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Paul Sharp: Public transit is a 'phony' miracle

A FrontRunner train moves through in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016.
A FrontRunner train moves through in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

State Senate President Wayne Niederhauser cries for more “transit” and “TOD.”

The whole transit/rail idea has been cunningly oversold by rail and related construction entities that concocted the idea of tying their overhyped products and services to PC-bound environmentalism, then maneuvered a sellout through Washington legislators to divert great chunks of federal highway funds to rail. The environmentalists are wired into it because they oppose all new growth, especially roads and highways.

If everyone had to pay the actual costs of their train rides there would be few riders. Every time someone pays $2 for a TRAX ride, the rest of us cough up $6 or $10, depending on whether or not the original and ongoing construction expenses are taken into account. Real costs are seldom discussed or disclosed. Hardly 5 percent of the north-south traffic in the Salt Lake Valley is by train because it’s so impractical, not even factoring in the gold-plated salaries, bonuses and bureaucracies that come with the transit empires, the unions and strikes, terrorism vulnerabilities and overall folly of transportation being government-controlled in the first place.

The wild promises failed (predictably), so the new transit cry is: “TOD!” The very terminology “Transit-Oriented Development,” which really should be called “Train-Oriented-Development” because it has little to do with buses, is a blatant admission of the massive failure of urban rail. After spending billions on hardware, stations and associated systems, redesigning streets and clogging traffic, as well as building and operating only through monumental and continuous taxpayer subsidies, it still isn’t working and they still want more tax increases in an attempt to increase ridership by trying to force building the rest of the world around the train lines.

Here’s a flash for legislators and the rest of the PC enviro-transit crowd: Most people don’t want to live in “transit-dense” housing or locations, and they definitely don’t want to raise children there. Utah legislators want people to think that families are the basis of society,” yet we continually do all kinds of things to discourage that. Stacked up housing along rail corridors is more like "existing" than "living." And by the way, don’t hold your breath waiting for legislators — or UTA board members or Envision Utah elitists — to sell their homes and move into TOD housing. The current suggestion of getting UTA out of “projects” (TOD in particular) is an excellent idea that should be immediately implemented.

Salt Lake City isn't London, Tokyo or New York and never will be. Transit will never provide solutions comparable to the power and convenience of individual transportation on adequate roads and highways. Roads don't need to be particularly more expensive relative to the value of the dollar now than they were in the past. Remember that little stretch of freeway called the Legacy Highway? It was opposed not because of "wetlands" or any valid reasons, but because enviro-kooks resorted to lawsuit extortion that tripled the cost.

Governmental bodies have kept their heads in the sand instead of practicing intelligent planning and saving over the years for crunch times. Failing to budget and save for infrastructure maintenance is like buying candy and toys instead of saving for the house payment. If cars cause pollution, fix the cars. Help achieve pollution-improved vehicles. Get on with building the necessary roads. And fix the pothole-filled roads we already have! Cease deliberately causing congestion with stolen traffic lanes, disappearing parking, bicycle madness and “walkable” nonsense. Stop trying to build up the central city; there’s no reason modern technological society can’t diversify work locations across broad areas rather than continually funneling things into expensive downtown areas. Encourage working from home and teleconferencing (family-friendly), more geographically dispersed business centers and so on. There are numerous intelligent options to the transit phony miracle.

Paul Sharp is a Salt Lake citizen with an interest in transportation infrastructure issues spanning many years.