Brain Train Boondoggle and More TSPLOST

Ok, so ‘boondoggle’ is sensationalist, and I know that a lot of very smart people have studied it. However, I have always thought that the ‘Brain Train’ was at best a very expensive distraction that’s pushed because trains are a bit sexy right now among planners – justifiably so in many cases (the Northeast corridor), but not necessarily for Athens.

And so, it was good to hear Gordon McKenna at the TSPLOST forum give encouraging, but realistic talk about using TSPLOST money to buy buses to prove the demand for mass transit (among other things). The first step should be to run some GRTA-like buses operated by Athens Transit or UGA Transit doing the Brain Train route. It may or may not work – but that’s the point. A new bus costs about $400,000 and lasts for about 10 years (supposedly, according to procurement law) – which is a whole lot cheaper than even some of the consulting studies being bandied about. And a ‘build it and they will come’ strategy seems not only fantastical in such austere times, but also to run up against the anti-sprawl principles that many train advocates push. Anyway, run some subsidized buses and let’s see.

I think it’s telling when Alice Kinman says ‘we generate the revenue and we generate the votes.’ Kinman says she knows that rural areas need roads (I think Oglethorpe County might even offer to hug President Obama to get 78 four-laned), but this clashes not only with Athens’ needs, but also with many Athenian voters’ principles against sprawl. Would Athenians trade sprawl in Oconee (maybe a four-laned Mars Hill Rd) for some more Athens Transit buses and an expanded Greenway? That deal has the outlines of the tax deal that Obama and the Republicans signed in December – you give me what I want and I’ll give you what you want, even though we both hate what each other is getting.

There may have been principled opposition against the SPLOST 2010 because of the jail, but it passed regardless since it had just too many goodies. I see the same ultimately happening here – except without the Brain Train please.

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