Streams

11th Hour for Florida High-Speed Rail: Look What's On Gov. Scott's Schedule Tomorrow

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Florida's planned high-speed rail route

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) Tomorrow is the deadline for Florida to either move forward with high-speed rail -- or forfeit its $2.4 billion in federal funds. Governor Scott has twice rejected the Department of Transportation's money -- but is he poised to change his mind? Look what's on his schedule tomorrow:

9:00am-9:15am MEETING WITH SECRETARY RAY LAHOOD (VIA PHONE)

Stay tuned.

In the meantime, let's review the timeline:

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More Tussles To Come Over 34th Street Redesign in Manhattan

Thursday, March 03, 2011

34th Street in Manhattan. (Flckr creative commons / Photo by: 商店也很多的34街,和第五大道交叉的地方就是帝國大廈。)

(New York, NY - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) Critics of the New York City Department of Transportation's plan to redesign 34th Street won a round yesterday when the city nixed a plan to replace car traffic in the corridor with bus lanes and a pedestrian island.

The plan had called for higher curbs, special bus lanes and bus ticket kiosks on the block between 5th and 6th Avenues. Some business owners said the redesign would've tied up traffic, and made it harder for drivers to shop and for businesses to receive deliveries.

Macy's was among the concerned. Senior vice president Ed Goldberg said he worried the changes to the streetscape would have made it harder to steer giant cartoon balloons up Broadway on Thanksgiving.

"Obviously anything that we do that is an obstruction, be it sidewalk or street, is of concern to us," he said." It's about our one big magic day of the year during the parade."

But others had looked forward to the city's plan to make one block of 34th Street free of cars. Several small store owners said they favored the move because a pedestrian island would've brought more shoppers on foot and made it easier to cross the street in the middle of the block.

Clothing store manager Rossana Rosado said pedestrians needed more space to move around. "There's always a traffic jam out there," she said. "It's impossible for people to get across the street, even, because there isn't a place for pedestrians to cross."

The city's Department of Transportation will present a revised plan for the 34th Street corridor at a public meeting on March 14.

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BREAKING: ACLU Gearing Up To Sue D.C. Metro Over Bag Searches

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Gallery/Chinatown DC Metro Station (photo by Jill Robidoux)

(Washington D.C. - David Schultz, WAMU) The DC chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has been unhappy with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority's bag searches since WMATA began the searches in December. Now they're seeking people who've had their bags searched -- and so would have legal standing in court to challenge the program's constitutionality.

Johnny Barnes, the director of the local ACLU, announced the potential lawsuit this morning. "The WMATA board is on collision course with the ACLU and its partners," he said.  "In 2008, Metro considered bag searches but decided against them. In December 2010, they decided to do them. In between nothing happened...Suspicionless searches don’t meet constitutional muster, but if you show a special need they do. So what’s the special need?"

Late last year, Metro began searching the bags of its train riders in an effort to combat terrorism. It stationed police officers at unannounced train stations, where they would subject the bags of randomly selected passengers to mechanical - and sometimes physical - searches.

Similar programs in Boston and New York City have been upheld in court. But Barnes says Metro's bag search program is different because it was not implemented in response to a specific threat.

In the weeks before the program went into effect in D.C., two people were arrested for plotting separate terror attacks against Metro. But Metro's top executives have said publicly that there was no specific threat that prompted them to implement the bag searches.

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Florida Mayors to Rick Scott: We May Never Have This HSR Opportunity Again, Please Reconsider

Thursday, March 03, 2011

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) With just hours to go before oral arguments begin in Florida's high-speed rail lawsuit -- and one day before the Department of Transportation-imposed deadline for the state to accept the $2.4 billion in federal money or lose it -- the mayors of Orlando, Tampa and Lakeland jointly sent a letter to Governor Rick Scott they say addresses his concerns about the state's liability.

Scott has been resolute in his belief that the state's taxpayers would be on the hook if the project goes bust. The Mayors' letter argues that the state is protected and that the "USDOT has unambiguously waived its standard repayment obligation."

