Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Maglev and the expansion of the T-line

Pittsburgh is faced with two different projects. One, the Maglev project, is supposed to run from the airport, through downtown, out to Monroeville and Greensburg using a maglev train. A different project is an extension of the T line under the Allegheny River to connect with the two stadiums.

Which one to do? Probably neither. There is definitely not the demand for a high speed Maglev here in Pittsburgh, especially considering that USAir may be gone by the time groundbreaking occurs. A better option there would probably be to build a Las Vegas/Los Angeles line. You'd actually have demand on both ends of the line; ultimately it'd probably end up paying for itself.

Digging a tunnel under the Allegheny River? Not really necessary either. Who's going to take it? It's pretty easy to walk to the stadiums from downtown on game days, so it's not going to service downtown traffic. People who park at station square are probably going to continue to take the ferry boats across the river on game days. That leaves everyone south of town with access to the T who is willing to take the T to the game, not very many people.

If the money's going to be spent to dig something, a better use would definitely be to run a line out to Oakland, allowing commuters who ride the T to be able to take it all the way to Oakland without having to get out and take the bus. Students would also be able to take the T to Station Square, a popular destination. In essence, build a line that will be used daily, not a line that will only be used during game days in the summer and fall and not at all in the winter and spring.

Ideally, the money should be used to support the above ground services of the Port Authority (the bus system) which continually raises prices and cuts back on services. When will the government learn that the more people take the bus, the less problems they have with traffic congestion and pollution?

This really should be a moot point. Does the city government not realize that Pittsburgh is almost bankrupt as it is? Do we really need to be spending any more money expanding the T or building a maglev when we can barely cover police and fire services?


Foiler said...

I don't live in Pittsburgh, butI admire your zeal! Make the people care! That's what I do in my community, or try to anyway. :)

fester said...

I agree with your fundamental analysis, but I think that you are making one minor mistake and assuming that the money for these projects are fungible. I know that the Maglev appropriation is coming out of a federal experimental capital budget and it can not legally be transferred to operational costs of PAT. I also think that the capital costs for the T-extension (a dumb idea in my opinion) also is not federally fungible to operating or other non infrastructure costs. Finally from a city budget perspective, I do not think (I have not done the research though) that the city would incur any direct costs on financing capital projects for PAT or Maglev. The government support is coming out of county, state and federal funds, so the best argument, I think is that increased debt maitenance and operational subsidies are squeezing out county funds for other, more useful city projects.

Matthew said...

I understand that capital budgets and operational budgets generally can't be mixed, although I'm not sure how hard and fast that rule is. Regardless, my understanding is that the city would have to pony up at least some money in either case.

Regarding the tunnel under the T, the Post-Gazette reads "The Port Authority's 1.5-mile, $363 million project is one of five finalists recommended for federal grants nationally out of scores of applicants. If 80 percent funding is approved as officials hope, excavation is to begin in winter." Thus, the Port Authority would still have to cover $72 million on the [big] assumption that there would be no cost overruns. Could the Port Authority use this money elsewhere, even if it couldn't be used for operational expenses? I'd have to say yes...

As far as the Maglev goes, federal grants covered only 2/3 of the feasibility study with the remaining 1/3 being picked up by "local, state, and private matches. " The initial grant may (or may not) be entirely funded by the feds, but "Additional segments of the system would be financed by private and public partnerships."

Not to mention that we still pay for money that the federal government spends/wastes each year on April 15th!