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Video: Rick Scott Ends Florida's High-Speed Rail Plan

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Here's the press conference where Florida Governor Rick Scott announced his decision to cancel Florida's high-speed rail plan.
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TN Moving Stories: Maryland Population Growth Expected Near Transit, Transpo Groups Like President's Budget, And NCDOT Combats Junk in Your Trunk

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Transportation groups have much to like in President Obama’s budget request for infrastructure improvements -- but fear the spending plan might not get off the ground in Congress. (The Hill)

Planners in Montgomery County, Maryland, expect population growth will happen around transit centers and mixed use developments near the area's Metrorail station. (WAMU)

Christine Quinn announced her plan to ease NYC's parking restrictions and introduce new legislation that would allow ticket agents to literally "tear up" tickets. (WNYC)  Also: Quinn will be on WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show today, and it's safe to say that this parking plan will come up in the conversation.

A political battle brewing over the New Starts transit funding program could endanger at least $394 million for Minneapolis's Central Corridor light-rail line. (Star-Tribune)

The North Carolina DOT has launched a campaign to combat junk in your trunk. Drive lighter, save money at the pump:

Ray LaHood takes to his blog -- and Twitter, and Facebook -- to defend the president's high-speed rail plan in the face of critics. "As the Secretary of Transportation, let me be clear: there is no amount of money that could build enough capacity on our highways and at airports to keep up with our expected population growth in coming decades."

Greece's socialist government was able to pass its sweeping public transportation reform legislation in a final vote two hours past midnight on Wednesday, despite protracted strikes since December. (Dow Jones)

NY's Metropolitan Transportation Authority has refused to move from a parking lot slated to be turned into a park on Greenpoint's waterfront. (NY Daily News)

Is Burlington's pro-bike policy part of the secret behind Vermont's low unemployment rate? (Good)

An app to report potholes has come to Boston. (Wired/Autopia)

Top Transportation Nation stories we're following: We look at the politics behind the iconic beleaguered middle class driver. Senator Jeff Sessions weighs in on high-speed rail -- and what he thinks transportation policy should focus on. Montana grapples with megaloads. Houston's light rail system stands to get more money if the president's budget is passed. And: we just can't get enough of love on the subway.

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The Politics of Driving

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)  New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn got a whole bunch of attention (including from WNYC), for her proposal, packaged to land with maximum punch in her state of the city address, to ease the lives of those New Yorkers who feel they are a slave to alternate-side-of-the-street parking and other motorist-related hassles.

As WNYC's Azi Paybarah reports it, Quinn said in her speech Tuesday: "almost every New Yorker has a story about getting a ticket they didn't deserve."

Azi explains: "new legislation would be written to allow ticket agents to literally "tear up" a ticket when a motorist presented proof that they stepped away from their car in order to purchase a parking ticket at a nearby meter. The problem, Quinn said, of those wrongfully issued tickets was bountiful."

But. The politics of driving in New York City are far from simple. Unlike every other city in America, the majority of New Yorkers take transit to work. More than 90 percent of people who work in Manhattan don't get there by private car.  But in politics, the beleaguered middle class driver -- like "Joe the Plumber," an archetype with great political hold -- is a powerful icon.

Since I've been covering this issue, candidates for Mayor (and Quinn is widely expected to be one 2013) have tried, with varying degrees of success, to tap dance around it. To take a walk down memory lane, in an August 2005 mayoral debate I asked (page 11 of the transcript) the democratic candidates about whether traffic into Manhattan should be limited by tolling East River bridges (which unlike some other crossings into Manhattan, are free).

There were four candidates at the time vying to be the Democratic nominee against Mayor Michael Bloomberg at the time: former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer (who went on to be the nominee against Bloomberg), Congressman Anthony Weiner (who didn't run in 2009 because, he said, there was too much important work to do in Washington, but who very well may run in 2013), Gifford Miller, the City Council Speaker (Quinn's current job) and Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields. None of them were for charging drivers to enter Manhattan by tolling East River bridges. To Weiner, it was "a tax on the middle class."

