Vol. 3, Issue 9, March 29, 2005
Des Moines Cancels Light Rail Project Because There's Nowhere to Go
A major light rail project in Des Moines, Iowa was defeated in the General Assembly yesterday when lawmakers reached a consensus that there really isn't anywhere to go.
"Despite a broad coalition of support, we've really been struggling with the parameters of the proposed system," said Tom Arbuckle, a member of the Iowa General Assembly. "Essentially, people assumed that having a light rail system would enhance our transportation infrastructure. But when someone actually stood up in the Assembly chambers and asked "Why?" it became clear that no one had a good answer."
With a greater metropolitan population of over half a million, Des Moines is by far the largest urban center in Iowa. It boasts an international airport, a zoo, and several very shiny skyscrapers, which are polished twice weekly by the economic development agency.
"Mass transportation is a sign of a successful city," said Mayor Frank Cownie. "I admit we have sort of a chicken-and-egg problem here; we don't have a strong commuter base because we don't have a system for them to commute with, and we don't have a system for them to commute with because we don't have a strong commuter base. But, I would like to point out, we do have a brand-new monkey at the zoo. That's worth traveling for. He's a hoot."
Iowa is a predominantly agricultural state, and Des Moines is home to a great deal of agribusiness. In addition, the city is home to over fifty major insurance companies.
"I have to admit," confessed Cowrie, "that we thought bringing in the insurance companies would kind of kick-start things. Everyone knows that insurance companies are vibrant intellectual and cultural hotbeds and have a significant economic impact on the area. You know, the way computer companies do it for places like Silicon Valley. Perhaps we need more insurance companies to get things going."
Over $150 million earmarked for the light rail project have been put back into the public coffers, and lawmakers are struggling to come up with a use for the money. Some suggest that despite the total lack of interest in the project, Des Moines might as well proceed with the light rail system anyway, for lack of anything better to do.
"Off the record, we had the same problem pushing through the Iowa Events Center," admitted Yolanda Fremont, economic development coordinator for Des Moines, in a confidential email. "But we didn't give up, we ignored the nay-sayers. And $200 million later, we managed to build a venue which, this month alone, hosted both the Iowa Deer Classic and a prayer breakfast. I think we've proven our point."
While it appears unlikely that the light rail system will move forward at this point, Des Moines officials are apparently hoping that the media attention will prove a windfall for the city and stimulate economic development.
"There's no such thing as bad publicity, right?" said Cowrie.