Hired critic: Light rail won’t work | AspenTimes.com

Hired critic: Light rail won’t work

The light-rail system proposed for Aspen will surely fail to reduce traffic congestion and promises to be a financial fiasco, two of the nation’s best-known light-rail critics said yesterday.

“You can count on one thing with light rail – it will cost you more than you expect,” said Wendell Cox last night at the Wheeler Opera House. How much? Using figures he says come from the National Academy of Science, Cox estimates that rail construction costs between 50 and 100 percent more than anticipated, while day-to-day operating costs generally run about 50 percent above expectations.

Cox was particularly skeptical of the Entrance to Aspen documentation that estimates the light-rail system will cost just 28 cents per passenger mile by 2020.

“The best-run system in the country runs for $1.02 per passenger mile. We are being asked to believe that Aspen can somehow run a light-rail system for 70 percent less than the best-run system in the country,” he said.

Cox, a consultant based in Illinois, was in town with Jon Caldara, former president of the board of RTD, Denver’s transit agency, to speak at a Common Sense Alliance forum called “The Truth About Rail.” Cox was paid to appear, Caldara wasn’t; said organizer Jeffrey Evans.

The event drew about 75 people, most of whom, judging from their response, appeared to be in favor of rail.

The evening opened with comments by Aspen City Councilman Tony Hershey, labeling rail “the ultimate red herring.

“It has distracted us from the real issue – making Highway 82 safe for residents and visitors,” he said.

Caldara then spent 20 minutes explaining why he believes rail will always fail.

Mobility is the real question, he said. “Show me a man whose mobility is limited to how far his legs will take him, and I’ll show you a man who is in distress.”

Some of the points he made include: public transit is the way to subsidize people’s mobility if they can’t afford a car; rail is a century-old technology that is embraced now because of people’s romantic nostalgia about trains; the people who say rail works are the same ones who are going to profit from its construction; and the average speed of light rail in Denver is just 14.5 mph.

“I know people who can skateboard faster than our light rail cars,” he said.

Rail, he added, does not go where people need to go, which in Denver is from one suburb to another. He urged people to ride buses and political leaders to accommodate rubber-wheeled transportation instead of steel-wheeled, fixed-guideway systems, like rail.

Cox says he got involved with politics in the 1970s in Los Angeles because he thought rail was the solution to that city’s growing traffic problem. He has since devoted his career to fighting the idea of rail.

He said that no rail system built since 1975 has reduced congestion, and use of new rail systems is never as high as anticipated.

In the end, he reckons, cost overruns in construction and operation could be devastating to a community the size of Aspen. “You can’t raise taxes high enough to cover the operating deficits and the cost overruns that will come with this system.”

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