Sometimes car dealers let you take a car home right away and pay for it later. Benefit now, pay later. Too bad it’s just the opposite with light rail. If Hawaii moves ahead with plans to hike taxes to pay for rail, taxpayers will be forced to pay now, but benefits like congestion relief will come much later, that is, if they come at all.
Consider California. In 1981 San Diego became our nation’s first light rail city, San Francisco’s heavy rail system (BART) predates San Diego’s rail by several decades, and though it’s often regarded as Car Capital USA, Los Angeles has spent a long time building the nation’s second largest commuter rail system. Yet congestion continues to mount; in fact, LA and San Francisco have the nation’s worst traffic. In San Diego and LA even telecommuters outnumber rail commuters.
Plans for more rail are in the works, but officials still expect that — even by 2030 — over 90 percent of commuters in California’s three largest metro areas will get to work by car.
Why does it take rail so long to make an impact? It simply takes much longer to create a rail network from scratch than to add to the existing road network, and steep costs make the wait for rail’s benefits even longer.
Yes it costs much more to build rail than roads, but rail also has a long established reputation for cost escalation. Public officials quote one price, but then later on, costs shoot up. Sure, cost hikes plague all kinds of transportation projects, but rail projects