Keep rail alive

Published 7:54 am Monday, November 29, 2010

It is a shame that one of the prime targets of the newly elected, budget-and-tax-oriented governors and legislators around the nation seems to be light rail. It is understandable that these politicians have taken aim at rail programs — they are not particularly popular in our automobile-centered country. Light rail does, however, have the potential to be a major part of future environment-friendly and fuel-conscious transportation needs.

Any Minnesotan who has traveled through the metropolitan area during the so-called rush-hour (really about a three-hour period morning and evening) should be able to see that the way we’ve done transportation for many years just doesn’t work. Despite endless freeway construction, the traffic just keeps getting worse, more gasoline is burned and the air quality becomes poorer. So if what we’re doing doesn’t work, isn’t it time to try something different? Not if you’re a politician who needs to show a desire to cut spending. The easiest course is to take aim at things that are different and not widely popular, so that is what the newly elected are doing. The latest issue is with a planned multi-state rail system that would have sped people around the Midwest with relatively little fuel and environmental cost — but which is now likely to flounder because Wisconsin’s new governor hates the idea.

Even if drivers can tolerate congestion, the simple reality is that transporting one person per car doesn’t make good sense. It uses far too many resources and there are alternatives available.

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Light rail can’t quickly or immediately replace all the money spent now on roads and highways. But without a solid start, taxpayers are on an endless treadmill of paying for more, newer and bigger roads. There’s no doubt that government spending needs to be reduced. Alternative transportation is not one of the smarter places to make those reductions.