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TN Moving Stories: New York Pols Line Up for High-Speed Rail, Ford Posts Profit, and First Electric Smart Car Arrives In U.S.

Friday, January 28, 2011

At least the bike will be easier to dig out than the car behind it (Kate Hinds)

Dozens of passengers spent the night huddled in subway cars after the snowstorm that blanketed the northeast stranded their train in Brooklyn's Coney Island station.  But hey, that's better than the time when trains were stuck on the tracks for hours on end with no means of egress! (AP via Wall Street Journal)

Meanwhile, the MTA's web site was inaccessible to many Thursday morning as 500,000 users tried to log on at once to find out about storm-related mass transit disruptions but were unable to load the site. (WNYC)

A federal judge in St. Paul ruled Thursday that Central Corridor light-rail planners failed to analyze how construction of the 11-mile transit line would affect businesses in the corridor. (Minnesota Public RadioNote: For more on Rondo, check out TN's documentary Back of the Bus: Mass Transit, Race and Inequality

The first electric Smart car has arrived in the U.S. (Wired/Autopia)

New York State Senator Malcolm Smith, a self-described "aggressive" supporter of high-speed rail, talks about Thursday's congressional hearing--and why he's so optimistic. "This was major. Think about it -- you have a chairman of a House committee, he's a Republican from Florida, who already has high-speed rail moving in his state, here, having his first hearing of the year, in New York City, to talk about how important high-speed rail is to the Northeast Corridor...it's a major happening for this initiative." Watch the video below, or go to Capital Tonight.

Toll-takers on the Golden Gate Bridge would be eliminated in September 2012 under a plan approved Thursday by the district's finance committee. (Marin Independent Journal)

Following six fatal bicycle/car collisions in six months, Tampa is deciding whether to adopt a Bicycle Safety Plan. (ABC News)

Tweets of the day, via WNYC's Azi Paybarah, who's listening in to Mayor Bloomberg's weekly radio show: "everyone was in favor of this" @mikebloomberg says of congestion pricing." and "Shelly [Silver]'s plan was to toll all the bridges" says @mikebloomberg of the Assembly Speaker." 

Metro officially names a new director. (WAMU)

Ford says it earned $6.6 billion in 2010, its highest profit in more than a decade. (AP via NPR)

Top Transportation Nation stories that we're following: The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure held a hearing on high-speed rail in the Northeast yesterday; chair John Mica said 70% of all chronically delayed flights originate in New York's airspace. The takeaway: paring down short-hop flights in the Northeast will have a positive ripple effect nationally. Meanwhile, planners want NYC's airports to expand, saying that more capacity to handle more flights is desperately needed. Also: the chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey explained why doing big things in America has become so difficult, and Chicago mayoral hopeful Rahm Emanuel released his transportation plan--which, as it turns out, is a transit plan.

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Planners Say NY's Economy Will Strangle If Airports Don't Expand

Thursday, January 27, 2011

(New York - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) Managing air traffic at New York's major airports is like coaxing three large men through a skinny door: the squeeze is tight and there's no room to grow. That's why the Regional Plan Association issued a report on Thursday calling for a major expansion of Kennedy and Newark airports. The only way out, they say, is to build.

Planners kibbitz at a conference about airport expansion in New York

New York's three major airports, which already lead the nation in congestion and delays, can expect an increase of almost 50 million yearly passengers by the 2030s. The Association says the way to handle all those people is to build new runways to handle more flights.

LaGuardia has no room to expand. So RPA is proposing to add a runway to Newark-Liberty by demolishing and rebuilding a terminal and moving two cargo areas. It also recommends adding a runway to JFK by filling in part of Jamaica Bay. Total estimated price tag: $15 billion.

Taking advantage of the new runways depends on installing a new flight control system that replaces radar with GPS, allowing planes to follow more efficient flight patterns while flying closer to each other. The Federal Aviation Administration is in the early phase of a 20-year, $22 billion roll-out of the technology, called NextGen, which will need to prove itself in field conditions.

