TN Moving Stories: New Yorkers Face Long Commutes, More DC Residents Are Taking Public Transit, And How To Modernize Air Traffic Control

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Census data, commuter edition: More DC residents are using abandoning their cars and taking public transit to work. "Only New Yorkers take the subway to work more than Washingtonians do." (Washington Post)

Meanwhile, four of New York City's five boroughs logged the nation's longest average commute times to work (New York Post).  The country's worst commute continues to belong to Staten Island, where residents spend 42.5 minutes each way traveling to work (Staten Island Live).  But remember, New Yorkers --commutes cost less in NYC.

The blog Ride The City published data about more than 600,000 NYC bike rides planned on their site since April 2009. Median ride length: a little over 4 miles. And: 85% of all rides started or ended in just 7% of census blocks.

In other news:  The tax cut -- with its attendant transit benefit -- passes the Senate. Next stop: the House. (New York Times)

New York City has launched a new pilot program that will allow some disabled Access-A-Ride customers to take taxis instead. (WNYC)

Amtrak passengers can now bring unloaded guns on some trains. All aboard! (NPR)

A federal task force has some ideas about how to modernize air traffic control -- and ensure transparency in pricing. (Wall Street Journal)

Richard Florida digs into neighborhood walkability--which he writes is "a magnet for attracting and retaining the highly innovative businesses and highly skilled people that drive economic growth, raising housing values and generating higher incomes."  (The Atlantic)

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NJ Governor Mum About Feds' Offer to Cut $271 Million ARC Bill Nearly in Half

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

(New York -- Jim O'Grady, WNYC) New Jersey could be off the hook for almost half the $271 million  the federal government says it owes for scrapping a rail tunnel under the Hudson after work had been started.

The U.S. Department of Transportation says it will give the state $128 million back for projects that improve air quality by cutting traffic congestion. But only if New Jersey pays the whole bill by December 24.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood released a letter containing the offer. A spokesman for Governor Christie said he had no comment on it because the department hasn't contacted him.

Governor Christie halted the $8.7 billion ARC tunnel project in October because of potential cost overruns. The decision has been controversial. New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg, for one, repeatedly decries it as “disastrous.”

Lautenberg took credit on Wednesday, along with fellow New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, for brokering the rebate offer from Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. A press release from Lautenberg claimed that, “The Senator has been working quietly with DOT on reducing New Jersey’s burden since the project was killed.”

Now the Christie administration must decide if half a loaf is enough to end its scrap with the feds. Earlier this month, the governor directed New Jersey Transit—the state agency overseeing the project—to hire well-connected DC law firm Patton Boggs at $485 an hour to fight the tab from LaHood, which is for preliminary work on the ARC tunnel.

James Weinstein, executive director of New Jersey Transit, stood before reporters after a recent board meeting at the agency and contended the federal government was wrong to ask for money it spent in collaboration with the state.

“This isn’t like they sent us a check for $270 million and then walked away and let us spend it,” Weinstein said of the U.S. DOT. “They were a participant in everything we did, every day, every minute, every hour.“

If the Christie administration sticks to that position, it could be that the Transportation Secretary just made an offer that can be refused.

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Feds to NJ: Okay, We'll Credit You $128 Million For ARC Tunnel

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - The U.S. Transportation Department tells New Jersey it will be credited nearly half the $271 million it owes the federal government for a scrapped NY-NJ rail tunnel if it pays back all it owes.

New Jersey got the tunnel tab for money already spent after Gov. Chris Christie abandoned the $8.7 billion project because of potential cost overruns.

The bill is due Dec. 24.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg has been negotiating with federal transit authorities to get the bill reduced. Christie approved the hiring of a Washington law firm to fight it.

A Dec. 14 letter confirming that $128 million would be credited to a congestion mitigation account after New Jersey repays the debt was signed by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. The Associated Press has obtained a copy of the letter.

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Officials Say Rescues Completed In Ontario Highway Emergency

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

(Detroit -- Pat Batcheller, WDET) Emergency officials in Ontario say they believe everyone who was stuck in deep snow on Highway 402 has been rescued. Blinding lake effect snow and strong winds off of Lake Huron have closed the highway between Sarnia and London, Ontario. The Blue Water Bridge, which carries traffic between Sarnia and Port Huron, Michigan, is closed to commercial traffic.

More than 300 people became stranded on the highway Monday after a massive winter storm dumped almost two feet of snow and ice along a  stretch of 402 between London and Sarnia. The weather made plowing all but impossible, leaving motorists to fend for themselves overnight in sub-zero temperatures — many without food, water or warm clothing. The National Post reported that in some areas, snow drifts reached as high as five feet.

