1) Please explain how you plan on benefiting personally as the result of passenger rail in the LV. Do you intend to run for Lehigh County Exec?
I will personally benefit from rail in the Lehigh Valley because I will save gas money. Of course, so will thousands of other people. I am not considering running for County Executive, besides I would be a terrible politician. I would make statements like "Homeownership is a Privilege, not a Right" or some other politically incorrect thing.
2) Is your wife the same Joyce Marin who was appointed CED director in Allentown?
Yes, last time I checked. She’s fantastic. Hi Honey!
3) Federal dollars only support half the cost of these projects. The challenge is finding the local funding. The State has already told Marin that there is 'no money' for this project, therefore, the Counties will have to fund the 50% share. Is anyone ready to support a local dedicated tax for passenger rail service from Easton to Phillipsburg? The Counties might consider $75,000 a small amount to throw at this effort just to keep Joyce and Paul happy, but it is the tip of the iceberg. Do you expect the counties to pay for this?
There is serious discussion at the federal level about a national infrastructure bank. Both houses of Congress have passed bills to provide grants for rail construction. Governor Rendell has personally appealed to Congress to add infrastructure to the economic stimulus package, because this will help get our economy back on track. So I think there is going to be new money coming down the pike.
Regardless of the exact federal funding used, however, there is almost always a local match required. Funding for rail is going to take a lot of discussion, research, and outreach to taxpayers to talk about their preferences. No one is going to advocate for robbing Peter to pay Paul, and no one expects the taxpayers to write a blank check! But I believe there is going to be an equitable way to fund rail infrastructure where the taxpayer gets their money's worth.
The Fed can find billions of dollars to bail out Wall Street firms. Think about it. Money for rail is small potatoes, but it benefits you a lot more directly.
4) If one really wanted to improve commuter access from the Valley to New York, wouldn't exclusive bus lanes for express services along I-78 and Expanded park and ride lots do the trick?. Luxury bus coaches could easily make the Trip in a little over an hour.
Both buses and trains have a role to play in the transportation system. There will continue to be buses in the I-78 corridor, but rail is a cost effective addition, because so much of the infrastructure is already in place. Of the ninety miles of track between Allentown and New York, 55 miles are already used by passenger trains. We are just building on the system that is already in place.
In contrast, constructing bus lanes on I-78 would be a massive highway construction project that would cause delays to commuters for years. You would have to rebuild bridges and overpasses and design special interchanges. This would be extremely expensive, if it is even possible. The federal Highway Users Trust Fund is already in a deficit. Congress had to inject $8 billion in general funds just to pay the bills on time, so more highway funding is less and less likely.
Let’s talk about capacity of buses and trains. Trains can carry more people. You would need 15 luxury coaches (or 11 regular ones) to carry the same number of people as a six car commuter train, which can carry over 600 people!
The train can be highly efficient.
Let’s also talk about what people actually want. All things being equal, most people would prefer to ride a train over a bus. But things are never equal. The bus cannot equal the comfort of the train, for one thing. And compare the typical bus station to the typical train station. Buses are a very efficient mode of transportation, but rail just plain makes sense in certain corridors, especially when most of the rail line is already in service!
You also asked about speed. As mentioned above, constructing HOV lanes would cost more than rail, would cause construction delays on the highway for years, and is not likely to happen. Without any special lanes, the bus sits in traffic with everybody else.
5) Who is really benefiting? Who is really behind this? I'd like to know whether you've been approached by any developers or any of the folks in the Lehigh Valley Partnership?
Who benefits? That is an excellent question. Who benefits from less congestion on highways? Who benefits from easy and fast access to New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Wilmington, Reading, Harrisburg, New Haven, Hershey, etc.?
Who benefits from saving gas money to get to medical appointments, college courses, work, shopping, major airports, entertainment, etc?
Who benefits from revitalizing downtowns?
Who benefits from giving people access to jobs?
Who benefits from encouraging companies to locate in the Lehigh Valley because of easier business travel?
Who benefits when college graduates decide to stay here because they feel they are connected to the whole northeast?
I think everyone benefits from a better transportation system. It benefits the
local economy, creates jobs, and it reduces our dependence on driving and oil. The rail system will give people options for how to make their trips — more and better choices than they have today. We all win.
When I give my rail presentation to people, 99 out of 100 are enthusiastic supporters. This isn’t coming from the top down — it’s from the bottom up.
