Out of Control Policy Blog

Hoppin' on the party train

Light rail groundbreaking events are rather strange affairs. Local politicos hire bands, brush up on their hyperboles, and celebrate the sublime power of rail transit.

At a 2003 groundbreaking ceremony in Seattle, amid the fireworks display, free bbq sandwiches, and live bands belting out classics like "Brick House," local dignitaries proclaimed that rail would help make their city "world class," and even lift the region's psyche.

Seattle's mayor called local taxpayers "the real heroes" for underwriting $2B worth of transit investments, and he couldn't help but see parallels with another milestone in world history: "Today we celebrate one small step for light rail, one giant leap for Seattle."

Poking at skeptics who questioned the usefulness of rail, a local congressman relayed an anecdote about Benjamin Franklin: When someone questioned the usefulness of hot-air balloon travel, the inventor replied, "What good is a newborn baby?" The Sound Transit system starts small but will grow until it reaches his district, Inslee said. "Someday, there's going to be nothing 'light' about light rail."

The Phoenix area just had its own groundbreaking ceremony. Sure it had lots of the usual stuff, but it wasn't quite as over-the-top as Seattle's:

    Hundreds of people gathered in Tempe Beach Park on Tuesday night to celebrate the birth of a 20-mile rail system that promises to transform the Valley.

    "We know that this light rail will change the face of this community," Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman told revelers at the ceremonial groundbreaking.

That's all? You don't want to compare it to, say, the fall of the Berlin Wall? Can we get a Nelson Mandela reference?

    Dignitaries flipped a gigantic "on" switch that illuminated a 30-foot replica of the light-rail bridge that will stretch across Tempe Town Lake, just east of the existing railroad bridge. When the real-life $21 million span is complete, it will glow with special lights.

    During a dramatic demonstration, taped orchestral music thundered and fake smoke swirled as the replica's lights shifted colors. Officials also filled a time capsule that will be sealed and put inside a future Metro station.

The time capsule was a nice touch, but I still have to give the edge to Seattle. The politicos' speechifying really made the difference.

Ted Balaker is Producer


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