Throughout the 2008 fight on congestion charging, that's how opponents portrayed it. Quinn, however, stood up and took the heat. Through arm-twisting,  cajoling, and pleading, she pushed forward Mayor Michael Bloomberg's proposal to charge motorists $8 to enter the busiest parts of Manhattan during peak hours. Proponents, including Quinn, argued that the charge would ease traffic, reduce driving and help the environment, and make hundreds of millions of federal dollars available for mass transit.

“This is a bold decision… which will send a message to the state Legislature that we are sick and tired of our streets being clogged with traffic," Quinn said after the relatively narrow council vote of 30-20. (Narrow, because Quinn is the Democratic Speaker of a Council that is almost entirely composed of Democrats, and can usually get upwards of 40 council members to support her on any given measure.) But the council didn't actually have the power to enact the charge -- the state legislature did. And that body never voted, leaving some city council members who'd gone along with Quinn bitter that they'd been forced to take a stand on a relatively controversial issue.

Congestion charging did not come to be in New York City. The federal government took back its offer of hundreds of millions of dollars in transit aid. Partly because of that, the MTA faced down an $800 million budget gap last year, imposed the most severe service cuts in a generation, and raised fares.

Of the candidates who may run for Mayor in 2013 in New York, Public Advocate Bill DeBlasio is on record as opposing congestion charging. He was one of the 20 votes against Quinn. Weiner has remained opposed, and most recently, when former MTA chief and transit eminence gris Richard Ravitch put forward a plan to save the MTA with bridge tolls, Weiner wasn't for that, either. City Comptroller John Liu, formerly a city council member from Queens and chair of the transportation committee, supported congestion charging -- but not bridge tolls. And then of course, there's Quinn.

All of this is the backdrop of Tuesday's speech, which comes in the wake of general outer-borough fury at Mayor Michael Bloomberg for failing to plow the streets in a timely manner after the blizzard of 2010. That's been rolled into general Bloomberg-fatigue (he's now in his third term after promising to serve for only two), resistance to some of Bloomberg's reforms that are seen by some motorists as anti-automobile (bike lanes come to mind), and general frustration by middle class New Yorkers suffering the third year of a recession as property taxes, water rates, and parking fees rise.

And thus Quinn's refrain, in a speech that usually ricochets with resonance, that among her lofty goals "is just making it easier to find a parking spot."

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Sessions: High-Speed Rail Will Never Be Profitable

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Senator Jeff Sessions

Transportation Nation's Todd Zwillich asked Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions if he could ever support high-speed rail, as long as the overall budget bottom line is low.  The response:

Senator Jeff Sessions: Well, the critical number is -- are we going up or are we going down in spending? We need to be going down in spending. And then within that number, you can fight over what is your priority and what is not in your priority. I’ve studied the rail situation in years past, and I’m convinced that the way America operates it will not be an efficient thing here. High-speed rail is exceedingly expensive. I’m very dubious about that new spending program. I think most people would prefer we fix the 14th Street Bridge, and you know the potholes in the neighborhood, rather than spending huge amounts of money – and that’s just a down payment on the plan the President mentioned in his speech. I was just stunned that 80% of the American people would be in walking distance – or some distance – to the high speed rail, I think, is impractical.

Question: you just supported an increased budget line for the District of Columbia, I think. 14th Street Bridge?

Senator Sessions: (laughs) I’m just kind of kidding, but urban transportation problems are real, for millions of Americans, and a good policy would figure out how to improve that. But I don’t think high-speed rail in areas that are never going to be profitable are the answer.

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Obama Puts Money on Houston's METRO

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

(Houston - Laurie Johnson and Wendy Siegle, KUHF News) There could be more money on the way for Houston's light rail system. President Obama's proposed budget for fiscal year 2012 sets aside a hefty $128 billion dollars for transportation projects across America - a 66% increase from 2010. It’s part of a new six-year transportation bill, pegged at $556 billion dollars. "We view this as a big win for public transit," said Peter Rogoff, the Federal Transit Administrator. Obama's budget includes a record $3.2 billion dollars for 21 capital transit rail and bus projects.

