Stimulus Package to Cities: Drop Dead?

At least when it comes to transportation, it looks that way. The NY Times had an article yesterday about how cities are getting far less of the stimulus package slated for transportation. From The NY Times, here’s the issue in a pretty figure:

(click to embiggen)
The problem–and I say this as a city dweller–is that urban transportation systems, both mass transit and automobile, have reached the breaking point. A while ago, I started receiving email alerts for the Boston T (the subway), largely because I was sick and tired of waiting for 25 minutes for a train to show up after work, when I could have walked home (if the train is on time, the T is much faster than my lil’ feeties).
What always amazes me is the sheer volume of alerts. Sure, some of them aren’t the T’s fault: if someone is having a heart attack, you have to deal with it. But the number of car breakdowns, signal delays, track fires, and other problems is usually around ten to fifteen per day, and has definitely increased over the last year. Then there are the personal experiences.
A couple of weeks ago, the signal system at Park Street Station, one of the major throughways of the T, erm, broke. The station manager was manually directing traffic (it made for a fun rush hour). I’m not a transportation engineer, but signaling seems kinda…critical. The Red Line always has delays–between 5pm and 6:30pm, an undelayed train is the rare exception. And these delays are not only annoying, but an economic drag on our cities–the engines of economic growth:

“If we’re trying to recover the nation’s economy, we should be focusing where the economy is, which is in these large areas,” said Robert Puentes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution‘s Metropolitan Policy Program, which advocates more targeted spending. “But states take this peanut-butter approach, taking the dollars and spreading them around very thinly, rather than taking the dollars and concentrating them where the most complex transportation problems are.”
The 100 largest metropolitan areas also contribute three-quarters of the nation’s economic activity, and one consequence of that is monumental traffic jams. A study of congestion in urban areas released Wednesday by the Texas Transportation Institute found that traffic jams in 2007 cost urban Americans 2.8 billion gallons of wasted gas and 4.2 billion hours of lost time.

Worse, this neglect is not only costly in terms of time and money, but lives. One of the awful realities of the Metro train crash in Washington, D.C. is that important fail safes were neglected, even though the NTSB publicly declared that to be dangerous. Worse, it appears that the last line of protection–a manually operated braking system–might have failed. But, of course, none of these problems could happen in Boston.

Meanwhile, a top official at Boston’s transit system called Metro the night of the crash to discuss the signal system, according to Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority spokesman Joe Pesaturo. He declined to say what was discussed.
Boston uses an automated train protection system similar to Metro’s.
Last month, the MBTA experienced what Pesaturo described as an “isolated” signal system failure when a faulty circuit board along the track in one section of Boston’s Orange Line failed to detect trains. Engineers discovered the problem and immediately stopped using the automated system while they checked all circuit boards. Trains had to be dispatched by radio for 12 days, and MBTA personnel were posted at each station to give the go-ahead for trains to proceed. That caused delays.
Boston uses signal systems made by the same manufacturer as Metro’s, Alstom Transport. No problems were found with the other circuit boards, and the faulty one was replaced by the manufacturer, Adco Circuit, a subcontractor of Alstom’s, Pesaturo said.

But, hell, we’re all cheese-eating surrender monkey homofascists anyway, so who cares?
Even if one doesn’t give a shit about the safety issues and loss of life, a wave of lawsuits would be extremely expensive for the state and city; I’m sure it’s the same elsewhere.
So how about sending us our fair share? We need it too.
And have I ever mentioned that a really good stimulus would have been to support local and state governments….

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2 Responses to Stimulus Package to Cities: Drop Dead?

  1. Guy says:

    This article is misleading. The stimulus funds allotted are divvied up by each state’s legislature. The fault lies with the state’s appropriation committee, not with the stimulus package itself, which allocates to each state, not the specific counties within each state.

  2. Eric Lund says:

    Part of the problem is that we’ve been underfunding urban infrastructure for so long that it really is hurting. Transportation is only the most obvious aspect; there are also a bunch of aging water and sewer systems out there. In this country we also have a mindset that implies everybody should drive everywhere, with not enough people asking the question of where do we park all of those cars, so public transit systems get doubly shafted. Very few Americans, even among those living in cities, have ever seen a fully functional public transit system.
    There will always be disparities. Geography dictates that Kittitas County will always get more transport money per capita than King County: three major highways (two of them interstates) converge there to bring traffic across the Cascades into Seattle. But the disparity should not be as large as 24-fold, which seems to be the case here.

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