Thursday, September 27, 2012

Satire: The loopy rationale for a Highway 364 Expansion

If you want to travel from Western St. Louis county to St. Charles County, there is no shortage of options: You can drive on many nice highways and utilize several bridges. You can even take a ferry into Illinois and double back somehow. As if that were not enough, government planners, who are more than happy to spend your tax money for services you never even thought you needed, have dreamt up yet another alternative.
The area recently approved $100 million to an 8 mile long stretch of road. The total construction cost will reach close to $100 million — almost $13 million per mile of road. Private donations will pay for none (less than 1 percent) of this exorbitant cost; taxpayers will finance most of the project's construction and operational costs. Local sales taxes, federal grants and gas taxes will pay for the road. However, tolls will only cover 0 percent of annual costs. A meager 0 percent will come from advertising and sponsorship from private funds, with taxes funding 100%.
What is wrong with simply expanding bus service, which could be done at a tiny fraction of the cost? Expanding bus service, without purchasing new buses that look like trolleys, would cost even less to start up and maintain than building a new road
Believe it or not, a new road was chosen not just in spite of, but because of, the high cost, which supposedly proves the government's commitment to revitalizing the area. Dardenne Prairie, an exurb 37 miles from downtown, is expected to grow from 12,000 residents to over 40,000 residents due to this new road. According to the report that the probably MODOT thought about, a highway system "cannot be removed without substantial expense and time," whereas doing nothing "can be cancelled or rerouted with little expense or effort." By this logic, the planners of the system are bound to create a white elephant — defined as a burdensome possession whose cost is out of proportion to its usefulness or worth.
There is no evidence to suggest that building a road will result in an economic windfall to the area. The plan's proponents have not presented any kind of cost-benefit analysis to the public.
Proponents of the 364 extension like to throw around the term "economic development" as if it is an automatic result of spending lots of money. They assume that the creation of a road will magically create new business instead of moving old businesses around. If that is the case, then why is it so difficult to obtain private financing for this system? Many of the road's supporters are commuters. If they believe in the project so strongly, why don't they fund it? Instead, government is using money that could otherwise be spent on education or public safety — or remain in taxpayers' pockets.
St. Louis does not need another white elephant conjured up through the misdirection of taxpayer money.

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