If passed, METRO's light rail project would receive another $200 million allocation - that's up $50 million from last year. The money would go towards the construction of the North and Southeast rail lines. George Greanias, METRO's president and CEO, points out that the proposed money is in addition to the $300 million already allocated to the agency. "We worked very hard last fall to regroup after a very difficult summer," Greanias said. "And I think the way we approached that regrouping work has made an impression on the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), on the Obama Administration."

The transit authority got in trouble with the FTA last year after a four month long investigation found the previous METRO administration had broken federal Buy America laws when it handed over two light rail contracts to a Spanish rail car manufacturer. That violation put $900 million dollars in federal grants on hold. METRO was able to come to an agreement with the Spanish company, ultimately canceling its contract in December. The settlement helped put METRO back on track to qualify for the total federal funds.

Obama's $200 million dollar bump for METRO is part of that pending $900 million dollar grant. Rogoff says there's no question last year's debacle delayed METRO's funding. But he says members of METRO's new administration have been willing to work with the FTA to fix the situation. "We have always said that we were not going to punish the commuters of Houston for the misdeeds of prior METRO leadership," Rogoff said. "And I think the amounts of money we have for both these lines in the budget reflect that." He said the FTA expects to finalize the full funding grant agreements before the end of 2012, and adds that both rail projects are on the list.

The transportation money is part of the Obama Administration’s latest $3.7 trillion dollar budget proposal that would slash spending by 2.4 percent.

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Love on the Subway P.S.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

(Photo by bitchcakesny / Flckr-Creative Commons)

(New York - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) This post-Valentine bon bon just landed from Praxedes Arias, who read yesterday's post about Love on the Subway. It describes her encounter on a downtown train. She writes: "He looked older and Irish American...I liked that look.  Beard, mustache, blond...completely opposite of my family or Spanish men (I was born in Havana)."

When this story takes place, she's 27...and ready.

"I met my husband on the A train. I was performing my final play at the American Academy of Performing Arts and was reviewing my lines. It was a Sunday afternoon so the car was pretty empty but I looked up and suddenly he was there sitting in front of me. The guy I had seen in the neighborhood and on the train for weeks and months but never spoke to.  He nodded and said 'hi.'  I said 'hi' and immediately looked down at my playbook. 'Oh my gosh, he spoke to me,' I thought; my heart beating a mile a minute. I was really shy so starting a conversation was out of the question. I needed to find another way. I pulled out a flier of the play from my backpack and circled my name with a note. I waited until we got to Columbus Circle and gave him the flier right before I exited the train and said 'I hope you can make it.' I performed that evening and greeted my guests afterward...and was a little disappointed he wasn't there. I assumed he was married. A few weeks later, I was running late and ran for an overcrowded A train. I made it, and stood there looking disheveled and tired. I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around and it was him. He apologized for not having attended the play because he had a previous engagement. Then he asked me out to lunch. Of course I said, 'yes.'  He took me to Phoebe's restaurant and the American Museum of Natural History...a perfect first date. We are now married 16 years and have three beautiful little boys. We are still in love and the best of friends."

To have your heart warmed even more, go to wnyc.org for audio versions of a pair F train love stories--one of them a marriage proposal.

p.p.s. Click "more" to read the above story by the man in question, James O'Driscoll.

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New York's Taxi Riders: Credit Cards Yes, TV No

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) They like the option to pay by credit card. But they hate the fare. Over 30% of riders also liked the ease of hailing cabs, and a similar number felt that they were faster than public transportation.  And they don't like Taxi TV, which earned disdain from a third of riders.

These were some of the opinions the New York Taxi and Limousine Commission gleaned from a survey of over 22,000 cab riders. The TLC wanted to learn passengers' likes and dislikes about cab riding--and also collect feedback to put to use in the Taxi of Tomorrow competition.

And when it comes to voting for the actual Taxi of Tomorrow -- the cab that the city will require owners to purchase, starting in 2014 -- the Karsan was the favorite.

You can see the results below.

Taxi of Tomorrow Survey Results 02-10-11

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Montana Lawmakers Grapple With Megaloads On State Highways

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A "megaload" of refinery equipment waits in Idaho (photo courtesy of ConocoPhilips)

(Helena, Montana -- Jackie Yamanaka,  YPR) -  It's described as "heavier than the Statue of Liberty, nearly as long as a football field, wider than the roads that they’re actually traveling on, and three stories high."

