Debate Forum Left 11/24/10

Debate Forum Left 11/24/10

Dear Governor-Elect John Kasich, Ohioans are asking for Due Diligence

By Maha Kashani

Maha Kashani

On January 28, 2010, U.S. Department of Transportation announced it was awarding $8 billion to states across the country for a national high-speed passenger rail system as an investment in our country’s transportation infrastructure to create jobs, transform travel in America and keep us on pace with the rest of the world. Ohio worked long and hard to secure $400 million, substantially more than any of our neighboring states, for the high-speed passenger rail system connecting Dayton to Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati.

Fast forward to election season, I will never forget first hearing those chilling words, “Ohio’s high-speed passenger train is dead” spoken by Governor-elect John Kasich. Having just sat through a meeting with the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) about the future of transportation in Ohio, I was blown away that a candidate for governor could state inaccurate facts and paint a false picture for Ohioans about wanting to give the $400M, earmarked exclusively for high-speed passenger rail, back to our taxpayers.

Unfortunately, putting that money back in our taxpayers’ pockets is not a reality. If Ohio’s high-speed passenger rail project is “dead,” then we can kiss our $400 million grant, thousands of jobs, freight rail infrastructure upgrade plans and subsequent economic development opportunities goodbye. New York, California, Illinois, and Florida were among the states quick to raise their hands and ask for Ohio’s piece of the pie. Even the terminator, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, was in disbelief over Kasich’s statements, announcing “it is with a certain sense of astonishment that we note recent announcements from some of our gubernatorial colleagues that they are uninterested in federal contributions to their high-speed rail systems.” Astonishment is right.

The cost to operate this train? 0.5 percent of ODOT’s annual protected budget, which is separate from our state’s struggling general budget, equates to just $1.50 per Ohioan, per year. What does it cost to maintain our roadways? Over 80 percent of ODOT’s annual budget, which is more than $110 per Ohioan, per year. Who is the number one culprit behind the massive roadway damages that ODOT is responsible for fixing? Semi-trucks. What are semis transporting? Cargo. What will $236M of the $400M Ohio was awarded go towards? Freight rail infrastructure upgrades, which can take some of those trucks off the roads and strengthen Ohio as a major logistical hub in the United States. This isn’t just about passenger rail – freight rail plays a huge part of this project’s importance. Think big picture.

Can you imagine if Ohio opted out of the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956? There were many nay-sayers back then who harshly criticized President Eisenhower for this $25 billion act to construct a 41,000-mile interstate highway system. Think about that for a second.

It’s no secret that Ohio is having financial woes. I absolutely agree with Governor-elect Kasich; we do need to run this state like a business and balance the books. That being said, if we’re going to run this state like a business, then let’s run it like a real business. Businesses are constantly working to identify growth opportunities, including ways to diversify themselves and stay competitive in the marketplace. How can a seasoned businessman be offered a $400M grant and not even consider investing that money in his business, the state of Ohio? I know, it’s political, but as a taxpayer I’m taking a stance to say it’s unacceptable.

Here are a few facts to chew on. The U.S. Department of Commerce estimates that at least 8,000 direct, indirect and spin-off jobs will be created in Ohio and that the economic impact on downtown Dayton alone would be $18M. The City of Riverside estimates a $100M economic impact from the Center of Flight project revolving around the proposed train station. Ohio’s rail supply chain industry, currently 225 businesses employing 26,000 people and ranked fifth in the nation is in jeopardy. Historically, property values around train stations increase 20-30%. Oh, and China just announced that they are pouring $120 billion into high-speed passenger rail.

Our country’s population is estimated to increase by 70 million people over the next 30 years. With gas prices steadily rising, how are we going to safely and cost-effectively transport all these people? Must we rely solely on cars and airplanes to move around our state and this country? Travel time from downtown Dayton to downtown Cleveland on the 3C passenger rail would be four hours and four minutes. According to Google Maps, with no traffic or stops, driving would take three hours and 45 minutes. That’s only 19 minutes longer to drive the trip handcuffed to a steering wheel, than by train. I’d love to bring my laptop, jump on the train’s WiFi and spend that time catching up with my network on Facebook.

Where is the due diligence? We have an opportunity to pump $400M into our state to turn around our economy and I have yet to hear a compelling argument about why Governor-Elect Kasich is so passionate about giving away our money. This incoming administration owes it to Ohio taxpayers to at least try to develop a better plan for the use of $400M to help revitalize Ohio’s economy. All we ask is that this administration do its job. If there is no way to prove this project will be beneficial to Ohio, then explain that to the citizens and we will be more at rest with the decision. My message to Governor-Elect Kasich – Let’s think outside the box, execute this project properly and take advantage of “low hanging fruit” to develop game-changing opportunities for OH-IO!

