Katie LaPotin, Red Alert Politics, May 1, 2013
On Monday President Obama nominated 41-year old Charlotte, N.C. Mayor Anthony Foxx to serve as the nation’s next Transportation Secretary. But is Foxx, whose sole qualification is the Queen City’s botched-up streetcar project, truly the best nominee for the job?
Not only does Foxx have very limited experience with transportation projects, but the one project he is most proud of was a complete failure. Foxx and outgoing Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood broke ground on the first part of Charlotte’s streetcar project in December, a 1.5-mile starter line costing a whopping $37 million – which is more than double the original projection for the project.
Moreover, the project is a major loss-leader for Charlotte, as the Queen City only generates $3 million in annual fares but spends more than $20 million in annual operations and maintenance costs. It has also failed to help bring in the billions of dollars in economic development along the streetcar line that Foxx and other proponents of the project said it would.
Despite the obvious financial issues, the city now wants to spend $119 million on a 2.5-mile extension for the streetcar line. So why would Obama choose someone for Transportation Secretary who is clearly not qualified for the position?
“Foxx definitely mirrors Obama’s attitudes about transportation — that cities are more important than suburbs and transit is more important than cars and rail transit is superior to bus transit no matter what the cost,” Randal O’Toole of the Cato Institute told Red Alert Politics. ”For those reasons alone, Foxx or another urban mayor would have fit Obama’s criteria. The fact that Foxx is black is just icing on the cake and may have tilted the decision to him rather than the mayor of, say, Portland or Minneapolis.”
If we learned anything from the FAA air traffic controller furlough fiasco last week, it is that we need to concentrate our spending on the methods of transportation most used by Americans. Amtrak, the country’s national rail system, has been operating at a loss for years and is even looking to states like Pennsylvania to supplement its operating costs on less popular routes. Travel along its most popular line – the Northeast Corridor – has also decreased in recent months. Spending more money on the nation’s highway and aviation systems is a far wiser choice – yet his decision to nominate Foxx clearly shows that this is not his intention.
If Obama’s transportation priority for his second term is improving mass transit, he’s clearly not in sync with what the country really needs.