RPA considered other options, such as shifting some of the burden to local airports like Stewart in Newburgh and MacArthur in Long Island, along with improving rail connections to the airports and between cities. The report says those improvements would bring gains but not nearly enough.

Area airports currently move 236 flights per hour during peak hours. In 20 years, given increased demand, they will need to add 78 additional peak hour flights. RPA concluded that only more runways and a drastically improved flight control system will add enough flights to approach that number.

But airport expansions, besides being costly, bring more noise to local neighborhoods and carry environmental costs. On the other hand, expansion advocates say, doing nothing will slowly overwhelm area airports and, by 2030, cost the regional economy as many as 125,000 jobs, $6 billion in wages and $16 billion in sales each year.

At a conference on Thursday that brought together business and political leaders to absorb and discuss RPA's findings, a group of planners chatted during a break about the political battles that surely lay ahead. Then grew quiet until one of them said: "Are you ready? Strap in."

Listen to Jim O'Grady discuss this story on WNYC's Financial 411:

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Port Authority Chairman: Doing Big Things Will Be Hard

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Last week, before President Obama called on Congress to “do big things” and invest in our national infrastructure, Anthony Coscia, the Chairman of the Board of Commissioners for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, explained to a roomful of bankers and builders why doing big things had become so difficult in America.

Anthony Coscia, the Chairman of the Board of Commissioners for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

Coscia is to be believed in these matters. Before taking the Chairmanship of the Port Authority—the $5.9 billion annual capital budget of which would make many governors jealous—Coscia was the Chairman of New Jersey’s development bank for eleven years. He also sits on the Board of Amtrak. His remarks, delivered at a conference sponsored by the global infrastructure consultancy CG/LA, were rather candid. America's labor and environmental regulations have made projects more expensive, he said, and, he added, the country need to overhaul the way projects are chosen and financed. He predicted that the ARC Tunnel would indeed by built, but hinted that Amtrak and the private sector might shoulder more of the cost. He believes private investment should and will be explored as a way to build High-Speed Rail, which he called “essential.”

Edited excerpts of his remarks after the jump…

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NYC MTA: Our Website Maxed Out at 500,000 Users in This Blizzard

Thursday, January 27, 2011

(New York, NY -- Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)  The NYC MTA says some 500,000 people tried to access its site this morning, causing some users to be blocked from the site, MTA.info. Spokesman Jeremy Soffin says that's nearly double the amount -- 270,000 -- that tried to access the site at any one instant during the infamous blizzard of 2010.  Soffin says the MTA is in the course of "dramatically increasing"  the site's capacity, and is hiring a contractor for a site overhaul.  In the meantime, he says, the transit authority is planning "an interim bump-up" in capacity within the month.

Soffin says the site is a "victim of its own success," as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and several media outlets, including WNYC, referred users to the site, which has come to be seen as a source of relatively reliable information.

As the site got more and more users this morning, it downshifted from one that has enticing, colorful graphics to a plain text site posting service alerts.

Those alerts were aggressively circulated to the MTA's media list, with frequent updates on where subways were not running, and, in the cases of buses, when they were returned to service after a midnight suspension.

Many commuters who spoke with WNYC said their commutes were slow..but possible.   In one case, a train was diverted to Coney Island terminal overnight, and dozens of passengers were stranded there, but Soffin said it was preferable to be in a terminal than stuck on the tracks, and it meant the morning commute wasn't impeded by stranded trains on the tracks, as happened in the December storm.

Gene Russianoff, a frequent transit gadfly -- who was able to access the site between 7 and 9 am  -- offered a "Congrats!" to the authority on his twitter feed for "much useful travel info on MTA website."

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Northeast Faces a "Transportation Crisis"

Thursday, January 27, 2011

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) "The Northeast is approaching a transportation crisis."

