Federal Budget Priorities: Public Transit
Rather Than Nuclear Submarines
This past winter, hundreds of MIT staff, students, and faculty had difficulty getting to and from work because of the inability of the transit system to handle the unusually heavy snows. This reflected, in part, many years of inadequate federal and state investment in public transit. The Boston Globe (Tuesday, May 19) reported on ways traffic and transit congestion is limiting Kendall Square and MIT function and growth.
While the MBTA is seen as a state-provided local service, during the Nixon administration 15 percent of operating subsidies and 80 percent of capital funding for large systems such as the MBTA came from the federal government. Today the federal government provides no operating cost to the MBTA, and capital assistance is very hard to get, slow to come, and usually no better than 50 percent.
On May 13, tragedy struck when an Amtrak regional train headed to Boston derailed outside Philadelphia, partly due to failure to upgrade track safety, again reflecting inadequate federal investment. The next day a Senate committee supported further reduction in Amtrak investment. The sums under discussion were in the $1-2 billion range.
The same week, the Senate proposed more than $600 billion in military funding, more than the total military budgets of the next six largest nations together, and more than 55% of total Congressional discretionary spending. A significant fraction of this budget is for upgrading our nuclear weapons arsenal. An article by physics professor Aron Bernstein in last month’s Faculty Newsletter described the international efforts just ended in New York – the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review – in which more than 100 nations were pushing for reductions in nuclear arms by those nations maintaining nuclear weapons arsenals. The U.S. arsenal, together with Russia’s, includes bomber-based, land-based, and submarine missiles. Our fleet of 14 nuclear-armed submarines, the world’s largest, each carry multiple warhead missiles representing more than 1000x the destructive power of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The current budget – more than a decade after the fall of the Berlin Wall – proposes buying 12 additional Ohio class submarines at $8 billion each.
It seems extraordinary that our nation lacks the funds to upgrade its transit – helping people get to work, to school, to healthcare facilities – while the administration is planning to spend $300 billion over the next 10 years maintaining and modernizing our nuclear weapons and the infrastructure to produce them.
If a fraction of the $96 billion cost of new Ohio class nuclear weapons submarines were transferred to Amtrak, the entire East Coast rail system could be brought up to modern standards, increasing safety and the quality of life for millions of Americans. These nuclear weapon systems don’t feed us, don’t clothe us, don’t get us to work, don’t mitigate our energy needs, and don’t contribute to needed scientific or engineering developments. Many believe they decrease rather than increase national security.
It would be far better to increase our national security by bringing our transit and transportation systems up to modern standards, rather than continuing to expand our nuclear arsenal. Maybe then we could even afford new subway cars, signals, and power stations for the Red Line serving MIT and Kendall Square, improving the quality of life and productivity of MIT students, staff, and faculty.