Debate Forum Topic 11/24/10

Debate Forum Topic 11/24/10

Governor-Elect Kasich Says 3C Rail “DOA”

As he promised during the recent gubernatorial campaign, John Kasich, Ohio’s governor-elect, last week restated his opposition to the development of Ohio’s 3C passenger train project. In letters to both Ohio Governor Ted Strickland and President Barack Obama, Kasich announced his decision to terminate the proposed rail project upon taking office. In the letter to the Governor, Kasich requested that Strickland cancel all contracts involving the 3C plan in the most cost-effective manner possible.

In the letter to President Obama, Kasich stated, “Passenger rail is not Ohio’s most pressing infrastructure concern at this time. Instead, Ohio’s existing freight rail and highway transportation infrastructure has significant upgrade needs. Therefore, I request that you make provisions for the $400 million to be used to support other vital transportation infrastructure projects in Ohio.”

Kasich, anticipating that the request to use the funds on other transportation projects would be turned down, then argued for the alternative that the funds should be used to reduce the national deficit.

The 3C train corridor project, which proposed a 256-mile route that would link Ohio’s three largest cities via five stops in smaller cities, was strongly supported by Governor Strickland. The Governor, along with his chief rail leader, Jolene Molitoris, a former federal railroad administrator under President Clinton, promoted the project as a jobs producer. Strickland argued that as many as 8,000 jobs would be created by the project.

Supporters of the project contend that the 3C plan is the starting point for a future campaign to bring “real” high-speed rail to  HYPERLINK “http://www2.nbc4i.com/topics/types/provinceorstate/tags/ohio/” \o “Topic – Ohio” Ohio. Even if the trains are never self-sufficient, proponents of the plan argue the money that  HYPERLINK “http://www2.nbc4i.com/topics/types/provinceorstate/tags/ohio/” \o “Topic – Ohio” Ohio would spend to subsidize passenger rail is no different than spending to build highways and airports, which have been subsidized for decades. Those who support the plan believe that if Ohio fails to accept the federal funds and move the program forward, Ohio will miss a golden opportunity to end congestion on our highways and to protect Ohio’s environment, and will lose a competitive economic edge over other states that might be achieved with the 3C rail system.

Out of $8 billion in federal stimulus funds, the federal government earmarked for high-speed rail projects nationwide, the Federal Railroad Administration awarded Ohio $400 million for the 3C passenger rail project. Early estimates from Amtrak predict that once the project was underway, 478,000 riders would travel on 3C in the first year of operations, with annual ticket sales at  HYPERLINK “http://www2.nbc4i.com/topics/types/currency/tags/usd/” \o “Topic – Usd” $12 million. That would leave the state responsible with an estimated additional  HYPERLINK “http://www2.nbc4i.com/topics/types/currency/tags/usd/” \o “Topic – Usd” $17 million annual operating subsidy.

Kasich also points to the $8 billion deficit that Ohio faces in its next biennial budget as another reason he doesn’t support the 3C program.  The Republican governor-elect of Wisconsin has also indicated that his state will forgo the federal money, arguing that in light of Wisconsin budget restraints, the state could not afford the high-speed rail project.

Critics of the project argue that the 3C project is a colossal waste of taxpayers’ money. They argue that the 3C line is not a high-speed rail. Critics have said the train service’s top speed of 79 miles an hour and average speed of between 39 and 50 miles per hour (depending on the study) is too slow to attract users and will leave  HYPERLINK “http://www2.nbc4i.com/topics/types/provinceorstate/tags/ohio/” \o “Topic – Ohio” Ohio taxpayers footing the large bill to cover operating costs. For the trains to travel faster than 79 mph, new and expensive tracks would need to be laid, pushing costs way beyond current projections.  They further argue that even if the Amtrak estimates for annual ridership are correct, that the average number of riders per day would only be 1,309. They make the argument that if the rail is an attempt to protect the environment and unclog Ohio’s highways, 1,300 riders daily is not enough of reduction of vehicles from the highways between the three Ohio cities to even be noticeable.

Forum Center Question:

Do you agree with the decision announced by Governor Kasich to turn down the $400 million in federal funding for Ohio’s 3C rail program killing the project?

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