Monday, March 10, 2008

Can we afford not to move to light rail?

An interesting story in the Daily Commercial News and Construction Record (a publication on the Canadian construction industry) took an interesting approach to transit development: How much will it cost us not to upgrade our infrastructure?

Looking into public policy work by some leading thinkers, Bruce Katz and Robert Puentes of the Brookings Institute, the story brings up some interesting points.

Looking at road, rail and air networks, they [Katz and Puentes] have concluded that their clogged state is threatening America’s economic health. And they have also concluded that the remedy is not a whole lot of relatively small infrastructure projects, but “big, well-targeted investments that improve transportation within and around” a few key cities.

Large, strategic investments have worked before, they write. Money spent to develop the railway system in the 19th century and huge expenditures to develop the highway system in the last century worked, they claim. They cite a recent study showing that “public investment in transportation in the 1970s generated a return approaching 20 per cent, mostly in the form of higher productivity.”

While an almost $4B expenditure on updating the transit infrastructure in Ottawa seems like a large expenditure, the long-term savings should offset the short-term costs. The costs currently being accrued to maintain the overwhelmed bus-only system are building up, and moving to light-rail could bring down a lot of the maintenance costs. Read a teaser for the book, 'Taking the High Road', published by Brookings here.

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