Sunday, April 28, 2013
Heads In The Clouds, Faces In The Trough
Every city seems to have a pie-in-the-sky project or two that seems to outweigh common sense, financial sensibilities, and even political realities. Through a little known branch of Einstein's theories which today's physicists have yet to properly recognize, let alone define; these projects usually turn themselves into a form of black hole that sucks in both political and financial capital in.
In the City of Fountains, that project is for Kansas City to replace its user-friendly, three terminal airport (one of which is currently being closed down from lack of use) with a new single terminal facility. And the cost for tearing out an existing airport that many consider the most user-friendly in the country to put a single terminal monstrosity (Can you say Midway airport?), mostly for the purposes of streamlining the terminal security process and adding a few terminal shops and eateries to the mix is $1.2 billion before in-project changes, delays and increases in materials, and the cost overruns that are always involved with such massive government projects begin to have their way with it. (Can you say "Big Dig"?)
Perhaps most bizarrely, the city and the Aviation Director in charge of the maintenance of the existing facility Mark VanLoh, is spending $117,000 of the taxpayer's cash on a PR campaign to show that he's apparently incapable of maintaining the existing 30 year-old facility in a move designed to push for its replacement. He notes in an article in the Kansas City Star that, "the public doesn't see the many ways in which those terminals are deteriorating and can't be remodeled to meet the needs of the 21st century aviation world". There are some who think that seems rather at odds with the Department's PR efforts only 9 years ago, when it was touting the success story of spending some $258 million in taxpayer funds designed to remodel and update those very same terminals. And what about the millions spent to add underground parking garages to each of those terminals not so many years before. that Where do both of these rather significant investments in the airports original future fit with this new plan for its eventual destiny?
What does the city's leader, Mayor Sly James (yes, that's his real name) have to say about this: "I think what happened is that the concept got pushed out before we figured out how to push it out". Yep, you guessed it ... bad PR. Of course, every poll of local citizens shows that they are currently not in favor of building such a terminal, but what difference should that make? (After all, no one listens to the people when they're not interested in letting the government spend their money.) In fact, when a small local group started a petition effort to stop the city from pursuing the spending of taxpayer money in pursuit of the project, the City Attorney ruled such a citizen's effort 'premature' and invalid as a consequence.
Imagine the hubris! It isn't about the fact that KC doesn't need a new terminal now in the wake of an ever-shrinking airline industry. It's not that the city isn't already committed to building one of these black hole projects in the form of a 2-mile long streetcar system of doubtful use, except perhaps as a stepping stone to expanding it. It's not even that like many other cities of its size, the city doesn't suffer grave infrastructure issues where streets, bridges, and water and sewer systems are involved; and that will only be solved by major increases in some form of equally massive projects funded by tax and fee increases to its citizenry. The real problem with the airport project is that the Mayor and his minions have not been allowed to do the sales pitch for it at their own time in and their own way.
Unfortunately, those of you who live for the power, influence, and the vast amounts of cash involved with such projects should have no real fear however. A new Kansas City Airport appears to have entered the event horizon of this non-Newtonian phenomena. The shear mass of such a project will be difficult to slow down, especially as it gathers the mounting acceleration of taxpayer-funded, government-approved gravity well of a PR campaign and the refusal of government at any level to give up on such things until it gets it own way. There's money to be made in such massive government projects for big contractors, for union workers, and for government bureaucrats who get to dispense these vast funds. There's also a good bit political power and future fund raising to be garnered for any politicians who serve the purposes of these funding black holes. There's little mystery to the result of question of the airport's future therefore, when those in charge have their heads in the clouds and their faces in the trough.