President Obama’s dream of connecting 80 percent of Americans to a high-speed rail line appears to be dead. Congress appropriated $8 billion for high-speed rail in the 2009 stimulus bill and $2 billion more in the 2010 appropriations bill. But, after newly elected governors of Florida, Ohio, and Wisconsin rejected high-speed rail projects in those states, Congress declined to include any more funds in 2011 and it is unlikely to spend any more on this boondoggle as long as Republicans have a hold on the House.
The other day I noted that the budget cuts agreed to last week contained lots of familiar faces. Many of the agencies and programs getting a trim were also cut in 1995 in a rescissions package put together by Gingrich Republicans. In the fifteen intervening years, federal spending exploded across the board, which means that an occasional trim job doesn’t accomplish much if the goal is to limit government.
The government’s air traffic controllers have been sleeping on the job, watching movies rather than guiding planes, and misdirecting the First Lady’s plane over Washington. There have been soaring numbers of airplane near misses caused by ATC errors over the last year.
It is often said that silence is golden. But not when you’re trying to land a passenger plane at Reagan National Airport. Last night the control tower at Reagan went silent, which forced the pilots of two airliners to land on their own. According to the Washington Post, the same situation occurred last year when the lone controller on duty locked himself out.
New data from the Federal Aviation Administration shows that reported air traffic control errors have increased by 81 percent since 2007. Errors that were most likely to result in a collision or accident jumped 26 percent from 2007 to 2010.
In his customary salesman style, Vice President Joe Biden recently made a pitch to a Philadelphia crowd for a plan to spend $53 billion over the next six years on a national system of high-speed rail.
Bloomberg is reporting more bad news for the nation’s air traffic control system, which is run by the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA is $500 million overbudget and six years behind schedule on a $2.1 billion technology upgrade project.
A major shortcoming of the deficit reduction plan concocted by the president’s Fiscal Commission is that it assumed that the federal government should continue doing everything it currently does. For example, the plan proposed a 15 cent per gallon increase in the federal gasoline tax to fund infrastructure projects. But why not allow the private sector to play a greater role in financing and maintaining infrastructure like roads?
A year ago I discussed problems that the Federal Aviation Administration was having in trying to implement an overhaul of the nation’s air traffic control system. The “NextGen” overhaul would replace old-fashioned radar technology with modern satellite-based GPS navigation.