Editorial by Noel T. Braymer
It is ironic that at the same time some politicians are busy opposing expanding rail service and alternative energy to fossil fuels; we now see years of frustration blowing up through out the Middle East as one by one dictators are being pushed out or threaten in this region. This highlights the insecurities and the dependence on oil, particularly for transportation in this country.
The problem in the Middle East is simple: poverty. Even in oil rich counties the unemployment rate in the Middle East for young adults is over 20%. Many of these unemployed young adults are college educated but see no careers in sight. The solution to terrorism is not war, but jobs. But poverty and corrupt dictatorial governments go hand in hand. In the long run the only solution for peace is honest, democratic governments and reduced poverty. But in the meantime what can the United States do to be less dependent on Oil?
Recently a group of Republican Congressmen from the San Joaquin Valley proposed using Federal Dollars allocated for High Speed Rail in California to be used instead to expand one lane in each direction for Highway 99 in the San Joaquin Valley. One problem with this is the money wasn’t appropriated for that purpose. What would these Congressmen think if money appropriated for their district was taken away to be used for some where else? But doesn’t this expose the fallacy that road construction is self supporting? For years we have been told that roads or at least Interstate Highway construction is fully paid for out of fuel taxes. This ignores property taxes which remain the primary funding for local roads. Without local roads the Interstate Highways would have little traffic. The funding for Interstate Highways from fuel taxes is falling short. Efforts to increase fuel taxes or find additional funding for highway constructions have been fought back as unfair to drivers. Yet speculators are free to jack up gasoline prices 10 to 20 cents a gallon in a week using any convenient world problem as an excuse. We have the Strategic Oil Reserve which can be used now to stabilize prices in the short run, yet there is no leadership in Washington to do this. What business would hesitate to raise prices if cost and demand were rising? If people truly want government to be run more like a business, they should welcome increased fees on consumption spending.
Expanding roads such as Highway 99 in the San Joaquin Valley doesn’t reduce oil dependence: it makes it worse. At least rail service can be run without using oil. More roads increase traffic and congestion. A true free market approach which has been proven to work to reducing congestion and energy use is charging vehicles on a per mile and per pound basis for using the roads. There is no single solution to reducing this county’s dependence on oil. But oil is a finite resource and it is only a matter of a short time before demand will outstrip supply. Instead the solution will be the result of many small changes from putting jobs, housing, shopping and services closer together, alternative energy, more efficient vehicles such as electric cars than can be charged during off peak periods when power is now going to waste and so on. Market forces are already pushing people towards these solutions. High Speed Rail by itself is no panacea as the solution for oil consumption. To pay the high cost of High Speed Rail it must carry a large number of people. This can be done when High Speed Rail is connected to new development to supply traffic with improved walking, bicycling, light rail, regional rail and generally good public transportation. Going faster than 120 miles per hour is not as important as having good connections and economical services to get people riding the train.