Friday, March 4, 2011

Portland Press Herald "Rails to Trails" ; 3/4/11

Funny those media folks. Interviewed me for 15-20 minutes about this Mt. Division Trail issue. I talked economics, railroad terminology, property tax burdens, costs of roads, business development, jobs, environment, politics etc. What does she quote me on? A baby carriage next to the train. Either that reporter does not get it, or she favors the trail - or both. Following are the notes I sent her, that were not referenced in today’s PPH article:

(1) There are limited public resources available for transportation uses in Maine and many competing uses statewide for in federal transportation dollars. The voters choose to invest in rail as a means of reducing our dependence on oil, reducing the impacts of trucks cars and buses on paved roadways and as a means of increasing the efficiency of freight transportation.

(2) There is a misperception that the June 2010 Bond funding does not complete the job. But in fact the 4-5 miles of 115 lb track that is laid, sets us up for commuter passenger rail service between Portland and the commuting towns as far out as Standish. The fact is, we can have a modern commuter and passenger intercity rail system, and we can have it in as few as two years. The railway routes are established. State and private rail companies have or are in the process of upgrading the infrastructure. Funding is not only available, but a careful analysis will show that it is a lot less expensive than rebuilding our roads every ten years.

(3) No one ever questions when funds are used to pave only a section of roadway. The real issue here is how we might reduce the tax burdens associated with roads. MDOT is rebuilding a 1/3 mile long bridge for $38 million dollars (Martins Point), and the media is only telling us which lane will be closed and when. But consider $14 million for 20 miles of track to Freyberg and the 1st five miles of rail is a “road to nowhere”. Ten Thousand cars a day travel on the River road, and the towns of Windham and Westbrook are facing an $18 million dollar to repave a section, and that is not a road to nowhere! A $14 million dollar investment in rail will rebuild the tracks as far as Freyberg and last 50 years compared to the 10 or so years paving a few miles of roads will get a town.

(4) Transportation funding should be targeted toward the greatest economic good for the public. Trails are going to cost a lot of money to engineer and build. The 5 miles already completed in Gorham cost $1 million in tax dollars and it is already deteriorating from snowmobile use. The towns along the line will be responsible for maintaining this trail –when they can’t afford to fix their own sidewalks, much less roads, schools etc. A true economic impact analysis comparing rail transit to Non-motorized recreational uses of public dollars should indicate that this is not the best use of public dollars.

(5) Rails to Trails or Rails with Trails is basically an effort to remove vital railway corridors for use as recreational trails. This is a fact. And, regardless of the stated motive to “preserve the RR ROW” as an “Interim use” for trails, the fact is once a Railway is a trail, politically and economically it is close to impossible to return it to rail use. In fact we have had engineers on the trails part of this corridor that have showed us the damage the trail is doing to the rail corridor that may not be reparable.

(6) The Rail to Trails conservancy was created by the Federal government as a means of preserving the corridor for future use of rail. To prevent the corridors from being lost, not to provide an easy road system for hikers. Although there is a large constituency supporting the use of the corridors for a trail, once taxpayers and consumers learn of the benefits that rail will provide, the consensus should change. But meanwhile all we have heard from are the recreational trails folks.

(7) RIGHT NOW, more than ever, we need railway transit. Our need to divest ourselves of our dependency on oil and the single-occupancy vehicle is imperative – and railways offer the most economical choice for achieving this goal. If the Maine voter decided that tax dollars are best invested in recreational trails, over railways, or other critical economic uses, so be it. We suggest that is not the case.

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