That grim prognosis came this morning from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was at Grand Central Terminal to testify at a field hearing of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Bloomberg was on hand to voice his strong support for high-speed rail. "Our airports are among the most clogged, our highways are among the most congested, and our train corridor is the most heavily used in the country," he said. "And all of that is just going to get worse, as the region's population is expected to grow by 40% by 2050."

More to come later.

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Rahm Emanuel's Transportation Plan: It's All About Transit

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Rahm Emanuel with Commuters: Source Emanuel Campaign

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) Now that he is on the ballot for Chicago Mayor, (or so it seems,) we thought we'd write about Rahm Emanuel's transportation plan, which it turns out, is a transit plan. Which is kind of interesting, because "transportation" frequently includes things like roads, tolls, bridges, parking, that sort of thing.

But here's Emanuel's:  First bullet:  "Establish a transit-friendly development policy." Second "Expand the Red Line."  Third "Pursue BRT."

Now, it's not unusual for a Mayor to be pro-transit -- for example, take a look at New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's plan from when he ran for re-election in 2009. (Most of the items on Bloomberg's agenda, BTW, are controlled by the MTA, which is in turn controlled by the Governor, not the Mayor.  And Andrew Cuomo, when he was running, did not have a transit plan.)

But still, our impression in the White House when Rahm Emanuel was chief of staff, was this:  It was transit-friendly, but not deeply in touch with the latest details of transit thinking. An exception to that was high-speed rail.

As we reported way back when, when the stimulus was being hammered out, high speed rail was only supposed to get $1-2 billion. But in the middle of the night, literally, that was scratched out, and the amount went to $8 billion. It was Rahm Emanuel, at the end of the day (or the wee hours of the morning, as it happened) who got that amount changed, sources told us.

Take a look at his transit plan. Chicago residents, what do you think?

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TN Moving Stories: TXDOT Head Resigns, Atlanta Eyes Unified System, and Detroit's Pothole Plague

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Texas Department of Transportation executive director Amadeo Saenz has resigned, just weeks after a hand-picked panel of advisors urged his bosses to make leadership changes at the highest levels. (Dallas Morning News)

A foot of snow KO's NYC's bus system. (WNYC)

Will Atlanta's fractured mass transit system finally become unified? "Local leaders...have asked the Legislature to form a regional mass transit agency to serve as an umbrella over the metro area’s various systems." (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Detroit is suffering from a plague of potholes, exacerbated by the weather -- and the budget. Video of a bumpy ride below. (Detroit Free Press)

Ray LaHood blogs about vehicle-to-vehicle communication: "intelligent cars talk to each other wirelessly, warning drivers of potential dangers."

NJ Senator Robert Menendez supports the concept of extending the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail into Staten Island, but he wants to hear specifics of the plan before committing to full support. (The Jersey Journal)

NJ Gov Christie would rather fight the feds than repay ARC money. (WNYC)

A Bronx-based trucking company paid $450,000 in parking tickets last year; the owner won't participate in the NYC Delivery Solutions parking program. "That program is like paying off the Mafia," he said. "It's saying, 'Here, Mr. Bloomberg, here's some money so I won't clog up the courts.'" (NY Daily News)

The Arizona Republic looks at the future of federal transportation funding, and concludes that proposals such as Mesa's light-rail extension and Tempe's streetcar are vulnerable and could be delayed.

Top Transportation Nation stories we're following:

Congestion pricing is percolating around NYC...again. (link)

The head of the NTSB says that when it comes to safety, we can pay now or pay later. But we will pay. (link)

Houston says howdy to the Nissan Leaf. (link)

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Congestion Pricing Effort is Underway in New York

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)  A private, non-profit group has been organizing to bring congestion pricing to New York City.  Environmentalist Alex Matthiessen, the former Hudson Riverkeeper and a former Clinton administration aide, has founded the Sustainable Transportation Campaign, a group devoted to seeking a regular, recurring funding stream for mass transit in the New York City region.  For the past six months, Mattheissen has been quietly meeting with potential supporters.  Still, there is no formal budget, list of supporters, or definite state proposal on congestion pricing.

