or both.

We love Passenger Rail and would like to see extensive rail service including light rail and streetcar systems, whenever and wherever. But not at any cost. We love Passenger Rail, but is this, perhaps, a Wrong Approach?

© 2006 - C. A. Turek -
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