Koch Brothers Loom Over Maryland’s Purple Line Fight

Look whose envoy has been dispatched to undermine Maryland’s Purple Line. Once again, Randal O’Toole of the Koch brothers-funded Cato Institute has been deployed to attack a light rail project in distress.

Newly appointed Maryland DOT chief Pete Rahn will play a large role in deciding the fate of the Purple Line. At Rahn’s confirmation hearing, lawmakers questioned him about a fishy contract awarded to Koch Industries when he was running New Mexico DOT.

On Monday, the Maryland Public Policy Institute, a right-wing think tank, is hosting a debate on whether to construct the light rail project in the DC suburbs, which newly elected Governor Larry Hogan has threatened to kill. The debate will pair Rich Parson, vice chair of the Suburban Maryland Transportation Alliance, with O’Toole, professional rail critic.

O’Toole works for the Cato Institute, founded and funded by the Koch brothers. Cato dispatches O’Toole to political squabbles involving rail transit around the country, from Indianapolis to Honolulu. He’s so rabidly anti-rail that after Hurricane Sandy, he suggested New York City should replace its subway system with a network of underground buses.

Despite dispensing ridiculous advice, O’Toole continues to be treated as a serious thinker by American media outlets. The Washington Business Journal recently printed an O’Toole broadside against the Purple Line, replete with his typical arguments, like light rail is worse for the environment than driving.

Hogan’s appointee to head the state DOT, Pete Rahn, was scheduled to give opening remarks at the MPPI event. But sources tell us that Rahn has since backed out prior to a bruising confirmation hearing with Maryland’s Democratically controlled legislature.

At the hearing, Maryland lawmakers raised questions about a highway project in New Mexico, where Rahn was previously DOT chief. NM-44, a 118-mile, $420 million road-widening that Rahn oversaw in New Mexico — the most expensive highway project in the state’s history at the time — awarded a huge and unusual contract to Koch Industries.

An investigation by the Albuquerque Business Journal [PDF] reported that Koch Industries was the only bidder on the project and approached Rahn directly with the proposal before bids had been requested. Koch Industries was also awarded an unprecedented $62 million contract for a 20-year maintenance warranty.

Former New Mexico Republican State Senator Billy McKibben told the Illinois Business Journal (which reported on the controversy after Rahn was installed as the head of Missouri DOT) that the deal would have bankrupted the state if it wasn’t for a well-timed oil and natural gas boom.

Correction 2:51 p.m. February 26: The original version of this story included the wrong date for the Maryland Public Policy Institute debate. It is March 2. 

  • Bolwerk

    So much for O’Toole’s imminent irrelevance. 🙁

    Here’s a question: where are the good guys? Shouldn’t groups like supposedly pro-transit ITDP be out fighting Cato?

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Former New Mexico Republican State Senator Billy McKibben told the Illinois Business Journal (which reported on the controversy after Rahn was installed as the head of Missouri DOT) that the deal would have bankrupted the state if it wasn’t for a well-timed oil and natural gas boom.”

    Which just ended.

  • linstur

    Sincere question: why does the right hate light rail and subways and bikes? Do they want everyone in cars? What about traffic?

  • hamilt0n

    ” the deal would have bankrupted the state if it wasn’t for a well-timed oil and natural gas boom.”

    LOL, what? That’s like 2% of the state budget.

  • I’d like to propose the Koch Brothers’ corollary to Godwin’s Law: You know you’ve won the factual arguments when all the other side can do is bring up some tenuous connection between you and the Koch Brothers.

  • Diogenes

    It’s usually understood that resorting to ad hominem is a concession of defeat…

  • Diogenes

    Why don’t you read some of O’Toole’s analyses and find out?

  • Guest

    I’m a right-winger and I loathe cars. I am in favor of rail and walkable towns/cities. I’m serious.

  • Bolwerk

    What ad hominem?

  • Nathanael

    Uh-oh. Looks like Maryland’s governor is staffing DOT with a genuine, bribe-taking criminal.

    This is bad.

