Thoughts on Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s One-Term Announcement

Oct 13th, 2011 | Posted by

(See update below)

It’s common for Cabinet secretaries to leave a presidential administration after the first term, so Ray LaHood’s announcement today that he will leave his post as Transportation Secretary in 2013 should not be a surprise. But that doesn’t make it any easier.

Many transportation advocates were skeptical, to put it mildly, in late 2008 when Barack Obama tapped this largely unknown Republican Congressman to head the Department of Transportation. Nobody had him on their short lists. Obama’s victory was a crucial moment for sustainable transportation to get funding and policy preferences that it had long been lacking, and we rightly did not want this key post to go to waste. New York City transportation chief Janette Sadik-Kahn was a popular pick for the office, and few of us knew what to make of LaHood.

Not only were our fears unfounded – LaHood has turned out to be one of the best picks Obama made for any of his Cabinet level offices. Secretary LaHood has been the kind of reliable, steady, persistent champion of bikes, pedestrians, and passenger rail – including high speed rail – that we needed and wanted. LaHood has never once flinched in the face of the barrage of right-wing attacks on HSR, and has never once shown an inclination to cave when specific projects were criticized.

When teabagger governors in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Florida turned against HSR projects and demanded they be allowed to use the federal HSR grants they’d received for those projects, LaHood was clear that it wasn’t an option, and redirected those funds to states like California, Washington, and New York where political leaders still understood the value of HSR.

In California, LaHood has remained one of the HSR project’s most important and effective champions. He has steered over $4 billion in federal funds to our project. He helped direct the choice of the Central Valley segment from Fresno to Bakersfield as the site of initial construction (owing to the easier and lower construction costs and the higher unemployment in the Valley). And he has not once backed away from those decisions no matter how many NIMBYs and HSR deniers try to get him and the White House to do so.

Just last month LaHood, speaking in Oakland after a long meeting with Governor Jerry Brown, mounted a strong defense of the California HSR project:

Now this isn’t an obituary; LaHood has over a year left as Transportation Secretary to continue his good work on behalf of smart transportation choices. It appears the White House is pleased with his work, since they haven’t asked him to back down from his pro-transit positions. Of course, one important question is whether the Obama Administration’s strongly pro-HSR position comes from the very top or whether LaHood was instrumental in pushing it. There was plenty of evidence during the 2008 campaign that Obama was genuine in his support of HSR, which means LaHood’s successor likely will be as well.

Which raises the question of who exactly that successor should be. Let’s start floating some names:

• JSK. Sadik-Kahn has probably done about all she can do in NYC. It’s a natural move for her to go to Washington, DC and carry on LaHood’s policies with a supportive president – and hopefully with a Democratic Congress as well. (I know some people don’t like it when I get partisan, but it is a fact of life that Congressional Republicans hate passenger rail. LaHood appears to have been one of the very few exceptions.) There would be no doubt of her strength on sustainable transportation issues. I’d tab her as the front-runner right now.

• Jim Oberstar. He represented Minnesota in the House for over 35 years when he narrowly lost the 2010 election to a teabagger. Oberstar was responsible for drafting the revolutionary House version of the Transportation Bill reauthorization which had tons of funding for sustainable transportation. He also strongly backed proposals to put $50 billion for HSR funding in that bill. There’s been no evidence of Oberstar seeking a rematch in 2012, so he’d be available and a well-qualified person to continue fighting for smart transportation choices in DC.

• Earl Blumenauer. He represents Portland in Congress, and is another prominent advocate for rail and transit choices, biking to work on Capitol Hill. Like JSK and Oberstar there would be no doubt of Blumenauer’s willingness to fight for sustainability and high speed rail.

• R.T. Rybak. The Minneapolis mayor is, like JSK, very pro-bike and pro-rail. I had the chance to meet him at Netroots Nation in June and he was quite knowledgable about transportation policy issues. He’d be a strong choice too – and he might also be interested. Rybak has statewide ambitions, but Minnesota’s governor and both Senators are Democrats early in their terms, so they’re not in a mood to retire. Rybak will have to bide his time elsewhere, and the Obama Administration is as good a place as any to do it.

• Ed Rendell. The former Pennsylvania governor has been a champion of infrastructure spending on transportation projects. I’m less certain of where he stands on high speed rail – I know he is a supporter, but is he willing to go to the mat for it the way LaHood did?

Many of the above names came up after the 2008 election as possible candidates for the job, and I’m sure they’ll still be in circulation to succeed LaHood. Of course, Obama went with someone none of us expected and it turned out better than we could have hoped. Perhaps there is another dark horse out there? If so, speculate away in the comments!

UPDATE: Ray LaHood has an interesting quote about the reason why he is Transportation Secretary:

While some bicycling advocates might hope the president would nominate someone of similarly bike-friendly proclivities, LaHood made it clear that wasn’t why he was nominated. “I wouldn’t have this job if I wasn’t a Republican,” he said. “If I was anything else, I wouldn’t be here today.”

Did we just get really, really lucky in 2008?!

  1. Alon Levy
    Oct 13th, 2011 at 21:58
    #1

    JSK and democratic decision-making are incompatible. That’s all I’m going to say.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    On the other hand, at USDOT she wouldn’t be making street-level decisions, but would instead be setting national policy. Do you doubt her credentials on that?

    Alon Levy Reply:

    I’m more conflicted on that. She gets things done, as authoritarians love to say, and she gets them done fast. So there’s a nonzero chance she would actually start picking fights with various bureaucracies, including the FRA. On the other hand, her tenure in New York has focused on bike lanes and pedestrian plazas; the one time she was involved in mass transit, the 34th Street BRT, she botched it in any way imaginable.

  2. The Overhead Wire
    Oct 13th, 2011 at 23:24
    #2

    Another name that was floating around last time is Steve Heminger who now heads up the MTC.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    That too would be an interesting pick. In terms of Californians, Will Kempton’s name comes to mind, as does Art Leahy. John Garamendi too, although he seems happy enough with his Congressional seat.

    Risenmessiah Reply:

    Kempton and Heminger are names I came up with too…but…I don’t think it will be a Californian. Ryback is a possibility but I don’t think Dems want to cannibalize their bench of upcoming stars…

    One name that came to mind: Bill White.

    synonymouse Reply:

    If Heminger is elevated, BART Ring the Bay is a done deal.

  3. Andy M.
    Oct 14th, 2011 at 01:30
    #3

    I do believe that LaHood’s work is largely of his own doing. Presidential commitment is one thing but if you don’t fully believe in the message there is so much room to creatively misinterpret and twist it to suit your own agenda. I don’t know much about his previous life or evidence of his pro-transit thinking, but I don’t believe you can be converted overnight.

