News: CJ Exclusives

Rail Projects to Worsen Air Pollution

Round-up of research on local government also covers inner-city employment and growth controls

Mass-transit advocates claim that light rail reduces pollution and congestion, but new evidence indicates that this may not be the case, the Heartland Institute says.

In recent studies of Dallas, Denver, and other cities, economist Randal O’Toole notes that proposed light-rail plans would actually increase nitrous oxide emissions while increasing costs.

A proposed new light-rail line in Dallas would increase nitrogen oxide emissions by 42 tons per year, or 1/10 of one percent, Dallas’ transit agency estimates, while reducing carbon monoxide emissions by only 1/100 of one percent. Dallas meets current federal carbon monoxide standards but is already out of compliance for ozone, a byproduct of nitrogen oxide emissions.

Denver’s proposed rail lines would reduce carbon monoxide emissions by one percent, but increase nitrogen oxide emissions by 3 percent. Moreover, Denver’s plan will cost the average area resident $160 per year.

Rail, however, is not the first choice for most commuters, O’Toole says. Despite Denver’s ambitious plan to build 120 miles of rail transit, rail service would attract less then one-half of one percent of current auto users. Moreover, most suburban drivers who do use light rail will drive to a park-and-ride station, emitting pollution along the way.

The city of San Jose has come up with a more cost-effective means of reducing pollution and congestion — by spending $1 million on synchronizing traffic lights along one of the city’s busiest streets. Reducing idle time is expected to reduce auto emissions by 5 to 15 percent. Amortized over 10 years, this measure will cost only $1,000 per ton of reduced emissions, compared to light rail’s cost of $1 million per ton.

Inner-city jobs

Inner cities are havens for jobs, but 77 percent of those jobs are held by commuters from surrounding areas, according to a recent study from Harvard University’s Initiative for a Competitive Inner City.

ICIC defined “inner city” as a U.S. census tract having a poverty rate of 20 percent or higher, or two of the following factors: an unemployment or poverty rate at least 1 1/2 times that of its surrounding metropolitan area, or medium household income one-half or less that of its surrounding metropolitan area.

In his study involving 100 American cities, Harvard professor Michael Porter found that the average annual salary for employees working in these areas is $38,000, not much different from an average of $39,000 in surrounding metropolitan areas.

America’s inner cities contain 12.7 million jobs, about 8 percent of the U.S. economy’s private sector. Hospitals, universities, and local commercial services are the primary employers in inner cities, providing a variety of low-skilled and high-skilled jobs.

Over a seven-year period, more than 70 percent of inner city areas experienced faster job growth than their surrounding metropolitan areas, although inner cities still lag behind the national average in job growth (1 percent annually in inner cities versus 5 percent nationally). But a survey of Fortune 1000 executives indicates that 41 percent of companies plan to locate or expand into inner cities in the future. Corporate executives are not concerned about recruiting labor in inner cities, believing that once jobs are available, people will come.

Observers worry about the large percentage of people who live in inner cities but do not work in them. Indeed, inner city poverty rates hover around 20 percent, with unemployment rates higher than their surrounding areas.

Anne Habiby of the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City and Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick urge policy-makers to focus on connecting inner-city residents with inner-city job opportunities.
Reported by the Wall Street Journal, and Yahoo Finance.

Growth Management Acts

Growth Management Acts are used by some states and counties to limit uncontrolled growth that proponents say facilitates “urban sprawl.” But in many cases, GMAs are not too effective at controlling growth, and are often influenced by rent-seekers, says Randall G. Holcombe, a professor of economics at Florida State University and chairman of the Research Advisory Council at the James Madison Institute.

While Oregon has had moderate success with its GMA, Florida has been another story. The state passed a GMA in 1985 that was designed to work like the GMA that was passed in Oregon in 1973, but according to observers has fallen short of its intended goals, Holcombe said.

The flexibility of Florida’s GMA (which allows changes to the plan up to twice a year) provided incentives for local special-interest groups to push for changes to suit their own needs. Florida’s population is more decentralized than Oregon’s, so restrictions in one area simply resulted in people and building projects moving to other areas; for example, growth restrictions in Leon County created a growth boom in neighboring Wakulla County.

Florida’s target of halting additional traffic congestion on existing roads prevented the development of urban infill areas; as a result, builders who wished to develop infill had to contribute money for transportation improvements.

Despite the relative ineffectiveness of Florida’s Growth Management Act, the plan has imposed higher costs on developers, made housing less affordable to consumers and created incentives for economic development to go outside of the state to less restrictive areas, Holcombe said.