Be informed and show your support by visiting www.facebook.com/3CRail.

9 Responses to “Debate Forum Left 11/24/10” Subscribe

  1. Ed November 25, 2010 at 1:40 am #

    Great article Maha!

    When all totaled, the economic benefits of the 3C Corridor project will exceed all the costs of building and operating the 3C trains. Reduced highway damage alone from freight that will be diverted from roads to rails will more than pay for the annual operating subsidy.

    It’s very frustrating that, when it comes to the 3C Corridor, John Kasich is more concerned about his personal political ideology than the future of the state he claims to want to create jobs for. This is not the kind of leader Ohio needs.

    • Miss Maha November 25, 2010 at 11:24 pm #

      Thank you Ed!!!

  2. Brian Brown November 25, 2010 at 5:06 am #

    Bravo Maha Kashani — There is nothing logical about refusing the $400 million federal grant and as you stated, the cost to ohio to maintain it once it is up and operating is a miniscule 0.5 percent of the ODOT budget. Hardly a dent. First of all, I “suspect” the decision to refuse the money in purely political as a way to show the Obama administration’s 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, affectionately referred to as the “stimulus bill”, didn’t help Ohioans. If Governor-elect Kasich wants President Obama to fail and this is how he wants to show it, he has failed Ohio. Kasich ran on a platform professing to create jobs for Ohio and turning down the $400 million will cost Ohio thousands of jobs. There is still time for Mr. Kasich to save face and accept the stimulus money. He asked to use the money for other purposes and was politely told it was earmarked for the rail project or you don’t get the money. Other states are drooling over the prospect of getting the moeny Ohio seems hell bent to turn down. First of all, the project is not a boondoggle, and every state that has inaugurated similar rail passenger services has seen patronage far exceed initial projections. In California, the Oakland to Sacramento corridor which has less population than Ohio’s 3-C corridor started service at 3 round trips per day and is currently at 11 ROUND TRIPS per day as demand exceeded capacity. The train has value beyond being merely a mode of transportation as economic development follows in areas served by the train. In addition to the jobs created to operate and maintain the service, there are hundreds of related jobs that would be created as well, if not thousands. The start-up monies ($400 million) won’t cost Ohioans a nickel, and the projected $16 million annual subsidy that the state will pay will be paid back in spades by putting Ohioans to work, who in turn pay taxes back to the state instead of receiving unemployment compensation which is a drain on the state’s finances. Because jobs is the current crisis, much has been said that the 3-C project will create jobs, but equally important is that it’s a long overdue and much needed transportion option that will only become more important over time as oil reserves are depleted and prices skyrocket. There are powerful road, auto and oil lobbies that don’t want this project to get off the ground and have provided much money and misinformation to our state politicians to have it killed. If Governor-elect Kasich’s first act as Governor is to kill hundreds if not thousands of jobs by pronouncing the train “dead”, then he has gone back on his campaign promise on day one. That’s not leadership…. that’s partisanship at it’s worst. If he is afraid the train might be successful and the Obama Administration might be given credit, he should get on the bandwagon and promote it and he too can share the credit. By turning it down, he only stands to take the blame…. all of it. Now that he knows he cannot use the money for anything else, he can save face by saying that it wasn’t his top priority and will accept it rather than give it to another state. He needs to be man enough to make the right choice given the circumstances and do what is right for Ohio. I live in the Cleveland area and make frequent trips to Columbus and yes…. I would prefer to take the train rather than drive. When somebody does something foolish, does that not make him a fool? Did we really elect a fool to be our Governor?

    Brian Brown
    Brunswick, Ohio

    • Miss Maha November 25, 2010 at 11:24 pm #

      Thank you Brian!

  3. gblatham November 26, 2010 at 5:01 pm #

    Dear Maha Kashani:

    Thank you so much for writing this wonderful piece!

    Thank you for your willingness to use your talent in an effort to disseminate the truth.

    Thank you for caring – even in the face of staunch opposition.

    Your well-reasoned presentation is eminently readable, and your plain and simple logic irrefutable.

    With all my heart, I wish you – and Ohio – well.

    Garl B. Latham
    Dallas, Texas

    http://myprogressiverailroading.com/blogs/gblatham/archive/2010/03/31/odot-versus-ideology.aspx

  4. LoboSolo November 27, 2010 at 2:19 am #

    There are a lot of flaws in this plan but I’ll only touch on a couple.

    From Dayton to Cleveland, according to google maps, is about 210 miles. At 60 mph, and no stops or traffic, that would take 3.5 hours. The train is predicted to run, initially, at an avg speed of 39 mph. Assuming that includes the stops and the distance is the same, then it would 5.4 hours … almost two hours longer … not 19 minutes.

