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Editorial: Stimulus package must fund transit projects too

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    Published Friday, January 2, 2009, by the San Jose Mercury News Editorial Stimulus must help transit projects too The massive economic stimulus plan that
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 5, 2009
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      Published Friday, January 2, 2009, by the San Jose Mercury News

      Editorial

      Stimulus must help transit projects too

      The massive economic stimulus plan that Congress and the incoming
      Obama administration are conjuring up will contain tens of billions
      of dollars for transportation projects, as well it should. No public
      investment is more visible, tangible or economically productive,
      and no element of infrastructure has been more neglected in recent
      decades. That's particularly true in California.

      But in the rush to get a plan ready by Barack Obama's inauguration
      Jan. 20, there's a real danger that much of this money will be spent
      badly -- not on roads to nowhere but on roads to the past. The
      stimulus package must not reinforce the costly choices that have
      helped get us into this mess. It needs to shift us to a new direction.
      That means investing a healthy portion of the transportation money in
      mass transit.

      This isn't about parochialism. The stimulus needs to put people to
      work quickly, and our own favorite transit project, bringing BART
      to Silicon Valley, is too far from the "shovels hitting the dirt"
      standard. Besides, it's unclear how California will take advantage of
      any of this money. Rather than gearing up for public works projects,
      it's had to cut off funds for thousands of them last month -- roads,
      levees, schools -- because its own budget disaster has crippled its
      ability to sell bonds.

      The point about transit is broader, and national.

      Highways and bridges across America are in bad shape. A majority of
      Americans will continue to rely on them for years to come, and they
      have to be part of this plan -- particularly repairing existing
      thoroughfares. Around here, projects like widening the Caldecott
      Tunnel, one of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's priorities, make sense
      to eliminate bottlenecks and make better use of existing highways.

      But in urban areas with growing population, mass transit must play a
      larger role. It's critical to achieve energy independence and slow
      climate change, but also to deal with a simple fact: In developed
      areas like Silicon Valley, there's no room to build enough additional
      streets and highways to accommodate the growth we know is coming.

      When cities and regions in the United States and around the world
      build good transit networks, people use them. (Even in Santa Clara
      County, with its still inadequate network, bus and light-rail
      ridership rose 12 percent last year and stayed up when gas prices
      fell.) But today the upfront investment needed to build a good
      system is hard to amass. The federal government needs to help.

      The stimulus plan is a moving target, with discussions now taking
      place. And demands pile on every day. The steel industry last week
      became the latest to raise an alarm, wanting a piece of the package
      that could reach $700 billion.

      Obama has promised a new direction for the country. His first act in
      office can't be a stimulus package that reinforces the status quo.
      Any transit project that's ready for groundbreaking ought to shoot
      to the top of the stimulus list.
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