In the spring issue of CommonWealth magazine (which I edit), [David] Luberoff made a provocative case [free registration required] against the environmental rationale for the Big Dig-related transit plans, now the subject of renewed litigation by the Conservation Law Foundation, which extracted the state commitment 14 years ago. Luberoff argues that the state's own analyses have shown that these projects, including the extension of the Green Line through Somerville and into Medford (which the administration continues to support on an even bigger scale), will do very little to clean the air or relieve traffic congestion - the two major environmental goals for the projects - and that they will do so at very high cost.I am by no means the first person (I may well be the last) to note that, when it comes to modern American liberalism, there is no there, there. Conservatives obsess about defining conservatism, coming up with a unified theory of conservatism, retelling the history of conservatism and, best of all, tossing other people out of conservatism. Liberals have the "tossing people out" thing down pat, but otherwise seem to shy away from examining the underpinnings of their beliefs. Liberalism is, I've said, more of an aesthetic than an ideology.
For a price tag of $621 million, Luberoff shows, based on 2004 state estimates, these projects would eliminate no more pollutants than could be accomplished by giving tune-ups to a couple of hundred automobiles that don't meet current emissions standards. ''In fact,' he writes, ''the state probably could identify and replace each of those 200 cars with a Toyota Prius hybrid vehicle for about $5 million, which is less than 1 percent of the cost of the three transit projects.'
Luberoff is equally dismissive of the idea that the three transit projects would relieve traffic congestion. They are expected to serve roughly 6,500 people daily, barely making a dent in the 770,000 who drive into Boston every day - despite the outsize cost. At $375 million to carry 3,500 people, the Green Line extension as originally conceived would add $16 million in debt service to the already beleaguered MBTA budget, or $18 a day per new rider for debt, plus $1 to $2 in operating subsidy. Cost per passenger would be a bit lower for the Red-Blue connector, but three times higher for renewed Arborway trolley service.
Now, I think that I have been somewhat unfair. Liberalism is not simply an aesthetic movement. It also has its religious aspects: it is as if some particularly virulent pagan sect had survived alongside Judeo-Christianity over the last three millennia, going through similar reformations, evolutions and growth. That is, liberals are like the United Church of Baal, which rather than seeking to have us sacrifice babies on the idol's fiery alter, seek to have us pay higher taxes for light rail demonstration projects. Nothing will be accomplished, but the god will be propitiated.
Originally posted May 22, 2005
[Note: The Baal series of posts and comments have always been among my favorites. This post, though, is now chiefly notable for the comment thread:
The congestion problem will be relieved when the Dig collapses and folks can't drive into the city.]
Posted by: oj at May 22, 2005 06:24 PM
If only that were a joke.
Posted by: David Cohen at May 22, 2005 06:35 PM
The floods will come before the collapse.
If $15 billion for the freeway didn't propitiate Baal (hard to believe a half-mile tunnel in Boston cost more than the Chunnel), it's hard to believe $625 mill for the Green Line will. Baal's appetite is insatiable. Luckily, we have the taxpayers of western Massachusetts to help us out.
Posted by: pj at May 22, 2005 07:09 PM