Streams

Sources familiar with ARC tunnel: It's dead

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) Three sources familiar with the $8.7 billion tunnel under the Hudson river from NJ, say, barring an unexpected, last-minute change of heart from Governor Chris Christie, the ARC transit tunnel under the Hudson river is dead. The sources say Christie will likely announce this week that he's restructuring NJ's portion of the money to go to roads. The FTA and the Port Authority will recoup their $3 billion each, though the Port's money will likely go into other regional projects.

Governor Christie's office, NJ Transit, the FTA, and the Port Authority of NY and NJ all decline comment.

More soon.

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MTA Chief: $104 Monthly Metro Card Is a Go

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

It’s (nearly) official: MTA chairman Jay Walder said this morning that monthly Metro cards will go up a whopping 17 percent in January, from $89 to $104.  WNYC has the story.

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As Trans-Hudson Transit Tunnel Teeters on the Brink, Mayor Bloomberg Says City Can't Help

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) -- Supporters of the federal government's largest transit new start are steeling themselves for an announcement that could come this week that NJ Governor Chris Christie will not fund a transit tunnel under the Hudson River, the nation's largest transit new start project in the works.

Christie has said he's worried the $8.7 billion project could run over by as much as $5 billion, and that if that's the case, he says NJ doesn't have the funds to back it. And he's said, with the NJ highway trust fund broke, the roads need the money.

But though this project has always been more a child of NJ than NY, NYC stands to benefit by one of the tunnel's promises -- doubling the number of New Jerseyans who live within a 50 minute transit commute of New York City. That brings more workers and shoppers to the city, and serves an off-stated Bloomberg goal of reducing carbon emissions.

Today, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, NYC won't step in and keep the project from dying, if that's what Christie decides.

"We are not party to this," the Mayor said at a City Hall news conference. "It is a Port Authority Project," he added, before saying some nice things about Port Authority staff. "They have their own financial problems, and they can afford some things and not others. "

The Port Authority, a bi-state authority, it should be said, is fully behind the project -- it's Christie who has indicated he may take his $2.7 billion and re-purpose it to roads.

The death of this project would be a major blow to the Obama administration, which has made quite clear that it believes that denser, more transit,oriented development, prioritized over road-based sprawl, is what's needed for a more sustainable future.

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Driving On Unkempt Streets May Be Costing Houstonians More Than They Think

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

(Wendy Siegle, KUHF News Houston)  Driving along Broadway in southeast Houston can be tense. Potholes, uneven pavement, and jarring dips in the road lie in ambush on every block. Whether your car will be able to dodge all the hazardous obstacles or come out on the other side with a busted suspension is anyone’s guess. Perhaps that’s too harsh of an assessment, but roads like Broadway are one of the reasons Houstonians shell out an average of $438 a year in additional operating costs, according to a recent report by the national transportation research group TRIP. “That’s money you would not be spending if the roads were all in good condition,” said Frank Moretti, TRIP's director of policy and research.

Listen to full story here.

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TN Moving Stories: Female Crash Test Dummies and $776 million for bus upgrades

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

The Federal Transit Administration will give communities $776 million to upgrade bus service and buy fuel efficient buses (Wall Street Journal). Read Ray LaHood's blog entry about the grants  here.

A new report says that the US's failing transportation infrastructure imperils our prosperity. "We're going to have bridges collapse. We're going to have earthquakes. We need somebody to grab the issue and run with it," says former transportation secretary Norman Mineta. (Washington Post)

US military orders less dependence on fossil fuels. (New York Times)

NHTSA to unveil changes to the government's 5-Star Safety Rating System that will make it more difficult for cars and trucks to earn top scores (AP). One change: female crash test dummies.

Republicans running for governor seem likely to block or delay the implementation of high speed rail, should they win office. (New York Times)

A Dallas Morning News editorial wants to know: why is transit flat and carpooling down? Apparently because "Dallas' love affair with the car is as torrid as ever."

The construction of the Second Avenue Subway line is taking its toll on merchants, who say business has declined 25 to 50% since work began. (New York Times)

Jay Walder, head of New York's MTA, will be on today's Brian Lehrer Show to talk about fare hikes. (WNYC)

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NY Mayor Bloomberg: "Enh" on Privatizing Parking Meters.

