Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Just the Facts, Please

If you had a choice of fighting a horrible project using facts or fantasy, you would pick the former option, right? Not if you’re Action Committee for Transit (ACT) and your target is the widening of I-270.

Here’s their new flyer illustrating a handful of transit projects that they say could be built instead of the $4+ billion road project.

There are three problems with this argument, all of which are known to ACT’s leadership. First, transit and road projects are financed by two different federal agencies using two different approval procedures. Canceling a road project does not automatically free up money for transit, an argument conceded even by I-270 opponent and Baltimore Sun reporter Mike Dresser.

Second, if highway proponents must deal with the difficulty of paying for I-270, transit proponents must also deal with the difficulty faced by their projects in making it through the Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts procedure. One of ACT’s recommended projects, the Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT), does not currently pass the federal cost effectiveness threshold as a rail project. If the CCT cannot pass, how about the much more expensive Red Line extension to Germantown that ACT is promoting? Or how about the MARC trains to Hagerstown that ACT also wants, which would pass through areas with much lower ridership potential than Montgomery County? ACT cannot prove that any of these projects will receive federal approval.

Third, neither ACT nor anyone else has any idea how much each of the transit projects other than the CCT will actually cost. That is because the state has not recently prepared the Draft Environmental Impact Statements (DEIS) on those projects required to produce those estimates. Even the Purple Line rail opponents in Chevy Chase paid for a third-party study to back up their arguments in favor of BRT. ACT’s claims are much bolder and have no comparable supporting documentation.

We are baffled why ACT would choose to market an unproven utopia rather than merely use the factual arguments against I-270 present in the state’s own data. The state admits that widening I-270 would increase vehicle miles traveled, raise pollutant levels, displace homes and adversely impact historic properties, wetlands and forest. Those are honest grounds for opposition that never made it onto ACT’s flyer.

When an organization chooses fantasy over fact in its communications to the public, that calls into question the accuracy of everything it claims. ACT has rendered valuable public service in promoting transit in the past that would not have been possible unless it met some basic threshold of credibility. We hope that ACT will abandon its propaganda, stick to the facts and get back on track.