    To replace him, we need somebody with the same energy and vision and commitment, not just somebody who sees it as another job on the political ladder, something that keeps you busy until the next best thing comes up, as so many past transportation secretaries have seen it.

  4. Stephen Smith
    Oct 14th, 2011 at 03:35
    #4

    LaHood might be great if what you think transit needs is more subsidies (which clearly a lot of transit boosters do), but for those of us who would like to see increased efficiency, he brought nothing to the table. No FRA reform (not even a hint of it!), and under his watch Buy America got even worse.

    The fact is, Obama wanted to spend money on infrastructure, and LaHood was there when that happened. I have yet to see any evidence that LaHood did anything other than say, “Yes, sir” to Obama. And I get that the Buy America ratcheting was probably Obama’s idea (or, more likely, his campaign advisors’), but I can’t imagine Obama would have stopped him if he’d made some moves towards FRA reform, or demanded better accountability when it came to spending federal funds on extremely expensive transit projects.

    LaHood was there when the money was being spent, but other than talking it up to the press, I don’t see what LaHood really did for transit.

    Also: What qualifications does JSK have, exactly? She did street improvements – that’s pretty much it. She dropped the ball on everything transit related, and her experience at Parsons Brickerhoff isn’t exactly a plus in my book.

    Stephen Smith Reply:

    Oops, forgot the link about Buy America getting worse.

    Andre Peretti Reply:

    “In addition, FTA will continue to carefully scrutinize requests for waivers based on non-availability to determine whether suitable American-made alternatives exist, and if none do, whether the funds can be used in an alternative manner that fulfills the goals of the Recovery Act”

    This could be interpreted as: if no American-made high-speed trains exist, funds can be used for other projects creating American jobs.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Andre, here’s a synopsis of it

    http://www.dot.gov/buyamerica/

    It boils down to if it’s not made in America buy it where you can. If it’s made in America and it’s no more than 25% more expensive, buy it in America. 25% more means taxes get levied on payroll, the plant pays property taxes. All those people earning money because they work at the plant or didn’t get laid off because property taxes are being paid go out and spend money, some of which gets sales taxes levied on it… 25%? the government gets that back in increased taxes.

    Most of the stuff you’ll find online criticizing Buy America and Buy American ( two different programs ) are filled with half truths, omissions, out right lies.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Fifth rate, triple price, twenty year obsolete crap for Americans. Because that’s how American public transportation always has been and always should be. Suck it down, yanks!

    trentbridge Reply:

    While I agree that a “buy American” policy may not result in the best public transportation equipment – it is interesting that Airbus has grown into an industry leader – comparable to Boeing – because the French Government made a determined effort to stay in aviation.
    The United States will never develop a competitive public transportion manufacturing capability if we don’t insist on a “made here” approach. Would Korea be exporting Hyundai cars to the US if they didn’t benefit in their domestic market from a punitive tariff on imported cars that gave them time to develop the engineering required in modern car manufacture?
    Yes Mitsubishi, Hyundai and Seimens would own the intial manufacturing plants for passenger coaches but eventually US engineers and managers would take the opportunity to break away and form a domestic competitor.

    Andre Peretti Reply:

    National preference generally leads to inferior products.
    The French army wanted to buy American drones but the government pressured it to buy Franco-Israelian ones. They have proved half as good and twice as costly as the American ones.
    When the US Coast Guards decided to buy French Dolphin helicopters (built in Texas by Eurocopter), they were not allowed to have the original French-built Turbomeca engine because the American content would have been insufficient. So, “equivalent” American engines were mounted instead. Soon, the crews started complaining that the helicopters were heavier and were 40% less fuel efficient than the original Dolphins. Then what happened? The Coast Guards obtained a budget to upgrade the machines. The “upgrade” consisted in removing the engines and replacing them by the original Turbomeca. Maybe some workers gained, but the American taxpayer certainly lost, as did the French taxpayer with the overpriced underperforming French drones.
    It’s ridiculous to focus on the few jobs France may lose to America, or America to France, while millions of them are being outsourced to slave labor in China.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    What’s the MDBF for a R142/R160 New York City subway car?

    Alon Levy Reply:

    You mean the Brazilian-made R160? Its MBDF is fine. But it doesn’t really matter, because the R142 and the R160 are both enormous orders. Thus having to use a branch factory in Hornell or Yonkers or Barre is a small part of their cost. For the same reason, the M7 is a decent (but not good) train, despite FRA compliance and other crap.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    The stainless steel shell was made in Brazil. Port of Albany was very happy to have the business transhipping to Hornell.. or was it Barre. The rest of it was made gawd only know where and assembled here. Just like it would have been if it some studly German manufacturer had assembled it in Germany or some effete French manufacturer had assembled it in France. But then shipping a stainless shell to Germany or France and then shipping it to the US doesn’t make much sense when they have plants in the US that assemble world class quality cars at world class prices. The plants don’t evaporate when teh order is complete, those crafty manufacturers do a bit of retooling and pop out an order for the Port Authority at world class prices and world class quality. Rotem has ulterior motives in opening a plant in Pennsylvania, when the SEPTA order is complete they are ready for the next round of MTA orders or orders from MARC or MBTA or Metra or Metrolink or.. Apparently Metrolink is very happy with their cars. No reason why Rotem couldn’t build the next batch in Pennsylvania….

    Andre Peretti Reply:

    “Brazilian-made R160″
    They are considered US-made since the Brazilian-built bodyshells only account for 25% of their cost.
    Their MDBF exceeds specifications by more than 300% and this is due to the fact that the Alstom and Kawasaki plants are long-existing plants with experienced engineers and highly-skilled workers.
    Metro systems which awarded contracts to Ansaldo-Breda because it promised to build locally haven’t been that lucky. In fact, part of Alstom Hornell’s activities has been to rebuild faulty Ansaldo subway cars.
    I’ve read Alstom could build high-speed trains for California at Mare Island. It’s only a repair shop and I’d be very surprised if Alstom proposed it to win the contract. If they did, I wouldn’t be too eager to ride the trains.

    swinh hanger Reply:

    “Apparently Metrolink is very happy with their cars. No reason why Rotem couldn’t build the next batch in Pennsylvania…”
    I wouldn’t hold up Rotem a particularly good example of a rolling stock builder in the U
    .S- the Metrolink cab cars were delivered late, the MBTA ones are late too, and the factory in Philly is plagued with quality issues, probably due to paying your workers $10 and hour with no health benefits- Rotem gains it’s advantage through low-ball bids, but they have to cut costs somewhere.

    Joey Reply:

    Maybe if we actually had something anyone else would want. As it is we’ve really got no rolling stock manufacturing base, and FRA regulations guarantee that even if we do begin to build a small domestic market, no one else will ever touch what we build.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    That we have no rolling stock base must come as shock to the manufacturers that assemble cars in the US. Most of what they assemble is not FRA compliant.

