Editorial: Stimulus package must fund transit projects too
- Published Friday, January 2, 2009, by the San Jose Mercury News
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
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.