The last time New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg pushed congestion pricing, it foundered in the state legislature.  A plan once championed by the socialist former Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, as a way to transfer wealth from well-to-do to not-so-wealthy transit riders, became seen as billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg's scheme to keep middle-class workers out of Manhattan once it jumped across the pond.

Now, Mattheissen is spearheading a non-governmental approach. Supporters of congestion pricing hope that can separate the issue from Mayor Bloomberg's political fortunes.

Still, Bloomberg doesn't seem quite willing to stay above the fray. At a press conference today, he joked with reporters, "My God! How did they think of that?" before adding: "If they're working on it, I happen to think it makes some sense, but I'm going to stay out of it.  We've done everything we can. We had an idea. We did all the work to implement it and explain it to people.  But unfortunately it was like jumping 95 % across the Grand Canyon -- it didn't work."

Other groups who have supported congestion pricing in the past say they are still behind the concept, but are waiting to see a specific proposal from Mattheissen. Kathryn Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, said she believes relieving congestion is a key priority for business in New York, but said there's no proposal to support. The Working Families Party said they also were waiting for a specific plan, but they hadn't signed off on anything.

Governor Cuomo expressed skepticism during the campaign about congestion pricing. Speaking in Poughkeepsie last week, he said a payroll tax passed last year to fund the MTA was "erroneous" and he was open to a "better way" to fund the MTA -- but he didn't say what that would be.

Manhattan State Senator Daniel Squadron supports the idea of congestion pricing and is floating the idea in Albany, though neither legislative leader has come out in favor of it.

More TN coverage:

NY Candidate Cuomo: Congestion Pricing "Moot";

NY Third Party Candidate Charles Barron Opposes Congestion Pricing;

NY's New Deputy Mayor Likes BRT and Congestion Charging--But Does He Like Bike Lanes?

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NTSB Chair: When It Comes to Safety, We Can Pay Now--Or Pay Later

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

NTSB Chair Deborah Hersman

(Washington, D.C. -- Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) Our country’s aging infrastructure poses a safety risk, according to Deborah Hersman, the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) -- and spending cuts could come with safety consequences.

“We stand at a very important crossroads right now,” she told Transportation Nation.  “Safety is not discretionary. Safety deferred is safety denied...We can either pay now, or we can pay later.” Paying close attention to the recommendations of the independent federal agency can reveal stark tensions between budgets and safety.

“The fact is the outlook for increased funding and infrastructure projects is grim,” Hersman said earlier Wednesday to a conference of transportation researchers. “Many of those projects are in jeopardy as we face funding cuts. And right now the question for all of us is not what is going to happen, but how hard it is going to hit us,” adding: “When it comes to investing in safety, we can pay now, or pay later.”

Many infrastructure projects in America are already past their intended lifespan, and that will pose an increasing risk--especially if proper records aren’t kept on maintenance histories, original design, and necessary repairs. Hersman said poor record keeping often exacerbates dangers. She painted her role as one of truth teller.  “As an agent of reality,” she said, “I think it’s my job to tell you that the concept of a life cycle for transportation projects no longer exists. Just because the train or plane that you design is built for 30, 40, or 50 years, doesn’t mean it” that it won’t be in operation for 75 years or more.

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First Nissan Leaf in Texas Lands in Houston

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Christie Sauers with daughters Annabel and Allie

(Houston -- Wendy Siegle, KUHF News) Nissan's 100% battery powered Leaf has already been delivered to patient customers in California, Arizona, Tennessee, Oregon, and Washington. Now the first mass-produced all-electric vehicle (EV) has arrived in the Lone Star State. Some may have speculated that the state's first EV would end up in Austin, Texas's most liberal city--but they would have been wrong.

