Congressional Disruption: Senior House Transportation Leader, DeFazio, Now FacesTight Race

Monday, October 18, 2010

(Washington, D.C. — Todd Zwillich, Transportation Nation) One of the House's most powerful voices on transportation all of the sudden finds himself in a tough re-election race.

Even in an anti-incumbent year, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), was considered one of the most invulnerable. The 11-term congressman won reelection in 2008 with 82% of the vote in his sprawling coastal Oregon district and was once heavily courted by Democrats to run for Senate. But now a recent GOP poll has DeFazio just 6 percentage points ahead of Republican Art Robinson. All the important caveats about the validity of one single poll — and a GOP internal one at that — of course apply here. But DeFazio chairs the House Highways and Transit subcommittee, so any prospect of his ouster does raise questions, especially about the prospects for the next national highway bill.

DeFazio has told constituents on the campaign trail that passing the $500 billion national highway authorization bill will be one of his top priorities should he be re-elected. The bill is in limbo now as lawmakers struggle to make up a $150 billion funding shortfall for the bill without taking the dreaded and politically suicidal step of raising the federal gas tax. DeFazio, who enjoys heavy support from transit unions, has made beefing up infrastructure and transit programs, including high-speed rail, a priority during his time at the head of the committee.

The Republican most likely to take over the Highways and Transit subcommittee in the event of a GOP House takeover is Rep. John "Jimmy" Duncan (R-Tenn.), an 11-term veteran who is nearly guaranteed re-election. Still, even in this fractious Congress, Duncan, a conservative, and DeFazio, a staunch progressive, are not as far apart as one would think on transportation policy.

Duncan has repeatedly called for a long-term reauthorization of the traditionally bi-artisan highway bill, which he helped craft along with DeFazio and other senior members of the House Transportation Committee. But Duncan has also joined calls for a ban on lawmakers' pet spending projects known as earmarks, which make up about one percent of total funding in any given highway bill. While that may not seem like much, it can easily decide the fate of that extra new lane on your local commercial road or the highway overpass your county council is trying to get built.

A broader question, beyond simply who heads up the Highways and Transit subcommittee, might be what a House GOP takeover means for big-picture federal spending. One of Republicans' biggest planks is reducing the government expenditure, especially on the domestic discretionary side. That could put GOP priorities and a well-funded highways bill at direct odds.

Republicans have already spent time attacking President Barack Obama's call for a $50 billion infrastructure spending package aimed at highways, rail lines, runways and air traffic control. The White House says it wants to try and pass the funding in the Lame Duck congressional session scheduled for the weeks after the midterm elections.

One poll isn't enough to suggest that DeFazio is really in danger of losing his seat. As surprising as those latest numbers are, poll aggregators like FiveThirtyEight still give DeFazio more than a 99% chance of reelection.

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GM to Recall 300,000 Vehicles Over Seatbelts

Monday, October 18, 2010

(Jerome Vaughn, WDET -- Detroit)  General Motors is recalling more than 300-thousand vehicles, because of seat belt problems. The recall affects Chevrolet Impala sedans from the 2009 and the 2010 model years.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says the front seat belt assembly may not have been properly anchored.  The problem could prevent passengers from being secured by the seat belt during a crash, increasing the risk of injury.

GM says it has no reports of injuries or fatalities connected to the issue. Dealers will inspect both front seat belt assembles and make any necessary repairs at no cost to consumers.  Affected owners will be notified by mail beginning later this month.

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NY Minor Party Candidates have Transportation Plans

Monday, October 18, 2010

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) There was a fascinating segment on The Brian Lehrer Show this morning, where he spoke with each of the five non-major party candidates for NY Governor. Well worth a listen, particularly because three of the candidates: Charles Barron, the Freedom Party candidate, Howie Hawkins of the Green Party and Warren Redlich of the Libertarian Party made transit or transportation part of their plans. We've already written about Barron's proposals on free transit (here and here), and he expanded on it today. Hawkins also spoke at some length about transit being part of what would make the state more sustainable. And Libertarian Party candidate Redlich put forth a proposal to combine the State DOT and the Thruway Authority. This is not such a fringe idea -- Massachusetts Governor Duval Patrick did something similar last year, and that state's DOT has been something of a hotbed of innovation.