Larry Gordon, the news director at Blackburn Radio in Sarnia, says the Canadian military used helicopters to reach motorists--some of whom were stuck for more than 24 hours.  “They are actually landing at various locations along that usually busy highway," he said,"  "and taking those people to their first meals in over a day and warm and dry conditions at a number of warming centers that have been set up around the community.”

Environment Canada is forecasting snow squalls through Wednesday for counties near Lake Huron.

The closure of the Blue Water Bridge is forcing trade to be re-routed through Detroit. Many of the trucks that normally cross there are being diverted to the Ambassador Bridge, causing heavy traffic on I-75 in Southwest Detroit.

You can see a slideshow of travelers and cars stranded in the snow here.

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TN Moving Stories: NYC Cabbies Find It's Hard To Answer Nature's Call, and Obama Talks HSR

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

So many NYC cab drivers, so few bathrooms. "Out of 62 taxi relief stands in the city, only one that recently opened in lower Manhattan has onsite bathrooms drivers can use." But: J&R Music World to the rescue! (WNYC)

Plow cam! Montgomery County, Maryland, has a new interactive map on its Web site, where residents can check to see if snow plows have cleared the roads in their area. (WAMU)

NJ Transit wants to raise parking fees. (Star-Ledger)

San Francisco backs away from "border toll" idea. (San Francisco Chronicle)

President Obama talks high-speed rail with a Florida journalists, says: "My hope is that everybody looks at this objectively and take the politics out of it. If they do, then I think Florida will benefit in part from decisions that were made in Wisconsin and Ohio that I don't think will serve their people well." (Tampa Bay Online; transcript)

Why are fewer people killed in auto accidents? A variety of reasons--including the bad economy. (Wall Street Journal)

Indianapolis's old minor-league baseball stadium has been turned into "cash-for-clunkers" graveyard. (Jalopnik)

AAA forecasts a 3% increase in travel during year-end holidays.

Reminder: Watch today's NYC MTA meeting live via webcast. (It starts at 9:30.) We'll have analysis of the meeting later on today.

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Despite Controversy, SF Supes Vote to Study Congestion Pricing

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

(San Francisco–Casey Miner, KALW News) It's a controversial plan, but the city of San Francisco is pushing ahead anyway: this morning, the board of supervisors voted to continue studying several options for congestion pricing cordons in the northeast corner of the city. The options include a $3 toll to enter and leave the cordoned area during especially busy times; alternatively, commuters who parked downtown all day would pay a $6 toll upon leaving. A third option, which would have charged drivers to enter the city from the south, was scrapped after politicians from Peninsula city councilmen to a state Assemblyman threatened a counter-toll. Don't hold your breath, though – the earliest anyone will pay to drive into the Financial District is 2015.

I interviewed Matthew Roth of Streetsblog SF about why it's so controversial to price driving; hear our conversation over at KALW News.

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Cars Gone: Vehicle Rapture or Minnesota Snow Reef?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Snowbank in snow city Minneapolis. Dan Olson, Minnesota Public Radio

(Minneapolis -- Dan Olson, Minnesota Public Radio)  Where's the rest of the car?  Buried under a nearby snowbank near this Interstate 35 and Washington Avenue intersection here in Minneapolis?

Probably not.

Our "processed" snow here has been bladed and pushed into rock-like snowbanks, winter time reefs that just like the maritime hazards can shear off otherwise necessary portions of our vehicles.

Greetings from snow-blasted Minnesota!

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U.S. Senate Voting on $230 Monthly Commuter Tax Benefit

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

(New York--Jim O'Grady, WNYC) The U.S. Senate is voting today on a tax cut compromise that includes a provision allowing transit riders to deduct up to $230 per month for the cost of their commute.

The move would be a big step toward extending a benefit that began last year as part of the Obama administration's federal stimulus package. Before then, a transit commuter's monthly pre-tax benefit was capped at $120. Raising the cap to $230 put bus and train riders--and van poolers--on par with those who drive to work and pay for parking.

Tri-State Transportation Campaign, an advocacy group that works in Connecticut, New Jersey and New York, has been pushing the provision. Spokeswoman Ya-Ting Liu said, "At the end of the day, given the growing need for affordable transportation options, and the growing economic cost of traffic congestion, fed policy should reward transit use. And that’s exactly what this does."

After the Senate vote, the tax package compromise will be taken up by the House. Should it pass there, the House and Senate would need to come up with a reconciled bill and then pass that bill before the end of the year.

Liu said the yearly suspense over the $230 benefit for transit riders could be avoided if the provision were to be written into the tax code, as it has been for drivers.