The first Nissan Leaf to come to Texas has landed in the hands of a suburban family in Houston - the oil capital of America. The Sauers family picked up their new ride at a dealership in Clear Lake. But with Nissan confirming that production of the car is moving slower than anticipated, the Sauers will likely be the only ones driving the Leaf around here for a while.

Hear the the story--and watch the unveiling-- over at KUHF News.

Jimmy Sauers and his wife Christie are the happy owners of Texas's first Leaf. The Sauers have three little girls and live in Seabrook, southeast of Houston.  “Last time I bought a car, it wasn’t quite like this,” said Sauers with a laugh.

It wasn't your typical auto purchase experience. The family had to wait through speeches and a lot of camera flashes before they were free to drive their shiny blue car home. In ideal conditions the Leaf can go up 130 miles or so on a single charge. The fact that the Leaf has zero tail-pipe emissions was a major part of their decision to sign up for the car.

“We’re a Christian family we believe God gave us this earth to be good stewards of it," said Sauers as he sat comfortably behind the wheel of his new commuter car. "And so anytime we can use our resources more efficiently – whether it’s our natural resources or whether it’s our personal finances, or our time, or our energy – we believe that we should use everything as efficiently as possible.”

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Toyota Recalls Could Have Lingering Effect On Consumers

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

(Detroit - Noah Ovshinsky, WDET) Toyota released its 2010 sales numbers this week. The company continues to be the top seller in the US market with almost 1.8 million units sold last year. But a closer look at the numbers reveals that sales are trending downward. Experts say recent recalls involving unintended acceleration are mostly to blame. And today's news of further recalls will likely haunt the company well into the future. (Listen to the audio here, or read the story below.)  Meanwhile, Toyota continues to struggle to attract younger drivers.

Toyota's concept vehicle, the FT-CH hybrid, which they unveiled at the 2011 Detroit Auto Show

The reason, at least partly, lies in what the drivers I interviewed had in common. Most are either middle-aged or have prior experience with Toyotas. Experts say these are the buyers that will return to Toyota. For the younger generation–it may be a harder sell.

Let’s be clear. Toyota is still a very popular brand in this country. The Camry remains the number one passenger car in the US. For most of the last two years, however, the company found itself in an unfamiliar place.

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Mica: "We'll Get to Finish Line on Transportation Bill"

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

"I had a great night tonight  with Barbara Boxer, she’s going to chair the effort on the Senate side, and we have a whole host of ideas we’ve already agreed on. We can do it. We’re going to drag Obama kicking and screaming to the finish line."

Representative John Mica

TN correspondent Todd Zwillich caught up with House Transportation and Infrastructure Committtee Chair John Mica last night after the State of the Union address, and he and a few other reporters got his reaction to the president's speech and upcoming plans for a transportation reauthorization bill.  You can listen to the congressman here -- or read the transcript below.

Reporter: How do you balance this in your own party, with the needs you know are out there?

John Mica: Well, again, there are good investments and bad investments; they missed the mark last time with stimulus, they only put 7% of $787 billion. 30 days before the election only 39% was spent. So they lost the election by 1) derailing a six-year transportation bill and by 2) coming up with a plan that didn’t allow the money to even be spent to employ people, so now we have a chance to correct that, and we hope we don’t make the same mistake twice. But we’ll work with the president, some of his math as I said doesn’t work on high-speed rail–-we have a hearing at 10:00 in New York City, at Grand Central Station, to sort out some of the differences this week.

Reporter: how do you plan to pay for this transportation bill without the administration getting behind some innovative financing with more than just the word ‘innovative’? It seems like he fleshed out (crosstalk)

JM: Well, first of, I’m gonna take –

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Biden, Obama visit Purple States to Tout Energy, Infrastructure Plan

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)  For Biden, it's Greenfield Indiana (a state that Obama won by less than one percentage point over McCain in 2008).

