- The Washington Times - Monday, May 2, 2005

Government ruined Amtrak

Your editorial “All aboard Amtrak reform” (Wednesday), shortchanges the Amtrak story. You fail to tell the public that it was federal tax dollars that put private rail passenger service out of business.

The railroads paid for roadbeds, maintenance of track, traffic control, private police forces, stations and taxes to every local community where they had track, plus they were required by law to give clergy and military personnel on leave 50 percent off the ticket price. For aviation and roads, federal and local taxes that paid for those items.

When Congress created Amtrak, the objective was to preserve a national passenger rail network. As with many government projects, Amtrak was put on starvation funding, making it impossible for it to recover from the overwhelming infusion of federal dollars into competing modes of transportation.

You speak of Amtrak not being able to survive the competition in a free marketplace. It can’t compete in the face of a government that never lived up to its part of the bargain. Thirty-nine billion dollars over 34 years is nothing compared with the tax dollars spent over the same period for the competition.

To call for reorganizing Amtrak is disingenuous when one considers that the government has only taken steps to destroy the company rather than make it possible for Amtrak to compete on an equitable basis.

CHARLES HEIMACH

Annandale, Va.

Cold feet no excuse

It is stunning and sickening to note the extent to which some elements of society are rallying around “runaway bride” Jennifer Wilbanks in the face of the cruel and wicked hoax she perpetrated upon society, prominently including her own family, whom she chose to terrify (“Cold feet led woman to abduction hoax,” Nation, Sunday).

The “excuse brigade” has swung into action, noting with empathy the stress one can endure while approaching a wedding like the one that was in store for Miss Wilbanks, an affair with 600 guests and 14 groomsmen and bridesmaids, according to news reports — an obscene spectacle.

Whose fault is it? Was Miss Wilbanks not the driving force behind setting up such a circus? Her family spokesperson has been quoted as saying she “apparently had some issues” (as if they had no idea previously that this is a sick young woman) and that they look forward to “loving her and discussing those issues.” Before love is extended, I would first wish to ask a simple question: “Why the devil did you torture us and make our family the laughingstocks of the world to the extent that we cannot show our faces in public without mortification?”

If it takes the rest of her life, Miss Wilbanks should at the very least be required to reimburse law-enforcement agencies for the massive police presence that she diverted from legitimate work. Additionally, she should not evade criminal responsibility for filing a false police report simply because she is an attractive woman who comes from a good family.

Even society’s misfits must be held responsible for their actions, lest we encourage others to indulge their base impulses to engage in such narcissistic acts.

OREN M. SPIEGLER

Upper Saint Clair, Pa.

D.C. can’t afford union-only jobs

The Washington Times is right to expose what would happen to District residents if Mayor Anthony A. Williams and the D.C. Council were to disregard our concerns over the District’s new baseball stadium, especially how it is to be built (“Stadium fallout worries residents,” Metropolitan, April 24).

The mayor wants to impose a “project labor agreement,” or PLA, on construction of the city’s new baseball stadium that would allow only labor-union members to build it. This would shut many of the District’s own black and minority workers out of jobs to build the stadium because 85 percent of construction workers in the city are not union members.

Those few workers who are fortunate enough to get a job are discriminated against and alienated by the unions. I know because this happened to me and my employees while the D.C. Convention Center was being built. I have been a steelworker for almost 20 years, but the only thing the unions at the building site would let me and my employees do was sweep the floors full-time for part-time pay.

D.C. taxpayers would pay a price, too. Because of using only union labor, the Convention Center was finished $155 million over budget. However, FedEx Field and the MCI Center were both built without union-only rules, and they were finished on budget. PLA what? PLA why?

The District needs the jobs that will come with building the new stadium. Unemployment in the District is higher than 8 percent, the worst in the nation. Imposing a union-only PLA on construction of the new stadium is not fair to the city’s black workers and not smart for the city’s taxpayers. Mr. Williams and the D.C. Council need to start listening to our concerns.

CALVIN REID

Washington

Country needs a new energy plan

The president’s proposed energy plan is missing a major component — a concise policy and investment strategy to address the nation’s growing traffic congestion problem (“Soaring costs of energy slow economic growth,” Page 1, Friday).

According to research by the respected Texas Transportation Institute (TTI), Americans are wasting 2.3 billion gallons of motor fuel annually sitting in stalled traffic. To put that in perspective, Federal Highway Administration data show that is more than the combined annual motor-fuel consumption of six states — Alaska, Vermont, Rhode Island, Delaware, Hawaii and North Dakota.

The president rightly points out that “our dependence on foreign energy is like a foreign tax on the American people.” What about the U.S. “traffic congestion tax” — in time and money — being levied on all American families and businesses? At $2.28 per gallon, the motor fuel wasted because of traffic congestion is costing American motorists and shippers $6.2 billion a year. Lost productivity, TTI reports, adds another $60 billion annually to the traffic gridlock “tax.”

Why we have traffic congestion is no mystery. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, since 1982, U.S. population has grown 24 percent. That, along with economic growth, has driven a 74 percent increase in vehicle miles traveled in the United States during the same period. However, we have only increased lane-mile capacity 6 percent.

We wholeheartedly agree with the president that “it’s time for America to start building again” to reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign energy supplies. Building needed new transportation infrastructure capacity should be part of the solution, along with the proposed new capacity for nuclear power and oil and natural-gas production.

We could kick-start a new federal energy plan by putting real-growth investment into the deficit-neutral highway and transit program bill now pending in the U.S. Senate and quickly enacting it into law. It has been stalled in an “ideological and partisan traffic jam” for almost two years.

Sometimes we don’t see answers that are right in front of us.

T. PETER RUANE

President and CEO

American Road & Transportation Builders Association

Washington

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