Monday, October 24, 2011

Using the anti-Amtrak Argument on Highways.

Over the past year or so, the Wall Street Journal has turned into a regular critic of rail transportation in general and Amtrak in particular. A recent column took Amtrak to task for not being profitable – of course! – and for needing government subsidies to operate. Essentially, it said the railroad should either break even or be shut down as a failure.

Regular visitors here have often read my response to that argument … that all forms of public transportation are subsidized by government – from the airlines to bike ways and sidewalks – as, indeed, they damn well should be in a modern, civilized society.

I recently came across a wonderful collection of pro-rail writings culled and assembled by Jack Ferry for his internet column, The Observation Car. One suggested that a good way to expose the phony arguments used by the WSJ to attack Amtrak would be to apply that same “logic” in a critique of this country’s Interstate Highway System. What a wonderful and wicked idea! I took some of those thoughts, tweaked and added some of my own, and came up with the following:

Highways – America’s Bottomless Money Pit

WASHINGTON--Despite the fact that a record number of Americans traveled by car last year, it’s time for the federal government to stop subsidizing interstate highways. It was an interesting idea back in the 1950's, but after 60 years and hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars, the Interstate Highway System has never once turned a profit.

Even with massive taxpayer subsidies, the costs continue to rise. Roads are wearing out, bridges are falling down, and there is no money to fix any of it without huge new infusions of taxpayer dollars. In this era of record deficits, can we really afford to keep pouring billions every year into this failed venture?

The interstate highway system has not only failed to provide any return of investment to American taxpayers, but it is now clear that this government run system will never even earn enough to pay for itself. To cut its losses, the federal government should sell off the interstates to any private entrepreneurs who believe there is a possibility of turning a profit from them.

The time has come to stop throwing good money after bad and bring this failed experiment to an end.

So ... What's good for rail travel should also be good for highways. D’ya think anyone at the Wall Street Journal will get it?

Uh, no … probably not.


Drew James said...

Jim, what a great post. I often bring up this counterpoint when making the case for Amtrak. It is amazing that somehow Amtrak is supposed to turn a profit, but no other mode of transportation is held to that standard!

Drew James

JIM LOOMIS said...

I know ... makes me crazy!

Drew James said...

When NARP tried to brief my Tea Party rep on the benefits of Amtrak, she actually denied that the Federal Gov't subsidizes the air transport system!

JIM LOOMIS said...

That is the single most frustrating thing about NARP's efforts to advocate more and better rail service: elected officials who are willfully ignorant. As a revered former English teach of mine was wont to say upon reading one of my essays, "It is to weep!"