Peninsula transportation consternation

Happy Friday, everybody.

A flock of seagulls supposedly knocked out power in San Mateo County this morning. Highway 101 on the Peninsula was closed near Highway 92 during the lunch hour so PG&E could repair the damaged power lines, sending lunchtime freeway traffic onto local streets. And so I ran. I ran so far away.

Early this morning, a man crossed against the crossing gate at San Bruno Caltrain station and was hit by northbound express train 305 traveling at 79 MPH. Trains were stopped for nearly two hours, affecting about 30,000 rail commuters.

The big Caltrain news this week was yesterday’s revelation that Caltrain will be broke when the new fiscal year begins in July. Operational funding is assured through the end of the current fiscal year, but after June 2010 things look very shaky. Caltrain anticipates losing a third of its annual budget — currently $100 million — and needs to cut service substantially to make ends meet.

Over the past three years, the state has diverted $3 billion in local taxes meant for transit to the state general fund. Although the California Supreme Court ruled that this diversion is illegal, the funds have yet to be restored. Meanwhile, $7 billion in road construction projects throughout the San Francisco Bay Area continues nearly unabated, with the state even injecting hundreds of millions of dollars of general revenue funds for Bay Bridge re-builld cost overruns. If Caltrain goes broke, we’re going to need all of those extra highway lanes with an extra 40,000 vehicles per day on Peninsula roads. That is, if anybody can still afford to drive — Bay Area commuters burn 8 million gallons of gasoline every day — about $24 million at today’s prices — of which half goes to overseas producers.

I hate to be a doomer, but as evidence of Peak Oil became more evident, I predicted a couple of years ago that public transportation options would be cut in the ensuing economic downturn as voters turn inward and retreat to what they know, instead of what’s good to society as a whole. Sadly, short sighted actions such as stripping Caltrain of funding will accelerate economic collapse as resources become more scarce.

(You’ll see Murph of Holier Than You quoted in the Merc News article on Caltrain).

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