In his policy "book," Democratic candidate Andrew Cuomo does wax at length about the need to streamline New York's government, and reduce the number of authorities. It's one of his main animating principles. But there are no specifics about how he'd reorganize transportation agencies, and while his economic development proposal offers a bit more, the details are still maddeningly few. We'll be trying to find out more in the next two weeks -- meantime, send us what you know.

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TN Moving Stories: TIGER Grant Winners Leak Out, Flights into France Cut, Tappan Zee Bridge Replacements Unveiled

Saturday, October 16, 2010

TIGER II grants to be announced this week, but the winners have begun to leak out. (Streetsblog)

Swiss complete drilling for 35.4 mile tunnel, the world's longest (BBC)

Unrest continues in France over possible increase in retirement age. Today, government to cut flights into French terminals by 50%. (New York Times)

Final replacement Tappan Zee Bridge spans unveiled.  With: rail link. Without: funding. (Second Avenue Sagas)

Q&A about the Chevy Volt, including the key question "Is the Volt an electric car or a hybrid?" (New York Times)

On a list ranking 10 low-stress jobs, transportation engineer comes in at #2. "(They) love what they do because they often interact with the folks that use the crosswalks or traffic systems that they develop." (CNN Money)

Build a Better 'Burb exhibit showcases different futures for Long Island. Like: "'SUBHUB' envisions a multipurpose commuter train station, along with shuttle buses that pick up passengers and products at schools and take them to the station." (New York Times)

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Charlie Wilson’s Bus

Friday, October 15, 2010

(Matt Dellinger, Transportation Nation) – I recently visited Lufkin, Texas, to meet with Louis Bronaugh, the former mayor of Lufkin and the original champion, in Texas, of the proposed Interstate 69. Like a surprising number of his fellow highwaymen, Bronaugh has a soft spot for public transportation too. In fact, he is now the Chairman of the Brazos Transit District, an agency serving a sixteen-county area in northeast Texas including the cities of Lufkin, Bryant-College Station, Nacogdoches, and the Woodlands.

A privately-funded shuttle bus carries veterans between Lufkin, Texas, and Houston daily. (Credit: Community Transportation magazine)

Bronaugh was mayor for eighteen years, and during that time he grew adept at shepherding public and private largess toward community improvements. His main sidekicks in this were Arthur Temple, Jr., chairman emeritus of Temple-Inland timber company, and Congressman Charlie Wilson, whose covert dealings in Afghanistan (and in various bedrooms and hot tubs) were the subject of the Tom Hanks movie “Charlie Wilson’s War.” All three men played a part in creating a unique transit amenity for veterans in Texas.

Temple helped Bronaugh build a new center for the Boys and Girls Club, a recycling plant, an educational building at the local zoo, and a dozen other amenities. Charlie Wilson, who managed a lumber store for Temple-Inland as a young man, was instrumental in securing federal funding for a local veteran’s clinic and convincing Lockheed-Martin to locate an
electronics factory in town. When Temple died, in 2006, Wilson joined the board of the T. L. L. Temple foundation, and at his urging the board agreed to fund a new Veteran’s shuttle between the outpatient clinic in Lufkin and the VA Hospital in Houston, a two hour drive away.

The grant—$221,000 per year—pays for the operation and maintenance of the bus (contracted through Coach America), which each day ferries thirty to fifty veterans of conflicts spanning from World War II to the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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We're Hiring: Transportation Reporter Position Open

Friday, October 15, 2010

This position will contribute to Transportation Nation, so spread the word, or apply yourself.

WNYC News seeks Temporary Reporter to cover transportation, energy and the environment.

The WNYC newsroom is looking for an experienced reporter to cover transportation, energy and the environment from November 2010 to July 2011.

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TN Moving Stories: GM Gives Volt a Boost, HUD Funds Development Along Transit Corridors, and Christie Says Sen. Lautenberg Should Find Money to Pay For ARC

Friday, October 15, 2010

HUD awards $100 million in sustainability grants (Streetsblog).  Among the winners: the Twin Cities area, which received $5 million to plan for development along transit corridors. (Star Tribune)

GM says consumer demand for the Volt is so high, it will boost production (Detroit Free Press)

MTA still working out the kinks in the whole electronic countdown clock process (New York Daily News). Meanwhile, a mistake in the Second Avenue Subway work cuts the gas off for more than 100 families (New York Times). But there is some good news: love is now allowed on the subway.

