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"Anti-Planner" Scholar Randal O'Toole Coming to Phoenix to Talk Up Gridlock Book

Tired of traffic?

Then lobby your government to add more toll roads, ditch long-range transportation scams, and buy more express buses instead of laying more railways.

That's the educated opinion of Cato Institute scholar Randal O'Toole -- and if you want to argue with him, you'd better bring a spreadsheet with hard evidence to back up your side.

Don't write him off as a callous conservative, either: O'Toole was one of the original Earth Day organizers, and used economic analyses to help defeat old-growth timber harvesting in Oregon.

One of O'Toole's longtime pet peeves is the spending of public funds on "inefficient" -- corrupt, even, to an extent -- transportation plans.

You can hear O'Toole speak about these issues and his new book, Gridlock: Why We're Stuck In Traffic and What to Do About It, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday at the Goldwater Institute, 500 East Coronado Road.

O'Toole believes that the federal Department of Transportation should be abolished because its mission has become impossibly broad. Short of that, according to the Cato Institute's Web site, O'Toole says:

... Congress should make every effort to return to a system where people get what they pay for -- that is, transportation user fees are dedicated to systems that benefit the people who paid those fees -- and people pay for what they get -- that is, people pay the full cost of the facilities they use.

O'Toole claims that light-rail lines, such as the one in Phoenix that opened in December  2008 are a "scam," good only for enriching contractors and the property owners nearest to the train stations.

We came to a different conclusion in our 2006 article about the light-rail system, then under construction, weighing in that the system -- though expensive -- would benefit the region in the long run.

Not that we're fooling ourselves about the heavy subsidies. Light rail, though potentially vital for our future transportation needs, is sort of a luxury right now.

A new light-rail system in Nashville, O'Toole calculates, has an "annualized cost" of about $25,000 per commuter -- enough to put each rider in a brand-new Toyota Prius.

Even if that's true, though, who wants to be stuck behind all those Priuses?

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