Mass transit rebuttal

Humorist P.J. O’Rourke once stated, “Very
little is known of the Canadian country since it is rarely visited by anyone but
the Queen and illiterate sport fishermen.”… Similarly, in his “Mass Transit
Hysteria,” on your March 16 editorial page, Mr. O’Rourke again exaggerates with
genuinely amusing writing — but with an underlying intent of serious
criticism.

So, for the purpose of
making an alternative point, let’s treat Mr. O’Rourke’s statements seriously: He
says, for instance, that it would be cheaper to lease BMW SUVs for all of the
folks who travel on Minneapolis’s new light-rail system than it cost to build
and operate the system…. According to the Federal Highway Administration,
highways cost an average $20.6 million per mile, while major urban interchanges
cost $100 million per interchange. To replace the 12-mile light-rail system,
Minneapolis taxpayers would need to build (conservatively) 12 miles of highway
and one major interchange for both the airport and the Mall of Americas. Hmm,
that comes out to $440 million — before highway maintenance costs set in. Then
where will all of these 15,500 BMWs park?… If built totally on the cheap,
these single-level lots will cost taxpayers at least $31 million. Now, let’s
not forget that whereas a square foot of commercial space will bring in at least
$50 in taxes per square foot, a parking lot at best brings in $3. Since our
15,500 BMWs will require almost two million square feet of parking, that equates
to a loss of $91 million in tax revenue to the city of Minneapolis every
year.

The rail line, which actually
cost roughly $700 million, has a life expectancy of 50 years. Its operating
costs are $13 million per year and farebox revenues are so far offsetting close
to $10 million of that.

…Choosing
the light rail’s 50-year capital lifespan for both the light-rail and BMW
options, and amortizing these capital costs over those 50 years, adding annual
operating costs and subtracting annual tax revenue losses, and removing any
effects of inflation, in present dollars light rail costs the Minneapolis
taxpayers just over $17 million per year. But to get the same benefit courtesy
of BMW and more highways, taxpayers would have to dish out $166 million per
year.

…The Federal Highway
Administration , the American Automobile Association, the Minnesota Department
of Transportation, etc. When talking transportation matters, I think it best
that humorists stick to bumper cars.

The words speak for themselves in response to a
P.J. O’Rourke article I wrote about a little while ago.

Humorist P.J. O’Rourke once
stated, “Very little is known of the Canadian country since it is rarely visited
by anyone but the Queen and illiterate sport fishermen.” Most people reading
such an outlandish statement would recognize that its purpose was to make a
point with exaggerated humor. Similarly, in his “Mass Transit Hysteria,” on your
March 16 editorial page, Mr. O’Rourke again exaggerates with genuinely amusing
writing — but with an underlying intent of serious
criticism.

So, for the
purpose of making an alternative point, let’s treat Mr. O’Rourke’s statements
seriously: He says, for instance, that it would be cheaper to lease BMW SUVs for
all of the folks who travel on Minneapolis’s new light-rail system than it cost
to build and operate the system. Well, I priced such a lease. For the 15,500
average daily riders the tab would run taxpayers $44 million a year. Each car
leaser would pay an additional $2,800 a year for operating costs out of pocket.
But wait! How will these cars get downtown? According to the Federal Highway
Administration, highways cost an average $20.6 million per mile, while major
urban interchanges cost $100 million per interchange. To replace the 12-mile
light-rail system, Minneapolis taxpayers would need to build (conservatively) 12
miles of highway and one major interchange for both the airport and the Mall of
Americas. Hmm, that comes out to $440 million — before highway maintenance
costs set in. Then where will all of these 15,500 BMWs park? In the new city
parking lots! If built totally on the cheap, these single-level lots will cost
taxpayers at least $31 million. Now, let’s not forget that whereas a square foot
of commercial space will bring in at least $50 in taxes per square foot, a
parking lot at best brings in $3. Since our 15,500 BMWs will require almost two
million square feet of parking, that equates to a loss of $91 million in tax
revenue to the city of Minneapolis every
year.

The rail line, which
actually cost roughly $700 million, has a life expectancy of 50 years. Its
operating costs are $13 million per year and farebox revenues are so far
offsetting close to $10 million of
that.

So how do these two
options compare? Choosing the light rail’s 50-year capital lifespan for both the
light-rail and BMW options, and amortizing these capital costs over those 50
years, adding annual operating costs and subtracting annual tax revenue losses,
and removing any effects of inflation, in present dollars light rail costs the
Minneapolis taxpayers just over $17 million per year. But to get the same
benefit courtesy of BMW and more highways, taxpayers would have to dish out $166
million per year.

So where
did Mr. O’Rourke get the information for his criticisms? From the Heritage
Foundation
, an anti-rail think tank. Where did my facts come from?
The Federal Highway
Administration
, the American Automobile Association, the Minnesota Department of
Transportation
, etc. When talking transportation matters, I think it
best that humorists stick to bumper
cars.

Janek
Kozlowski

Alexandria,
Va.

(Mr. Kozlowski is an officer in
the U.S. military and a trained engineer with an M.B.A. In Operation Iraqi
Freedom he oversaw the engineering required for all logistics in support of
ground operations in the theater of operations.)

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