The Southtown Star looks back at the career of Metra's first female engineer, who's now ready to retire.

Are driverless taxis in Berlin's future? (Marketplace)

And, from the Star-Ledger: a video of Governor Christie's response to Senator Lautenberg's press conference yesterday: "Senator Lautenberg should find the money to pay for it."

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"Fare Media" And Other Logistical Nightmares

Thursday, October 14, 2010

(Washington, DC — David Schultz, WAMU) "Fare media" is the transit industry term for the stuff you use to pay for a ride on a bus or a train. It used to be tokens, then slips of paper with magnetic strips. Now many cities use a rectangular piece of plastic that riders can put money on, much like a debit card.

D.C.'s version of this is called the SmarTrip card. (Note the photo at the right of my SmarTrip card. And of my hand.)

Metro, the transit agency here, would like as many people as possible to use SmarTrip cards. Unlike paper fare cards, they're reusable and, thus, cost much less to produce. So, earlier this year, Metro's Board of Directors cut the price of a SmarTrip card in half - from $5 to $2.50 - as an incentive to get more Washingtonians to use them.

And that's where the trouble began...

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The ARC of the Covenant: ARC Tunnel Update

Thursday, October 14, 2010

ARC tunnel supporters are taking advantage of the two-week reprieve that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie gave the project to make their case again. Christie canceled the project last week because of cost overruns, though he later agreed to study more options after a meeting with federal government officials.

Today New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg and Regional Plan Association president Bob Yaro unveiled a new study ("The ARC Effect") that reiterated some of the arguments in favor of the $9 billion dig. And they said the study demonstrates the importance of the tunnel to a group of people whom, they said, had been overlooked: the Garden State's commuters.

"Just wait a few years. If there's no ARC tunnel, New Jersey commutes will come to a complete stop," warned the senator. "And if we cancel this project, New Jersey will continue to expand its role as a parking lot for New York City, isolated from job opportunities in Manhattan by making the travel time longer. Jobs that will have gone to New Jerseyans will instead go to people in Connecticut, Westchester, and Long Island."

The benefits of the tunnel, Lautenberg continued, are legion: better transit options would increase property values by $18 billion. Commuting times would drop on average by 15 to 30 minutes, which mean more family/leisure time. And the tunnel was critical for Homeland Security purposes.

But above all, he hammered home the point he's been making for some time now: New Jersey needs the tunnel, it has committed to building the tunnel, and it must respect that commitment. The senator wouldn't directly answer questions asking about what specific plans are under way to save the tunnel. But he said he wouldn't rule out going back to the federal government for more money.

"I'll certainly make the plea," he said. "I want the federal government to help out here. But New Jersey has to pick up its responsibility."

Bob Yaro said the need for the tunnel was a foregone conclusion, and that it was never going to be cheaper than now. "The congestion's only going to get worse. And the next governor, or the governor after that, is going to have to move ahead with this thing. And that's when you really will see a $15 billion or a $20 billion price tag."

Senator Lautenberg was asked if New York would be contributing money to the tunnel. "They haven't asked to do so," he said cagily, and he continued that he'd only ask them "warily." He said he hasn't gotten a response yet from a letter he wrote to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, asking them to help with any additional cost overruns. "They haven't said no," he said. "That doesn't mean they've said yes."

Governor Christie's office had no additional comment today beyond the statement they released last week, which reads:

“The fact that the ARC project is not financially viable and is expected to dramatically exceed its current budget remains unchanged. However, this afternoon Secretary LaHood presented several options to potentially salvage a trans-Hudson tunnel project. At the Secretary’s request, I’ve agreed to have Executive Director of NJ Transit Jim Weinstein and members from his team work with U.S. Department of Transportation staff to study those options over the next two weeks.”

That two week mark is coming up on Thursday, October 21.

Read the RPA's study here (pdf).

Listen to the audio from today's press conference by clicking on the following link: Senator Frank Lautenberg and Bob Yaro, Regional Plan Association

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In Florida Rail Turns into Political Issue

Thursday, October 14, 2010

(Washington, DC — Todd Zwillch, Transportation Nation) They say Social Security is the "third rail" of American politics. Nowhere is the metaphor more apt than in Florida.