"The underlying issue is parity between transit and parking," she said. "Right now, this is a permanent benefit that only drivers enjoy."

For more on the issue and its economic ramifications, see this Marketplace report.

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The Country's Best And Worst Commutes -- From Your Wallet's POV

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

(Click for larger image)

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) TheStreet and Bundle took a look at how much Americans in different cities spend commuting by car each year and ranked their findings.

Dallas fares the worst, with a commuting cost that averages $593 a month in gas and other auto expenses. They also "lose" about 53 hours annually.  At the opposite end of the spectrum is bike-friendly Eugene, Oregon, where residents average $348 in monthly car expenses and lose only (!) 11 hours annually.

You can read the report here.

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TN Moving Stories: Tax Cut Bill Has Mass Transit Tax Break, and Airline Bag Fees Reap Billions

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tucked into the tax cut bill is a provision that would allow thousands of transit riders to save hundreds of dollars a year on their commuting costs.  And it could have a financial ripple effect. (Marketplace)

Airline bag fees brought in $4.3 billion this year. (USA Today)

NYC Transit considers taking entire subway lines out of service for equipment and maintenance. (New York Daily News)

Pennsylvania's Port Authority gets $45 million in emergency funding to postpone record-breaking Port Authority service cuts. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Right now if people charge their electric cars slowly, the grid can handle it. "But people will want faster charging, which will require bigger transformers and heavy-duty power outlets that deliver 240 volts. And running the grid will get more complicated." (NPR)

Snowplow drivers are working around the clock to keep roads passable in the Twin Cities. Snow day! (Minnesota Public Radio; slideshow)

Jet Blue was fined $600,000 by the US DOT for violating rules protecting disabled passengers, as well as failing to disclose code share information. (Washington Post)

The Asian Development Bank has approved a $1.1 billion finance package for two major transportation projects that will help ease traffic gridlock in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. (AP via NPR)

When is carpooling like a the end of a big group dinner? Which Bay Area commuter will reach for their wallet first when the toll booth/check comes? Video below! (Oakland North)

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First Chevy Volt Ships to Dealers

Monday, December 13, 2010

Image: © GM Corp

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) Chevrolet began shipping Volt electric vehicles to customers and dealerships Monday. The first of 160 cars expected to be shipped this week from the Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant are heading to California, Texas, Washington, D.C. and New York, the initial launch markets for the Volt.

Tony DiSalle, Volt marketing director at Chevrolet called it a "historic milestone." Chevy announced plans for the Volt about four years ago, signaling a move from heavier SUVs toward more fuel efficient cars.

The Volt does have a small gas tank and gas powered engine to supplement the electric drive and allow longer trips of up to 379 miles on a single charge and fill up. That's in contrast to the Nissan Leaf, which does not have a gas engine. The first person to order a Nissan Leaf received their car in San Fransisco on Saturday.

Today's batch of Volts are not the first to ship but they are the first batch to go out to dealers for retail consumers. Earlier this year, Chevrolet shipped 15 pre-production Volts to "technology advocates" and "electric vehicle enthusiasts" for a 90-day vehicle and charging evaluation program.

Chevy has offered an incentive to spark early purchases of the car before roadside charging stations exist.  The company is providing free in-home 240 volt chargers to the first customers who pre-ordered Volts.

Recently private companies have announced plans to build charging stations in Tennessee and Texas. Still, early buyers of the Volt, or Leaf, will have to rely, at least in large part, on in-home chargers.

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'Tis The Season ... To Crack Down on Drunk Driving

Monday, December 13, 2010

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) The Department of Transportation kicked off the annual Holiday Drunk Driving Crackdown Monday. Specifically, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood wants law enforcement to get tougher on drunk drivers who refuse to take roadside breathalyzer tests with the use of on-call judges and blood tests.

Law enforcement officials say too many drivers know that refusing to take a roadside breathalyzer improves their odds of beating a conviction. Secretary LaHood thinks a strategy being used in nine states dubbed "no refusal" might be a solution.

Under a "no refusal" plan, a judge stays on-call, even in off hours, to issue search warrants by phone if necessary that allow police to take blood samples from drivers who refuse a breathalyzer. Much like searching a car for drugs, this is asking a judge for permission to search for evidence of drunk driving, except the evidence is blood alcohol level, and the search is a blood test.

About one in four drunk drivers refuse a breathalyzer nationwide, while in some states the rate is much higher—in New Hampshire 81 percent of drivers refused. See chart on refusal rates by state here.

