President Obama said in his stimulus—ooops, jobs—speech last night that not a penny of his proposed $447 billion spending will go toward building "bridges to nowhere." But apparently "trains to nowhere" are just fine.
Days before the president took to the podium, his Federal Transit Administration gave the green light to my fair city, Detroit, to build a light rail on Woodward Avenue—an area more lifeless than Robert Byrd, the West Virginia senator who died last year. According to Megan Owens, the executive director of Transit Riders United, a Detroit-based advocacy group, the transit administration's approval raises the likelihood that the project—whose price tag is expected to be $500 million —will go forward from 80 percent to 90 percent. About $300 million of this will be paid by you, dear readers, and your fellow federal taxpayers
The Woodward rail is supposed to be the first leg of a regional transit system linking Detroit to surrounding counties. But no one in Michigan has a clue how the rest of the project—whose total cost will run into tens, even hundreds, of billions of dollars—will be financed. There is talk about getting Detroit's neighboring counties to impose a transit tax on businesses and residents. But the likelihood of that happening is the same as my dog being reborn as Albert Einstein given the bitter rivalry between Detroit and them. In any case, Michigan, whose unemployment rate is over 14 percent, needs a transit tax like it needs a bullet in its head.
So the odds are that the Woodward rail will be built. And for a few years Detroit's construction workers will live well. And then the rail will be inaugurated with great fanfare. And then it will run empty at a loss for decades, sucking poor Detroit taxpayers drier and drier and hastening their exodus from the city. And then it will return to nature as the area where it is being built is already in the process of doing.
For some vivid footage, watch Reason.tv's absolutely brilliant segment on the project here.