But in the state's hotly-contested Senate race, actual rails are helping drive the debate as well.

Florida is on the receiving end of $1.25 billion in federal stimulus money targeted toward construction of high-speed rail service between Orlando and Tampa. But, now that government spending—and in particular the stimulus—are election issues, the fate of the project could hang in the balance.

During a three-way Senate debate last week, Republican candidate Marco Rubio said he opposes the project. Citing mounting deficits, he suggested he'd favor canceling the project, even though it would force Florida to forfeit the money already sent from Washington. If this sounds familiar, it should. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie shocked officials in his state, in New York, and in Washington, DC last week when he announced he'd kill his state's role in the ARC transit tunnel planned to run underneath the Hudson River to New York City.

In the Florida Senate race, Rubio is alone in his opposition to the high-speed rail project. Democratic candidate Rep. Kendrick Meek said he favors moving ahead with the rail plan. Independent Charlie Crist echoed a popular refrain, "jobs, jobs, jobs" when he said every $1 billion spent on the rail project would put 28,000 people to work.

Meek attacked Rubio, saying he was "willing to make sure people from Tampa to Orlando to Daytona to South Florida sit in traffic for the next 20 years," according to The Ledger of Lakeland, Fl.

Rubio now leads Christ by an average of at least 11 percentage points, with Meek trailing far in third place. Rubio is now considered the runaway favorite in the race, though that could change if rumors that Meek could pull out of the race turn out to be true. Such a move would surely give Crist a huge boost in the polls.

Rick Scott, the GOP candidate for governor in Florida, has also quesitoned the rail project. And Florida isn't alone. The New York Times reports that conservative candidates around the country are vowing to oppose continuing with rail projects stemming from an $8 billion slice of the Recovery Act.

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Election Report: Ohio: Get the Jobs First, then Spend on Infrastructure

Thursday, October 14, 2010

(Canton, Ohio — Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) Once, people believed in Canton Ohio. Its Palace Theater hosts statues of gods and goddesses in the balcony boxes. Its Canton Tower has deco details like a mini-Rockefeller center. But now it’s mostly boarded up.

In the last decades, large employers have, one by one, pulled up stakes and left Canton, nestled where the cornfields begin to meet the Appalachian foothills. “Ford Company. Bliss Company. Hercules. Canton Stamping. Canton Provisions.” Alice Prestier, who worked at Hoover’s Vacuum (also gone) for 30 years, ticks off names. “There were a lot of companies around here. We lost them all. Everything is gone.”

Alice Prestier: "Where's the Change?"

Prestier is standing in the Walmart SuperCenter parking lot in Canton, after putting away her groceries. “People are just desperate. They want to eat. They want to feed their children. They want to take care of their families. It’s gotten to that place,” Prestier told me, recounting a story she’d just heard on the radio warning people to lock their cars when they bought groceries because people were roving the parking lots, looking for ways to feed their families.

Canton’s in Stark County, Ohio, a classic swing district. This county voted for Obama in 2008, Bush in 2000. In 2008, Democrat John Boccieri, a former state legislator and Air Force Major, won an open Congressional seat, after 18-term Republican Ralph Regula retired. Now Boccieri is struggling to retain his seat, in an environment where thinking for the long term seems next to impossible.

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Repurposing ARC Money: Let the Wishing Begin

Thursday, October 14, 2010

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) Although the ARC tunnel seems to have received a temporary stay of execution (and today's news is that Senator Lautenberg is seeking private money to help save the project), that hasn't stopped other people from opining about how the billions of dollars could--or should--be spent in the region.

Sam Schwartz (aka Gridlock Sam) thinks the money would be better spent on Staten Island. He writes in the Daily News that using the money to "build an actual tunnel between the borough and the rest of the city...would finally level the playing field for the only borough without a subway line - but with terrible traffic from end to end." (And yes, I'm sure he knows that Staten Island has one lone, self-contained rail line.)

Meanwhile, speaking yesterday at a breakfast sponsored by Crain's New York Business magazine, the message from MTA chairman Jay Walder was straightforward: If they don't want it, we'll take it. He said that the cash-strapped MTA (which is hiking fares in January in an effort to combat their $900 million deficit) would try to get that money.

