Streetcars may be coming to a street near you in many cities.
What links Boise, Cincinnati and Charlotte — and Salt Lake City, Dallas, Atlanta and Kansas City, where streetcar tracks abandoned in 1953 still poke through the city’s weathered asphalt — is they’re among dozens of local governments hoping their modern street projects will benefit from federal grants, including $1.5 billion in stimulus funding due to be awarded by mid-February 2010.
In all, some 80 U.S. cities have streetcar proposals, the American Public Transportation Association says, a trend bolstered by President Barack Obama’s signal he’s more inclined to pump federal dollars into streetcars than was President Bush.
Foes, however, dismiss trolleys as “toy trains” that benefit special interests and promote profligate public spending. The rush for easy federal cash, they argue, is obscuring the reality that cities will eventually rely on taxpayers to subsidize lines; federal dollars go only for construction.
Yeah, well, foes of light rail here in Houston often called the Main Street line a “toy train”. It wasn’t a cogent criticism then, and it isn’t one now. To most of these guys, any spending, at least on stuff they don’t approve of, qualifies as “profligate”. My gas tax dollars help to subsidize plenty of highways that I never drive on. Either these things provide a useful service that’s worth paying for or they don’t. That’s how they should be judged, not whether or not public funding should be used on them. Do what makes sense.