Pork dollars well spent?

By DAVID MOON, Moon Capital Management, LLC
August 22, 2010

One man’s needed municipal project may be another man’s pork, but it is nice to see Knoxville as the beneficiary of federal dollars for a project that benefits all of society.

When Knoxville Station opened last Monday, a new era in local public transportation began. This new state of the art intermodal transfer facility provides a safe, convenient transfer point for Knoxville Area Transit riders. It was also practically free. Federal and state grants picked up 90 percent of the $29 million cost.

Yvette Taylor, regional administrator of the Federal Transit Administration calls it a “beautiful transit center.” She says “the millions of dollars we invested were well-spent.”

US Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., chairman of the House committee on Transportation and Infrastructure has travelled to transportation facilities all over the nation. He calls ours “an extraordinary facility.”

Clearly we should be proud.

The facility is not only a connection between downtown and the Townview Terrace Apartments/Coliseum area, but is, as Knoxville Area Transit general manager Cindy McGinnis describes it, “a bridge to almost anywhere.”

The facility was built and designed to achieve maximum possible energy efficiency, using a geothermal heating/cooling system for the inside areas. It also provides outdoor heaters for the comfort of waiting passengers in the winter.

I bet the riders this past week wish it also included some outdoor air conditioners.

Federal stimulus package money is being provided to KAT in order to purchase a permanent art collection for display in the station’s public areas, helping provide a pleasant public transit experience, in addition to a safe one.

This new facility makes it easier for KAT riders to find their buses. The old system had buses lining up along Main Street, forcing riders to wander among a line of make-shift shelters to find the proper connection for the next leg of their trip.

Each bus now has a dedicated platform, making it simpler for riders to know where their connecting ride can be found.

Maybe you’ve never ridden a bus and have no interest in doing so. If so, that’s a shame. Nevertheless, you still benefit from this valuable public service.

Every time you pass a KAT vehicle, count all of the riders on board. Each of those individuals represents a car that is not on the road. That is less traffic, which is good for both the environment and your blood pressure. It is also less demand for gasoline, which reduces pressure on gas prices for those of us who do burn fossil fuel.

Perhaps most importantly, providing facilities like Knoxville Station is simply the morally right thing to do. As McGinnis explains, KAT customers now have a safe place to wait on their bus transfers. Basic amenities such as Wi-Fi and snack machines are available.

The federal government is an easy target to criticize – and I’ve certainly done my share of criticizing. This project, however, is one that challenges that sort of narrow, selfish, conservative thinking.

David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management, a Knoxville-based investment management firm. This article originally appeared in the News Sentinel (Knoxville, TN).

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