THE REAL COSTS OF THE SKYWAY ARE DAUNTING

Mark Twain is reported to have said, “There are three kinds of lies. Lies, damned lies and statistics.” Were he alive today, Twain would apply that definition to the Automated Skyway Express (ASE) and one of its “pie in the sky” supporters, Bruce A. Fouraker [Backpage Editorial, “In Defense of the Skyway,” Oct. 8]. Going back to at least 1994, Fouraker has accused Times-Union columnist Ron Littlepage and me of repeatedly making false statements about the ASE. In reality, he should look in the mirror to find his misstatements. His letters to the editor and op-eds have appeared numerous times in the T-U and recently in Folio Weekly.

An early example appeared in the July 20, 1994, issue of the T-U. Fouraker stated that Littlepage and I said that “the 2.5-mile starter line (in reality, the starter line is only 0.7 miles long, not 2.5 miles long) will cost $100 million per mile. This would put the cost estimates at $250 million. The correct cost in 1993 dollars for the completion of the 2.5-mile ASE is $170 million, which is confirmed by the Jacksonville Transportation Authority. Allowing for inflation between June 1993 and when construction is finished in 1996, the cost works out to about $70 million per mile. (That comes to a total of $175 million for the entire project.)”

On Fouraker’s Sept. 11, 1994, letter is the headline, “Cost per mile is $67.5 million, not $100,” which brings the cost to $168.8 million. Fouraker went on the write: “The Sept. 1 column by Ron Littlepage stated that ‘the ASE costs $100 million per mile.’ This number is incorrect. The $84 million received through March 1993 is the combined federal, state and local funding for the Convention Center line and the Hogan Street line. The actual federal portion of this funding is $61 million.”

Here are the true facts as to how the $250 million figure was arrived at, as published in the Jacksonville Business Journal in January 1995: “In March 1993, JTA officials met with a federal congressional committee to ask for additional federal funds for the ASE. They noted they had already received $83.4 million from Congress. That figure was confirmed by Steve Arrington, JTA’s director of engineering, during an interview with a reporter.

“Arrington then said it would take another $106 million from Congress ‘to wrap it all up.'”

Combining the two figures, the total federal contribution comes to $189.4 million. Add to that the 20 percent share divided between Jacksonville and Florida, we arrive at a gross figure of $237 million. And add to that the additional cost of replacing the expensive Matra system with the new Bombardier system, plus the lost revenue during the extended period that the starter line was shut down during the conversion, we arrive at a total cost of about $250 million.

That is $100 million per mile.

In a July 20, 1994, letter to the T-U, Fouraker wrote why the ASE would be able to handle the then-Gator Bowl Jaguar games. He wrote about me: “Edwards is incorrect in asserting that the ASE cannot handle crowds at football games. During the 90-minute periods before and after the game, the ASE can easily transport 20,000 people each way. Based on trains of three vehicles operating in 90-second intervals, the ASE can transport 17,300 per hour. The number of 92 passengers per car is based on everyone having considerable space. The capacity of 144 passengers is based on everyone standing in close proximity but not touching.”

With just two tracks, that is impossible. Fouraker noted that the normal ASE car capacity is 92. He then asserted that even with 144 passengers, no one would be touching. Even the JTA described the 144 count as a “crush” load that equates to sardines packed in a can. Fouraker stated that three-car trains could operate at 90-second intervals at the Gator Bowl. That works out to 40 such trains an hour. That is impossible. Do the trains go in different directions? Do they take people north, or to the Convention Center, or to the Southside?

It should also be noted that the station is not connected to the stadium. Games can be day or night, rain or shine, hot or cold. Passengers must walk to or from the station or stadium. There may even be other events in the area, adding to the crowds. Waiting for the ASE could take hours.

Nowhere does Fouraker mention the many years that the U.S. Department of Transportation called the ASE “a pork barrel project to benefit a relative handful of individuals and organizations, and that it did not conform to their mass transit guidelines.”

Finally, both the JTA and the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce had said the ASE would operate at a profit. In fiscal 2009, the operating loss was more than $13 million. In fiscal 2012, the loss was more than $11 million. There has never been a profit. Both the JTA and Fouraker repeatedly changed their projections as to both cost and ASE passengers. Now that ASE passengers ride for free, what does the JTA do for operating income? Major operating expenses will continue to grow. Fouraker has yet to comment on the free rides.

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