Mass transit plea

Having been rather frustrated by the lack of much serious discussion of guiding any of the so-called stimulus money towards investment in much needed mass transit infrastructure upgrades, I decided to compose a letter to my two Senators and one local Representative asking them to work towards this agenda. I’ve attached my text below, and I implore registered USA voters to send a similar letter to their own congressional delegation, and to pass along a request to potentially interested registered voters you know. So few people actually write politicians on these issues that a surprisingly small number of contacts can, on occasion, spur them to take at least a mild stand on an issue. This is the first time in many years that Congress has even considered taking an interest in mass transit/rail investment and we mustn’t let it pass without at least making this petty effort.

My Senators, being a registered NJ voter are: Menendez and Lautenberg, and my Rep is Pascrell.

Dear Senator,
As a New Jersey resident who commutes via New Jersey Transit to Manhattan and the NYC Subway, and uses personal automobiles fairly little, I believe that this is a lifestyle that works well, and could work well for much more of America given the proper infrastructure. This is why I am appalled to hear how little of the $850 Billion “stimulus package” is being devoted to mass transit projects. Allegedly this money is reserved for so-called “shovel ready projects”, which have already been largely planned and need funding to complete. Well, don’t we have a lot of those in the greater New York-New Jersey rail system? From the infamously delayed and underfunded Second Avenue Subway or reopening of abandoned Station Island Railroad lines in NYC to the Trans Hudson Express Tunnel, the indefinitely postponed Newark Elizabeth Light Rail, the proposed Passaic-Bergen Line or Monmouth Ocean Middlesex Line or restoration of the Lackawanna cutoff or other well-preserved legacy train lines, New Jersey and NYC could easily soak up all $10-15 Billion of the money already allocated for mass transit.

And of course this is without considering larger scale projects such as the reconstruction of ancient electrical and signaling systems on the Northeast Corridor that forces Amtrak to run at half the average speed the same the same train gets in Europe, expansion of light rail throughout the nation’s urban centers in such a way that reduces auto-driver sprawl and promotes the natural growth of walkable railway station-centered towns like the ones we are lucky enough to have in many parts of New Jersey, or even increased investment in efficient busing plans.

Perhaps this agenda is too ambitious for a “stimulus” bill and required a different venue. This is an argument that would make sense, but it needs to be made publicly and we need to be having at least preliminary discussions about a long term infrastructure improvement bill at the same time that the stimulus package is being debated. Without serious and expensive investment in infrastructure the country will decay.

If you look at a rail map of the New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania area from the 1920s or so you will see dozens of rail lines which have fallen into disrepair, or no longer exist at all except as scattered traces. Much of our former local rail system, and almost all long distance passenger rail, was allowed to degrade at the same time that the national highway system was being built up after World War II, and for all the decades since there has been a dismal lack of political support for halting and reversing this decline. The last few years have seen a modest reversal, including significant investment in New Jersey Transit, light rail in several small and medium size cities, such as Seattle, Denver, Honolulu and many others, and most recently funding for high speed rail in California.

We have also seen the negative effects that a complete emphasis on highways and automobiles has had on the development of America in recent decades, from the obvious and well known environmental damage to less obvious effects such as the destruction of localized communities in favor of vast tracts of homogenized strip malls, and even some measure of contribution to the obesity crisis. The highway system has of course served well and must be maintained into the future, but it is time for a radical shift in our future infrastructure investment priorities. I hope that as one of the Senators of the State of New Jersey you will make it one of your top priorities to fight for a transit investment agenda along the lines of what I have asked for in this letter-not just for New Jersey, but for each of the United States.

Roy Berman

6 thoughts on “Mass transit plea”

  1. As someone who has a 4 hour train commute to NYC, I concur with the the need for railroad infrastructure improvement.

    But the argument shouldn’t be railroads vs. highways. It should be transportation and infrastructure allocations vs. the rest of the lard in the “stimulus” package that has nothing to do with stimulus.

    Obama has an opportunity to turn this bill into actual stimulus. Instead, it turns into a Democrat Congressional wishlist to pay off their constituents. Obama needs to take the lead, not Nancy Pelosi.

    Since my representative is a Republican (Lance), so my letter will be to urge the Republicans to present a bill emphasizing tax cuts, payroll holidays, and making sure any spending is linked to immediate stimulation of the economy.

  2. I don’t think it has any particular problems, although the whole national grid needs to be upgraded. Why?

  3. So the train speed problems are not related to the grid in general? I heard that things were pretty bad and thought that this might be a factor.

  4. The trains that run on the Amtrak Northeast Corridor are physically capable of something like 200 mpg, and are limited by law to about 150 mph, but actually only travel an average speed of something like 85mph. There are a number of reasons for this, of which one is the age of the overhead electric “catenary”, which was built in the 1930s. This has nothing to do with the general electrical grid, only the system that directly feeds power to the train as it travels. Other problems include old and out of date bridges and tracking in certain areas, overly curved track in much of the route, and a bunch of other things that would be really nice to get fixed.

  5. I got a reply from the office of Senator Menendez:

    Dear Mr. Berman:

    Thank you for contacting me regarding improvements to our national infrastructure. Your opinion is very important to me, and I appreciate the opportunity to respond to you on this critical issue.

    Due to crumbling infrastructure across the nation, an overburdened air travel system, and transit systems that are grossly underfunded, improving our state and national infrastructure is one of my top priorities. That is why, as a member of the Budget Committee, I fought the most recent budget cuts to highway/bridge spending, Amtrak funding, and airport and runway improvements. I look forward to working with a new Administration in the next Congress that will give national infrastructure the emphasis and funding it so desperately needs. Please rest assured that I will continue to push for making major new investments in our public transportation infrastructure to make traveling and commuting easier, spur economic growth, and reduce our environmental footprint.

    Again, thank you for sharing your thoughts with me. Please do not hesitate to contact me if I may be of more assistance. I invite you to visit my website to learn of other important issues to New Jersey.

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