My email to Secretary Jacobson:
I recently heard that the Rio Metro Regional Transit District Board voted to eliminate weekend service on the New Mexico Rail Runner Express. I feel this is a terribly myopic decision with many long-term detrimental implications, not least of which will be a negative impact on tourism.
Just this weekend, my fiancée and I celebrated our anniversary by taking the Rail Runner to Santa Fe. We enjoyed many of the museums, shops, and dining establishments the City Different had to offer. We were not alone: it was difficult to find a seat on the train, as people were coming from as far away as Los Lunas and Belen to spend the day in Santa Fe. Many had flown in from out of state, too; a number of groups had luggage in tow.
For us, the Rail Runner was part of the experience. It carried us through some of the most scenic parts of our state with grace and charm, and showed that New Mexico was a world class state with a world class transportation system. In contrast, a recent business trip to Santa Fe on I-25 led me through fields of orange barrels and heavy traffic.
I would urge you to contact the Rio Metro Regional Transit District Board and explain to them how important the Rail Runner is to our state's restaurants, retail establishments, and hotels, not to mention our reputation as a tourist destination.
Great letter, Benny. I'll do the same.
And therein lies the rub. Governor Martinez has ZERO interest in funding the Railrunner--the oil and gas interests are not exactly interested in having less cars on the road. Governor Martinez got a lot of money from the oil and gas industry and shows every sign of making sure her policies line their pockets. Plus, she wants to polish her national Republican cred, and Republicans REALLY hate subsidizing any sort of public transit. So, even if the Legislature did insert funding for the Railrunner into the budget, you can count on her slicing it out. It sucks, but we are under backasswards leadership now. Just gotta hope that she'll get sucked out of NM by the RNCC and tapped to run for Vice President in 2012...
BB: the Mid Region Council of Governments runs the Rail Runner, Rio Metro RTD is more like the tax collectors. The members of Rio Metro are board members by virtue of the positions as elected officials in the Middle Rio Grande corridor. I don't believe that any of them have an expertise in transportation issues. From the comments I have heard at more than one Rio Metro board meeting, I am confident that there is more than one board member that would like to see the train go away.
It would be nice for the Feds to kick in money for transit on par with what they kick in for roads. I don't think the state can kick in much money at this point. But cities like Denver, Phoenix and Los Angeles are using creative financing, such as public private partnership to keep their transit projects going forward.
Cities and states have found out during this recession that having a heavy reliance on Gross Receipts Taxes/Sales Taxes for funding budgets are great when the economy is booming, but tragic when we have a recession.
Secretary Jacobson wrote back to me:
Thank you for reaching out and expressing your support. I have set up a meeting to understand if there are any options to make this happen in a financially viable way. I am so glad to know you are exploring our wonderful state!
It was sent from an iPhone, so I'm assuming it was actually her and not an aide. I may just be reading into it too much, but there appears to be a little bit of government doublespeak in there. Either way, hooray for responsive government!