Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Money for Mass Transit from Bombers and Billionaires

On my mind this morning is the future prospect of Light Rail in Southwest Portland, Hillsdale (my neighborhood) and what is called the Southwest Corridor, which stretches from downtown to the towns of Tualatin and Tigard.

Our regional government is leading the effort to bring “High Capacity Transit” to the area. If all goes well, the new transit line would open sometime late in the next decade.

But the whole planning process is going off the tracks.

Yesterday the Southwest Corridor Steering Committee met and decided to slow down the decision-making process and key decisions until the fall.

The committee consists of elected officials from all the areas affected as well as transportation officials from the state and the region. They have to decide on routes (of which there are many options) and mode of transit (Light Rail or big, articulated buses on dedicated lanes).

Here in Hillsdale, we are lobbying the steering committee to put our commercial area on the chosen route. We prefer to be on a tunnel line that connects us with the Oregon Health Sciences University and Downtown.
The sticking point is cost. The tunnel is estimated to cost $2 billion (that’s a “B”).

Before federal gas tax revenues started to drop, the Feds picked up 90 percent of the costs of Portland’s Light Rail projects (we now have five). But the revenue drop as led the Feds to scale their share back to 50 percent.

At the steering committee yesterday one of the members jokingly asked a representative from OHSU whether the big medical complex was
in touch with Phil Knight, the deep pocket-billionaire of NIKE fame.

The “joke” was emblematic of how this society is privately rich for the very few and publicly destitute for the many.

I wish this weren’t a joke. Why do we have to go hat-in-hand to billionaires to serve the public good? When will we as a society realize that justice, fairness, and, the general good, can not harbor billionaires?

Then there is the disconnect between projects like mass transit and our government’s willingness to throw money at non-productive and/or destructive, murderous weaponry.
The cost of a B-2 stealth bomber was put at $2.1 billion back in 1997. One can only guess what one of these killing machines costs today but the dated cost of just one is more than that of our desired transit tunnel. The tunnel would serve thousands every day. The planes are being “used” (if that’s the right word) in Afghanistan today. Whom are they serving?

When, if ever, will this country get it right?

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