Here's the White House press release:

Vice President Biden Announces Plan to Put One Million Advanced Technology Vehicles on the Road by 2015

Visiting Ener1, Inc. Factory, Biden brings “White House to Main Street Tour” to Greenfield, Indiana

Washington, D.C. – Today, Vice President Biden, Chair of the Middle Class Task Force, took the “White House to Main Street Tour” to Greenfield, Indiana, where he visited leading manufacturer Ener1, Inc., which produces advanced lithium-ion battery systems for electric vehicles, grid energy storage and industrial electronics.

In his State of the Union address last night, President Obama highlighted his goal of making the United States the first country in the world to put one million advanced technology vehicles on the road by 2015.  Following a tour of the Ener1, Inc. factory today, the Vice President met with workers to discuss the Administration’s new plan for reaching that ambitious goal.

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President Continues Energy, Infrastructure Push in Wisconsin

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

His prepared remarks:

Remarks of President Barack Obama at Orion Energy Systems – As Prepared for Delivery

Let me begin by clearing something up. I have not come to Packer Country because I lost a bet.  Sunday was a tough day to be a Bears fan.  But even if it didn’t go the way I wanted, I’m glad we got to see one of the greatest rivalries in sports go another round. And so, in the spirit of sportsmanship, let me just say this: congratulations, and good luck in the Super Bowl.

Last night, I gave a speech some of you may have seen. And what I said was, in this new and challenging time, when America is facing tougher competition from countries around the world than ever before, we’re going to need to up our game. We’re going to need to go all in. We’re going to need to get serious about winning the future.

In the words of the man the Super Bowl trophy is named after: “There is no room for second place. There is only one place in my game, and that’s first place.”

That’s the kind of determination to win that America needs to show right now. That means making sure that all of our children are getting the best education possible – not only because we need to give every child a chance to fulfill her God-given potential, but because we need to make sure American workers can go head-to-head with every other country on Earth.

It means making sure our infrastructure can meet the demands of the 21st Century by rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges, and connecting America and the American people with high-speed rail and high-speed Internet.

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Christie: I won't pay $271 Million For Dead ARC Tunnel

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) Governor Christie's spokesman, Michael Drewniak, just emailed around the following statement. We'll have more soon, plus FTA response. (Yesterday, when asked about the ARC tunnel negotiations, Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff--who'd just spoken at a transportation conference--looked like he'd swallowed several lemons whole.  He wouldn't comment. ) From the email:

Last night, New Jersey’s legal counsel filed its response to the Federal Transit Administration’s demand for $271 million in ARC transportation funding.  Attached is the submission filed electronically with the FTA on behalf of NJ Transit, as well as a fact sheet.

While the submission clearly sets out New Jersey’s case, pay particular attention to the four-page introduction, which aptly and succinctly describes why the State of New Jersey has no lawful or administrative obligation to repay any of the $271 million demanded by the FTA. The FTA overstates the funds that are even at issue and makes a demand for repayment that is far broader than authorized by statute.  Specifically:

Of the $271 million FTA demands, the vast majority -- $225.5 million -- consists of:

(1) funds that were expended prior to the execution of the August 2009 ESWA (Early Systems Work Agreements); and

(2) the State’s own formula funds that New Jersey was entitled to as a matter of right, and chose to apply to the Project.

The ESWA simply was not the source of these funds and the statute makes clear that these funds are not “Government payments made under the work agreement.”