The letter concludes: "We may never have the opportunity again in Florida to build a project of this scale, impact, and significance with 90% federal funding.  We have had every reasonable indication that the balance of construction costs and operating costs will be funded by the private sector.  This provides a remarkable combination of resources for a project promising so many benefits to our region and our State. It is our sincere belief that this letter fully addresses all of your concerns and that there is no reasonable risk to the State of Florida or any other impediment to moving forward with this worthwhile project."

We've reached out to the governor's office for his reaction and will update if we hear anything.

Meanwhile, the Florida Supreme Court will be hearing arguments in the case today at 3pm; there will be a live video stream here.

You can read the letter the mayors sent the governor here (pdf) or below.

Letter to Gov Scott HSR 03-02-11 v6

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House Extends Trust Fund, Awaiting a Fight

Thursday, March 03, 2011

(Washington, D.C.--Todd Zwillich) The House voted on Wednesday to extend the nation's surface transportation law, forestalling an inevitable debate on how to restructure highway funding in an age of deficits.

Lawmakers overwhelmingly approved the Surface Transportation Act (link) until September 30, the end of the current fiscal year. The bill authorizes $580 billion over the next decade and about $53 billion this year. Most of that spending, about $42.5 billion, is to be funneled through the Highway Trust Fund.

The extension comes as Congress prepares for a broader debate over how to fund--or cut--federal highway and transit spending to help fill budget gaps. The Highway trust fund is financed with the 18.5-cent federal gas tax, which in recent years has failed to keep up with the demands of infrastructure building and upkeep. That's led lawmakers to dip into general government revenues to make up the difference, a move that is about to become a no-no under Republican leadership in the House.

The House's move comes a day after the release of a Government Accountability Office report that criticized widespread duplication and inefficiency at the Department of Transportation. It concludes DOT has become an uncoordinated and largely haphazard collection of programs. The Obama Administration agrees for the most part; it proposed a consolidation scheme for DOT in its Fiscal 2012 Budget.

All of this points to a tough transportation debate later this year, ranging from the future of the Highway Trust Fund and infrastructure spending to cutting programs--wasteful or otherwise--from DOT.

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TN Moving Stories: FL HSR Arguments Today, and Ford Talks Connected Cars

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

The DOT is open to tolling existing highways. (Dallas Morning News)

Oral arguments in the Florida high-speed rail lawsuit begin today at 3pm. You can read the legal arguments here; WFSU TV will be carrying the proceedings live. Lawsuit coverage here, here and here.

New York City has abandoned a plan for a pedestrian plaza in the middle of 34th Street. (AP via WSJ)

Allegiant Air has asked the DOT if it can change ticket prices based on the cost of fuel -- right up until the time of departure. (Business Week)

The head of Ford Motor Co. talks about the future of gridlock and connected cars at a TED conference. (CNN)

Wisconsin Republicans are looking at yanking the parking spaces of their Democratic counterparts to compel them to return to the capitol. (Bloomberg)

Bill Bradley and Tom Ridge call for more transpo spending in Politico. "...with an almost 20 percent cut in the transportation budget, the House Continuing Resolution goes a bridge too far. We need to invest more in infrastructure. Less is the wrong way to go."

Bombadier Aerospace wants to make fully recyclable airplanes. (Smart Planet)

Top Transportation Nation stories we're following: Long Island Bus may lose half its lines. The House voted to extend the Surface Transportation Act. Florida Governor Rick Scott tells TN he's still not interested in the high-speed rail funds--and that he has no meetings scheduled with the DOT before Friday's deadline. Meanwhile, the US experienced its third largest year in traffic.

Follow Transportation Nation on Twitter.

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Waiting For High-Speed Rail? In the Meantime, Take a Bus

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

High-speed rail is getting a lot of attention--from President Obama's call for a nationwide rail network, to Florida's Rick Scott being the latest in a string of Republican governors to cancel rail plans--but bullet trains are by no means the only emerging intercity transportation mode.

Buses are on the rise. In fact, high-tech buses are the fastest growing form of intercity transportation. New companies like Megabus, and Bolt Bus, a subsidiary of Greyhound, are snagging new passengers away from air and rail competitors each year with low fares and streetside pick ups. So much so that some cities are considering regulating the fast growing industry.

