On Aerotropolis and High-Speed Rail
Over the weekend the St. Louis Post-Dispatch published a commentary written by Ripley Rasmus of the consulting firm HOK. In his piece, Rasmus sketches out a not-so-distant future that includes a bustling Saint Louis Aerotropolis and a high speed rail line from Chicago, telling readers that “[f]ortunately there are visionary leaders in our community who fully understand that these scenarios are not just a dream.” Rasmus’s nod to the “flight of fancy” argument is, for obvious reasons, much appreciated.
That said, it’s worth reiterating the manifest problems with the Aerotropolis project. It’s also fair to describe Rasmus’ high-speed rail dream as a billion-dollar boondoggle, based on the Show-Me Institute’s own research in the area. As Randal O’Toole observed, the cost of the system envisioned to connect just Saint Louis and Kansas City would be enormous:
Upgrading the 250 miles of Missouri tracks in the FRA plan to run trains at 110 mph would cost taxpayers at least $875 million, or nearly $150 for every Missouri man, woman and child. Subsidizing passenger trains over those routes would cost millions more per year, yet the typical Missourian would take a round trip on such trains only once every six years.
It is exceedingly important to emphasize that these “dreams” cost real money, and Rasmus does not reference a single price tag for any of the ideas these “visionary leaders” have put forward anyplace in his commentary. Visions can be as amorphous as they please; budgets and good sense cannot.
One other interesting thing: Rasmus cites back to the RCGA for his jobs numbers on Aerotropolis, saying that the project will “directly employ more than 5,000 people, and create an additional 5,000 jobs in secondary businesses serving the trade hub” — added together, that’s 10,000 jobs. I’ve taken issue with the job mad libs of the RCGA and others before, with particular criticism for the two different figures offered by the RCGA and cited in the media. I’ll leave it to readers to determine whether Rasmus’ assessment clarifies or further muddles the Aerotropolis jobs forecast(s).