- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 3, 2010

America’s streets are congested, yet the Obama administration wants to make things worse. Although the economic recession and lack of jobs have reduced some of the pressure on the daily commute, Americans still wasted a grand total of 4.2 billion hours stuck in traffic last year, according to the Texas Transportation Institute.

Instead of providing relief with the $30 billion that drivers pay in taxes at the gasoline pump, the administration is siphoning away billions from this fund in order to bankroll obsolete forms of mass transit. The president and his Department of Transportation have gone on this spending spree in the guise of building “livable communities,” with at least $280 million dedicated to streetcars. The most recent grants have gone to projects such as the following:

• $63 million to the Modern Streetcar Project in Tuscon, Ariz.

• $45 million for streetcars in New Orleans, La.

• $23 million to renovate trolleys in Portland, Ore.

• $23 million for downtown streetcars in Dallas, Texas.

While big city mayors surely will appreciate the hefty serving of pork thrown their way, the rest of us aren’t exactly getting our money’s worth. Trolleys may appeal to a sense of nostalgia for some, but it is important to realize this form of transportation had all but disappeared a half-century ago for a very good reason: the personal automobile.

The left has reignited its love affair with a mode of transportation that allows a select few to decide when and where people should be able to travel. The rest of the country prefers options that maintain individual freedom. Over 96 percent of passenger miles traveled take place in either cars or airplanes. Another 3 percent travel by bus, leaving only a fraction of 1 percent traveling by trolleys or light rail.

Streetcar projects are expensive boondoggles, with average capital costs of $35 million per mile compared to just $680,000 for a bus line, according to Government Accountability Office figures. The trolley’s operating costs are even more inefficient than a bus line.

If Uncle Sam stopped picking up most of the tab for streetcar rides around the country, even the handful of trendy trolley aficionados would quickly trade in their tickets for a local bus pass. The administration’s diversion of gas tax funds for trolleys should come to an end.