In California, Casey Miner or KALW investigates if this rising trend might act as an interim substitute for high-speed rail, which will take a decade or more to complete from Los Angeles to San Fransisco.  Hear all about it over at KALW News.

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Long Island Bus May Lose More Than Half Its Lines

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Long Island Bus, one of the largest suburban bus lines in the country serving the New York City suburbs, may put the brakes on 27 of their 48 lines this summer.

NYC MTA chairman Jay Walder said 16,000 people may lose bus service and 200 workers will be laid off because Nassau County is not paying enough toward the service's $134 million annual budget. Walder said that given the NYC MTA's "fragile fiscal condition," the authority will have no choice but to strand passengers--unless the county agrees to increase its contribution.

Read more on wnyc.org



Long Island Bus, one of the largest suburban bus lines in the country serving the New York City suburbs, may put the brakes on 27 of their 48 lines this summer.

NYC MTA chairman Jay Walder said 16,000 people may lose bus service and 200 workers will be laid off because Nassau County is not paying enough toward the service's $134 million annual budget. Walder said that given the NYC MTA's "fragile fiscal condition," the authority will have no choice but to strand passengers--unless the county agrees to increase its contribution.

Read more on wnyc.org

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Rick Scott Not Wavering on Rejection of High-Speed Rail, Says No Meetings with US DOT Before Deadline

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Donald Trump and Florida Governor Rick Scott at a New York City event to promote the state's tourism industry (photo by Kate Hinds)

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation)  Florida Governor Rick Scott isn't wavering in his rejection of high-speed rail funds.  And he says he has no meetings scheduled with the US DOT to discuss the issue -- despite the fact that Friday is the deadline for Scott to turn over authority for Florida high-speed rail to another entity.  If he doesn't the funds will revert to the U.S. DOT.

Scott was in New York City today as part of a multi-city tour promoting Florida's tourist industry. Transportation Nation grabbed him for a few minutes afterwards; transcript below.

Q: You talk about jobs. Senator Nelson says high speed rail will bring 24,000 jobs to Florida – how can you turn it down?

Rick Scott: Well, my concern is I want to focus on the places where we have a long-term impact, not just construction of high speed rail. Things like our ports, our highways, the infrastructure, that’s what I want to focus on. We’ve got a great position, Florida has, with the expansion of the Panama Canal and the expansion of the economies of Central and South America. My concern about the high-speed rail is it’s a large number-- $2.4 billion-- however it doesn’t cover all the operating costs, it doesn’t cover the construction costs, and, if it doesn’t work, and we have to shut it down, we have to give all that money back. That’s what I’m worried about.

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US DOT: Highway Traffic Reaches Highest Level Since 2007

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

More analysis later, but the US DOT tells us:

WASHINGTON – Americans drove three trillion miles in 2010, the most vehicle miles traveled since 2007 and the third-highest ever recorded, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced today.   The increase in traffic volume comes as the U.S. in 2009 posted its lowest number of traffic fatalities and injuries since 1950.

“More driving means more wear and tear on our nation's roads and bridges,” said Secretary LaHood.  “This new data further demonstrates why we need to repair the roads and bridges that are the lifeblood of our economy."

The Secretary noted that Americans drove 0.7 percent more, or 20.5 billion additional vehicle miles traveled (VMT), in 2010 than the previous year. Travel increased by 0.6 percent, or 1.4 billion VMT, in December 2010 compared to the previous December. It is the tenth consecutive month of increased driving.

The new data, from the Federal Highway Administration’s monthly “Traffic Volume Trends” report, show the South Gulf area, a bloc of eight states ranging from Texas to Kentucky, experienced the greatest regional increase in December 2010 at 46.6 billion VMT, an increase of 624 million miles traveled compared to the previous December.

With an increase of 11.1 percent, or 156 million additional miles traveled, Nebraska led the nation with the largest single-state increase that month, and rural driving outpaced urban driving across the country.