A so-called megaload of refinery equipment bound for a ConocoPhillips refinery in Billings is just east of the Idaho-Montana border, poised to make a circuitous 500-odd mile trip from the Lolo National Forest, and winding up to Roy, before making its way back down to a refinery near Billings.

These first of four coke drum shipments were trucked in from the Port in Lewiston, Idaho along the scenic Lochsa River corridor and along the boundaries of wilderness areas and national forest land. When the second shipment arrives, they will travel together to the south central Montana refinery.

Some Montana residents are concerned these loads will spawn an industrial megaload corridor that will cause excessive wear and tear on roads and bridges.

So Montana lawmakers are considering House Bill 507, which would require industrial equipment on Montana highways to obtain a new, special-use permit.

Zack Porter is the campaign coordinator for the group “All Against the Haul.”  He says Montana lacks a current state regulatory statute to deal with megaloads. "We do not use the word megaloads lightly," he says. "Today’s highway infrastructure, much less those bridges that were built in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s in this state , wasn't built to handle this type of equipment.”

But Jim Lynch, the director of the Montana Department of Transportation, says the process already exists to evaluate and analyze the state’s roads, the hauling equipment, how that load will impact the roadways and make sure it won’t violate the federal bridge laws.

Lynch adds there’s also an environmental assessment conducted under the guidelines of the Montana Environmental Policy Act, as well as a safety plan, and an emergency plan.

“We permit a lot of megaloads,” Lynch says. “This is not the first megaload that has ever been permitted. It happens on a regular basis in Montana.”

Lynch says ConocoPhillips has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the state of Montana that the company will pay for any damage now or in the future even if MDOT has made an error. He adds the company has also posted a $10 million bond. Lynch says that’s to ensure Montanans don’t pay for any possible damage.

Lynch says there are laws in Montana that govern the actions state agencies like his take.

“And I can assure the public,” he says, “that the Montana Department of Transportation did just that follow the existing laws. We can’t make up the laws as we go. We have to enforce the laws of the state of Montana equally among all the users of the highway system.”

Montana DOT director Jim Lynch Director testifying before the Montana House Transportation Committee. Behind him on the chair is a copy of the analysis the agency did for the Imperial Oil, a unit of Exxon Mobil, transportation project. (Photo by Jackie Yamanaka)

During the hearing, Lynch did not speak either for or against HB 507.

MDOT also recently granted final approval to Exxon Mobil Corporation to move large loads of refinery equipment bound for Canada’s oil tar sand fields. Under the newly approved plan, 207 loads of Imperial Oil equipment will move from the Port of Lewiston in Idaho, through Montana and north to the Kearl Oil Sands in Alberta, Canada.

Opponents of HB 507 said the bill impedes commerce by delaying the issuing of permits.

Dave Galt represents the Montana Petroleum Association. He’s also a former Montana DOT director.

“The purpose of the Interstate system, the strategic highway system, the national network of highway systems, and the federal funding formulas that come to Montana are premised upon the fact that we need a system to move goods across the country,” he says.

And other opponents of the bill say the definition of a megaload in the bill would delay the transport of a number of goods, including wind turbines, large cranes used in construction, and other mining and drilling equipment bound for Montana work sites.

But supporters of the bill say megaloads could harm their small outfitting and guiding businesses by driving away tourists or causing an inconvenience. And they say this bill will ensure safety for other highway users.

The House Transportation did not immediately vote on HB 507.

See the information sheet that ConocoPhillips put out about megaloads below. An image of the route map can be found here.
ConocoPhillipsFAQ

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TN Moving Stories: Boston's Pricey Cabs, BART Clears A San Jose Hurdle, and Privatizing The Tappan Zee?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Boston cab (photo by SPBer via Wikimedia Commons)

Radio Boston (WBUR) tries to figure out why that city's cabs are the most expensive in the nation.

