Sunday, October 28, 2007

May Not Get There From Here

At least not for a long, long time.

There's a right way and a wrong way to finance new commuter rail. We may be seeing the wrong way with New Mexico Rail Runner. . . . meep! meep!

The communities of the Middle Rio Grande, from Santa Fe (which technically is not ON the Rio Grande) to Belen, constitute the only major coagulation of population in New Mexico. Even then, the total population does not exceed the number of souls that had to be evacuated from Southern California because of the recent wildfires.

The communities of the Middle Rio Grande enjoy clear air and clear water because of their unique location and BECAUSE of the low population density. Albuquerque and Bernalillo County are currently struggling with polution problems just BECAUSE the population has been growing and sprawling.

With the sprawl comes the need for more roads and more lanes on the ones that exist. In this case, the latter are Interstates 40 and 25. (New Mexico doesn't have any three-digit Interstates.)

Along comes Presidential Candidate and Governor of New Mexico, Bill Richardson. He literally invented the Rail Runner project from whole cloth after his first election as governor, and he used lots of local political capital to bludgeon local politicians to go along with it.

Hey, it wasn't a bad idea, but it's time probably hadn't come yet. (Former Governor Toney Anaya has been pushing for a bullet train for New Mexico since his administration - and that time hasn't come yet either.)

So the MRGCOG raided the highway funds with the approval of the governor and the legislature and we now have service from Albuquerque (the Q - as "green" Mayor Martin Chavez wants it) to Belen on the south and to Bernalillo on the north. The highway funds will no longer support the expansion of service to Santa Fe (a must) and the Feds probably won't be kicking in. To make matters worse, the wool-pulled-over-eyes politicians are suddenly finding out what Mister Trains has said all along: That it will cost alot of tax dollars to subsidize this service over the coming years. More so if it never gets to Santa Fe.

Worse still, the highway funds are so low that the state can't fund any highway expansion without more taxes. Adding fifteen to fifty cents a gallon to the price of gasoline in the state that already pays the highest per-gallon price in the lower 48 has been discussed.

While commuter rail is usually a "green" solution, this certainly is not what is happening. While we wrangle about higher gas taxes or higher any taxes, those stuck commuters will spend more time on the freeways with their engines running and waisting fuel and adding to the air quality problems. The sprawl of The Q (thanks Mayor Marty) will see to that.

Oh, woe. We guess we will just have to pony up at the pump and hope. Because if Rail Runner falls on its fat fanny, we won't see communter rail in New Mexico again for lots of years.

Mister Trains is getting to the point where you won't see Mister Trains in New Mexico for long if this keeps up.

© 2007 - C. A. Turek -
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