    Stephen Smith Reply:

    So that’s the endgame – building a manufacturing base but not a technological or engineering one? That seems absurd. At least when Switzerland and Italy subsidize and protect their domestic rolling stock manufacturers, they get high-skilled, high-paying jobs out of it and multinational companies that can legitimately compete for contracts all over the world. But you’re saying it’s fine for us to subsidize and protect an industry without the expectation that there will ever be any domestic companies – that is, companies that keep their profits in the US – at all?

    Stephen Smith Reply:

    So that’s the endgame – building a manufacturing base but not a technological or engineering one? That seems absurd. At least when Switzerland and Italy subsidize and protect their domestic rolling stock manufacturers, they get high-skilled, high-paying jobs out of it and multinational companies that can legitimately compete for contracts all over the world. But you’re saying it’s fine for us to subsidize and protect an industry without the expectation that there will ever be any domestic companies – that is, companies that keep their profits in the US – at all?

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Here’s something to consider:

    The manufacturing floor of Company A is staffed by blue collar workers who acquired their skills in an ad hoc fashion over various years of employment.
    The production line of Company A is set up for piece work, the output being low and the corporate emphasis not being on worker efficiency (or safety, or skills.)
    The R&D of Company A is non-existent, or off-shore, so senior personnel are not constantly available to respond to and adapt to manufacturing challenges.
    The entire management chain of Company A exists because of and works towards and has its sole priority being the manipulation of government procurement regulations.

    The manufacturing floor of Company B is staffed by blue collar workers who acquired their skills in an formal national trade education and apprenticeship system.
    The production line of Company B is set up for medium scale throughput (sub mass production), there being significant numbers of similarly-configured items being produced per year. The efficient and and trouble-free and safe movement of material through production line work areas is a priority of a management team dedicated to product production.
    The R&D of Company B is actively developing follow-on products to the current ones, and is immediately available to consult with production line personnel (at every level) to adapt new technology and respond to manufacturing and market challenges.
    The management chain of Company B exists to design, develop, manufacture and sell productss in a competitive environment, one in which Companies B, C, and D are similarly staffed and motivated.

    Question: what sort of outputs might customers expect from the Company A versus those from Company B?

    swing hanger Reply:

    “The production line of Company B is set up for medium scale throughput (sub mass production), there being significant numbers of similarly-configured items being produced per year. The efficient and and trouble-free and safe movement of material through production line work areas is a priority of a management team dedicated to product production.”

    something like this, perhaps:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQzYvmO5vqU

    …though lol at the reference to Yonkers’ “world’s finest high speed rail trains”…

    Nathanael Reply:

    So, Richard, company B sounds like Tesla Motors in the US for cars, or Bombardier in Canada. for trains. Who’s company A?

    The real problem with “Buy America” is that it’s not sector-neutral. It applies to some sectors but not others, due to its mechanism. This is not an intentional industrial policy (those can be OK), this is an ACCIDENTAL industrial policy — one which hurts trains relative to cars — and accidental policies are usually dreadful.

    If it were actually sector neutral it would be plain old protectionism, and that actually can work. But protectionism applied to completely randomly selected sectors, with a randomly distortive effect, gives us the crap we have today.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Bombardier in Canada (or US) for trains is pure Company B. Lack of any export market ought to be a huge clue … if facts were relevant to your interests, that is.

    Compare and contrast FREEDOM STREETCARS

    “sufficiently different from European standards to justify a separate
    product line, albeit at a higher cost to the end user than an ‘off the
    shelf’ European design. Production will be undertaken in Canada or the
    USA as appropriate to meet government requirements for work to be
    undertaken domestically.”

    with

    CHEESE EATING SURRENDER TRAMS

    “It is an evolution of previous designs, incorporating successful
    features from the 3 500 light rail vehicles which Bombardier has
    supplied to 100 cities in 20 countries.”

    joe Reply:

    The US has high unemployment. It would rock to have a different system but we don’t. We do have people running out of unemployment and 25% of kids are living in poverty.

    We have elite sociopaths who don’t care about unemployment and fret about inflation running the county.

    I will not object to attempts to help create jobs within the system we live in today, right now, for people desperate for work, now. Yes, these policies are not right/perfect/correct/efficient/blah blah blah.

    Finally, automobile manufacturing has overcome the obstacles you infer exist for train manufacturing when local standards are imposed. Whether Bombadier can or cannot – it’s clear that the problems do not exist for automobiles imported and designed by the Japanese for the USA market and consumer taste.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Joe, you’re right if you ignore facts like how small cars are disallowed in the US, or face too many regulatory hurdles. Try to get a Smart in the US. Or the Corollas that sell in Japan.

    The industrial policy that aimed at protecting GM mostly just created a bunch of non-union factories in the South for Japanese automakers. It only benefits the big automakers and a bunch of power brokers in Smyrna, TN and other company towns.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    When did they move Michigan to the South? Or California? Places where “foreign” car makers had assembly plants until recently. The domestic makers like to move to places with cheap land and docile labor too. Mahway assembly closed in 1982. Tarrytown assembly closed in 1996, Edison assembly closed in 2004 and Linden assembly closed in 2005. They had been building cars in Tarrytown for 100 years.
    Ford was building Mazdas in Edison before they closed.

    Mercedes decided to make Smart Cars comply with US emissions standards a few years ago. You can get one at a Mercedes dealer. No difficulty at all.

    Joe Reply:

    Alon,

    I doubt Toyota or Honda etc put lower quality staff on their non exportable automobiles. I doubt the safety and propulsion technology are unique to these niche products. They adapt and reuse. Product can be adapted and it need not be done poorly by B team employees. Why have a B team?

    The industrial policy that brought foreign manufactures to anti-union states brought jobs. These jobs are salary competitive with union wage employees. The workers pay taxes and I hope someday are unionized. The foreign manufacturers buy parts from domestic suppliers and keep critical mass for parts suppliers and associated industries like screws and bolts. Win.

    I do not see what is American about corporate GM. I care about the legacy jobs GM has centered in the US. Toyota and GM are global with legacies. I bought cars from NUMMI plant from Fremont CA. High quality vehicles despite the lack of voc tech training in the US. Company A or B.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Um, Richard, get a clue. Bombardier in Canada has a huge European export market. It’s basically competing with Siemens for the top position in passenger trains. Do you know anything?!?

    Nathanael Reply:

    Oh, are you saying that Bombardier is BOTH Company A, AND Company B? In that case, I suggest you rework your analogy, because it’s broken.

    swing hanger Reply:

    “Bombardier in Canada has a huge European export market.”

