09 December, 2008


Just another Jacksonville rush hour

At a meeting of US Mayors, some very interesting items came up for consideration by the Public Transportation World. Stimulus is the catch word of the hour and everyone is looking for a piece of this golden fleece as the nation try's to spend itself rich.

Here in Jacksonville, our Mayor, John Peyton, just shocked the City last week with a call for a new $100 Million dollars of local spending to jump start the economy. Where pray-tell will the Mayor find $100 Million dollars laying around - useless? Why the funding for the Transit arm of our Transportation Authority of course. Currently the JTA enjoys a 1/2 cent on the dollar appropriation from the City. The Mayor wants to take that money away, money that was promised to the Transit Needy and Transit Savvy citizens of Jacksonville when we agreed to remove the tolls from our many bridges. So now Transit will have no toll money and no City money except that Peyton's big idea is to link the Transit funding with monthly sales tax revenue. In other words, 35+ years of Amtrak disasters look like success to this guy, after all, he now wants the same funding program for JTA.

I wonder if his daddy hadn't made a fortune in Gate Concrete and Gate Petroleum and bought him a mayoral ticket, how he would feel? He claims his $100 Million in new highways will create thousands of jobs and cause JaxPort (also know as The Port of Gold) to blossom even faster. Fat chance, (non transit type's should know that a single interchange can cost $150 Million). So where are these jobs going to come from? Not one mayor in any of the cities at the meeting had a clue. Tuscon, Arizona calculates that a $30 Million dollar road program in that City will cause 1,050 jobs. Certainly some sort of new version of the tired old "Trickle Down Economics" of Tricky Dicky and The Late Great Ronald Reagan.

If Jacksonville uses Tuscon's numbers as an example, the Mayors great rescue will amount to 3,500 new jobs in a metro of 1.4 Million people. BIG DEAL. One has to wonder how many of these jobs will be screeding concrete at Gate Products? Even if 500 of those jobs were professional trades and construction related, what happens when the money runs out? Of course we could just sell another bus. So are the other 3,000 jobs going to be burger flippers at the corner Gate Gas Station? You bet they will.

Oh but Mr. Mayor, you forgot that those folks won't make enough money to buy an automobile to get to work in this, the most sprawled, and largest City in land area in the Western Hemisphere. So they'll just take the bus right? OOP'S tossed those out for another guard rail on I-10, just another of our soon to be 4 interstate highways built with Gate Concrete.

Let's look at the mayors conference, from the Arizona Star:

$110 million for a new streetcar system that is scheduled to receive $87 million from the Regional Transportation Authority and requires only $75 million in new funding to complete.
Tucson Mayor Bob Walkup said the projects were included on the list submitted to the Conference of Mayors because that's what they wanted.

"They said 'Give us your list of things that are ready to go,'" he said.

Some of those on Tucson's list, however, are not on its five-year construction plan.

And Walkup said that if the feds picked up the tab for something like the streetcar project, "we'd probably have to pay them back."

Monday's report is in response to statements last month by President-elect Barack Obama saying he wants to create or save 2.5 million jobs by 2011.

Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, who chairs the conference, said that dovetails with the needs of cities that have infrastructure projects facing them.

"We need to invest where we can get the biggest return," Diaz said at a press conference in Washington. "We are not here for a bailout."

But if Tucson's job-creation figures are any indicator, the claim that projects from the 427 cities surveyed would create 850,000 jobs may be questionable.

Consider the item seeking $30 million for pavement rehabilitation and preservation, which Tucson says will mean 1,050 jobs.

Walkup said that does not mean 1,050 people filling potholes.

So where does the number come from?

"Nobody could explain it to me adequately," the mayor said. The best answer he got, Walkup said, was the idea that money spent on the projects would "trickle through our community."
"This is going to improve dry cleaners and people that are in the service industry by virtue of the fact that capital money is spreading," he said.

So Mayor Diaz of Miami says we need to invest where we'll get the most return. Great idea. Let's look at The Port Of Gold - JaxPort. Certainly nobody would suggest a Port that will triple in size in as many years should go wanting. But to rob the city of an already sketchy Bus System, and kill hopes for Rapid Transit in the process? That is just rabidly short-sighted. For all of these new Port highways, has one moments thought been given to a neutral railroad access or terminal company? Shhhh! We wouldn't want to tick off the resident brass hats in the CSX tower downtown.

