Austin’s new “commuter” train is starting two years late and way over budget, but promoters of bad public policy hope no one notices. That’s the only explanation for the possible call of a $1 billion bond issue in November to fund another choo-choo train.

Yes, you read that right: $1 billion.

Despite outrageous congestion and looming budget shortfalls, the city wants voters to go a billion in debt to solve nothing.

This latest proposal for waste is another money grab guaranteed to not solve congestion or improve mobility. After all, the city doesn’t have projected ridership numbers, cost estimates, and certainly no information about cost effectiveness. They just want to spend lots of (other people’s) money.

What’s more, with most of the region’s growth in a ring around Austin, this rail line would serve only downtown Austin. Makes perfect sense.

A perhaps better use of a billion dollars would be to pile it up and set it ablaze. At least then people might get warm for a few minutes.

Seriously, the best use would be to leave the money in the peoples’ pockets. Second, if a billion is just itching to be spent, it should be used for a real transportation solutions.

What we know about commuter rail/light rail, worldwide, is that it simply doesn’t work. It is always delayed in construction, always over-budget, and always requires subsidization into eternity. Light-rail and commuter rail ridership has never, not once, paid for the cost of building or maintaining a commuter rail line.

Road construction, meanwhile, is completely funded by the users. That is, only gasoline taxes (or toll money) goes into the building and maintaining of roads. if you don’t buy gas or pay tolls, not a nickel goes into it. On the other hand, gasoline taxes subsidize a lot of other spending.

UPDATE, March 11, 2010: Austin’s mayor this morning said he wants to slow this train down, citing concerns about CapMetro’s experience with rail. Taxpayers should stay alert.

Michael Quinn Sullivan

Michael Quinn Sullivan is the publisher of Texas Scorecard. He is a native Texan, a graduate of Texas A&M, and Eagle Scout. Previously, he has worked as a newspaper reporter, magazine contributor, Capitol Hill staffer, think tank vice president. Michael and his wife have three adult children, and a dog. Check out his podcast, Reflections on Life and Liberty.

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