The 3-C passenger rail project is a really, really stupid idea.
With all the discussion about turning down $400 million and where it would go, everyone debating the idea has allowed themselves to get distracted from that very important point.
Ohio can’t afford it.
There is no demand for it.
First off, let’s focus on why we can’t afford it.
…the $400 million grant covered only about three-fourths of the cost of upgrading tracks and buying new trains. And that doesn’t even count the $17 million or more per year in subsidies that would be required to keep it running.
So under the original projections, Ohio will need to pony up about $135 million more in start-up costs in addition to the “$17 million or more in subsidies”.
Additionally, the likelihood that these costs are accurate is also in doubt. Look at one of the largest government infrastructure boondoggles in American history – Boston’s Big Dig. The Big Dig also happened to be contracted out to the exact same company that is right now responsible for Ohio’s 3-C project – Parsons Brinckerhoff. This is the same Parsons Brinckerhoff that had to pay $407 million in restitution after the Big Dig for its poor oversight of subcontractors. The Big Dig was initially supposed to cost $6 billion in 1982 dollars. It’s eventual cost? $22 billion. A 367% increase over the original projection. Now let’s just assume the 3-C projection is only off by 1/6 of that – 61%. That would require Ohio to pay $461 million to start-up the project (the $135 million + 61% of original 535 million projection).
Obviously, Ohio can’t afford that.
But forget that projection. Under the current projections, the cost of building the train system is far beyond our capabilities. Ohio is facing an $8 billion budget deficit. Spending yet more taxpayer dollars in the face of this massive deficit goes against every sensibility. It makes me wonder if advocates for the train really comprehend just how deep a hole Ohio has found itself.
Now onto demand.
These are 3 shots of traffic on I-71 this morning around 8:30 – rush hour.
If the 3-C is going to be successful, people have to want to ride it.
Roads would have to be jammed and people would be clamoring for an alternative.
Once again, we’ll let the Dispatch handle this one:
Initial estimates that the trains would average 39 mph and that the trip from Cincinnati to Cleveland would take at least five hours and 20 minutes drew derision; a later estimate by ODOT, based on a one-page computer analysis, revised the average speed to 50 mph but has been questioned. And it depends on cooperation among three different railroads, which can’t be guaranteed. And it’s still slower than driving.
It’s still slower than driving. That’s an incredibly important point.
Now, no one is saying ridership will be zero. Of course there may be some that don’t have cars that need to use it on a daily basis to get to a job in Dayton or Cleveland. Then again, those same people need to find a way to get to the train station every day. And surely people would utilize it to get to a Reds or Indians game – provided they don’t mind spending the cash for a hotel room since the schedule doesn’t allow for a return trip after the game.
“But what about the jobs?”, they say.
It’s not the government’s responsibility to subsidize employment for the sake of making sure someone has a job.
If Ohio can’t afford the project and the demand for the train is too low, the project is doomed to failure. All we’re left with is yet more government welfare in the form of subsidized jobs to manage the train system.
And that’s with an $8 billion deficit staring us in the face.
Finally, the Dispatch brings up an interesting point when discussing how determined Governor Strickland is to see money spent for the $25 million preparation study, despite the fact Kasich has asked for it to be suspended.
Strickland might sincerely believe that all the variables would line up in the train’s favor and that the 3C project would draw Ohioans to take the train in unprecedented numbers, spurring enough jobs and economic development to pay for itself. Or he might value the chance to keep handing out lucrative contracts for his last two months in office.
Strickland interested in taking care of special interests? What? Noooo. Perish the thought.
The reality is this – the 3-C passenger rail project is a really, really stupid idea.
Kasich is right to stop it.