By Dennis Polhill
Elementary school students learn the opposite of politics. The Scientific Method, both used in school and required in Science Fair projects, mandates that a proposition, idea, question or assertion be proven. The notion is that facts are verifiable and repeatable. That June 21 has more daylight than any other day of the year can be proven by observing, measuring, and verifying with other research. It is an indisputable scientific fact.
The search for fact-based knowledge is not easy. T.C. Chamberlin seems in regular cycle to be forgotten and rediscovered. Chamberlin was a geologist and President of the University of Wisconsin in 1890 when he wrote his most important work. He observed that even objectively motivated and well-disciplined scientists fell victim to the phenomenon of “premature conclusion.” He wrote, “The central psychological fault is intellectual affection The vitality of study quickly disappears when the object sought is a mere collocation of dead, unmeaning facts A working hypothesis may with the utmost ease degenerate into a ruling theory.” The scientific method breaks down and is corrupted when scientists become biased toward a particular conclusion. Eagerness to reach conclusion, interferes with the ability to challenge veracity. Ultimately, bad science will fail the test of time.
If it is this difficult to for those honestly seeking truth to hold focus, then how successful can the political process be when interests work complex strategies with the sole intent of achieving a preconceived outcome? Truth is less important than victory. Failure has no consequence, because taxpayers are forever burdened to make the best of the situation.
The federally required Environmental Impact Statement process was originally designed to identify and quantify truths. However, the EIS has become a tool of interests to advance political agendas.
National experts have observed the Colorado Southeast Corridor EIS as particularly flawed. This is the study that is supposed to justify Light Rail along I-25. Blatantly false statements in the Major Investment Study should have caused an objective Colorado Department of Transportation to disqualify the offending consultant from consideration to perform the EIS. That company’s business goal of building its light rail resume might also have been sufficient cause to select another.
The Independence Institute produced a 30 page footnoted comprehensive research paper with 38 pages of involved spreadsheets showing that improvements other than light rail would provide more mobility, less congestion and less environmental impact, while assigning most costs to those who directly benefit. Submitted for the public record, the research was summarily dismissed in a 5 page discussion by individuals apparently unable to comprehend the analysis.
Just as Socrates was condemned to death in 399 B.C. for revealing truths that a tyrannical state wished undisclosed, the EIS process has become an enemy of truth. Statements such as, “No light rail system has reduced traffic congestion,” are verifiable.
For the first time, Colorado voters approved use of tax dollars to construct light rail. Whether the Regional Transportation District’s prior outlay of over $300 million was an illegal use of public funds is a subject for another time. Referred Measure 4A was approved with a 65% “yes” vote. But 4A was “joined at the hip” with Referred Measure A, TRANS, which authorized the state to accelerate construction of 28 highways projects by incurring $1.7 billion in debt. TRANS received 62% yes. The “joined at the hip” message was that both projects had to be approved for voters to get either one. In other words, anti-automobile people were obliged to vote for highways in order to get light rail and pro-automobile folks were compelled to vote “yes” on light rail to get highways.
Since November 1999 politicians have rushed to declare the election result a mandate to construct rail. RTD is spending millions for MIS studies in every direction, a monorail to Vail was suggested and light rail in Colorado Springs, Greeley, Fort Collins and paralleling I-25 to Wyoming have been proposed, as if a single centralized technology could solve a decentralized transportation problem.
Voters have defeated every light rail tax increase until appended to desperately needed and long withheld highway improvements. As Chamberlin said, “If our vision is narrowed by a preconceived theory as to what will happen, we are almost certain to misinterpret the facts and to misjudge the issue.”
Not only is there no mandate to build rail, there is no factual basis to conclude that Denver will record the first ever light rail success. The Transportation Industrial Complex uses misperceptions, including the phony EIS process, to sustain and grow itself.
Dennis Polhill is a Senior Fellow in Transportation Policy at the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank in Golden, http://i2i.org.
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