6) We're all willing to pay taxes to benefit education or to fund health care. But why should a senior citizen on a fixed income pay a dime so that a commuter can go to NYC more quickly? Isn't that a bit unfair to those of us who do not receive the wages paid in NYC and Jersey?
Seniors ride trains just like everybody else — maybe even more. They travel to medical appointments. They visit family. They go shopping. They go to shows. They do all the same things that everyone else does — and they get a senior discount! Does your senior citizen like driving everywhere? Can they drive? Do they feel safe on the road? Do they have a disability? Can they afford gas? This is about making public transportation work for everyone — especially those who need it the most.
The senior on a fixed income also benefits from the economic impacts of the rail system. Commuters pay into Social Security. They pay property taxes in the Lehigh Valley. They pay sales taxes. In essence, commuters are "importing" money from the metropolitan economy and spending and investing it in the Lehigh Valley. Those imported dollars circulate through the local economy, as they are dropped into stores, banks, teacher's salaries, etc.
The dollar that passes through my hands has been through many hands before me. So anyone should be excited to bring more dollars into the region to circulate through our economy.
This is not just about commuters — it is about transportation for everyone, and it is about making the Valley a better place to live and do business. Imagine — you could travel by train for meetings throughout the northeast and be home by dinner. That kind of access is a powerful thing for selling the valley as a good place to do business. More businesses equals a better economy. A better economy means benefits for everyone, including seniors.
7) We already know that it won't solve congestion, but won't it exacerbate it? With a train to NYC, we will bringing in more commuters to the Lehigh Valley. These people will sprawl into the suburbs as they did in the last housing rush. How the hell does that help the rest of us?
Unfortunately, highways contribute to sprawl. When you build a highway but you don't protect the agricultural land, you have to expect the land along the highway to get built up. That is just capitalism at work. The highway provides access, and shopping centers and subdivisions are worth more to the land owner than a field of corn.
But trains are different than highways — they can reduce sprawl. We will, of course, build park and rides, but we will also build stations downtown. In downtowns we can expect landowners to build new housing and to rehabilitate older buildings, because this has happened in other places. As new downtown residents move in, they will then create demand for restaurants and stores that revitalize the business district. The revitalized business district will attract other new businesses. It is a virtuous circle where investment begets investment, leading to local economic growth.
In other words, trains draw people in, they don't spread them out.
Fuel prices ain't what they used to be. And they will get higher in the future, because we import 70% of our oil. We will need to “drill, baby, drill” just to stay in the same place. The era of long distance driving is waning. Americans drove 5% fewer miles in June versus a year ago. If that trend continues, don't expect a lot of demand for subdivisions far away from everything. Expect more people to want to live where they can walk, bike, or take transit to get where they need to go.
8) Why are you making no effort to change zoning laws? Without that, people are going to ruin what little open space is left in the Lehigh Valley?
We should change zoning laws. We need to make it easy to build around the train station! We need to allow for mixed uses, so people can walk where they need to go. I would love to solve all the problems in the Lehigh Valley with one silver bullet, but it is going to take all of us pulling together to improve local planning, and I am glad you are signing on to work for better zoning! Other regions have created plans to preserve open space and agriculture, so there is no reason why we can't follow their example here.
Let's do it!
9) What about the schools? Won't all these people bring or produce children, and won't they stress our school systems? Once again, why should my taxes pay for that?
A Rutgers University study shows that for each 100 apartments constructed around a train station, you might expect about two school students. Why so few children? Because the development at rail stations appeals to "empty nesters" — parents whose kids have grown up and left. It also appeals to young people who do not have children yet. These demographic groups want a more urban lifestyle with lots of entertainment options, so they opt to live downtown and near the train station so they can zip to activity centers. Demographics also tell the story. In the coming years, millions of baby boomers are going to retire, and many of them will look to downsize their housing. Many of them will conclude that they don’t want five bedrooms and a big yard anymore. Some of them are going to want to live downtown where they can walk to restaurants, movies, stores, etc. So ask yourself: if the baby boomers are downsizing, who is going to buy their old houses? The answer is (hopefully) young families. We will be closing the loop.
We already have highways running everywhere. So in terms of attracting people to the region, the genie is out of the bottle. At this point, we need to redistribute whatever growth is going to happen anyway so that we develop inwards, rather than outwards. Ultimately, this means lower taxes because we will not need to build so many new schools, water and sewer systems, fire stations, etc. because the existing communities already have those things.
Just to conclude the discussion, let me emphasize that we are still several years away from trains running. I encourage people to get in touch with me and with your local officials to share ideas and thoughts and to get involved in the discussion.