The five-decade-long quest to bring BART to San Jose cleared a major hurdle yesterday, when the Federal Transit Administration recommended that it receive $130 million in federal funds this year -- clearing the way for construction to begin in 2012. (Mercury News)

A state commission charged with shoring up Maryland’s cash-strapped transportation improvement fund has proposed raising more than $800 million in increased fees -- and called on state leaders not to take money from the system to plug other holes in the budget. (Baltimore Business Journal)

The Takeaway talks to an economist who says that despite negative perceptions, cities make us better -- and happier.

It's too expensive to maintain New York's Tappan Zee Bridge. It's too expensive to replace it. So politicians are looking at how private companies might provide a solution. (Wall Street Journal)

NY City Council Speaker Christine Quinn will propose changes to parking rules in her State of the City speech today. (WNYC)

An Ecuardorean judge fined Chevron $9 billion in a decade-long pollution case. (Marketplace)

The FAA said that U.S. airline-passenger numbers will reach 1 billion in fiscal 2021 -- two years sooner than projected -- because of improved economic growth. (Washington Post)

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee kicked off their reauthorization field hearings/public listening sessions in West Virginia, where some attendees wanted to talk about raising the gas tax. (Charleston Gazette)

Virginia Senator Mark Warner said that Governor Bob McDonnell's plan to pump nearly $3 billion in the state's roads over three years is not "fiscally conservative" and will not solve the state's transportation problems. (Washington Post)

Top Transportation Nation stories we're following: President Obama released his budget; we began looking at its transportation spending.  And: in honor of Valentine's Day, we found love on the subway.

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The President's Budget: Transportation Edition

Monday, February 14, 2011

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) President Obama’s proposed 2012 budget of $3.729 trillion slashes spending in many areas, but it is generous to transportation and infrastructure.

The budget calls for a $556 billion six-year transportation bill, a 60 percent increase--when adjusted for inflation--over the last bill, which expired three years ago . That’s even more than the roughly $500 billion transportation bill proposed and stalled during the previous congress.

In the President’s proposed budget, the Department of Transportation gets $129 billion in 2012 . There is substantial money for high-speed rail, as well as several new initiatives including the creation of a national infrastructure bank, and a competitive grants program that alters the way some road spending will be distributed.

Republicans say the increases are unjustified and unpaid for. One notable spending spike is an immediate $50 billion “up front boost” that Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood says will “jump start job creation while laying the foundation for” competitiveness. House Budget Committee Chair, Paul Ryan issued a critique of the budget that included characterized the spending as a $435 billion transportation tax.

House Transportation Committee Chairman, John Mica, was still reviewing the budget proposal and has no comment yet.

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Transportation Budget Responses 6: House Republicans

Monday, February 14, 2011

President Obama released his proposed budget for 2012 this morning.

We are collecting responses and parsing through everything transportation and infrastructure related in the $3.7 trillion dollars of spending.We’ll be posting various responses and a round-up at the end of the day.

House Republican leadership is unified in their disapproval of the budget as taxing and spending too much, cutting too little and not reducing the deficit enough. Obama's proposed 68 percent increase in transportation spending over last year is a prime target for claims that Obama is increasing spending in times when cuts are needed.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) doesn't think released the following statement today critical of the increases in President Obama's budget:

“The president’s budget will destroy jobs by spending too much, taxing too much, and borrowing too much. By continuing the spending binge and imposing massive tax hikes on families and small businesses, it will fuel more economic uncertainty and make it harder to create new jobs.

“The president’s budget isn’t winning the future, it’s spending the future. A group of 150 American economists signed a statement sent to the White House yesterday that says we need to cut spending to help create a better environment for job creation in our country. Our goal is to listen to the American people and liberate our economy from the shackles of debt, over-taxation, and big government. ..”

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Transportation Budget Responses 5: Senator Jim DeMint

Monday, February 14, 2011

President Obama released his proposed budget for 2012 this morning. We are collecting responses and parsing through everything transportation and infrastructure related in the $3.7 trillion dollars of spending.

We'll be posting various responses and a round-up at the end of the day.

U.S. Senator Jim DeMint (R-South Carolina), chairman of the Senate Steering Committee, issued a harsh critique of the president's budget as spending too much, expanding federal power, and for raising taxes on oil, coal and gas producers.

Much of his response does not have to do with transportation, but he does mention the 68% percent increase over last year's spending levels as evidence of Obama's fiscal irresponsibility.