The Jersey Journal writes: "If the state and Port Authority want a tunnel, build one for the overburdened PATH trains. Another PATH tunnel, tracks and rail cars would serve more people and communities closer to the Hudson River, who are in need of better mass transit."

While these all fall under the category of wishful thinking rather than actual plans (I, for one, am tempted to use the money researching and developing clean energy jet packs), it raises the question: if the ARC tunnel dies, how would you like the money to be spent? Comment below!

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The Bayou City Seeks to Link Three Hundred Miles of Trails

Thursday, October 14, 2010

(Houston-Wendy Siegle, KUHF News) Houston has a lot of nicknames: Space City, Petro Metro, H-Town, The Bayou City.  It got that last appellation because of the city's vast network of bayous. Ten of those bayous are slowing transforming into a series of parks and pathways thanks to The Bayou Greenway Initiative, an expansive project that started earlier this year. The goal is give Houstonians an alternative way to get around the city on multi-use trails that connect all ten bayous. Trails are already in place along many of the bayous, the key is to link them.

Bayou Greenway Initiative (click to enlarge)

The project received a small, but still noteworthy grant recently, which will allow an important section on one of the bayous to be finished.

But before we get to that, let's start with some history:

Almost 100 years ago a Harvard-educated landscape architect proposed a comprehensive park system along Houston’s bayous. His name was Arthur C. Comey, and he believed the city’s network of bayous could ultimately become a web of interconnecting parks and trails. In 1913 he wrote that the “bayous and creek valleys readily lend themselves to trails and parks and cannot so advantageously be used for any other purpose.” Well, 97 years later it looks like his vision is finally coming to fruition through the Bayou Greenway Initiative. It’s a massive undertaking stretching from Spring to Clear Creek, which will take 10-15 years to complete. The goal? Three-hundred miles of connected trails along ten of the region’s bayous.

Arthur Comey's 1912 Plan for Houston's Bayous (click to enlarge)

A short time ago, the city and the Houston Parks Board received a $2 million dollar transportation enhancement grant to go toward the Brays Bayou part of the initiative, which is located south of downtown. Considering the total cost of the initiative is $490 million dollars, the grant is a tiny drop in the pond. Still, the money means a crucial portion of Brays Bayou will be completed.

Listen to the rest of the story over at KUHF News.

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TN Moving Stories: More Ethanol Allowed in Gas; Ray LaHood's High-Speed Rail Dream; and Car-Eating Rabbits in Denver

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Iowa, the new Saudi Arabia? The EPA is now allowing up to 15 percent ethanol in gas. (NPR)

A plan to to pave parking lots and roadways with solar panels (turning them into solar grids) gains traction--and a little more R&D money. (Wired)

London's bike share program is on track to turn a profit--making it the only Transport for London system to do so.  (The Guardian)

California's Proposition 21 aims to tax motor vehicles to fund state parks. (East Bay Express)

Jay Walder, head of New York's MTA, wants to stay in his post through 2015 (Bloomberg). That's a lot of bus and subway rides: so far he's taken 887 in his first year on the job (New York Daily News). But some of those trips get thwarted, because sometimes he forgets to check for subway diversions before he goes out on weekends (WNYC).

Arlington and Alexandria officials to meet today to talk about joint transportation issues. Why is this news? Because "this is the first meeting of the two local governmental bodies in recent memory." (WAMU)

Ray LaHood imagines a United States in which 80% of all cities are accessible by high-speed rail by the year 2035. (Las Vegas Sun)

Car-eating rabbits plague Denver International Airport's parking lots. wiring compounds!  (Jalopnik)

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Manhattan Select Bus Service's Launching Pains: Cranky Passengers, Cabs in the Bus Lane, Faster Ride

Thursday, October 14, 2010

(Alex Goldmark — Transportation Nation) Manhattan got its first taste of "bus rapid transit" this week. New York's MTA calls it Select Bus Service, and it is rolling up and down dedicated red lanes...well, mostly.

I rode the M15 SBS in afternoon traffic from one of the busiest stops at 14th street through Midtown and up into the more residential (and busier) Upper East Side until 68th street, talking to riders along the way. For most of the trip it was clear this is a bus line working out the kinks on a good idea. Riders were still learning how to use the new payment system, which is on the sidewalk, not on the bus. And, to put it kindly, drivers of other vehicles are still learning to stay out of the bus lanes.