As is by now abundantly clear, Governor Christie cancelled the project due to multi-billion dollar cost-overrun projections for a project that previously had an agreed upon price tag of $8.7 billion.  Billions in those cost overruns would have been borne by New Jersey  -- something unforeseen and entirely out of the state’s control, and a burden Governor Christie was not willing to place exclusively on New Jersey and its taxpayers.
Opposition to Demand

NJT’s Response To FTA’s Repayment Demand

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TN Moving Stories: Can Pols Commit to Infrastructure Spending, Christie Appealing ARC Bill, and Is Congestion Pricing Back on the Table NYC?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Missed last night's State of the Union? Watch below:

The nation's transportation infrastructure is in dire need of repair, says House Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica, but committing to years of robust spending on anything is a tough sell as a new wave of austerity hits Capitol Hill. (Wall Street Journal)  (Or Transportation Nation if you don't have a WSJ login)

NJ Governor Christie says he's appealing the state's $271 million ARC tunnel bill. (Star-Ledger)

Reauthorization update: the AP says Obama administration officials are preparing a long-term highway and transit spending plan even though they've had to dip into the general treasury just to keep the current program afloat and Republicans are demanding that government shrink.

NYC congestion pricing: back from the dead? The NY Daily News says "politicians are quietly resurrecting plans to charge drivers up to $10 to enter lower Manhattan on weekdays" and positing it as a way to fund transit. Because:

NYC's next fare hike could be worse than the last one: the MTA would have to raise subway and bus fares by nearly doubling the most recent fare increase to cope with a jump in debt service that kicks in as soon as 2016, says the MTA's chief financial officer. (Reuters)

Watch the January MTA board meeting here, starting at 9:30am.

This summer, Manhattan's M34 bus will become the second bus line to have an off-board payment system. (NY Daily News)

Toyota issues a global recall for 1.7 million vehicles. (New York Times)

A RAND corporation study says the United States would derive no meaningful military benefit from increased use of alternative fuels to power its jets, ships and other weapons systems. (New York Times)

"Find car" parking system helps people locate their cars -- and triggers privacy concerns. (Los Angeles Times)

Top Transportation Nation stories we're following: The president called for giving 80% of Americans access to high-speed rail within 25 years in his State of the Union address; today he's in Wisconsin--home of an anti-HSR governor and deliverer of official GOP response.  Meanwhile, Texas wants more money for highway construction.

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Obama heads to Wisconsin (!)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

mock-up of the Milwaukee high-speed rail station

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) It caught our eye that -- a day after proposing a vast increase in high speed rail -- President Obama is heading to Wisconsin today, the state where the Governor won on a platform of no high speed rail. Coincidence? Mild Rebuke? Your thoughts, please.

Here's the press release:

President Obama – White House to Main Street Tour, Manitowoc, Wisconsin on Wednesday:

On Wednesday, January 26, 2011, President Barack Obama will take the “White House to Main Street Tour” to Manitowoc, WI, where he will continue his conversation with American families and workers about rebuilding an economy that ensures America’s long-term economic competitiveness and guarantees that America and its people continue to lead in the future.

The President will tour Orion Energy Systems, a power technology company that designs, manufactures and deploys energy efficiency and renewable energy technology for commercial and industrial business, and deliver remarks on the economy to employees. In 2004, Orion shifted their manufacturing operations to Manitowoc, WI where they now employ over 250 employees and anticipate growing to more than 300 employees by the end of 2011.

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Mica: Yeah. Maybe We Can

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Very mild rebuke from House T&I Committee Chair John Mica (R-FL) to state of the union.

“After the Administration derailed a major six-year transportation bill in 2009, it is encouraging that they are now on board with getting infrastructure projects and jobs moving again. However, just another proposal to spend more of the taxpayers’ money, when we have billions of dollars sitting idle tied up in government red tape, will never get our economic car out of the ditch.

“We’ve got to do more with less to improve our infrastructure in a fiscally responsible manner.”

Compare this to Rep. Ryan's (below).

We'll be posting audio of Mica in a bit.

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GOP Response: It's Only So-Called "Investment"

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wisconsin) response to the State of the Union:

"Whether sold as "stimulus" or repackaged as "investment," their actions show they want a federal government that controls too much; taxes too much; and spends too much in order to do too much.

"And during the last two years, that is exactly what we have gotten — along with record deficits and debt — to the point where the President is now urging Congress to increase the debt limit.

"We believe the days of business as usual must come to an end."

