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Sarasota Thursday, Nov. 3, 2011 4 years ago

Our View: Pull the rapid-transit plug

by: Observer Staff

The Sarasota County Commission continues to take steps toward a massively expensive, unnecessary and likely doomed bus rapid-transit system.

Last week the commission agreed to a workshop on the proposal which, like all such proposals, has ballooned in cost from $82 million to $100 million. More upward cost “adjustments” are all but certain.

The rapid-transit line would run from the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport south to Sarasota Memorial Hospital and require a dedicated, expanded lane of travel and stops. The idea is to help reduce north-south traffic congestion.

The Federal Transit Administration has funded most of a $1.5 million analysis of alternatives. The county pitched in about $300,000 of that. The mass of government bureaucracy will eat up a portion of the overall expenses. A study to meet the needs of the National Environmental Policy Act will also have to be done, along with all those of the myriad local, state and federal agencies.

Of the currently estimated $100.7 million cost, a maximum of $75 million could come from the FTA, leaving more than $25 million to come from Sarasota County and the state. The county report rosily expects the state DOT to come up with half of that.

There are at least three reasons against even continuing to spend county staff time and public dollars pursuing rapid transit:

• No one will ride it. Ridership on the rapid-transit buses will prove slim and disappointing. That is the history of mass transit everywhere outside of the most densely populated areas, such as Manhattan. Sarasota’s experience with its normal SCAT buses is that they are lightly used and heavily subsidized. And some of the rapid-transit riders will be those who would otherwise ride SCAT.

• It is too expensive. Total estimated cost of the project now is at $100.7 million. It has already gone up and, again, the experience of other locales is that the prices of these systems continue to inflate. (Look up how the cost of California’s high-speed rail project is now estimated at $98 billion, up from the original $43 billion.)

• The subsidy required annually is $1.56 million. That amount would be built into all future budgets, which will rise each year, and is on top of the existing, heavily subsidized SCAT budget. It will require more in taxes or less in other services.

County Commissioner Nora Patterson has it right: “I would have a rough time supporting BRT over libraries.” But that is the type of choice that will have to be made.

Here is how this likely will play out: The county will continue studying and holding meetings, spending thousands of dollars locally and millions in federal funds, but in the end will determine that it is unaffordable and unworkable. And the money spent on the studies will be wasted.

The only worse option would be for the county to decide to move ahead with a project that is doomed to be a financial black hole.


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