Passenger rail is costly, energy inefficient, ineffective at easing traffic congestion, inflexible and fiscally impractical. Even on lines with high-ridership, it’s a money-losing proposition.
Several independent studies released by Harvard, the CATO Institute, Reason Magazine and others all arrive at similar conclusions. Despite compelling empirical evidence and overwhelming public skepticism, local rail projects are moving forward across the Lone Star State, with the help of state and federal subsidies.
In addition to legislative reforms to TxDOT that curtail waste and prioritize roadway projects, Texans should demand that the legislature not allow TxDOT to aid Municipal Planning Organizations, Regional Transit Commissions, Mobility Authorities, Council of Governments and other localities in chasing after federal grants for passenger rail.
Through these entities, local and state officials are enabling the federal government to direct transportation policy from Washington, with the stated objective of diverting billions of dollars away from roads and towards projects Texans don’t want or need.
For example, in 2009, the Colleyville City Council unanimously supported a legislative effort by former State Rep. Vicki Truitt (R-Grapevine) and departing State Sen. John Carona (R-Dallas) that would allow counties to levy higher taxes and fees to fund rail, not roadways.
Fortunately for taxpayers, primary voters sent the aforementioned members packing. Colleyville’s newest councilman and TFR endorsee, Chris Putnam, defeated a pro-rail incumbent this past May. Since then, Putnam has been an outspoken critic of waste and the regional TEX Rail project, a controversial plan in North Texas that recently received federal funding.
TEX Rail is estimated to cost $810 million, with $405 million coming from state and local governments. It plans to add passenger service to an existing freight line on the western end of the Cotton Belt Corridor, connecting Fort Worth to the DFW airport. Interestingly, its supporters’ best-case ridership projections concede it won’t ease traffic woes.
In fact, without additional infrastructure along the corridor, it may make traffic even worse.
Other TEX Rail proponents are surprisingly honest about their motives. In typical progressive fashion, they simply “want the amenity” regardless of its cost. It’s an irrational, utopian fantasy that Texas families shouldn’t be forced to subsidize.
An often-overlooked fact is that the awarding of federal grants requires voluntary support through state and local subsidizes. In other words, state and local opposition to rail projects are the most effective way to defeat them. The federal government is not mandating rail, just offering bribes for going along.
This dynamic was echoed in a recent press release by the Fort Worth Transportation Authority, which celebrated the awarding of a federal subsidy to TEX Rail:
“We [acknowledge] the strong regional and congressional support [for] TEX Rail, including…the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG), and [our] TEX Rail partners: Tarrant County, the City of Fort Worth, the City of Grapevine, and DFW Airport,” Mahaffey said. “These supporters, and many other community and state leaders…were instrumental in TEX Rail’s inclusion in the President’s 2015 Budget for New Starts funding.” [Emphasis added]
Texans need to confront their officials responsible for supporting these projects at the state and local level.
The “stimulus” bill from 2009, along with thirty-two other programs, offer billions more in federal grant money specifically for non-road projects. And while many “conservative” officials in Texas have used rhetoric against the Obama stimulus to win re-election, some have turned around and supported projects that spend the pork, hoping their constituents are too busy to notice.
It’s time for Texans to hold all their representatives accountable on this issue by demanding that they move past rhetoric and into action—meaning they oppose transit waste on rail, even if it’s federally subsidized.