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Streetcar friction

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White
said at a council meeting in December that the streetcar is too expensive (some
estimates have put the track at $20 million per mile) and a waste of resources
that could go to improving existing transportation infrastructure, and he
regrets voting to include the project in the MAPS 3 program.

So
it was no surprise when one of the streetcar’s biggest proponents stepped up to
address White’s comments on project, fireworks ensued.

Jeff
Bezdek sits on the modern streetcar subcommittee, was campaign director for the
Modern Transit Project and is an advocate for a light-rail system in the metro
area. Bezdek addressed the council at its Jan. 4 meeting, inviting members to
be involved in the process of planning for the streetcar before asking the
council to tone down the rhetoric on the issue.

“This
is an ongoing public process where we are having public meetings, where
we’re trying to get input from the ground up,” Bezdek said. “What you say
from the bench is very critical in how it affects this process, and it affects
the volunteers that have put hundreds, if not thousands of hours into trying to
come up with the best transit solution that we can possibly build within MAPS.”

Bezdek
also addressed the cost, saying $20 million per mile is a composite estimate
that takes into account more than just the cost of laying track, and that in
the long run, the streetcar would cost less to operate than other forms of public
transportation.

“We
are going to run this through the ringer and make sure that we have the best,
most technologically advanced recommendation for you,” Bezdek said.

White
responded by saying Bezdek and another speaker in favor of the streetcar had
missed his point, and that his problem was with paying tens of millions of
dollars for a streetcar that would take riders only a few blocks, while there
are inadequate shelters around the city for bus riders.

“We
don’t have a conscience about that,” White said. “We’re just going to run down
this like lemmings off a cliff and dump this money into a system that’s 5 or 6
miles long, and it’s to provide a service for people not even here yet, when
I’ve got people freezing their tush off at 74th and Santa Fe that use the bus
system to get back and forth to work.

“We’re
speaking for a system that costs, as you said, an average of $20 million a
mile, and the idea that it’s going to get cheaper in the future — I want to
know what you’re smoking.”

Bezdek
replied, “Mr. White, that’s not very kind.”

That
prompted White to respond: “It’s not very kind from my standpoint for you to
advocate for a system that serves a select group of people that are not here
yet.”

Bezdek
said polling showed a majority of voters favored the streetcar aspect of MAPS
3, and that he supports improving the bus system, but that it would be
impossible for MAPS 3 money to be a source of ongoing operational costs, since
the program is temporary.

“We
can build bus shelters with MAPS money … but it’s not possible to fund ongoing
operations,” Bezdek said.

“It’s
that simple. The supporters who supported MAPS wanted transit involved.”

It
wasn’t clear what White then said to Bezdek since his microphone was turned
off, but Bezdek responded: “I’m not telling you that you’re stupid.”

Soon
after, Mayor Mick Cornett decided to stop debate and catch the next train.

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