"These data are critical to identifying and evaluating patterns of use on America’s road system, which help us to make decisions about investments in critical infrastructure,” said Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez. “Repairing our nation’s roads, bridges and tunnels will help us ensure safety, strengthen the economy and build for the future.”

To review the VMT data in FHWA's "Traffic Volume Trends" reports, including that for December 2010, visit http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/ohim/tvtw/tvtpage.cfm.

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Spending Detente Results in Transportation Cuts

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

(Washington, DC -- Todd Zwillich, Transportation Nation) Republicans and Democrats locked in a spending fight on Capitol Hill appear to have averted the specter of  a government shutdown, for now. But the deal that sidestepped the showdown dealt some blows to transportation funding.

House Republicans easily passed a bill Tuesday extending government operations for two weeks beyond the current March 4th deadline. The idea is to give Republican and Democratic negotiators more time to cut a deal on government funding through September 30, the the remainder of Fiscal 2011. But the Republican-led Congress believes the American public is in the mood for spending cuts, so even the two-week peace offering contained $4 billion in immediate cuts.

That includes a $650 million cut in highway spending. The trim comes from increased spending from last fiscal year that the Obama Administration did not wish to continue anyway, according to the White House's 2012 Budget. The additional spending  would have sent more money to states through existing highway formulas, but will be cut if the president signs the 2-week extension bill.

The bill also shaves off $293 million in "surface transportation" earmarks, and another $25 million that would have been earmarked for "rail line relocation." It's all part of a move to kill about $2.7 billion in earmark spending in the measure.

The 2-week extension goes to the Senate floor today, where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has predicted it will be approved. Then its on to President Obama's desk for a signature. But that hardly gets Congress into the clear. The bill only buys lawmakers a bit more time to continue negotiations on funding government operations for the rest of the fiscal year. Republicans are gunning for at least $61 billion in total spending reductions, so they'll still have an appetite for more cuts.

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TN Moving Stories: As Gas Prices Rise, So Does Public Transit Ridership, and See Google's Street View Trike

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Los Angeles says that higher gas prices are pushing more people onto that city's public transit (KABC-TV). Raleigh is experiencing the same ridership spike (News & Observer).

Meanwhile, LA's City Council approved a bicycle master plan that sets a long-term goal of some 1,680 miles of interconnected bikeways and calls for 200 miles of the new bike paths to be added every five years. (AP via Silicon Valley Mercury News)

Georgia may tweak its gas tax so that the rate rises with inflation--and be pegged to the cost of road construction. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Say hello to Google's street view trike, which can boldly go where no car can:

New York's $370 million subway communications network is years late and $76 million over budget. (NY Daily News)

DOT Secretary Ray LaHood wants your questions; he'll supply video answers. (FastLane blog)

D.C. Council member and former mayor Marion Barry has racked up so many parking tickets that his car has been booted. (Washington Post)

Top Transportation Nation stories we're following: Two Florida senators filed a lawsuit to force Governor Rick Scott to accept the feds' high-speed rail money. The Governor was not amused. Metro-North's beleaguered New Haven line will have full service restored -- and gets some new cars to boot.  We take a look at a California court decision on transportation equity. And: where should the seed money to fund an infrastructure bank come from? One person's idea: inducing US multi-nationals to repatriate some of their foreign profits with a tax holiday--and using those funds as seed money.

Follow Transportation Nation on Twitter.

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BREAKING: Florida Governor Says Lawsuit "Disrespects" Taxpayers

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) Gov. Rick Scott just issued a terse statement in response to a lawsuit seeking to force him to accept federal money for the state's high-speed rail project.

“My position remains unchanged, I’ve yet to see any evidence that Florida taxpayers would not be on the hook. Senators Altman and Joyner’s disrespect for taxpayers is clear by their lawsuit trying to force the state to spend this money.”

Earlier today two state senators filed a lawsuit in Florida Supreme Court, saying the governor had overstepped his constitutional authority. The court has given Scott a deadline of noon tomorrow to respond. 