    Splitting technical hairs here, but in support of Richard, I doubt Bombardier’s N.A. rolling stock plant in Thunder Bay, Ont., supplies anything outside of the North American market. Most export orders are built in Bombardier’s (acquired) European plants- there is a reason why Bombardier’s rolling stock division is based in Berlin.

    Max Wyss Reply:

    “Bombardier in Canada has a huge European export market. ”

    That really makes me laugh. Keep in mind that Bombardier did not become a world leader by merit and development. Bombardier became a world leader by acquisition. The innovation (in the railroad business) comes from the former Adtranz (nee ASEA Brown Boveri, ABB) sites in Germany, Sweden and Switzerland. And considering the immigration policies in North America, they won’t transfer the engineering and R&D departments away from Europe.

    To elsewhere in the discussion: one has to tell the potential customers what they want to hear. From that point of view, the “North American” light rail vehicle is a pretty good marketing product… On component level, we can be pretty sure that the proven standard elements will be used. As far as “design” is concerned, if the customer wants a butt ugly front, the customer gets that…

    Andre Peretti Reply:

    “Bombardier in Canada has a huge European export market”
    No. As far as rail is concerned, its export market is zero.
    Bombardier Transportation is a European firm headquartered in Berlin. Its CEO and president is a Frenchman, André Navarri, an ex-Alstom executive (Alstom’s loss, Bombardier’s gain). It has design centers and plants in nearly all European countries, notably Germany and France. Its acquisitions in eastern Europe has enabled the firm to outsource heavy metalwork (bodyshells, for instance) to low-salary countries.
    Bombardier recently beat Alstom in a bid for the renewal of the Paris region train fleet. Its offer was 15% cheaper. Alstom’s argument that its trains were 100% French while Bombardier imported bodyshells from Poland were ignored.
    The trains are duplex, “boa” configuration. For security reasons, they have to be “see through” along their whole length. Rail operators are trying to win back the 20% of female riders who have allegedly defected to driving. Ethnic-French women often feel insecure when surrounded by suburban youths.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    And considering the immigration policies in North America

    Be very easy to get a visa for someone in Europe from Bombardier. Just have to specify “ten years of railroad experience” and “speaks German” or “speaks Swedish”. Craft the job requirement narrowly enough and no North American is qualified, you then avoid the long wait for immigration.

    Peter Reply:

    “Craft the job requirement narrowly enough”

    There are immigration attorneys who do little else…

    Max Wyss Reply:

    To André Peretti: … and it is not the first time Bombardier defeated Alstom in France. The AGP regional D/EMU sold 700 units strong. Well, Bombardier came up with a way more advanced concept (3 or 4 carbodies, multimode, etc.) than Alstom. I am, however, not quite sure how much of that development actually came from Berlin or from Crespin (formerly ANF, of Turbotrain’s fame).

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The US may be different, but Canada has a relatively lax skilled worker immigration system, and an engineer with 4 years’ experience and good command of English and/or French will have well more than the minimum qualifications required.

    But why would bombardier try to move all the designers and engineers to Canada? They’re doing a perfectly good job in Germany and France. Creating jobs in Canada is only a slogan for Bombardier, a way to obtain no-bid contracts in Canadian cities.

    Andre Peretti Reply:

    To Max Wyss
    The new generation TER trains were designed in Crespin in close collaboration with SNCF engineers.
    These last few years Alstom has tended to go it alone, with no input from SNCF. This is the real reason why it lost the bid. And it’s a huge contract: more than $10 billion for 860 trains.
    Alstom-SNCF relations are now warming up and the French firm has won a bid for 1000 one-level regional trains. These trains are not a totally new design. They are derived from the Regiolis already sold to German regions.
    These big budgets for regional trains mark the end of the “Tout-TGV” (All HSR) policy. HSR will be put on the back burner while a big effort will be made to increase capacity and frequency of TER trains. SNCF has long been reluctant to this change of policy but now seems to have accepted it.

    Clem Reply:

    Those French Bombs are exactly what I think would work here on the SF peninsula, if Caltrain decides to buy cutting-edge European stock rather than warmed-over North American stuff.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Um, Richard, get a clue. Bombardier in Canada has a huge European export market.

    Pure ignorance on your part.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Bombardier_CRJ_operators

    Peter Reply:

    Like Max Wyss said above, Bombardier’s products were not developed in-house, but were acquired from other developers. Including the Canadair Regional Jet.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    So? You can’t buy a locomotive from Adtranz anymore. The people who developed them and the people they trained work for Bombardier.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Yep. The company is fully administered by the Bombardier family, and they are very much Canadian. Yes, they grew by mergers. So what?

    Like most multinationals, they locate whereever they feel is best.

    Was your objection to the phrase “in Canada”? If so, consider it retracted; I was referring purely to the corporate ownership. Bombardier is a perfectly competent “company A” type company whereever it operates, however. Pure ignorance on your part? Of course, they charge a premium to sell into markets like the US which have STUPID custom requirements, but that is again pure “company A” behavior.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Or was your objection to “export market”? As a multinational, all of Bombardier’s products are to one extent or another exported (as has been noted).

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    The goal is neither subsidies nor efficiencies. What we need is more transit, period. More trains. More sidewalks. More bike lanes. More electric vehicle charging stations. Whether we get there efficiently or inefficiently is, from my perspective, just not an issue worth worrying about.

    Risenmessiah Reply:

    Alas, that is the problem. America’s tax base is shrinking. More efficiency has to go hand in hand with expansion. But that goes for everything non-transportation as well. It doesn’t mean, however, that we are faced with collapse. It just means that the younger generation should be mindful that they are going to be the one left to pay all the debt we rack up today…not those with one foot in the grave….

    Nathanael Reply:

    Failure to understand money. Common problem. Remember, money is a shared delusion.

    We don’t have a problem with “racking up debt”, we don’t have a problem with a “shrinking tax base”, we have two problems:

    (1) Most people don’t have enough money for the mutually beneficial transactions they want to make. This needs to be addressed by printing money and handing it to the 99%. No, this won’t cause hyperinflation.
    (2) We have lost a bunch of our *real* productive capacity — manufacturing closed, farmland built on, lakes polluted, etc. — and we will lose more as oil-dependent systems become less and less viable. *This* is an actual loss of *real* wealth and needs to be addressed. Namely, by reconstructing that missing productive capacity on a “green economy” basis. I suppose you could call this “efficiency”, as it is efficiency in a broader sense, but it isn’t money-efficiency.

    Risenmessiah Reply:

    I don’t mean “Debt” in the amorphous way that the Tea Party does. I simply mean that for any project that requires financing creates a debt burden that will paid by people my age and Robert’s not Rupert “$20 barrel of oil” Murdoch. Also, the tax base is shrinking because the population is getting smaller and we aren’t investing in labor as much as other activity.

