Saturday, December 24, 2011

Most expensive rail in the world?

"And building the 3.4 miles of light rail would cost nearly $300 million."
--  Jeff Gerritt (Detroit Free Press)

The Light-Rail project was canceled recently in Detroit.  Officially, it was canceled due to Detroit's crashing finances and for lack of a regional transit authority.

After reading a Free Press editorial, the real reason is math.

The plan was to spend $300 million dollars on 3.4 miles of track.  That's $88 million-per-mile, or $16,711-per-foot.  Apparently, the tracks are made of precious metal that must be guarded to keep thieves from scrapping it.

Troy's recent decision to cancel its $8 million, 2500 square-feet transit station brought out a lot of comparisons between the Detroit and Shanghai metropolitan areas, mostly about how backward-thinking Troy's city council and other regional leaders are (I'm being euphemistic--the actual statements were much more insulting).

Construction costs for the the mag-lev in China are approximately $28 million-per-mile ($18mm/Km), and could get passengers from Downtown Detroit to Pontiac in less than 10 minutes.  

And according to other estimates--it will be self-funding.

We could go on-and-on about the comparisons, like relative distance between end-points in China and Detroit, the number of people in China and Detroit, the population trends between China and Detroit, the daily ridership, the population density between China and Detroit, and the minimum wage between China and Detroit, but only the minimum-wage is in Detroit's favor.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Oakland County commissioners prove party more important than policy

The Michigan State Legislature recently passed a bill, ready for the governor's signature, that limits the maximum number of commissioners for county's with more than 50,000 residents to 21.

If citizens knew nothing more about that, the major topic of conversation should be, "How does reducing the number of commissioners affect my representation?"

If citizens knew little more than that, but that reducing the number of commissioners might save the county $500,000 in pay and benefits by 2013, and $2.5 million by the next census (the math doesn't work out but I'm quoting here), citizens might amend their first question to, "Is saving $500,000/year in our cash-stretched county worth diluting my potential influence 7.4%?  If so why not cut another two commissioners and save $1 million by 2013?"  Or perhaps declare, "No loss in representation is worth a measly $500,000 by 2013."

But instead of debating policy issues, or whether the number should be reduced at all, or whether having county commissioners responsible for drawing districts as the legislature does for the state is a better idea than a committee that includes two non-elected county party chairs, Democrats are crying about end-runs around the first redistricting plan they've had a majority over in years.

The 25th district is represented by Craig Covey (D), former mayor of Ferndale until his election to the county commission.  Now on the commission, instead of representing his district on the weightier issue of diluting voters' representation for a debatable cost savings, Covey's arguing about which political party is best represented and served by redistricting.
"A years ago, I came here excited and filled with energy — today I'm crushed," said Commissioner Craig Covey, D-Ferndale, minutes before walking out on other votes."
Seven of 10 Democrats on the Oakland County Board of Commissioners walked out of a Board meeting Thursday after failing to get support from their Republican colleagues to oppose a redistricting measure in Lansing that seeks to decrease the number of county commissioners, among other changes.
County Commissioners may not be paid as much as state legislators or City of Detroit councilpersons (one of the few full-time councils even for big cities), but I'm pretty sure voters don't need what diluted representation they do have in government walking out of meetings because they're more incensed at how their political party was "dissed."

Which is really what politics has become about, a myopic take-no-prisoners capture-the-flag by-any-means-necessary battle whose first priority is party-control and thoughtful policy-making and moderates are casualties of war.

Oakland County is the biggest loser in this latest tantrum because it's Oakland County's voters that are being cheated out of the real debate--by all its commissioners.  And instead of discussing public policy like mature adults, our commissioners are arguing which party got the biggest scoop of ice-cream.