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Metro-North's New Haven Line To Restore Full Service on Monday

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

New rail cars debuted today on Metro-North's New Haven line (photo by Jim O'Grady)

(New York, NY -Jim O'Grady, WNYC) Riders on Metro North Railroad's New Haven Line will get their regular service back sooner than expected on Monday.

The NYC MTA abruptly cut the line's schedule by 10 percent in early February after winter storms disabled its old cars faster than repairs could be made. Most of those cuts were made to rush hour trains on the already crowded commuter line from Manhattan to Connecticut. For years, the line has routinely run trains with fewer cars than platforms can handle, leading to standing-room-only crushes during peak times.

The MTA has said the service problems can be traced to a funding gap caused by Connecticut's refusal to pay for new trains for years, beginning in 2000.  (A fuller explanation of the funding problem is here.)

A return to full service wasn't expected until spring, with the arrival of new train cars.

But this morning, Metro-North President Howard Permut said the MTA activated eight new cars that--along with more repairs--will allow the railroad to run more trains.

"Next week, the trains will be crowded," he said. "But they will not be nearly as crowded as they were during January, when they were jammed."

Permut talked to reporters at Grand Central Station this morning, having ridden on the maiden trip of the new train cars from Stamford, Connecticut.

The interior of the new Metro-North rail car (Jim O'Grady)

The new cars arrive two years late. They are the first of 380 cars that will be put into service over the next two years, at a cost of $761 million. Jim Cameron of the Connecticut Metro North Rail Commuter Council also rode the new train into Grand Central this morning. Normally a critic of the railroad, he had nothing but praise for the long-awaited Kawasaki cars.
"The ride was smooth," he said. "The heat worked, the lighting was great, the seats were comfortable. The bathroom was fabulous. It didn't stink--and it was the size of a studio apartment in Manhattan."
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Back of the Bus: The Courts Weigh In on Transportation Equity

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

AC Transit bus (photo by lensovet/Wikimedia Commons)

(San Francisco--Casey Miner, KALW News) If you've had a chance to listen to Back of the Bus, you know a little something about civil rights and Bay Area transportation. The quick version: local transit advocates believe money goes disproportionately to big rail projects like the Oakland Airport Connector at the expense of the local bus service used primarily by low-income and minority riders. Last month the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on that topic -- and it says the transit advocates are wrong.  But you can bet the story won't end here.

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Florida's High-Speed Rail Case on Fast Track

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Florida Supreme Court, Tallahassee 

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) The Florida Supreme Court has requested that Governor Rick Scott respond by noon tomorrow to a lawsuit filed earlier today by two state senators.  (The court scheduling notice can be found here.) The senators are arguing that Scott doesn't have the authority to reject federal funds for the program.

Meanwhile, Florida Senator Bill Nelson has requested more time from Ray LaHood. The transportation secretary had said that if an agreement isn't reached on high-speed rail by this Friday, he'll give the $2.4 billion to other states.  Senator Nelson writes:

Dear Mr. Secretary:

I know you believe the high-speed rail proposal for Florida is among the best such projects in the country.  And, as you know, I certainly agree.

I cannot thank you enough for all your efforts so far to save the project in Florida, including granting us an extra week extension to find a subgrantee.  I am writing now to ask that you please allow at least one additional week before having to give our money and jobs to another state.

Specifically, some lawmakers in Florida today sued Gov. Rick Scott in a bipartisan effort to stop him from killing high-speed rail.  Their suit asks the Florida Supreme Court to order Scott to expeditiously accept the $2.4 billion in federal transportation money, and it seeks an injunction if necessary.

The plaintiffs who filed the suit called me this morning to ask that I convey to you their request for more time for the court to consider their case and to ensure that Florida gets the money it was awarded.

I thank you in advance for your favorable consideration.  I am enclosing the aforementioned lawsuit.  Please do not hesitate to call me if you have any questions.

The Department of Transportation had no comment on the letter.

Also maintaining radio silence is Congressman John Mica, who's been balancing his roles as the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and being a Republican from  Florida -- and whose own plan to save the state's high-speed rail program gained no traction.