    Your points are valid, though about the structural weaknesses in the economy.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    The population is getting smaller? I realize the Census numbers are off a bit, they can never be 100% accurate but the population is getting smaller?

    Spokker Reply:

    The population is not getting smaller but the distribution of age in the population is changing. So we better hope these illegals prop up Social Security more than they already do.

    Nathanael Reply:

    I see your points, thank you. I’ll try to make my first point clearer. As someone who would be a member of the Greenback Party if it still existed, my point is that with a sufficiently competent government we could in fact finance a project by printing money rather than by “financing”. We couldn’t do this *all* the time, because doing it causes bad inflation under some circumstances… but right now, in high-unemployment, depression economics circumstances, we could.

    Derek Reply:

    Ignoring efficiency is what got us into this mess. It’s not going to get us out.

    Joey Reply:

    If we ignore efficiency then we get overbuilt corridors with pitiful ridership while congested corridors get no improvements at all.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    Whether we get there efficiently or inefficiently is, from my perspective, just not an issue worth worrying about.

    That is one of the dumbest statements ever made on this blog. Seriously. You don’t care if we do something well or do a piss poor job of it? You don’t think that there are such things as cost-benefit ratios? You think that we have infinite budgets for capex and operations? You don’t think that much of the American opposition to transit is precisely because of such attitudes which result in tremendously high expense for comparatively little gain? You don’t care about getting major improvements for little to no or even negative cost by improving efficiencies?

    For crying out loud, how in the world do you prioritize anything even if you don’t give a damn about efficiencies?

    synonymouse Reply:

    Bad planning is a thread thru the decades. Examples abound. From SF deciding to dump rail for bus in 1946, Bechtel sabotaging BART with broad gauge, to a ward healer hijacking the Muni Central Subway and utterly mucking it up to the Palmdale-Tehachapi detour – incompetence mixed with ample political corruption.

    You can pick out other examples more to your liking, but the pattern is clear. Once in a great while someone stands up to the functionaries and bosses with very positive results. For instance I am thinking of Friedel Klussmann, who was largely responsible for launching the movement to save the cable cars. Otherwise Tony Bennett would be singing about little trolley buses to the stars. That was Roger Lapham’s and Elmer Robinson’s plan – they were the 40′s-50′s version of Rose Pak. Professional dullards.

    My thrust: **** the “experts”

    RisenMessiah Reply:

    This really goes back to the Second World War and the government’s intervention in the economy. Because there is so little risk for military contractors (what you gonna do…hire the Chinese to build our warships) it trickles down to the relationship between transportation and other infrastructure and government.

    All the experts ever set out to do is tell us how to kill the most number of people with the fewest amount of dollars in bombs, airplanes…etc. Never has the U.S. seriously forced defense contractors to take a cold shower.

    If and when it happens, it will hit everyone else on the way down….

    Nathanael Reply:

    It will happen sooner rather than later, because right now we have the largest military spending in the world…. and are losing at least two wars simultaneously (depending on how you count, up to five). While having keylogging viruses infect the drone bombs.

    The whole US military is incapable of dealing with modern warfare, perhaps because it hasn’t adapted to the tactical and strategic changes induced by the Information Age (which favor guerilla tactics). Despite that, it’s still the most expensive in the world. This is completely and utterly unsustainable.

    joe Reply:

    That is one of the dumbest statements ever made on this blog. Seriously. You don’t care if we do something well or do a piss poor job of it? You don’t think that there are such things as cost-benefit ratios?

    I would say:

    1. Stupid is arguing over the cost benefit ratio of infrastructure spending when we have 10%+ unemployment and need stimulus.

    2. Cost benefit ratios are aesthetics. You have an ideal – nice. I have a favorite color.

    Fact: The US economy would benefit more by borrowing and hiring the unemployed and to dig holes and then fill them up then our current deficit reduction policies. That is where we are now.

    If we build a HSR system wit that money – we’re better off than hole digging. if we fix water pipes or pave streets or do anything. “inefficiently”, “stupidly” and “wastefully” with the worse “cost benefit ratio” eveh!

    trentbridge Reply:

    What would be totally “inefficient” is building fifty to sixty miles of HSR track in the Central Valley and then, with a change of Government, abandoning the project.
    Is the Large Hadron Collider in CERN an “efficient” use of European research money?
    I understand what Robert is saying – you really need to build the entire HSR system in California – and then make sure, it’s “efficiently” co-ordinated with local,and regional transit options to maximize it’s potential. It’s the door-to-door journey time that’s the true measure of efficiency.
    A plane is very efficient when it reaches it’s cruising altitude but it’s highly inefficient stationary at the terminal gate or in a line for takeoff because the skies over California are too crowded.

    joe Reply:

    Nope. The track is there and cane be used and expanded. Highways took decades to complete.

    What would be totally “inefficient” is building fifty to sixty miles of HSR track in the Central Valley and then, with a change of Government, abandoning the project.

    You may think 20% unemployment in the Central Valley is acceptable and want to debate the merits of the ARRA construction. I do not.

    Use it or Lose it. It’s work, jobs, taxes, employment and infrastructure.

    Worried about “the Deficit”? “Waste” “efficiency” ? Stop no bid defense contracts. Stop making and dropping so many freedom bombs on civilians.

    Track in the CV isn’t going to waste and will not disappear when if the GOP takes control.

    Joey Reply:

    Nope. The track is there and cane be used and expanded. Highways took decades to complete.

    The difference is that highway segments are actually moderately useful by themselves, whereas the HSR track will be 90% useless until it reaches SF or LA and completes the IOS. And building in the CV will create a few short-term construction jobs, but you’re not going to see any real boost until trains actually start running.

    In the spirit of comparing projects, let’s compare Fresno-Bakersfield to LA-Bakersfield (probably too late to make that switch at this point but these principals can be applied elsewhere). Unlike the CV segment, LA-Bakersfield would likely have enough ridership demand to start running HSTs immediately (even if it would only be 0.5-1 tph). This means that it would actually start transporting people to and from Bakersfield, providing a boost to the local economy. And granted, LA-Bakersfield is probably somewhat more expensive, so Bakersfield might have to come after Palmdale, but it’s still highly likely that the CV would start to see the benefits sooner than with Fresno-Bakersfield.

    joe Reply:

    And building in the CV will create a few short-term construction jobs, but you’re not going to see any real boost until trains actually start running.

    I call Bullshit on minimizing the impact of spending billions for HSR’s initial build. It’s easy to sit elsewhere and be disinterested in job creation, salary and a multiplier effect that circulates money in CA.

    The track will exist and the system will be finished. The hypothetical “stopping rail forever” scenario is incorrect.

