Sunday, September 11, 2005

This, That, and the Other

Haven't blogged for a while, so there are several things to catch up on.

First, the citizens group Save Our Community gets underway with its campaign on the rezone of the Sandy gravel pit, reported in stories in the Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News. Political campaigns are an interesting way to make these kinds of decisions. As one of the stories notes, "Like SOC, Boyer and the potential retailers will (also) be looking to tell voters what the real issue is. 'Our objective is to get what we believe the good information is, out there,' said Scott Verhaaren, a Boyer project manager.

Next, stories also appeared in the Trib and DesNews on Friday about the RDA debate currently underway in the legislative task force. The stories report on a Thursday morning intergovernmental roundtable where RDAs were the topic of discussion. Interestingly, the Salt Lake County Auditor put forward a new proposal, which would essentially do away with tax increment finance, and instead would have RDAs levy their own property tax to cover their projects. For existing RDAs, the tax rates for the corresponding taxing entities would be lowered to make up the difference. While this would work now for existing projects, what about new project areas? There are many questions about this proposal, but it may be worth a look. Bottom line, there seems to be support among some legislators for the League proposal, which will help provide the mechanism to finance infrastructure improvements by local government for economic development.

And lastly, there is an interesting commentary in today's Deseret News on commuter rail by Michael R. Ransom, a professor of economics at BYU. Prof. Ransom raises a lot of questions about the cost effectiveness of commuter rail, and rail transit in general, saying it does not help ease congestion, and is less effective than building new roads, HOV lanes, and enhancing existing express busses.

All that Prof. Ransom says is true, from my experience. However, I think he asks the wrong question to begin with. If the measure is what will most effectively ease congestion, there is nothing that will do so. Whatever road capacity we build, whatever measures we take to increase the ability of traffic to flow faster, it will all be drown out in the end by increased demand. In short, there is NOTHING we can do (nothing within the realm of reason, that is) that will reduce congestion. The question must be, what other alternatives can we offer commuters. Commuter rail and light rail are, in my mind, alternatives to driving your own vehicle. Large metropolitan areas, to stay competitive and livable, must offer alternatives to driving alone. Rail transit does that. Yes, it is expensive for the number of people it carries. And there are other things we can do to help (and these things should be done, also). But there must be alternatives. That's the question.


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At 5:59 PM, Blogger Former Centerville Citizen said...

I envy any person who is lucky enough to both live and work within walking distance of commuter rail stations. Convenient public transportation is the best public transportation. When I have to drive my car to a commuter rail station or to a bus park and ride lot, that immediately turns me off. But then again it's all situational. If I lived in North Ogden and worked in downtown SLC, it would be worth it to drive to the commuter rail station in Pleasant View, instead of having to drive all the way to SLC. But for those of us living in Centerville, SLC is close enough that it doesn't seem worth it to get in our cars and drive halfway there (to Woods Cross) just to hop on a train to take us the other half of the distance to downtown. Likewise, if I wanted to use commuter rail to go up to WSU, I'd have to wait for bus 55 to take me to west Farmington, then wait for a commuter rail train to take me to the intermodal hub in downtown Ogden, and then wait for bus 603 to take me up to campus. With all that trouble, I'd probably be better off just staying on bus 55 which is within a stone's throw of both my house and my classes up at Weber. So the bottom line is that the practicality of commuter rail is going to depend on where you are and where you're going. I'm afraid that in a lot of cases commuter rail just won't be that practical for a lot of people.

At 8:46 PM, Blogger Prof Simmons said...

Wilf, rail requires huge expenditures for almost no effect. Why must a city or region offer an option that will never carry more than 4% of commuters?

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