But aren't Tuscon, Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Sarasota all planning streetcars. Yes they are but the Florida Cities won't let the cat out of the bag. Why? Maybe it's because Jacksonville has already raided the Ports from Seattle to Key West to Bangor, and positioned itself to become the second or third largest port in the nation in a few years. God knows we wouldn't want any of that success to spill over to Mass Transit.

What success you say? Well, Tuscon is planning a complete modern streetcar system for a mere $110 Million Dollars - COMPLETE. I'm sitting here with two studies on my desk that say Jacksonville could self fund and have Commuter Rail with rebuilt RDC cars up and running next year for about $50 Million or half of the Mayors highway hijinks's.

Would the Streetcars make money? Of course they will, they'll make as much as City Library System, The City Parks and all those roads the mayor is so fond of. But it's the fallout from streetcars that is so attractive to everyone but Jacksonville's leaders. Tampa, for example built a historic tourist type streetcar only a mile or so in length and has seen $1.5 Billion in economic development follow along it's route. Isolated case? I think not. St. Louis Metro-Link Light Rail, $4.5 Billion in new development, Portland, Oregon, has reaped a cool $6.5 Billion.

This isn't hamburgers Mr. Mayor, this is real development, condos, retail, light industrial and corporate headquarters that follow the rails wherever they lead.

Oh, I almost forgot, we have THE PORT. Who needs a $6.5 Billion dollar legacy project when our children's children look at those big chain link fences and say, "Teacher told me to thank Mayor Peyton for dat daddy." Of course the kids will have to have a way to get to the port and Peyton won't be getting any credit for that little oversight.

So here we sit on a pile of cash, able to self fund rail if we so desire. Keeping our brain trust in our neither region's has crippled the council, defamed the mayor, and sent the press off on wild tales about losing money on rail. They say a photo is worth 1,000 words so let me insert one for our consideration:

Meanwhile having blown the whistle on this self serving foolishness, I find myself deep in an old and familiar drama:

--Do not arouse the wrath....

-- Toto at my feet --

--CAMERA PANS right with him as he runs to a veil that hangs near the throne steps

-- PEYTON'S VOICE ...of the Great and Powerful PEYTON! I said -- come back tomorrow!

-- Bob speaks as he looks to the right

-- CAMERA PULLS back to Toto - starts to pull back Peyton's veil

--Bob, "If you were really great and powerful, you'd keep your promises, talk to you constituents and educate yourself!"

--PEYTON'S VOICE Do you presume to criticize the....

-- Toto pulls back the veil to reveal the Mayor at the controls of the throne apparatus

-- his back to the camera PEYTON'S VOICE ...Great PEYTON?

--You ungrateful 800 Pound Monster of Mobility!

-- The press folds and reacts with fear

-- PEYTON'S VOICE Think yourselves lucky that I'm...giving you audience tomorrow, instead of....

-- The Mayor at the controls -- his back to camera -- he speaks into the microphone

-- he turns, looks and sees that the veil is gone

-- reacts and turns back to the controls

-- PEYTON'S VOICE ...twenty years from now.

--Oh -- oh oh! The Great PEYTON has spoken! Oh -- Oh PEYTON'S VOICE Oh - I - Pay no.......attention to that man behind the curtain. Go - before I lose my temper! The Great and Powerful ---Peyton has... uh....yes....spoken.

This scene is repeated over and over all across America, as the grass roots Mass Transit Advocates try and educate the public. As for Jacksonville and the Oil and Concrete Mayor?

No disrespect intended Mr. Mayor, but you won't piss on my leg and tell me it's raining!

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The arguments rage to this date, "Should have never been built," "waste of taxpayer money," "Doesn't go anywhere," "Nobody rides it..." etc. Bottom line is we have it, and it is finally showing signs of life. Simple extensions to the Stadium, San Marco, and the area of Blue Cross in North Riverside would turn this little train around. Addition of Park and Ride garages and multimodal transit terminals at the end points would bring on the crowds. The video must have been shot on a Sunday Morning, as downtown is certainly as packed with life as any other major City on weekdays. Jacksonville is a city of Bikes, joggers, walkers, buses and cars, one almost wonders how the photographer managed to find this quiet moment.

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