From DeMint's statement:

“One-third of the President’s claimed ‘savings’ are tax increases so the Democrats can keep up their big-government spending plans. Instead of increasing Washington’s control over areas like education and transportation, we need to devolve these decisions back to the states. It’s time to change course, stop the wasteful Washington spending and begin making the hard decisions to save our nation from the coming fiscal crisis.”

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Transportation Budget Responses 4: U.S. PIRG

Monday, February 14, 2011

The U.S. Public Interest Resource Group likes the allocation to infrastructure in the President's budget.  We'll be posting statements as we get them...and rounding up what's in the budget at the end of the day.

From a U.S. PIRG statement:

Statement by U.S. PIRG Senior Tax and Budget Analyst Phineas Baxandall, on the Obama administration’s FY 2012 transportation budget proposal, which includes a major increase in transportation funding and an $8 billion annual investment in high-speed rail.

“The administration’s budget request proves that President Obama is serious about investing in the future, while bringing much-needed reform to our broken transportation system.”

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Transportation Budget Responses 3: American Public Transportation Assocation

Monday, February 14, 2011

The American Public Transportation Association is pleased with transportation spending levels in the budget, which, if it passes unchanged, would mean a 60 percent increase over last year. The APTA also likes Obama's proposal of a $30 billion infrastructure bank.

President Obama released his proposed budget for 2012 this morning. We are collecting responses and parsing through everything transportation and infrastructure related in the $3.7 trillion dollars of spending.

We’ll be posting various responses and a round-up at the end of the day.

From the APTA statement:

“We applaud President Obama for his leadership and vision in making public transportation and high-speed rail programs a high national priority,” said APTA President William Millar. “Given the difficult federal budget environment and the need to grow jobs and the economy, the President’s proposal recognizes the difference between spending and investment.”

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Transportation Budget Responses 2: US DOT, Sec. Ray LaHood

Monday, February 14, 2011

President Obama released his proposed budget for 2012 this morning. We are collecting responses and parsing through everything transportation and infrastructure related in the $3.7 trillion dollars of spending.

We’ll be posting various responses and a round-up at the end of the day.

Here's the official response from the U.S. Department of Transportation. Not surprisingly, Secretary of Transportation supports his boss' budget noting that the $129 billion budget for the Department of Transportation is part of a six-year plan to help "win the future," the emerging slogan of the Obama administration introduced in his State of the Union speech.

A 52 page summary of the DOT budget is online here if you have the printer ink for it.

From the DOT Statement:

“President Obama’s budget for the Department of Transportation is a targeted investment in America’s economic success,” said Secretary LaHood.  “If we’re going to win the future, we have to out-compete the rest of the world by moving people, goods, and information more quickly and reliably than ever before.  President Obama’s investments in rebuilding our crumbling roadways and runways, and modernizing our railways and bus systems will help us do just that.”

Nationwide, our transportation systems are already congested and overburdened.  With the United States’ population expected to grow from more than 300 million in 2010 to more than 400 million by 2050, rebuilding and expanding the capacity of our roads, airports and transit systems is a strategic necessity for long-term economic growth.  The transportation investments proposed in President Obama’s FY12 budget will put Americans to work repairing the bridges and repaving the roads we have now, while supporting the development of the new electric buses and high-speed rail lines of America’s future.

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Transportation Budget Responses 1: from Transportation for America

Monday, February 14, 2011

President Obama released his proposed budget for 2012 this morning. We are collecting responses and parsing through everything transportation and infrastructure related in the $3.7 trillion dollars of spending.

We'll be posting various responses and a round-up at the end of the day.

Transportation For America, a transportation reform group that wants to see more investment in infrastructure likes the budget. 

James Corless, director of Transportation for America, issued this statement (excerpted below):

“The President’s proposed budget delivers on his recent promises to ensure we have the 21st century infrastructure necessary to support a revitalized American economy. While we believe the President is right to pursue a front-loaded investment in this budget that will boost employment in everything from construction to manufacturing, we are most excited by the bold proposals to ensure that the money is spent wisely and accountably.