    If it’s build as you pay – that’s what CA wanted – then we got a build as you pay system. That’s what we voted and that’s what we got. Now we build and it’s inexpensive in a recession.

    Joey Reply:

    I never said it would be stopped forever. I said that it would sit there with minimal usage for several years, and it would take a very long time for anyone to see the benefits.

    Nathanael Reply:

    So let’s hurry up on LA-Bakersfield. *sigh*. I understand that the Central Valley spine was further along in design, and that’s probably why it got the ARRA money, but you’re absolutely right that we need LA-Bakersfield to make it really work. So let’s hurry that up.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Perhaps PB can come up with an alignment that impinges very little on the Chandlers and Disney and is acceptable to Santa Clarita.

    Borden to Corcoran up against extending unemployment benefits has very little lobbying juice behind it. I can conceive of the deficit-cutting supercommittee whacking it and saving other much more popular spending, like urban mass transit. The CHSRA should seek to pull the restrictions on the ARRA funds and redirect to LA-Bakersfield.

    And next year any Republican elected prez would be very unlikely to earmark any federal money to hsr. Again they would much more likely to turn a somewhat receptive ear to, say, BART.

    Andrew Reply:

    If the common-sense Grapevine alignment had been chosen from the beginning, they could have gotten started by the 2012 deadline on the 30 miles of valley-floor construction up to Bakersfield, and been well on their way to a nice IOS between Bako and LA. With that IOS in operation, Kings county would have been begging them for a stop anywhere in their county, rather than throwing up obstacles.

    Howard Reply:

    So let’s agree to do Bakersfield to LA (or Burbank) next. Then we will have Fresno to LA as the IOS.

    Peter Reply:

    More like Merced-LA as the IOS.

    Joe Reply:

    Immediate benefit for CV construction is jobs! Immediate need is jobs!

    Joey Reply:

    Jobs are needed ASAP, but ignoring medium-term economic impacts is something we would definitely regret later, especially because, even with massive infrastructure spending, the economy isn’t going to be fixed overnight.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    So build I-9 then if you are so concerned about jobs for the CV.

    Peter Reply:

    Exactly, I-9 wouldn’t need to be extended all the way to LA or SJ for it to be useful, either. Note that I’m not advocating building I-9 right now, but simply pointing out that the need for “Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!” not always the best reason for pursuing a particular project.

    Paying people to dig holes and then fill them back up again repeatedly would also get us jobs. That doesn’t make it a good idea, though.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Actually, paying people to dig holes and fill them back up is pretty much a good idea right now; thankfully we have more productive things we can pay people to do.

    For why paying people to dig holes and fill them back up again is a good idea, I refer you to ohn Maynard Keynes’s snarky comments on gold mining, as quoted in Brad DeLong’s blog a while back. (Or was it Krugman?) We have a monetary problem, and literally throwing bales of cash out of helicopters would help deal with it. No politician is willing to try that though.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    It was Krugman, who approvingly quoted Keynes’ complaint that people were too concerned about cost-effectiveness of infrastructure projects. In separate posts, Krugman also supported ARC…

    synonymouse Reply:

    Andrew – and Tolmach – is entirely correct that the mountain crossing via Tejon could be much farther along had rational planning occurred from the outset. But this crucial segment could be front-loaded even now.

    Funding is apt to be very tight for California hsr. Cantor is claiming the super-committee will have a chop plan by November. If true figure hsr to be mostly cut. An orphaned Borden to Corcoran would be the perfect scandal as it would have very limited utility, require maintenance altho hardly used, and could not be auctioned off. The class ones already have trackage.

    The economic crystal ball is extraordinarily murky, which makes cautious spending likely over reckless stimulus. Stuff like Finland possibly exiting the Euro and Google sending cash out of the US. Not a real positive scenario unless you anticipate the imminent collapse of the Syrian and Iranian regimes. That would be pollyanna upbeat but don’t hold your breath.

    Eventually Jerry Brown is going to have to answer for his very pro-labor policies, which business types are blaming in part for California losing ground to other states:

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204422404576594890367486316.html

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The business types should look at economic growth in Upstate New York, Pittsburgh, and New England over the past ten years and compare it to economic growth in Georgia, the Carolinas, and North Texas. The results aren’t what they would expect.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    My ideal cost-benefit ratio is a number higher than 1, preferably by sufficient amount that it can stay above 1 even in the event of a cost overrun. In Europe the ideal is 1.3 or higher.

    What’s your ideal ratio?

    joe Reply:

    Mine ideal number is “is when can you start?” It’s 2011 and we have a massive economic crisis that will worsen. Arguing over cost benefit when we need more of anything is counter-productive.

    Who thinks we can agree on the costs and benefits of transportation projects that go into that number?

    If we had a decent economy I’d fall back to Tom DeMarco’s 2009 comments on cost estimation for software projects – fund projects that promise to make a large difference in how people function/work. IMHO HSR fits that description.

    I dead set against the mindset that we need to be careful and percise on our infrastructure and transportation projects when faced with near 0% interest rates and 12% unemployment in CA.

    Sooner the better.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Those projects may have a large difference in how people function (and the Shinkansen almost single-handedly heralded train revival amidst the growth of car and plane travel), but their financial benefits are not so high that costs can be ignored. The financial rate of return for the LGV Sud-Est was 10-15% if I remember correctly. It’s not a game changer to the people constructing it the way the iPod and the iPhone turned Apple from a has-been to a company more profitable than Microsoft. It’s not like these corporate research projects, of which one will have a cost-benefit ratio of 200 and ninety-nine will have a ratio of 0, so that the entire program is justified and worrying about costs tends to just pull the plug on the one potential success. Both the rate of return and the risk are lower than for tech.

    Jon Reply:

    I think a lot of this sort of talk is frustration over transit projects being held to higher standards of accountability than highway projects. Perhaps we should say that we should pursue projects with the highest cost/benefit ratio regardless of mode. Even with inefficient US construction costs and corporate pork a HSR project will almost certainly pencil out as more efficient than a highway project providing the same capacity.

    But also, implicit in the concept of a cost/benefit ratio is the idea that all benefit can be measured in dollars. How do you calculate the dollar value of helping reduce carbon emissions to a level that would prevent runaway climate change, given that a project such as CAHSR contributes a relatively small amount to that reduction, and that depending on the actions of others that reduction might never be achieved? The benefit can be zero or immense depending on how you chose your metrics.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    I think a lot of this sort of talk is frustration over transit projects being held to higher standards of accountability than highway project …

    It’s little boys taking leave of their senses — quite literally leaving all analytical reasoning behind — when a choo choo train is involved.

    It strongly resembles the way some other boys exterminate all rational thought when they catch a fleeting glimpse of nekkid lady parts.

