Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Train to Somewhere

Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit doesn't put much stock in the relocation of the CSX rail line in Mississippi at a cost of $700 million in taxpayer dollars. He thinks that this is nothing but a pork barrel project, especially since the existing rail line was repaired at a cost of $250 million.

I think Glenn's got this wrong, along with Ace and the Heritage Foundation. The problem is that even those who have come out in support of this project aren't doing a particularly effective job of defending it; this piece on the relocation misses the mark. This piece strikes me more as righteous indignation rather than a reasonable defense of the project.

As a nation, we're not supposed to rebuild what existed prior just for the sake of rebuilding. We're supposed to be improving infrastructure to prevent against its failures the next time there's a hurricane. Rail traffic is crucial to restoring services - and the existing route is vulnerable to disruptions because of its proximity to the coast. The same goes for the nearby I10 that runs through the state. Both the CSX line and I10 were badly damaged, with major bridges badly damaged by Katrina. Six major bridges and 40 miles of track had to be repaired. The existing route was rebuilt because it is crucial to getting things back to normal along the entire Gulf Coast, not just Mississippi. It took months before service was restored. And it needed to be restored so that traffic could once again easily flow between Florida and Texas.

Relocating the rail line is the second phase of improving and rebuilding infrastructure. I can understand why this is perceived as a government handout - nearly $1 billion of taxpayer money spent on repairs and relocating a CSX rail line, but this isn't like Ted Stevens' bridges to nowhere in Alaska. The rail links are crucial to rebuilding efforts throughout the Gulf Coast. Making sure that they are more secure by pushing them inland of I10 improves their survivability the next time a hurricane hits. And one will inevitably hit the region.

Do we want to deal with having to rebuild the transportation infrastructure before we push on to rebuilding communities, or do we want to have an intact transportation infrastructure that can bring more equipment and materials to bear in less time than trying to airlift it into hard hit communities up and down the Gulf Coast the next time a hurricane hits?

Infrastructure changes such as this aren't cheap. They seem like handouts and largesse now, but the long term benefits may only be seen with another storm hitting the Gulf Coast. It is at that point when we'd see if the money was well spent. I think the cost will be worth it.

In the immediate aftermath of Katrina, there were people who questioned whether New Orleans should ever be rebuilt - and whether it should be relocated someplace safer inland. The decision has been made to rebuild as it was, but rely on the levees and flood control systems that have already proven themselves unable to handle a fraction of the storm damage it was meant to protect against. Billions are being thrown at improving those levees. And we're going to have to hope that the levee boards, the Army Corps of Engineers, and those involved in flood control in Louisiana get it right this time. There is no margin for error.

Here, we're talking about the relocation of a rail line so that it is out of the path of the worst kind of storm surges - which wiped out miles of track and hampered the relief/recovery efforts throughout South Mississippi and cut a significant rail link in the region. Yet, it doesn't just benefit Mississippi, but all of the states on the Gulf Coast. Improving this piece of infrastructure will come in handy the next major storm to hit the coast. Considering that many people have complained about the slow federal and state response to the emergency - and that many of the same people have forgotten that the reason for the slow response was due, in part, to the destruction of key transportation infrastructure, making sure that rail links are improved should be a priority.

Another added benefit of this relocation is the economic impact of making sure that infrastructure is improved through the region. That means that disruptions will be lessened due to storm damage, businesses will be able to restock quicker, and life can return to normal even faster. These are not insignificant issues that ought to be considered when evaluating whether this project should go forward.

Welcome Instapundit readers! It's my first Instalanche, so be gentle. I've been blogging the hurricane recovery efforts so there's lots more here if you look through my archives.

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