Monday, October 04, 2010

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) Matt D. wrote on Friday about  Indianopolis's flirtation with privatizing its on-street parking.  Turns out former Indy Mayor Stephen Goldsmith, now the Deputy Mayor of NYC,  is eying it too, as first reported in the New York Post.  But his boss, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, sounded a little iffy about the idea at a press conference on Governor's Island, in the NY Harbor.

"We're trying to think outside the box and look at everything," the Mayor said, preparing for the big BUT. "What we're not going to do is sell our birthright, take some money to balance the budget toady and leave our kids with a greater liability.  If the private sector can do something better than the public sector then we certainly would talk  to them. What's generally done with these privitization things is to take all the money for budget balancing, leaving those cities or states without assets and with an obligation going forward.  That's just terrible fiscal planning."

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NJ Transportation Commissioner: Transit Money Could Go to Roads if Tunnel is Halted

Monday, October 04, 2010

(Matthew Schuerman, WNYC)

(This post has been updated.) A number of transit advocates suspect New Jersey Governor Chris Christie wants to use money allocated for a commuter train tunnel under the Hudson River and apply it to roads and bridges in his state.

His transportation commissioner Jim Simpson said today that wasn’t the plan, but it might come to pass.

Under questioning from state Senator Paul Sarlo, Simpson said he “hadn’t thought about it that way,” but he went on:

I don’t know but let’s look at the source of the money. You’ve got a billion dollars of federal money that comes to the New Jersey Department of Transportation that would normally be associated with highway projects. You’ve got that billion coming in—100 million a year—that is rededicated, flexed to ARC. So if ARC didn’t happen there’s a billion dollars for roads and bridges and things like that.

Simpson said the decision on the ARC tunnel—the acronym for the pair of tunnels that NJ Transit broke ground on last summer—would be made on its own merits. But he said if the tunnel’s canceled, using the money on road projects would be “the other end of the equation.”

Christie halted work on the tunnel Sept. 10 and is expected to decide later this week whether to cancel the project. He said the state didn’t have enough money to cover cost overruns from the $8.7 billion tunnel.

Simpson appeared at a hearing that the Joint Budget Oversight Committee called after the Christie administration cancelled more than 100 road and transit projects around the state. That halt came on Friday, because the Democratic-controlled legislature was refusing to approve a $1.7 billion bond deal that’s supposed to keep the construction projects underway until next spring.

After today's hearing, two Democrats broke ranks with leadership and voted, along with two Republicans on the panel, in favor of the borrowing. About 2,000 construction workers are expected to go back on the job Tuesday.

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Deal reached on NJ Roads Funding

Monday, October 04, 2010

(Matthew Schuerman, WNYC) Thousands of New Jersey construction workers are expected to go back to work tomorrow after the legislature broke an impasse with Governor Christie.

The Joint Budget Oversight Committee voted 4 to 1 in favor of a 1-point-7 billion financing package that the Christie administration said was necessary to keep projects going until the spring. Democrats on the committee had refused to approve the financing last week, leading Governor Christie to suspend about hundreds of road and transit projects as of this morning.

Assemblywoman Nellie Pou from Paterson was one of two Democrats to break ranks with the party's leadership and approve the borrowing.

"I'm not happy the way things are working out," Pou said, " and I'm not happy with how we got to this situation, but my vote is yes for the purpose to making sure the right thing is done today and getting those jobs back in order.

Another Democratic Assemblymember, Louis Greenwald, voted against the measure, saying the state needed to fix the nearly bankrupt Transportation Trust Fund before it borrowed more money.

The vote came as Governor Christie is mulling whether to go forward with another large transportation project -- a trans-Hudson tunnel which would increase NJ Transit's capacity, but which Christie fears may cost too much.

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TN Moving Stories: Road Work Grinds to A Halt in NJ, and A Look at the MTA's Most Delayed Trains

Sunday, October 03, 2010

In NJ, work on $1.7 billion of state Department of Transportation projects halts today as Gov. Christie and state Democrats clash over funding (WNYC). An emergency meeting between Governor Christie and NJ Democratic lawmakers is scheduled for 10am today.

AT&T, T-Mobile to strike deal bringing cell service to NYC subway stations (Business Week).

Possible strike that could affect a third of Phoenix's bus routes (Arizona Republic).

The Wall Street Journal takes a look at the MTA's most delayed trains.

Connecticut tries to prepare for plug-in vehicles. (Hartford Courant)

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood wrote an op-ed in AOL News about his safety efforts.