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Obama: 80 Percent of Americans Should Have Access to High Speed Rail By 2036

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

(Washington, DC -- Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)  In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama is calling for what aids are calling "an upfront investment" in 2011 so that by 2036, eighty percent of Americans have access to high speed rail. That would mean high speed rail lines connecting, more or less, Tampa to Orlando, San Francisco to Southern California, Boston to Washington,  Chicago to Milwaukee, St. Louis to Detroit, and Portland to Seattle, at a cost to exceed -- conservatively -- $100 billion.

Right now, no Americans have access to high speed rail.  The administration has invested $10 billion to date. China has spent at least half a trillion dollars.

"America is the nation that built the transcontinental railroad, brought electricity to rural communities and constructed the interstate highway system," according to prepared remarks distributed by the White House. "The jobs created by these projects didn't just come from laying down tracks or pavement. They came from businesses that opened near a town's new train station or the new off-ramp.

"Within 25 years our goal is to give 80 percent of Americans access to high speed rail which could allow you to go places in half the time it takes to travel by car," the President said. "For some trips it will be faster than flying -- without the pat-down. As we speak, routes in California and the Midwest are already underway."

A year ago, the President also spoke of high speed rail in his State of the Union.  The next day, he flew to Tampa  to announce that city's high speed rail project would be one of main recipients of high speed rail grants. At the time, it seemed a deft move by the President -- he got to travel to a purple state and announce a big, future-looking infrastructure project. It seemed to be a win-win.

But in the past year, high speed rail has become a considerably murkier political issue. Scott Walker, running for Governor of Wisconsin, explicitly campaigned against high speed rail in a television commercial, and set up a website notrain.com. His explicit theme: "their" rail would drain money from "our" roads.  Walker won handily.  In Ohio, John Kasich promised in a debate that he'd send $400 million  for high speed rail back to Washington. He is now the governor of Ohio.   And in Florida, Governor Rick Scott, who just took over from Charlie Crist, has said he'd only support that state's high speed rail if Florida taxpayers don't have to pay.  That project is one of the farthest along in the country, and the Tampa-Orlando route is expected to be among the first that's up and running.

But Obama is pressing ahead, with advisors heavily hinting he'd be talking about infrastructure for several days as a way to invest in jobs and the future of the American economy.  Meanwhile, the administration was brushing off naysayers.  At a Washington, DC conference for transportation professionals, Deputy Transportation Secretary John Porcari said "he's optimistic" that Americans will embrace the idea of infrastructure investment if it's adequately explained.

And Joe Szabo, the Federal Rail Administrator, was even more animated when Transportation Nation asked him about the mixed political reception to high-speed rail in the last year. "It's about quality of life for Americans. There' s going to be 70 million more people in the United States in the next 25 years, the vast majority of those concentrated in the megaregions. To the critics I would ask 'what's your plan?  How do you plan to move 70 million more people. How do you plan to do it while reducing congestion, reducing fuel consumption, and improving air quality?'"

President Obama has been completely consistent on this issue -- supporting high speed rail spending in his campaign, supporting it in the stimulus bill, (in fact,Rahm Emmanuel, now running for Mayor of Chicago, pushed high speed rail spending from $1-2 billion to $8 billion in the wee hours of the morning before the bill was announced,) emphasizing it at the outset of the 2010 campaign season with a Labor Day plan to spend $50 billion on roads, rails, and airports, and then inviting guests to the White House on Columbus Day to emphasize the plan. Even as the public reacted with a shrug, the President kept touting the plan.

Supporters of high speed rail hailed the President's remark. US PIRG said it would "revolutionize" transportation the way the interstate highway system had.  But there was measured optimism. "We need to need to figure out a way to pay for it," said Robert Puentes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Puentes said funding for the project may come from "untraditional" sources. "We have an 8 billion down payment plus 2 billion that came in the budget. That' s a fraction of what we'll need."

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