In the lobby of TARC’s downtown Union Station headquarters — where less than a century ago the blowing of train whistles and the clacking of wheels-on-rail were commonplace — Lt. Gov. and Democratic Senate candidate Daniel Mongiardo unveiled what amounts to the boldest vision for public transportation Louisville and the commonwealth-at-large since the construction of the interstate highway system 50 years ago.
Dubbed the “21st Century Public Transit & Jobs Plan,” Mongiardo’s proposal would provide intra-city transit to Louisvillians going to-and-from work by way of an elevated, state-of-the-art monorail circulator, as well as connect Jefferson County to other regions within the Commonwealth (and beyond) via a light-rail network built upon existing tracks. Additionally, park-and-ride stations will be constructed at outlying nodes and TARC’s fleet of buses will tailor routes around the new systems, maximizing the efficiency of each system and potentially operating them both.
“A comprehensive and fully integrated public transit system will spur revitalization and smart growth efforts not only in Louisville’s core,” Mongiardo said, “but also in some of the smaller, rural communities through where [sic] the hybrid light rail lines run as investors and businesses locate around these commuter collection points.”
Co-sponsored by the grassroots Coalition for the Advancement of Regional Transportation — which has thus far invited all senatorial candidates to speak about transportation issues — Mongiardo’s presentation consisted of a general description of the plan’s four main components, their implementation and economic impact, as well as (to a certain extent) discussion of funding mechanisms.
The initial phase would create a rapid access monorail (RAM) running downtown (the northernmost stops being the new downtown arena and a “commuter collection point” at 26th and Main) and traveling south along, say, Floyd Street, with major stops at the U of L Medical Center, U of L’s Belknap campus, Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, Churchill Downs, the Kentucky Fair & Exposition Center, and — pending a hypothetical expansion of the hypothetical plan — terminating points at the UPS hub and Ford Motor plant. Fully automated, Epoct-esque people-movers would arrive at a rate of every few minutes, ferry up to 30 passengers at a time and travel up to speeds of 55 mph along an elevated rail that would not interfere with traditional rights-of-way.
And the cost of each ride? Less than the price of a daily newspaper.
Charles Schimpeler, the main architect of the plan and whose transportation engineering firm has completed similar projects in Miami and Los Angeles, said that due to the nature of current monorail technology and the simplicity of constructing a route above and parallel to traffic, each mile of inter-city double-track monorail would cost $25-$33 million. Spanning approximately 6 miles, the track alone would cost about $160 million.
“That’s far lower than the cost of the T2 line,” said Schimpeler, “which would’ve cost roughly $60 million per mile.” The “T2 line,” if you recall, was an ill-fated attempt to create something similar to Mongiardo’s proposal back in 2004, but was scraped due to its hefty price tag and lack of political support, the latter of which can be attributed to two pavement-friendly Republican senators and then-Rep. Anne “Champion of the Ohio River Bridges Project” Northup.
To hear the Lt. Governor’s opinion on the matter, all that’s needed to make his Powerpoint presentation into reality is a Senator with the stones to move state transportation dollars away from highway funding and back into public transit coffers. While some of this is clearly campaign posturing, Mongiardo is not entirely off base.
“He’s right,” said CART founder and president David Morse. “We need a political leader to change the rules that are screwing us on the federal level. Currently we don’t have that leader, so our money stays tied up in roads and highways.”
In 2007, Kentucky received less than a quarter of the $87 million in highway tax money it sent to Washington. For every dollar the state spends on public transportation, 7 dollars are shoved into the highway fund — hence our current fixation with the bloated, $4.4 billion Ohio River Bridges Project: it’s where all the money has migrated. The economic multiplier effect that properly funded and efficient systems like this one tend to generate cannot be overlooked, either, and was at the crux of Mongiardo’s argument for rail.
“If Kentucky is left out of a federal high speed rail network,” the candidate began, “I fear the economic consequences to our Commonwealth will be like those communities left out of the Federal Interstate Highway system. We will only fall farther behind in our efforts to expand economic opportunities and increase personal incomes.”
Though Mongiardo has said that the entire four-step proposal will cost $1 billion… I’m not quite sure of that yet. So check out next week’s LEO for more in depth, uncharacteristically even-handed coverage of Dr. Dan’s advocacy for socialist modes of transportation.