    Choo choos everywhere! Can I pull the whistle cord? Please???????

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Speaking of taking leave of one’s senses–as if this unnamed fellow at the Infrastructurist ever had any. . .

    “. . .America doesn’t need this high-speed boondoggle to nowhere. In 2013 when the socialists (the Democrat party) are ushered out of our government, we can put this monster of an idea to rest for good and concentrate on our uniquely American transportation solution—cars and our efficient highway system.

    “If the ChiComs want to waste their money with this toy train system, let them do it. The U.S. will stick with the tried and true instead of the trendy. At any rate, increasing affluence in China (due to their partial embrace of Capitalism and Free Markets) means more and more Chinese are wanting the American lifestyle; a home in the ‘burbs instead of a cramped apartment in the city, and personal transportation that allows for comfort, safety, and convenience instead a long train ride pressed shoulder-to-shoulder with the masses.

    “China will move more and more toward the suburban development and auto-oriented travel that the U.S. long ago recognized as superior and embraced. Future generations of Chinese will recognize HSR for what it is—folly.”

    And we are crazy?

    swing hanger Reply:

    Infrastructurist and other similar websites have these cut and paste trolls, the wording is so formulaic I think it’s done tongue in cheek, at least I hope so…

    synonymouse Reply:

    He is correct in that the Chinese will build a lot more roads. But he is incorrect in that the Chinese will foster the grotesque sprawl characteristic of US cities. It is a homogeneous population with a harsh anti=crime mindset. They will not permit ghettoes and they will not experience anything like “white flight”.

    Peter Reply:

    And with that you demonstrate that you don’t know anything about development patterns in China.

    Andrew Reply:

    @ Peter – “That just shows you don’t know anything”
    Come on, this kind of comment doesn’t help anybody. If you’re such an expert on China, then explain why the other commenter is wrong. If you’re just pretty sure he’s wrong, then call his point into question but without trying to sound authoritative about it.

    Peter Reply:

    @ Andrew

    Because it’s you, and not synonymouse asking…

    The Chinese central government puts out mandatory annual development targets for local governments. They simply dictate “you have to achieve so and so much in growth this year.” They do not provide any sort of funding for the local governments to achieve this.

    At the same time, the current taxation scheme is set up so that the central government gets a substantial part of all taxable transactions. EXCEPT for land sales.

    Between these two factors, the stage is set for RAPID expansion of the urban edges. The local governments, having to meet growth targets, while simultaneously needing revenue, take “undeveloped” land, mostly agricultural in nature, by eminent domain, pay the landowner a pittance, and then turn around and sell the land to developers at a much higher price. This allows them to meet their development goals, as well as giving them the revenue they need. The local governments have no reason to pursue infill development, as sprawl serves their short-term purposes better.

    Of course, this means that “suburbs” look a lot different than they do in the U.S., with industrial and commercial developments, and that therefore the “sprawl” is nothing like the U.S. has.

    joe Reply:

    Speaking of pulling a cord…Richard’s pulling on the “fan boy choo choo” meme.

    It is so intimidating. Please stop.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Richard, that comment is delete-worthy. “Choo-choo”? Uh, nobody’s talking about steam trains here (with the possible exception of D P Lubic). You’re better than this, cut it out.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Jon, I have to concur with you. I can personally speak from the experience of being told “No trolleys because they are Communist,” despite my working up a cost study that suggested a lower construction cost because you didn’t move so much dirt around, and could avoid tearing down the structures that were condemned.

    Of course, I didn’t think we would have PB around, and we didn’t, but we did have a state “department of tar.”

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Well, only to some extent. Most transit advocates are not openly calling for pulling the plug on the Tappan Zee Bridge if costs can’t be brought under control. Only a few iconoclasts like Cap’n Transit and me are saying that; the rest just want the bridge to include a commuter rail line and BRT lanes, making it cost even more (in fact, double).

    swing hanger Reply:

    Have to disagree with “more trains no matter what”. It is the poorly planned projects like Sunrail and myraid other bare bones commuter lines (a clapped-out F40 and some Bombardiers=21st century rail to some boosters) which are doomed to underperform- anti-rail politicians purposely support these marginal projects so that when they fail, people can point to them as proof that “people don’t ride trains”.

    Nathanael Reply:

    You mean like the Nashville Music Star line, which goes from a questionable downtown station towards a fairly low-population suburb? Yeah, you have a point. There are some lines which just give rail a bad name. (SunRail is better than that, it runs through populated and employment-heavy parts of Orlando.)

    Nathanael Reply:

    “Music City Star”, sorry.

    Spokker Reply:

    Rail Runner is another good example.

    But then again we could fund a hundred Rail Runners if we weren’t fighting around the world like Russel Crowe.

    Nathanael Reply:

    NM Rail Runner makes sense in routing terms, it’s not remotely comparable on those grounds. Connecting Albuquerque to Santa Fe is about the only sensible route in the state of New Mexico. Lots of jobs in Santa Fe, lots of population in Albuquerque. Land purchase and construction was actually relatively cheap. And the Native American reservations (pueblos) which fill the intermediate space would go apoplectic if you suggested road widening instead.

    RailRunner’s problems stem from (1) ridiculously low fares (they’re finally raising them) and (2) it was designed on the assumption of population and job growth in New Mexico… and instead we have Great Depression II.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Or the Austin Red Line…

    Nathanael Reply:

    Stephen, what LaHood did was to stick to his guns and actually make sure that infrastructure got built. This deserves respect.

    For contrast, look at pretty much any other Obama Administration Department, which have repeatedly wussed out under even mild pressure from right-wing forces. Environmental regulations which have already been delayed for 10 years? We can delay them some more and weaken them! Gaaaaaaaah.

  5. Paulus Magnus
    Oct 14th, 2011 at 12:44
    #5

    1. Stupid is arguing over the cost benefit ratio of infrastructure spending when we have 10%+ unemployment and need stimulus.

    No, it’s not. Would you rather spend one billion dollars and create 50,000 jobs or spend one billion dollars and create 100,000 jobs? The latter of course, so in a funding constrained world, which we are in whether you like it or not, you have to look at *GASP*, a cost benefit ratio!

    2. Cost benefit ratios are aesthetics. You have an ideal – nice. I have a favorite color.

    Cost benefit ratios are critical for determining which projects are worthy of funding and prioritizing them. This should be blatantly obvious.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    This should be up in a reply to joe. No idea why the software bumped it down here.

    joe Reply:

    1. Cost benefit ratios are precise mathematical ratios of ambiguously defined benefits and costs under the present economic conditions. These are also excuses to do nothing.

    2. If you pretend there isn’t a massive recession and dire consequences for not fixing the problems with unemployment – people become unemployable over time, hunger, worsening conditions – then you’d say Fuck the ratio and get spending going NOW.