  • neroden

    For reference, “Antiplanner” is the professional blog name of Randall O’Toole. Who is, as this article says, a bought-and-paid-for hack who routinely attacks any rail project whatsoever on the flimsiest of grounds, using cherrypicked numbers (at best) or completely made-up numbers (at worst) and illogical arguments.

    It’s quite likely that he believes his own bullshit. Anyone with any intellectual integrity can tell that all his arguments are utter self-serving nonsense.

    Hi, Randall! It’s nice to see you here. We’re going to beat you again, because *you’re a fool*. The Koch Brothers should hire better hacks, but I guess it’s hard to convince competent people to do hackwork like yours.

  • neroden

    Randall (Antiplanner) made an ad hominem argument. Reread it, you’ll spot what it is.

  • neroden

    O’Toole doesn’t do analyses, he makes stuff up.

    There’s basically two reasons:
    (1) some right-wingers have a bizarre and insane association of cars with “freedom”. Perhaps because they are very anti-social people who hate to interact with other people. As a result, they hate trains, buses, walking, and anything which might get them out of their hermetically sealed bubble. (Some of the guys in category 1 love electric cars.)
    (2) Big Oil backs automobiles, because automobiles are massively oil-wasting. You can spot which guys are oil-backed because they *also* hate electric cars. Koch Industries is primarily a fossil fuel company, so this is their motivation.

  • neroden

    New Mexico is pretty screwed at the moment. After that jackass Martinez (R) is thrown out, her replacement will have a big mess to dig out of — almost entirely of Martinez’s making.

  • There’s those, certainly, but there is also this idea among the right that anything that may help poor people (public healthcare, public transit, welfare) is somehow bad because if poor people’s lives aren’t absolutely horrible they’ll have no incentive to stop being poor. Because the right seriously thinks people choose to be poor.

  • scastro87

    Well that’s a ridiculous lie.

  • scastro87

    I would say there are a few reasons right does not love rail the way the left does
    1) They do tend to be more individualistic and resistant to collective modes of transportation, especially when the point of the rail lines are to eliminate the car.
    2) They’re wary of the high up-front costs of rail
    3) They tend not to like higher density neighborhoods that would be necessary to support a subway and value personal living space more than liberals tend to

  • Bolwerk

    I see a possible genetic fallacy, but no ad hom.

    Truthfully, the comment was more insipid than fallacious. I was seriously just wondering.

  • Jonathan

    How so? Romney claimed that his infamous 47% (the poor and lower middle class) just needed to show “personal responsibility and care for their lives”, that is, that they were poor not because of what families they were born into, but just because they were irresponsible. Newt wanted to put poor children to work as janitors because that way they would learn “pride” and rise out of poverty. The utter contempt the right has for poor people (and their absurd idea that they could get out of poverty if they just bothered to) is shown in their public statements.

  • Gabriel Roth

    The personal attacks on Randal O’Toole — a published expert on transport and urban development — do nothing to weaken his reasoned objections to the Purple Line.

    Transport people who regard this project as a waste of taxpayers’ money do not do so because of an addiction to cars, but because they know that other modes — buses, shared taxis, express toll lanes — can deliver faster, seated, door-to-door service at a fraction of the cost of rail-based modes.


  • Bolwerk

    What personal attacks?

  • neroden

    Randal O’Toole has a record of writing utterly ridiculous and easily disproved garbage, one example of which was linked in this article (the absurd idea of getting rid of NYC’s subway system).

    He is the opposite of an expert.

    He has no professional credentials whatsoever, but he does take a lot of money from fossil fuel interests in order to spew his fact-free rants.

    Those aren’t personal attacks, those are *professional* attacks. For all I know he treats his wife and children well and is upstanding in his personal life. In his professional life, he’s a fraud. The man should not be treated as credible, because he’s not credible, he’s a paid liar.

  • neroden

    “The people who are saying this are also saying this…” is a type of ad hom. In fact, this type of ad hom is not necessarily an invalid argument if the second statement speaks to general credibility (“The people who are saying this also say that 1+1=3”), but that’s not the case in Randall’s statement.


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