Chowin’ Down on the Gravy Train

Chowin’ Down on the Gravy Train

The recent article “Mayor Weighs in on Caltrans Project,” Oct. 29, reports on “a bike-pedestrian only bridge connecting Oakland” and the City of West Alameda. The languishing “decades-long project” is intended to “improve connectivity between Alameda and Oakland” and, depending on your cycling stamina, regions beyond Oakland.

Looking at the anticipated bridge expenditures: $1.4 million and $4.4 million one might think any bridge costing under a billion is chump change — payable from some discretionary fund. Before donning your party hat, be advised: the $1.4 million would be doled out for the “project study report” or PSR. The $4.4 million would be absorbed by the Project Approval and Environment Document. These two papers are clearly worth their weight in gold.

Reading the fine print, one realizes that the total of $5.8 million in predicted costs has nothing to do with procuring land, building materials nor labor for the bridge. It pays for the red tape that will continue to hogtie the project.

I’m having difficulty discerning if this is a feather bed, a pork barrel, a boondoggle or a gravy train. If it is a gravy train, I want to know when and where it pulls into the station and if we can reserve window seats? Who are these nameless overlords who get to burn through $5.8 million before giving us a green light, an amber light or possibly a red light?

As reported, Measure BB raised $75 million, via additional taxes, to support the Oakland Alameda Access Project (OAAP).The hope is to redirect the $75 million “to improve access circulation improvements for Alameda Point” if the bridge project falls through. “Improve improvements?”

Now there is an airtight tautology that no one would want to linguistically mud wrestle with. With or without the trans-estuary pedestrian-cyclist bridge, tax Measure BB, like most temporary sales taxes, “will generate some $8 billion over 30 years.”

A temporary tax lasting 30 years? As Uncle Milty, the Chicago Economist, used to say, “There is nothing as permanent as a temporary tax.” Furthermore, a sales tax is a shamefully regressive tax: it disproportionately impacts the lowest income earners and apparently, we are okay with that.

One might visualize Measure BB as being some sort of a confetti cannon firing sales tax revenues at bureaucrats. The beauty is that $8 billion can pay for a lot of impact and feasibility studies and move a small battalion of government employees closer to that coveted CalPERS retirement.

Given the decades of ruminating stagnation, fretful dithering and pensive dawdling that have transpired thus far, California’s High Speed Rail might actually cross the finish line ahead of the Alameda-Oakland Bike-Pedestrian Bridge. Imagine fretful bureaucrats, contemplating the enormity of this bridge, nervously chewing their fingernails up to their elbows.

The multi-million-dollar feasibility studies might one day get chucked into a time tunnel; the project could reach full-scale arrestment; yet there will still be enough tax money to pay for pulled pork sandwiches elsewhere: no amount of government revenue will go unspent.

Remarkably, this same article goes on to acknowledge that the “project does not do enough to address high automobile use and pollution concerns” nor does it “reduce overall automobile traffic, congestion, or the greenhouse gas emissions generated by automobile travel between Oakland and Alameda.”

As Uncle Cusper was wont to say, “What is the point of gaining the public’s trust if you don’t plan to abuse it for personal gain?”

Jeffrey R Smith, U.S. Navy, ret., teaches mathematics at Encinal High School.