    Priority Who can start sooner.

    The cost benefit ratio of paying people to dig and fill holes is greater than what we are doing now.

    Joey Reply:

    The question of spending money efficiently applies to comparing one project to another, not to spending it on one project vs not spending it at all. Right now we have a shortage of transit funding and no shortage of projects that need it.

    joe Reply:

    I’d like to rename the cost/benefit ratio the Indecision Ratio or the Take The Money Back ratio.

    First “we” have no budget. I don’t and you don’t. It’s been allocated and getting that money allocated took work and it’s there to spend.

    We have 3+ Billion for HSR that will be lost if we do not spend it during a economic crisis and 20% unemployment. We have Prop 1A.

    So LA wants to take the ARRA and Prop 1A money and spend it on a more cost effective project.

    On what planet is that choice between HSR and Metro-what-ever possible?

    All transportation projects – in this economic setting, are priorities. We need to spend money and we need to stop attacking projects over cost/benefit/efficiency.

    The arguments are used as excuses to de-fund public transportation – all of it. Everywhere.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Only when they’re used by highway shills. When they’re used by people who give a damn about costs in general, they tend to defund highways as well as bad transit. The Seattle people tried to use the cost argument to kill a freeway tunnel; they lost the referendum, mostly because they were indecisive on whether to say the alternative would be cheaper transit or not.

    Joey Reply:

    As I have apparently failed to get accross in my other posts, I am speaking generally, not as a question of HSR-vs-something-else-right-now.

    My issue is that you seem to be saying that we shouldn’t assign any priorities to any of out transit projects (which we do anyway, but it’s done on a basis of political convenience rather than merit), even when it’s clear that one project has much more demand, much more potential ridership, much more congestion relief, job creation (including the “economic multiplier” effect you mention elsewhere) – perhaps you might like to consider that how much a project increases commerce might be related to how many people actually use the thing?

    Spokker Reply:

    joe, the strictly mathematical approach has its flaws, but the “think of every possible intangible benefit that infrastructure might offer and throw it in along with the kitchen sink” is also flawed.

    There are positive externalities offered by building HSR in the US but it isn’t so much that we throw out all reason when it comes to cost.

    joe Reply:

    I’m not asking to throw out all reason BUT in 2011 any project with funding or that can go forward should go forward regardless of imperfections or cost/benefit.

    Why?

    We need desperately the spending.

    I’ve seen attempts to prioritize R&D with Cost/benefit and it’s very difficult. You can’t do accurate hind-casting to assess why past successes worked so forecasting is very difficult. The best solution, IMHO, is to focus on process and checks on the quality of the investments.

    Transportation is different but still difficult. I would focus on process and not on emphasize cost/benefit analysis as a silver bullet.

    HSR in CA was formed around a project goal of connecting SF to LA within N minutes. It has ridership criteria and self-funding criteria. I think these constraints distort the project but they are what we have and it’s now go or no-go.

    Nathanael Reply:

    (1) The federal government is not in a funding constrained world. It prints money and there is no threat of inflation.

    (2) Yes, of course when comparing projects we should do the ones with better cost-benefit ratios, and of course we should avoid ones whose cost is greater than their benefits. But the numbers for all of these computations are incredibly vague and sloppy, so anything which appears to have a decent cost-benefit ratio (as opposed to a terrible one) is probably a good bet.

  6. Pete
    Oct 14th, 2011 at 12:53
    #6

    Has LaHood mention what he’s going to do afterwards? It would be nice to get him to CA and lead the CHSR authority

    Jon Reply:

    Back to the private sector. So, maybe indirectly?

  7. Nathanael
    Oct 15th, 2011 at 11:27
    #7

    Given Obama’s *horrendous* appointment record in the financial arena, and the pretty-bad results in the environmental and labor arenas, and the mediocre results in foreign policy… I think we just got lucky with Ray LaHood. Since you asked.

    Maybe we’ll get lucky again.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    You could ask Bin Laden about the foreign policy bit, if he were still alive.

    Not that Obama should get any credit, but still…

    Nathanael Reply:

    Obama has certainly been better than Bush about not ignoring urgent bulletins from his national security staff, sure. And deserves credit for that.

    Low standard, though. I did say “mediocre results” to contrast them with Bush’s “abysmal results”. Neither foreign policy has been as effective as that of Clinton, Bush the Elder, or Reagan (who I detested, but his foreign policy was effective for his goals).

  8. D. P. Lubic
    Oct 16th, 2011 at 07:01
    #8

    In other news, all 50 states are having their highways subsidized at the Federal level; there are no longer any donor states:

    http://www.narprail.org/cms/index.php/narpblog/highway_spending_exceeds_user_fees_government_accountability_office_reports/

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/commuting/states-get-back-more-than-they-put-into-highway-trust-fund-gao-report-says/2011/10/12/gIQAhBGchL_story.html

    http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-11-918

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Serious question: has it ever not been the case since the first federal-aid highways in 1917? User fees are a myth: gas taxes are charged from all roads, including ones that are not eligible for funding (and for a while were charged from farm machinery, railroads, and planes). If all bus fares are deeded to mainline rail, then Amtrak and most commuter rail systems will show windfall profits.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    I think what makes this different, what could make it important, is the matter of visibility (the Federal GAO is now saying this), and the matter of negative cash flow in the Trust Fund itself.

    For years, the Federal government’s trust fund did have an increasing balance, and the “road warrior” types could claim that roads were self-financing on the Federal level. They could say this because, as you have pointed out, the revenue came from all roads; the subsidies were “off the books,” as far as the Federal trust fund was concerned, as were the collections from other roads.

    But now, the Federal trust fund is in trouble (and has been since 2000, when cash flow first went negative). Some of the “road warrior” boys have made claims about diversions, but in truth, the diversions have been there for years before the turn to negative, and have remained constant in terms of dollars, and have actually shrunk when accounting for inflation.

    The real cause has been an increase in highway spending at the Federal level, without a corresponding increase in revenue–and now, the cat is out of the bag, and it’s official, too.

    Of course, I’m afraid we’ve all seen how the conservative-Republican-old-guys crowd has turned out to have serious problems with denial, so I’m afraid we are still playing a waiting game as far as generations are concerned.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    Heritage or Reason, I can’t remember which, had a thing a few years back abou lt which states contributed more in gas taxes than they received in funding, so it does happen.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Or maybe used to happen. . .depends on how old the report was. . .

    Nathanael Reply:

    Used to happen. Recent study showed that now ALL states contribute less in gas taxes than they receive in federal highway funding.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    I remember seeing this via the Tax Foundation. But that’s federal gas taxes vs. federal funding for highways, not exactly the same.

Comments are closed.