    According to analysis performed by Ohio’s state auditor, operating losses for future budgets, shortfalls may be as much as $8 billion … billion with “b” (I think that’s for the whole 3c). I read that at projected the ridership (which usually fails to materialize) it would require a subsidy of $35 for every ticket sold. When you have a state budget that is strained, then every dollar diverted to subsidize the 3C train is a dollar taken away from other high or higher-value infrastructure projects and programs like Medicaid, libraries, etc.

    An examination of the jobs that a similar proposal would make in Wisconsin showed that jobs were being triple-counted. The actual number of jobs would be about a 1/3 of those given.

    Now … The question, that I don’t know the answer to, is how much will Ohio need to kick in? Must it match the $400 million or not. If the answer is no, then take the money until it runs out and then re-evaluate the project at that point in time as to whether it should go forward or allowed to die. Remember Ohio voters turned down a tax proposal back in the ’80s for HSR. Would it pass it put a vote now?

    • gblatham November 28, 2010 at 12:39 am #

      LoboSolo:

      Insofar as estimated travel time is concerned, I think the writer’s original figure – which includes an extra 7 1/2 minutes through each city’s downtown – is probably more accurate.

      With the train, “an average speed of 39 miles-per-hour” has nothing to do with travel time between intermediate stations, or between intermediate points and terminal cities – much less the top operating speed along the route in question (which is 79 m/h). The 39 m/h figure was first computed based upon the initial estimate of terminal-to-terminal running time (which has since been raised to approximately 50 m/h). The current 4:04 Dayton to Cleveland estimate is derived through up-to-date computations (as shown on the ODOT web site):

      http://www.dot.state.oh.us/Divisions/Rail/Programs/passenger/3CisME/Pages/default.aspx

      The 39 m/h estimate was, from the start, a regrettable – and damaging – misnomer. Of course, to those who are ideologically opposed to passenger train service, that flawed statistic has become a powerful weapon.

      I’m not sure why you should believe that “projected…ridership…usually fails to materialize.” If anything, most new-start projects today tend to UNDERestimate patronage, so that ridership can later be touted as exceeding initial projections! I’ve been involved in the railroad industry too long – and in government-sponsored projects too often – to accept your generalization as fair. If you do some research, I doubt you’ll find even one example of a recently inaugurated intercity passenger train service which has failed to generate more than its predicted level of ridership.

      Subsidy-per-passenger is a dangerous game, since societal benefits of rail-based passenger initiatives tend to be far greater than any out-of-pocket costs; however, my primary difficulty with your argument is where you seem to think Ohio’s money may be budgeted if it is NOT spent upon the 3C plan. [You may have a point about medical programmes, though. After all, if we fail to reduce motor vehicle emissions, health costs will surely rise!]

      By the way: I know of NO “higher-value infrastructure projects.” Certainly, this plan is future minded in ways that a highway project could never be!

      I haven’t heard anything about specific problems with Wisconsin’s employment estimates, nor do I necessarily think their proposal has very much in common with Ohio’s – save for the track’s gauge! I will say that, generally speaking, public railway projects offer a fairly cost-effective approach to the creation of jobs:

      http://www.ips-dc.org/reports/071001-jobcreation.pdf

      http://myprogressiverailroading.com/blogs/gblatham/archive/2009/12/18/of-trains-and-jobs.aspx

      Finally, although I’d love to think a free and open election might end the debate, I can hardly believe it would – especially in today’s highly caustic political environment.

      Garl B. Latham
      Dallas

  5. Craig Matthews November 28, 2010 at 12:10 am #

    An excellent analysis and an overall very impressive article. Rare to find in a Dayton paper. Congratulations!

  6. Beth November 30, 2010 at 8:38 pm #

    Bravo, Maha! I really want Ohio to step it up on this front. They are being left behind in the region with the transportaion options available. Even here in Missouri trains are being embraced, and while people complained at first, now with the increase in gas prices, they are well used. I don’t think people realize how wonderful it is to be able to hop on a train and let someone else drive. I loved it when I lived on the East Coast, and I love it now, just going from work downtown to the airport is so convenient (it is wonderful! no paying for parking at an airport terminal, and no concern about traffic and whether I’ll make it in time. And yes, I live in the midwest). And anyone complaining about travel time has clearly never traveled by train before. A train doesn’t have any unscheduled stops (not on a purely commuter rail) and it is usually a quite direct route. I am anxiously awaiting when Ohio is connected with Indiana and Illinois, and I can come home for the holidays on a train. And never have to worry about roadway construction again! (I travel down I70 and it is always full of construction)

    It’s so sad that because of partisan reasons a region would turn down money it desparately needs. This isn’t making Ohio into some other place; it’s keeping up with the midwest. Passenger rails are the future, and car companies, big oil, and naysayers beware. It is going to happen, whether you want it or not!

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