LaHood writes on his blog, "states like Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Texas, and Utah that have adopted "No Refusal" programs demonstrate more guilty pleas and fewer costly trials." And, as you might expect, so called "refusal rates" have also dropped. In Texas, they fell from nearly 50 percent down to 10 percent.

Not every state is able to join up with this federal push backed with $7 million in funding for a national advertising campaign. In 20 states, current law would not allow warrants to be issued for blood tests by "on-call" judges. But that leaves 21 states that LaHood hopes will adopt the plan. Some states that do use "no refusal" plans do so only on certain highly publicized "no refusal" weekends.

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Subway Wallets: Transit Map as Fashion Accessory

Monday, December 13, 2010

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) Here's a handy gift for subway riders, tourists planning a trip to New York, or transit cartography nuts. The Mighty Wallet is a nearly indestructible subway map printed on Tyvek, the material used for express mail envelopes.

Get one for New York City, London or Chicago, each celebrating love of public transit by turning the subway map into design object. Certainly not the first time, nor the last.

Note the different sales pitch the company uses for each of the different wallets. In New York, the wallet "... adds a level of stealth that safeguards your valuables from theft. Mighty Wallets have actually evaded theft in real life situations through their uncommon stealthy design." No mention of theft prevention for the Chicago sales pitch, just a nod to affection for the El.

And the London page touts design insight: "The "Tube" map is based not on the geographic but the relative positions of stations along the lines. A style that has been adapted worldwide."

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TN Moving Stories: CT Transpo Overhaul Coming, London Gets A Hydrogen Bus, and New York's "Cagelike" Subway Turnstiles are Fare Eaters

Monday, December 13, 2010

Holiday time can mean bonus time...but not for San Francisco Muni operators. Management has "put the kibosh this year on year-end payouts from a special trust fund set up for the city's transit operators." (San Francisco Chronicle)

Connecticut governor-elect Dan Malloy intends to overhaul that state's Department of Transportation--starting at the top. (Hartford Courant)

The U.K.'s first permanent hydrogen bus was launched in London; there are more coming next spring. (The Guardian)

General Motors' CEO wants government to loosen restrictions on executive pay so GM can hold onto its best. He also called the Toyota Prius hybrid a "geek-mobile." (USA Today)

"Cagelike" subway turnstiles: the bane of  inexperienced subway riders, who sometimes have to pay twice if they can't figure the system out right away. (New York Daily News)

Surveillance cameras coming to some New York City buses this spring. (AP via Wall Street Journal)

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Bicycles: Not Just for Transportation, But Adornment As Well

Sunday, December 12, 2010

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) At today's Bust Magazine Craftacular, bike jewelry was all the rage. Have bikes replaced owls as the new crafts fair item?

UPDATE: seen at the Union Square holiday market!

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D.I.Y. Doe Disposal?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Roadkill in 1954. Image: NOAA's Historic Coast & Geodetic Survey Collection

(Matt Dellinger, Transportation Nation) Here’s a sign of the times for you:

In an effort to cut costs, a county in central Michigan is moving forward with a plan to end its dead deer removal program for county roads. The Argus-Press of Owosso reports that the Board of Commissioners of Shiawassee County (just west of Flint) voted 5-2 on Tuesday in favor of the cut, which will save the county something like $28,000.

Publicly funded removal, though a benefit to public health and olfactory peace, is not a mandated service. The state of Michigan suspended its program years ago, as have other states. Currently Shiawassee county pays a man named Bernard Minnick $38 per carcass to pick up the remains. You can do the math, but that’s a lot of deer!

And what are people to do? Last month in the Argus-Press ran some helpful advice from County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Michael TerMeer, who recommended drivers go ahead and hit deer rather than swerve to avoid them. Apparently most deer-related injuries and deaths are the result of the attempted avoidance. (A man from the Shiawassee County Road Commission added that drivers should swerve for a human being, but only for a human being.)

In any case, score one for smaller government. This belt-tightening continues a recent trend of transportation savings in rural Michigan. A year and a half ago, the Associated Press reported that the state had turned some fifty miles of dilapidated low-traffic roads back to gravel. It was cheaper than repairing the pavement.

This story brings to mind perhaps the most literary treatment of roadkill ever: John McPhee’s 1973 New Yorker article Travels in Georgia (subscription required) which profiles the biologist Carol Ruckdeschel as she roams the state looking for struck animals to study. Governor Jimmy Carter also makes a cameo.

Matt Dellinger is the author of the book Interstate 69: The Unfinished History of the Last Great American Highway. You can follow him on Twitter.

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NYC Alternate Side Parking Calendar 2011 Released

Friday, December 10, 2010

From the New York City DOT, here's the 2011 alternate side of the street parking calendar. Alternate side parking is suspended on these holidays.