“The Administration’s visionary reforms recognize where we are at this moment in history: Having built the world’s best highway and bridge network, we have to focus on preserving those aging assets while we build the missing pieces of a modern system that allows people and goods to get where they’re going cheaply, conveniently and safely. The Administration is right then, to propose a “fix it first” policy that will ensure that transportation agencies stop siphoning off money intended to rehabilitate bridges and highways. Equally smart are proposals to reward innovation through competitive grants that emphasize greater efficiency, broader and more affordable options and reduced dependency on foreign oil."

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Who Was Plessy? What does Transportation Have to Do with Civil Rights?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Nancy Solomon and Andrea Bernstein discuss how Jim Crow laws started (hint: it had to do with a train), how the civil rights movement got underway in earnest (hint: it had to do with a bus) and where its all going (hint: it has to do with transit expansions).

Listen to their segment on the Brian Lehrer Show here.  Listen to the documentary on transportation and civil rights here.

Or listen on WNYC AM&FM this Wednesday at 8 pm, or on KUOW Seattle tonight at 8.

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Love Can Happen Anywhere - Even on the NY Subway

Monday, February 14, 2011

Be mine. (Photo by Ed Yourdon / Flckr Creative Commons)

(New York -- Jim O'Grady, WNYC) You’d think Cupid, being a Roman god, wouldn't hang out in the subway. But he does. We put the word out for couples who met on mass transit and heard back from so many that we concluded the God of Desire has an unlimited Metrocard.

It was November 2009 and Daniel Espinosa, in town from Connecticut, had wrapped up a business meeting and was waiting for the downtown 6 train at 33rd street. He sensed a woman standing behind him. He turned and saw Rebecca Stepler. It was 6:30 on a Thursday evening. She was headed home to Brooklyn from work.

"I asked her if she knew of a good place to go for a drink," he recalled. "You know, I was playing a little dumb."

He may have been an out-of-towner but he knew where the bars were. In fact, he had plans to meet friends at a bar in a couple of hours.

Rebecca rattled off a list of establishments. Daniel listened politely, without really listening. When she finished, he got to the point. "Will you join me?" he asked. She thought to herself, "I'm not that kind of person." Then she thought: "What the hell. It's only a drink."

They took the train, got off at 14th Street, and walked a couple of blocks to Nevada Smith's. Over beers, the strangers warmed to each other. "She thought I was genuine, I guess," Daniel said. Rebecca said their conversation was unusual for two people who'd just met because it was "so natural."

Two hours later, Daniel reluctantly left to join his friends. Except that's not where he was going. Rebecca says, "He actually had a couple of hours to kill because he had a date."

A date?

"Yeah," said Rebecca. "I'm the one who usually tells that part of the story."

They laugh about it now because after that chance encounter on the platform, they began spending weekends together. Four months later, he moved into her apartment in Downtown Brooklyn. In March 2010 they married.

We heard the same story arc, with varying details, from others.

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Rail, Transpo Projects Face GOP Ax in Spending Bill

Monday, February 14, 2011

(Washington, DC -- Todd Zwillich, Transportation Nation) Transportation projects are set to take a massive, immediate hit under a spending bill headed for the floor of the House of Representatives this week.

Republicans are aiming to cut nearly $15.5 billion from the section of the budget carrying transportation and housing funding. The money comes out of highway projects, infrastructure investments, and particularly high-speed rail.

The bill, what’s known in Washington as a continuing resolution, funds the government from March 4 through the end of September, 2011. Overall it contains around $63 billion in immediate cuts from current spending levels across the government. It’s all part of Republicans' pledge to reduce immediately reduce spending, and it could go even further by the time the bill is done being amended on the floor.

It’s also prelude to a broader budget fight hitting Washington this week. President Obama unveils his Fiscal 2012 budget plan Monday morning. That covers spending beginning October 1, 2011, and its big transportation highlight--$53 billion in high-speed rail funding—is already attracting Republican derision.

“We’re broke,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), said on NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday morning. He repeated the refrain all week as Democrats, and even some Republicans, complained about the pain such immediate cuts could cause.

