High Speed Rail: A Social Cohesion Strategy for the U.S.?
When President Obama unveiled his budget allocation for high-speed rail, he said, “In France, high-speed rail has pulled regions from isolation, ignited growth [and], remade quiet towns into thriving tourist destinations.” His remarks emphasize how high-speed rail is increasing the accessibility of isolated places as an argument for similarly investments. So, what’s the source of this argument in the European context?
In November 2009, the European Union’s ESPON (the European Observation Network for Territorial Development and Cohesion) released a report called “Trends in Accessibility.” ESPON examined the extent to which accessibility has changed between 2001 and 2006. ESPON defines accessibility as how “easily people in one region can reach people in another region.” This measurement of accessibility helps determine the “potential for activities and enterprises in the region to reach markets and activities in other regions.”
However Americans feel about the federal government, they are generally happy with their local governments. Last month, a CNN poll quantified this disparity: 26 percent of people trust the feds all or most of the time, about a third feel that way about their states, and 52 percent trust their localities.
But those warm feelings have a downside: throughout the Northeast and Midwest, there is a profusion of overlapping, duplicative, general and special purpose governments that impose a staggering array of costs. Ohio has 3,800 local government jurisdictions, including 250 cities, 695 villages, and 1,308 townships. New York has so many local governments it can’t keep track of them all, but estimates that there are 10,521.
While the proliferation of local governments, and the fragmentation of the state into tiny “little box” jurisdictions may satisfy residents’ desire for accessible, responsive, small governments, it also creates a staggering array of costs. The most obvious is that the many separate jurisdictions in a given region often duplicate infrastructure, staffing, and municipal services. Small municipalities miss out on quantity discounts from joint purchasing arrangements. These diseconomies are further sharpened by the fact that small jurisdictions tend to have correspondingly small tax bases to fund their variety of services.