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BREAKING: Florida High Speed Rail Lawsuit -- State Senators Say Gov has "Exceeded... Constitutional Authority"

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) Two state senators have filed a lawsuit to force Florida Governor Rick Scott to "expeditiously accept" $2.4 billion in federal money for the state's high-speed rail plan.

Republican Thad Altman and Democrat Arthenia Joyner claim in their petition to the Florida Supreme Court that the governor has overstepped his authority and is legally obligated to accept the high-speed rail money from the federal government, because the Florida State Legislature voted in December 2009 to authorize the project.

The massive document, which contains not only the legal argument but dozens of exhibits and letters, can be found here (pdf) or below.

Governor Scott said two weeks ago he was rejecting funds for high-speed rail because he was convinced there would be cost overruns. Since then, US Department of Transportation Secretary RayLaHood granted the governor two one-week extensions in an effort to change his mind. But the governor said as recently as this morning that he remained unconvinced.

Governor Scott's office has not yet returned calls seeking his comment on the lawsuit, while the Department of Transportation has no comment. More as we learn it!

Filed 03-01-2011 Altman v Scott

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Union Big: Use Overseas Profit Tax to Fund Infrastructure Bank

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

(New York, NY -- Bob Hennelly, WNYC)  As we've reported, the idea of using an infrastructure bank to fund big projects is gaining steam.  The most recent evidence was in the President's budget, released last month.  But questions about where the tens of billions of seed money would come from remain unanswered.

Now Andy Stern,  a Senior Fellow at Georgetown Public Policy Institute and the former president of the Service Employees International Union, has a possible solution. He thinks it’s wise to induce US multi-nationals to repatriate some of their foreign profits with a tax holiday. Because none of that money is getting taxed now, he said the tax rate could even be lowered to a minimum rate of 5.25 percent on overseas profits, well below the current 35 percent. He wants that new revenue to be put to work here in the United States re-building the nation's aging and  dysfunctional infrastructure.

"It could be more than that — but the minimum should be at least 5.25 percent," Stern said in a telephone interview.  "That would generate at least $40 to 50 billion dollars for opening equity in an infrastructure bank. That in turn could be additionally leveraged into $500 billion."

Read the full  Stucknation column at Itsafreecountry.org

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TN Moving Stories: Chicago To Build 'Cycle Tracks,' Florida Polls Mulling HSR Lawsuit, and India's Infrastructure Budget

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

A bipartisan group of Florida lawmakers is mulling suing Governor Rick Scott over his rejection of high-speed rail. (WESH TV, Orlando)

Chicago is testing a new kind of bike lane called a cycle track. (Chicago Tribune)

The Indian government says the country needs $1 trillion worth of infrastructure work. It won't get that number in its 2011 budget, but there's an increase. (Wall Street Journal)

The Indian budget also sets up a National Mission for Hybrid and Electric Vehicles to encourage the manufacturing and selling of eco-friendly vehicles. (AltTransport)

Transit advocates are seeking an overhaul to Maryland's commuter train service. (Washington Post)

The NY Daily News wants to Christie-ify the World Trade Center transit hub.

Gothamist talks with New York State Assemblyman Michael DenDekker, a Queens Democrat who has introduced legislation that would require every bicycle in New York State to have a license plate.

Top Transportation Nation stories we're following: In his first remarks on infrastructure since the Florida High Speed rail near-death experience, the President acknowledges "controversy." NY state suburban legislators and the head of the MTA square off over the payroll tax for transit. Ten US senators from the Northeast are hungrily eyeing Florida's high-speed rail money. The Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal by New York City officials who want to force cabs to purchase more fuel-efficient cars. And experience a day in the life of a Volt owner.

Follow Transportation Nation on Twitter.

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Ride Shotgun With an Electric Car Test Driver

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

What is it like to be an early adopter of electric vehicles? President Barack Obama set a goal of having 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015 in his State of the Union, but today there are only a few hundred Americans driving electrics. Last November an attorney from White Plains traded his speedy Camaro in for a chance to be a test driver for the Chevrolet Volt, an electric car that he has used to commute 14 miles from his home to West Nyack.

WNYC's Ilya Marritz caught up the test driver to find out how it went.

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