Holiday / Date

New Years Day* / Jan 1, Saturday
Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Birthday / Jan 17, Mon

Asian Lunar New Year / Feb 3, Thurs
Lincoln's Birthday / Feb 12, Sat
Washington's Birthday (Pres. Day) / Feb 21, Mon

Ash Wednesday / Mar 9, Wed
Purim / Mar 20, Sun

Passover (1st/2nd Days) / Apr 19-20, Tues-Wed
Holy Thursday / Apr 21, Thurs
Holy Thursday (Orthodox) / Apr 21, Thurs
Good Friday / Apr 22, Fri

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Interview: Senator Max Baucus on Transportation, Deficit, Rural Issues

Friday, December 10, 2010

Senator Max Baucus (Dem. Montana) spoke with Jackie Yamanaka of Yellowstone Public Radio on Thursday. The Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee discussed his role as a member of President Obama's deficit commission and the need for a long term transportation authorization bill. He wants more debate on balancing rural and urban infrastructure spending before he'll support several of the proposals recommended the commission.

Listen to the interview or read the full transcript below.

Jackie Yamanaka: Thank you Max for joining me to talk about transportation. There is a tax component and I will get to that, but first I wanted to ask you about the extension of the transportation bill, that the House passed last night…What are the prospects the Senate will do the same before the end of the year?

A better solution is to, next year, get on with passing a long term, solid highway bill. I’m going to be working as well as I can to accomplish that.

Senator Max Baucus: Well, I think excellent. There’s no question in my mind it will get passed in the Senate.

But the real question is: how do we get a more sound transportation policy in this country. In the last several years, transportation bills have been short term extensions rather than solid, five or six year authorizations and that’s caused a real problem for states who are less able to budget, for highway contractors, less able to budget and know what to bid on, problems for a lot of people with jobs and ancillary businesses related to highway construction whether asphalt or aggregate or what not.

I’m going to be pushing strongly for a longer term transportation/highway bill, five years roughly, so people can plan, so people can predict the future, so states and those related to highway constructions are able to predict the future. And that’s one reason, I think the economy has stalled a little bit, that is unpredictability. It’s uncertainty. People are just uncertain what’s in store for them.

But the real question is: how do we get a more sound transportation policy in this country. In the last several years, transportation bills have been short term extensions rather than solid, five or six year authorizations and that’s caused a real problem for states…

We will pass some legislation to allow construction to continue at roughly the current rate for next year but that’s not a very good solution. A better solution is to, next year, get on with passing a long term, solid highway bill. I’m going to be working as well as I can to accomplish that.

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Houston's Red-Light Camera Controversy Lands in Federal Court

Friday, December 10, 2010

(Houston -- Wendy Siegle, KUHF News) The legal battle over Houston’s red-light cameras has taken another turn. At a hearing with a federal district judge today, the city and American Traffic Solutions (ATS) presented arguments over whether the city is liable to pay out its contract with the red-light camera company. Mayor Annise Parker asked a federal district judge to mediate the dispute.

Houston residents voted to turn off the cameras during last month’s mid-term election, but ATS argues the measure shouldn’t have been on the ballot in the first place. The reason? It was illegal. ATS says the vote wasn't legit because the cameras were still under contract with the city. ATS attorneys argue that the city has to cough up millions of dollars for breaking its contract.

Meanwhile, attorneys for the city of Houston contend it doesn’t owe ATS a dime since Houston voters nullified the contract when they cast their ballots to get rid of the cameras. ATS is hoping the judge will reactivate the devices (which are still up but switched off) and invalidate the referendum.

The loss of revenue from the decommissioned cameras has added to the city's budget woes, which is now roughly $26 million in the hole. The red-light cameras brought in around $10 million a year.

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The Record: Feds say Christie knew of risk on tunnel

Friday, December 10, 2010

From today's NJ Record:

The feds say NJ Governor Christie was aware his predecessor, Jon Corzine, had signed an  "Early System Work Agreement" to get federal funds to NJ quickly for the ARC Tunnel project -- and that such an agreement meant money would have to be returned if the project wasn't built.

Christie reaffirmed New Jersey's commitment to the project in an April 8 letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood that called the tunnel "critical for the transit riders of New Jersey and the region."

"Given the time constraints of current contractor bids, I look forward to an expeditious award of the second Early System Work Agreement," Christie wrote. Six days later, FTA notified NJ Transit the agreement was granted, allowing for contracts to go forward on parts of the project in North Bergen and Kearny, according to documents released Thursday by the USDOT.

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