Missouri Can Be Proud of Its High-Speed Rail Allocation
Here are some things to be happy about! Missouri ranks last among the 50 states in the number of professions subject to occupational licensing; we have generally low excise taxes; and, (in all likelihood) the way the state will use rail stimulus funds is probably best use we could have hoped for. Before everyone jumps all over me, let me explain why it is the best we could have reasonably hoped for:
- Missouri’s portion of the rail stimulus is a (comparatively) small amount of tax dollars that DOES NOT commit Missouri to building some new high-speed rail system.
- The dollars will likely be used in a manner that will bring demonstrable and measurable improvements to our current rail system. Or maybe they won’t, but at least we’ll know if that’s the case and have the ability to test and measure results before we commit to spending more money. So far, the first of these projects (undertaken without stimulus money) has had measurable success in reducing delays and allowing for increased traffic. (I believe strongly that eliminating delays is more important than speeding up the trip.)
- If the state spends a reasonable amount of money making demonstrable improvements to our current system, that will increase voluntary ridership (it already has) — which will (presumably and hopefully) decrease the required subsidy amount.
It is theoretically sound, but practically unrealistic, to expect that MoDOT would not have applied for stimulus funds and that the state would not have have received any for high-speed rail. MoDOT deserves credit for applying for shovel-ready projects that will improve our current Amtrak service rather than reaching for the fantasy world of bullet trains to Ballwin.
The projects that MoDOT will undertake with this money, and the project they already completed without stimulus funds, are based on engineering — not on delusions of taking the Orient Express at 250 mph. A study completed in 2007 by Mizzou engineers listed the most cost effective ways for MoDOT to improve existing rail service. The study recommended projects, such as the recently completed California (Mo.) rail-siding extension (scroll about two-thirds down the page) that would immediately improve rail service. Those are the projects for which MoDOT received funding, not pie-in-the-sky projects requiring newer, larger, and interminable subsidies.
The nationwide high-speed rail plan as a whole, announced last week, is a sad joke, as aptly described by Chrissy in her recent post. However, Missouri’s part in it is a relative bright spot, and MoDOT deserves commendation for keeping its plans focused — almost as much commendation as that candidate in Illinois who made the Simpsons monorail reference before I did:
“All this money to get from Chicago to St. Louis 45 minutes faster? This isn’t informed public policy, it’s a ‘Simpsons’ episode,” gubernatorial candidate Dan Proft said in a statement.