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The Alle-Kiski rail project: Still not sustainable

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Friday, Feb. 15, 2013, 8:57 p.m.

Numbers updated by an advocate of light-rail commuter service between Lower Burrell and Pittsburgh since our Monday editorial make the project an even worse deal for taxpayers.

Consultant/developer Robert Ardolino says his firm was hired as a consultant on the project by the Allegheny Valley Railroad, which owns the 20.5 miles of track the service would use. His bottom-line cost projection, formerly $380 million, now is even more daunting for taxpayers — rising to $414 million.

Of that $414 million cost, Mr. Ardolino says, federal grants would cover 50 percent and two federal loan programs would combine to account for 40 percent. Private equity would pick up just 10 percent of the tab — a level of private investment that begs this question, again: If this project is such a great idea, with promises of profit-producing economic growth for all,why does it rely so heavily on public subsidies?

Projected weekday ridership has been bumped up from 9,900 to 9,920 while the projected per-passenger-mile state subsidy needed for operations is down, from 88 cents to 53 cents. But that's still more than twice the national average for such subsidies — 22 cents, according to the Federal Transit Administration.

So, some numbers have changed but the proposal's lack of worth hasn't. Any project that suckles so lovingly on the taxpayer teat never is sustainable financially. Taxpayers shouldn't bear the burdens that this Alle-Kiski Valley commuter rail plan would impose on them.

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