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Fighting for a spot

Saturday, October 02, 2010

(Matt Dellinger, Transportation Nation) - On Tuesday we posted about the Indianapolis manifestation of Park(ing) Day, wherein a prime loading zone on Meridian Street was turned to lawn as a demonstration of the importance of urban green space.

The residents of Indianapolis are a little sensitive about their parking ...

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A Reminder: Don't Die In A Flash Flood

Friday, October 01, 2010

(Washington, DC -- David Schultz, WAMU) Hurricane season is well underway, and that means a mega-rain storm can strike the East Coast or the Gulf Coast at any time. Just this week, D.C. and New York City were hammered by Tropical Storm Nicole.

Driving in the midst of one of these storms can be perilous to say the least. Earlier this week, I covered the aftermath of a flash flood in Northeast D.C. Several cars had gotten stuck in quickly rising water under an overpass. One woman said the water rose so fast, she couldn't get out of her car. She said the water rose up to her neck before she was rescued.

So, a reminder: take caution when driving during a storm. Never try to drive through standing water. Instead, obey the new highway safety catchphrase: turn around, don't drown.

IMAGE by Flickr user ChefMattRock (not of Washington D.C)

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Report: Chronic Underinvestment In Texas Roads Will Cost Big In The Future

Friday, October 01, 2010

(Wendy Siegle, KUHF News Houston) Times are tough for America’s roads. States are facing budget shortfalls of more than $127 billion for 2010-2011, leaving transportation agencies with limited funding for maintenance and improvement projects. It seems streets will remain neglected for a while yet. But what’s the price of postponing all that much needed work on our roadways? Here in Texas, members from the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) recently prepared a report for state lawmakers to answer that question.

The document notes the projected costs to Texas’ economy, businesses, and to Texans themselves. According to TTI, if the state continues its current spending plan, the cost to Texas’ economy from deteriorating mobility is more than $1.1 trillion over the next 25 years. Other findings include:

  • Loss of Jobs: “If Texas cannot maintain current mobility levels and, instead, continues to spend at planned levels, an estimated 288,000 jobs could be lost by 2035.”
  • Loss of businesses: “Deteriorating infrastructure and decreasing mobility reduces the ability of Texas to compete, both in terms of product cost and the ability to attract and retain a qualified workforce”
  • Maintenance Versus Reconstruction: “Reconstruction costs can be more than three times the cost of 25 years of maintenance. Plus, proper maintenance can extend the life of a roadway by as much as 18 years.”
  • Increased Congestion: “By 2035, delay will cause the average commuter to spend almost 140 hours stuck in traffic compared to 38 hours in 2010.”

LINK: Full Report.

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NJ Smart Growth Groups Hit Back on"Myths" about Trans-Hudson Tunnel

Friday, October 01, 2010

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)  In a sign of how tense things are getting in New Jersey as planners and transportation groups await the outcome of Governor Christie's 30-day review of ARC tunnel spending, the planning group New Jersey Future, a project proponent and advocate for denser, more transit-oriented communities, has issued a newsletter debunking what it's calling "myths" about the tunnel, which will cross under the Hudson River.  (ARC stands for "access to the region's core.")

Planners have long advocated the ARC tunnel, saying it will double transit capacity, ease road congestion,  create some 6000 construction jobs, and increase real estate values along NJ transit lines.  But Governor Chris Christie, a Republican elected on a belt-tightening platform last fall, is behind a 30-moratorium on new contracts for the project, citing concerns about who will pay for cost overruns.

Christie has also hinted he's making roads a priority -- the NJ highway trust fund is broke, and Christie had made it clear he has no intention of raising NJ's gas tax.    In this context, regional planners  -- and even the NY Times editorial page --are expressing serious concerns the tunnel may be spiked altogether, with some of the money redistributed for roads.

Into this context comes the NJ Future bullet points -- the kind of thing you often see in political campaigns, maybe less so in planning discussions.

Here they are:

"* The ARC tunnel project cannot connect directly to New York's Penn Station, as some critics have insisted, because Penn Station has reached its capacity and there is no room to expand platform space.

* NJ Transit service cannot be extended directly to Grand Central Terminal because Manhattan's principal north-south water tunnel blocks an east-west connection.

* Amtrak is not planning to build its own tunnel under the Hudson River in the foreseeable future; in fact, Amtrak is counting on the ARC tunnel to provide it with additional capacity for decades to come.

Penn Station is Full
The National Association of Railroad Passengers and other critics contend that the additional NJ Transit service made possible by the ARC tunnel project should tie directly into New York's Penn Station, rather than terminate at a new "deep cavern station" more than 100 feet below 34th Street. NJ Transit would prefer this alignment, too - if it were logistically possible. Platform space at Penn Station has reached capacity, however, and

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Obama's New Diesel Standards

Friday, October 01, 2010

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) New diesel fuel economy standards are expected to be finalized within a week and some in the diesel industry are taking the occasion to remind us about the other way to reduce pollution, making engine technology cleaner with clean diesel.   The new regulations are expected to require diesel engines to increase miles per gallon performance primarily for light trucks and heavy-duty vehicles, but regulating that category is no easy task.

In Europe, 50% of the cars on the road are diesel according to the Diesel Technology Forum. Here in the U.S though, diesel vehicles make up just 3% of of our vehicles, accounting for 10% of our nation's oil consumption, and 20% of the transit-related pollution. That's an environmental opportunity when you think of what a few extra miles-per-gallon would do with a bus or truck that travels over a million miles during its lifetime.

Its a complicated matter though to set fuel efficiency standards for heavy duty vehicles, a category that covers tractor trailers as well as construction vehicles like dump trucks. The fuel is consumed in many different ways, it could be used making cross country highway trips or in operating equipment on the truck while stationary like a cement mixer.  Some vehicles go 100,000 miles a year, others may not travel more than a few hundred, like a fire truck. Some argue per-mile efficiency may not be the best metric for reducing diesel consumption and pollution across the board. The NYT has a nice explanation of this and other regulatory puzzles that explain some of the delay in targeting this class of transit polluter.

Mileage standards are certainly one way to reduce diesel pollution, but technology is another. In anticipation of the new regulations, clean diesel advocates at the Diesel Technology Forum pointed out a 52% rise in clean diesel vehicle sales over a year ago. No one expects clean diesel to rival hybrids for the mantle of greener cars, but it may well be a growth market and an eco-opportunity.

One recent study by the National Academy of Sciences estimates that we can cut fuel consumption in heavy-duty vehicles almost in half with the combination of new technologies and diesel fuel economy standards. That's likely the kind of hopeful case for change the Obama administration will make when they release the official standards.

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New York U.S. Senator Schumer Touts Transit in New Ad

Friday, October 01, 2010

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) It's not often you see U.S. Senators touting aid to transit in television ads. Creating jobs? Yes. Helping constituents?  Sure. Indeed, many U.S. Senators aren't particular fans of mass transit -- if they're behind rail funding at all, it tends to be about more glamorous projects, like high speed rail. So it caught my attention when I saw this ad, for Democratic U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, who is running is running against a virtual unknown, Hudson Valley businessman Jay Townsend.

The ad is referring to the transitcheck program, which allows transit users to pay up to $230 a month pre-tax for transit commuting expenses.   Before the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act passed, motorists could deduct $230 for parking, but transit users only $120, providing an obvious incentive to drive, particularly for suburban commuters whose monthly costs can be well over $120.   With Schumer's support, according to Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers' Campaign, the transit benefit was equalized, but that will expire on December 31 of this year.   Schumer, says Russianoff, is working on a fix.   "It's unusual for transit to be an issue in any election," Russianoff says, "but this cuts taxes for suburbanites, and they know it."   The ad pretty prominently features local commuter trains: the Long Island Railroad and Metro North.

It says something about the prevalence of transit users in the New York area that supporting transit can be a potent political issue -- some fifty percent of NY commuters use transit, and that includes the further suburbs. The Brookings Institution has found that only San Franciscans have nearly that level (about a quarter of area residents commute by transit) -- and everyone else, much less.

But Russianoff is happy -- and in the many years I've covered this issue,  he hasn't always been ready to praise Schumer.

This time he told me: "I'm Gene Russianoff, and I approve this message."

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Caltrain Riders Fight for Their Commute

Friday, October 01, 2010

(San Francisco–Casey Miner, KALW News) It’s been said that transportation planning in San Francisco is a contact sport. People around here have very, very strong opinions about their transit, and they’re not shy about sharing them. A lot of the time, things can get nasty.

But there’s one place where things are a little different. Call it a throwback. Caltrain started in the 19th century, and in some ways the railroad still has an old kind of feel. The locomotive cars run on diesel, and you can still hear that satisfying rumble of the wheels on the tracks when you ride.

For all of its historic charm, Caltrain has very modern budget problems. Facing a $2.3 million deficit, the agency is considering raising fares, cutting service, or both. There’s a worst case scenario where everything but weekday peak trains could disappear. That won’t happen for a while though: not if the passengers have anything to say about it.

Head over to KALW News to hear the full story of this emerging rider community of tech savvy, DIY professional types trying to save their train service through bike access and old-fashioned organizing.

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TN Moving Stories: Can NY's Subways Handle The Rain, and Seattle Launches RapidRide -- While Cutting Other Service

Friday, October 01, 2010

New York's subways brace for heavy rain. The Wall Street Journal points out that "the last heavy rainfall event of this magnitude in August 2007 caused epic flooding throughout the subway system." Gizmodo adds: "we depend on just 700 fragile water pumps to keep the tunnels dry—some a century old."

Seattle launches its RapidRide bus service this weekend, "but simultaneous service cuts will hit at the heart of Metro's regional system: densely populated Seattle." (Crosscut)

Chicago Transit Authority submits proposed budget, says system won't suffer further cuts -- but won't make improvements, either. (Chicago Tribune)

California gets $194 million stimulus grant to help with planning for a 520-mile high speed rail line linking San Francisco to Anaheim. (San Francisco Chronicle)

Maryland Governor O'Malley co-authored an op-ed about using public-private partnerships to fund infrastructure projects. (Politico)

The Hudson Valley's Stewart Airport will expand, hopes to attract international flights. (WNYC)

NJ Governor Christie to name a former state attorney general, David Samson, to head the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. (Star-Ledger)

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Feds Forcing New York to Change Font on 250,000 Street Signs

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Image by Flickr user Video4net

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) The Federal Highway Administration is telling New York to replace a quarter of a million street signs to conform to national standards. It all comes down to readability. The FHA argues that the additional milliseconds it takes to discern what a sign says, keeping eyes off the road, amount to a safety risk.

The current signs are in all caps (above), the new ones will introduce lowercase (below). They will also be in a specially designed font called Clearview.

The ruling actually came down in 2003 with a fifteen year deadline to New York and other communities around the country. It came to light today when the New York Daily News reported that the cost of the street sign copy edit will be $27.5 million. New York replaces 8,000 signs each year anyway for general wear and tear, so the gradual phase in of the $110 signs won't cause any major hassle to the city's Department of Transportation.

That's probably why NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg castigated a Daily News reporter at a press conference for asking a question on the topic, calling it "the most ridiculous question that I've been presented with in nine years."

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Real vs. perceived travel time: your trip is shorter than you think it is

Thursday, September 30, 2010

(San Francisco – Casey Miner, KALW News) A huge inspiration for new transportation projects – and the Bay Area has a lot of big ones in the works right now – is efficiency. How much more efficient is the Oakland Airport Connector, the BRT or High Speed Rail going to be than what we have now?

As it turns out, the answer to that question isn’t as straightforward as you might think. When calculating travel times, planners don’t just calculate how long it actually takes to get from point A to point B. They calculate how long people think it takes. And people think it takes more than twice as long as it actually does.

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Expert: New York City Zoning Regs Won't Really Encourage People to Give Up Private Cars for Car Sharing

Thursday, September 30, 2010

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) (Updated)  New York yesterday changed its zoning regulations to clarify that yes, car-share cars can park in private garages. But Dr. Rachel Weinberger, a parking expert at the University of Pennsylvania, says, despite the city's glowing words about car-share, this plan might not really encourage people to give up their cars and use car share instead.  Weinberger's reasoning is this: cities like Toronto and Philadelphia have created incentives for developers to create car-share spots, by allowing them reductions in parking requirements (the requirement they build a certain number of spots for a certain size building.) Some developers really don't want to build extra parking, because of the cost, so allowing them to reduce the space they have to build, she says, is a real incentive to create a car-share spot.

But in New York "there's so much latent demand for parking," Weinberger points out, that there's no incentive to create car share spots over other spots. To encourage car share, she says, you can't just make ZipCars more readily available, you have to make owning a car less convenient.

NY's new resolution will reduce the number of spots for owner-car use somewhat, but not enough, she says, to be a "game-changer."

The change, she said, could "result in more driving, not less," but making it easier to pick up a car-share, but no harder to drive your own.

Got that?
Note:  This post was updated to reflect the fact that Weinberger didn't say the new regs wouldn't make car sharier easier, but rather said it wouldn't discourage private car ownership.

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