ARC Tunnel's Launch - What A Difference A Year Makes

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

(photo courtesy of TriState Transportation Campaign)

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation)

"These are the bold projects that in the past, were either debated to death or simply ignored."

That's Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff, speaking at the June 8, 2009 ARC tunnel groundbreaking in North Bergen, New Jersey.

What a difference a year makes. Today, officials around the region are awaiting formal word that the $8.7 billion tunnel is dead, and that NJ Governor Chris Christie will revert NJ's $2.7 billion to its transportation trust fund, mostly for roads. We can't afford the overruns, Christie has said. It's time for belt-tightening.

But this is now.

In the tape below -- from only 16 months ago -- you'll hear a host of hopeful and optimistic politicians, including then-Governor Jon Corzine, U. S Senators Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, and others referring to the ARC tunnel as a monumental boon for the region. It would be America's largest public work, a cousin to the 1910 Pennsylvania Railroad's trans-Hudson tunnel (which marked the last time a trans-Hudson tunnel was built). It was described as a project that was critical not only to the region's economy, but safety as well. It would relieve congestion on all modes, reduce carbon emissions, and improve family life (no kidding!) The tunnel was nothing less than the start of a new era.

ARC groundbreaking Part 1

Here's another tip that you're listening to a different time: at ten minutes and 30 seconds into Part 1 of the groundbreaking below, you'll hear Governor Corzine talking about how both Democrats and Republicans from both states came together to make the project happen. "It's been bipartisan, something that we all have worked on," he said. "Governors [George Pataki]
[Eliot] Spitzer, [David] Paterson, all pitched in." Other speakers: at 14:30, you'll hear Senator Lautenberg; and at 21:50 Senator Robert Menendez speaks. (Even so, the crowd at the groundbreaking was overwhelmingly Democrats.)

ARC groundbreaking Part 2

Peter Rogoff, the head of the Federal Transit Administration, begins speaking at :43 in. "These are the bold projects that in the past, were either debated to death or simply ignored." Other speakers: at 9:30 the (now outgoing) chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Anthony Coscia, begins speaking. Executive Director Chris Ward starts at 14:26 . Congressman Albio Sires is 16:47, and Congressman Bill Pascrell concludes at 18:58, with "this is a happy day for all of us. You've heard all the biblical things today. It is time to move on!"

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TN Moving Stories: Bike Commuting on Rise, NJ Road Work Suspended Again, and Update on ARC

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Christie expected to pull the plug on ARC (WNYC) (Marketplace). Meanwhile, NJ transportation officials suspended about 100 early-stage road and rail projects yesterday. (AP via ABC news)

The number of people commuting by bike is on the rise. Slowly -- but steadily. (Wired)

Ray LaHood got an earful from Staten Islanders yesterday, who "face the longest commute in the entire country." (NY1)

A proposed bike lane drew more crowds at a Vancouver city council meeting than a discussion of a future transit link. (The Province)

Albany grapples with a parking plan, debates a "system that uses market forces and incentives -- rather than 'rationing and command and control.'"  (Times Union)

School bus driver training varies "wildly" from district to district in Georgia. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Fill That Hole! was once just a public works rallying cry. Now it's an iPhone app in London. (Good)

The New York Times reviews the new musical "In Transit," which chronicles subway life: "Some will scoff at those searching for enlightenment in the crowded underground world. Yet that wide-eyed wonder may remind others of why they came to the city in the first place."

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Lautenberg's Last-Minute Pitch: Port Authority Should Pay for Cost Overruns on ARC

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

NJ US Senator Frank Lautenberg is making a last-minute pitch: he wants the Port Authority to guarantee to pay for any cost overruns on the ARC tunnel, thereby taking NJ off the hook. It's a bit of a Hail Mary -- and complex, because Governor Chris Christie controls half the Port Authority. (Paterson hasn't made a position on ARC clear, and the Democratic Candidate, Andrew Cuomo, says he hasn't taken one yet.)

Here's the letter.

Letter to Coscia and Baroni PANYNJ

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Detroit loses in Federal Transit Sweepstakes; SF, LA, Atlanta Win

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation, and Quinn Klinefelter, WDET, Detroit ) While many of the usual suspects got a piece of yesterday’s Federal Transit Administration’s $776 million “State of Good Repair" program, there was one notable absence from the list: Detroit.

While roughly $11 million is going to Michigan cities like Ann Arbor, Flint and Saginaw, Detroit is NOT receiving any federal money from this particular grant. But FTA chief Peter Rogoff says the federal government is keenly aware of the need for transit funding in the Motor City. “Detroit has started off, for a city of its size, way behind comparable cities in providing a real network of transit service. And they’re struggling to do so, given the financial challenges they have.”

Although Detroit missed out in this round of grants, the mayor’s administration estimates Detroit has received more than $37 million to improve the city’s bus system, and has used it to buy 46 new bus coaches--four of them hybrid models.

Other embattled urban transit agencies were successful.

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ARC Funding: What's at Stake

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

(New York -- Matthew Schuerman, WNYC) New Jersey never put up much of its own money towards the ARC Tunnel. And yet Governor Chris Christie seems poised to cancel the project because of money concerns.

Out of the tunnel’s $8.7 billion budget, New Jersey was contributing just $2.7 billion. Even that figure overstates the case, however. According to transportation officials, only $1.25 billion would come from New Jersey sources: the tolls collected by the NJ Turnpike Authority. Another billion and change comes from the federal government’s Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program (CMAQ), according to transportation officials.

If, or when, the tunnel’s canceled, New Jersey could divert the $1.25 billion in turnpike tolls easily—even to help out the state’s ailing Transportation Trust Fund. Christie will also be able to spend the CMAQ money on other road and bridge projects—although transportation sources say the money will have to be used in accordance with federal regulations, which would rule out its use for the trust fund.

The other $6 billion, contributed equally by the Port Authority and the Federal Transit Administration, is money slated specifically for the ARC Tunnel. Transportation sources say that Christie will have to sacrifice all of that money should he cancel the tunnel. However, presumably some Port Authority projects would take place in New Jersey.

Christie’s stated concern all along, however, was what New Jersey would do if the tunnel ended up costing more than $8.7 billion. According to one legislative source, the current agreement with the Federal Transit Administration calls for the Port Authority and the state of New Jersey to be jointly responsible.

The bottom line: Christie gets loses $6 billion in free money. But he gets to spend a different $2.25 billion on roads and bridges, all the while limiting his liability for cost overruns.

He also wouldn’t need to increase the gas tax to bail out the Transportation Trust Fund,thereby protecting his reputation as a fiscal conservative.

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Christie: I've made no decision

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)

Thanks to Chicago Public Radio's Sarah Smith, we caught up with Gov. Christie in Chicago. He said:

Governor Christie at a Chicago political event. He said:

I have not made any decision I have not been given the information yet by my executive director of NJ Transit or my commissioner of transportation regarding what the real cost of the ARC tunnel going from New Jersey to New York is going to be, and until I get those real costs I can’t make a decision. But what I do know is this: I was alerted to the fact that there were potential for significant cost overruns. And New Jersey's broke. And the federal government's made it clear that New Jersey will be on the hook for any cost overruns on the project.

Well I gotta know what those cost overruns are gonna look like, and whether we’re going to have the money to pay for it or not. So that’s why I put a thirty day halt to construction said go back sharpen your pencils and come back to me. The thirty days runs up this week. When I get back to New Jersey tomorrow I’ll be meeting with my transportation commissioner and my New Jersey transit executive director and they’ll give me information and I’ll have to make a decision. But no I haven’t made any decisions yet at all.

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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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