Before we look at specifics, keep in mind: After passing the House, this bill still needs to get through the Senate, where Democrats have a majority and lawmakers overall are considerably less enthusiastic about immediate discretionary spending cuts than are their House colleagues.

Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a conservative member of the Appropriations Committee and a spending hawk, acknowledged late last week that the aim of the deep-cutting House bill was two-fold: To fulfill Republicans campaign promises and to go into negotiations with the Senate “with as big a number as possible.”

A good chunk of that big number will come out of high-speed rail, if the House GOP gets its way. The continuing resolution hitting the House floor this week goes after $2.475 billion in funding already sent out to rail projects under stimulus and from other sources. It also seeks to hold back another $2.5 billion in high-speed rail funding yet to go out the door.

But rail isn’t alone. The bill cuts $600 million in general “national infrastructure investments," and takes another $600 million-plus from Federal Aviation Administration. Highways take a major hit as well, with $650 million slated for cuts to the Federal Highway Administration’s general fund and another $293 million in cuts to “surface transportation priorities”.

Democrats are predictably incensed at the GOP package. Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) accused Republicans of taking a “meat axe” to the federal budget. House Democratic Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), responded to the GOP proposals by backing a quick, and ultimately failed floor attempt to renew “Build America Bonds” for infrastructure funding.

“When you say they want to cut transportation, we know right away that’s a false economy,” Pelosi said to an organized labor crowd including members of the United Steel Workers on Thursday.

But the House’s cuts in general, and high-speed rail cuts in particular, are music to the ears of many Senate Republicans, at least publicly. Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, the senior Republican on the Budget Committee said Thursday that high-speed rail projects were not efficient at stoking economic growth and should be killed.

The continuing resolution is set to hit the House floor Tuesday for at least two days of debate and amendments, possibly more. Conservative lawmakers are promising attempts to cut even more from federal spending right away. According to Boehner, if successful amendments lead to even deeper immediate cuts this week, “that’s fine.”

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TN Moving Stories: Canadian Oil Keeps Midwest Gas Prices Lower Than The Coasts, Republican Budget To Hit NY's MTA, and Americans Like Transportation, They Just

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Rockefeller Foundation survey says Americans support road upkeep and transit systems --  but they don't want to pay for them. (Washington Post).  (A storyline we've been following:  check out these stories from September 20, 2010: "Election Report:  Give Us Transportation, Just Don't Make Us Pay For It," and this one from November 1, 2010;  "Wariness about Spending on Transportation and Infrastructure Accompanies Voters To the Polls."

Gas prices are rising faster on the coasts than they are in the Midwest, thanks to bargain-priced oil coming in from Canada. (NPR)

New York's MTA would lose $73 million in federal aid under the House Republicans’ budget plan to be voted on this week, according to a study released yesterday by Rep. Anthony Weiner. (AM New York)

All five candidates in Tampa's mayoral race support light rail and improved transit -- as well as high-speed rail in Florida. (Tampa Tribune)

A light rail system that would stretch from Detroit's downtown to one of its business districts and then several miles further to the border with its northern suburbs was the topic of a hearing this weekend. Some fear that even if the project advances beyond its initial 3.4-mile stage and links the riverfront to the Eight Mile Road city limits, it will not stretch far enough. "Where's it going to go from there?" said one resident. "Ain't no jobs in this city. It needs to go into the suburbs, not just stop at Eight Mile Road." (Chicago Tribune)

NPR says the U.S. is in a streetcar boom, and more than a dozen cities either have them or are actively planning for their development, according to Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer.

The NY Daily News rejects one local politician's idea to make platforms safer -- but says the MTA "has a responsibility to do something when a train hits someone on average once every four days. It should test platform doors in a pilot program and not be rattled by critics."

Colin Beavan (remember No-Impact Man?) says bring on the bike lanes. "The fact of the matter is that it would be safer for New York as a whole if we had more bike lanes. And not just the people who travel along the streets, but the people, like you and me, who live on them

Top Transportation Nation stories we're following: Transportation projects are set to take a massive, immediate hit under a spending bill headed for the floor of the House of Representatives this week. One city in France is considering an 18 mph speed limit. We test drive the MTA's real time bus info. And there's a new lawsuit for Indiana's I-69 highway project.

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