Government Spending

A Desire Named Streetcar[*]: Queen City Express

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The Queen City of Cincinnati faces a $51.5 million deficit next year, "its largest ever." So now is a perfect time for the council of elders to give "a green light…to a proposed streetcar system by endorsing plans to spend $2.6 million on preliminary expenses" for a $128 million project (sure to get more expensive the second track starts getting laid). To be fair, the actual city's share of the project is a measly $64 million (sure to go up the second track starts getting laid).

What is it about rail projects that sets elected officials' hearts a-thumping like a horny cartoon wolf in an old Bugs Bunny short? Is it simply a collective unconscious compulson borne out of old Rice-a-Roni ads?

The rest of the funding for this streetcar project will come from the usual sources: a state government that is currently broke and about to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on its stupid rail endeavor and a federal government that is currently broke and about to spend billions on a stupid rail endeavor.

The Cincinnati Enquirer gives a short history lesson about how these projects have turned out in the past. And a glimmer into the mind of streetcar supporters:

The council's decision, they warned, one day could rank with the biggest transit flop in its history – an aborted subway that left behind miles of empty tunnels and a $13 million debt from a 1916 bond measure that still was being paid off a half century later….

But the vast majority of Monday's speakers, many of them college students and twentysomething professionals, disagreed, hailing the vote as one that points Cincinnati toward a promising future in which the streetcar's potential benefits will expand citywide.

"Now is not the time for the same old Cincinnati," said Casey Coston of North Avondale, who moved here from Detroit. "Build it, and more will come."

More here.

Seriously: moving into the future with a 19th century technology! It's just crazy enough to work! And sadly, this sort of idiocy is hardly confined to a slump-town like Cincinnati. Variations are coming to a town exactly like yours, alas.

[*]: Hat tip to Cato's David Boaz and Randal O'Toole, who long ago put this phrase into circulation with all of its latent meaning made manifest. Update: As Jacob Sullum reminds me (and as is apparent to anyone who clicks on the link in this paragraph), the reversed title appeared in a 1996 Reason article, which may well be the first usage in a policy setting.

For your viewing pleasure, 3 Reasons Why Obama's High-Speed Rail Will Go Nowhere Fast: