Tuesday, August 17, 2010

High speed rail & Politico speak


The reality and the political spin are a little bit different when it comes to North Carolina and high speed rail. We know, you are thinking, "News Flash: What? The spin and the political reality don't match!?! Say it isn't so..."

But seriously, dear readers, once again the claims of Washington do not exactly measure up to the reality on the ground. Our local Congressman, here in Durham, David Price, sent an email around to constituents, including some of the Clarion Content's staff, reading in part, "Recovery investments that will have a lasting impact are creating or sustaining thousands of jobs in the Fourth District...A $500 million recovery investment will make the twenty year-old dream of high-speed rail from Charlotte to Raleigh a reality."

On the website of the North Carolina Office of Economic Recovery & Investment the story reads a little differently, "Today [July 12th, 2010], Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced that the U.S. Department of Transportation and the State of North Carolina have finalized a grant agreement for $20.3 million, the first installment of the $545 million awarded to the state."

Read that again.

Less than 4% of that $545 million authorized by the Feds is actually on the way to the state. This is not exactly what one would have garnered for ol' Congressman Price's email.

Moreover this money will not actually be used on installing high speed rail system, tracks, trains or corridors! Nope the North Carolina Office of Economic Recovery & Investment website continues, "The North Carolina Department of Transportation will use the $20.3 million to refurbish passenger coaches and locomotives to expand rail service across North Carolina. The Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration is actively working with the North Carolina Department of Transportation on additional grant agreements for the remaining $525 million to further develop the state’s high-speed rail corridor."

Read that again.

They are not spending a penny of this $20 million on high speed rail. They are using it to fix up and clean-up existing locomotives and passenger cars. A semi-worthy cause we are quite sure, but not forward looking or forward thinking, and certainly not high speed rail. These cars and locomotives likely won't even be compatible or usable on a high speed rail system. But that is where the bureaucratic inertia is sending our dough.

Unfortunately, this lack of vision, this inertia is endemic. The use of the stimulus funds and recovery money follows a strict routine: lofty promises, loftier pronouncements, limited distribution of funds in a backward looking manner that kowtows to status quo interests.

Change? Yeah, right!

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