In all it took me just about 30 minutes each direction, a little under that going northbound and a little over heading southbound.

(There's some dispute about whether New York's system can even be fairly called BRT, since it doesn't include several important features of the systems in Bogota and Guanzhou, China, like physically separated lanes and BRT "stations" similar to light rail stations.)

That's fast in comparison to last week's options. Two riders told me they are now getting to work in half the time—but transit riders are notoriously inaccurate when estimating travel times. Most riders, though, haven't yet timed out their trips. They were more confused with the new payment system and with a route that now skips stops that the old express or "limited" bus used to make.

All along the route, though, New York City Department of Transportation and transit employees were on hand to explain how the new vending machines work, and answer questions about the new route. And man, were they needed.

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Shovel-Ready Projects? Obama Admits There's No Such Thing

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation)  In the upcoming New York Times Sunday Magazine, journalist Peter Baker's profile of President Obama, "Education of a President," includes this quote:

"There’s no such thing as shovel-ready projects."

No real surprise, as the president has already been saying watered-down versions of this, like the 2009 comment: "The term 'shovel-ready' — let's be honest, it doesn't always live up to its billing." But it's a hard lesson to publicly learn a month before an election which might lose your party the majority.

His full quote, which the paper includes in an online transcript of the interview, reads: "Infrastructure has the benefit of for every dollar you spend on infrastructure, you get a dollar and a half in stimulus because there are ripple effects from building roads or bridges or sewer lines. But the problem is, is that spending it out takes a long time, because there’s really nothing — there’s no such thing as shovel-ready projects."

With this week's announcement of the president's hope for a six-year transportation plan (itself a more refined version of last month's $50 billion infrastructure announcement), it's clear that he's trying to take the long view and win bipartisan support.  "I think we have to have infrastructure that keeps up with the demands of the 21st century," he says in the New York Times transcript. "We can’t have a China that has the best airports, the best railways, the best roads, and we are still relying on infrastructure that was built 200 years ago or 100 years ago or even 50 years ago when it comes to things like broadband lines." Not to mention frame it as financially sound and historically popular. "Investing in our infrastructure is something that members of both political parties have always supported," he pointed out on Monday.

It's clear he's trying to implement one of the lessons learned in the first two years of his presidency, at least according to Baker's article: "You can't be neglecting of marketing and P.R. and public opinion."

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Can a Tunnel Under the Hudson Fix "The Great Traffic Ordeal?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Lincoln Tunnel, New Jersey side approach, circa 1955

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation)

"I don't think it is necessary for me to dwell upon the obvious significance the construction of this new tunnel has in helping us to keep abreast of the great traffic ordeal which surely represents one of the inexorable headaches of the City of New York....The benefits which will accrue upon the completion of this tunnel are, in my judgment, self-evident."

Think those words are about the ARC tunnel? Think again. That's the 101st mayor of New York City, Vincent Impellitteri, speaking on the WNYC airwaves on September 25, 1952, following the groundbreaking of the third tube of the Lincoln Tunnel. You can listen to the audio below; Mayor Impellitteri begins speaking about four minutes and 30 seconds in.

1952 Lincoln Tunnel Groundbreaking, Part 1

1952 Lincoln Tunnel Groundbreaking Part 2

The tunnel cost just over $94 million to construct. When it opened five years later, the New York Times called it "the first post-war breakthrough of the New York-New Jersey traffic bottleneck."

Other speakers on this vintage 1952 broadcast—which took place from the roof of the Hotel Astor in Times Square—were: New York State Lieutenant Governor Frank C. Moore; New York City Mayor Impellitteri; Ransford J. Abbott, commissioner of the New Jersey State Highway Department; Paul L. Troast, chairman of the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, and Harold W. McGraw, chairman of the West Side Association of Commerce. The master of ceremonies was Howard S. Cullman, chairman of the Port of New York Authority.

Thanks to assistant WNYC archivist Haley Richardson and the NYC Municipal Archives

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Do lower salaries = faster buses? A San Francisco ballot measure is betting yes

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Muni bus in San Francisco, California. Photo by BrokenSphere.

(San Francisco–Casey Miner, KALW News) San Francisco’s MUNI is facing a good news/bad news situation. The good news is its buses and trains are boarded more than 590,000 times a day. The bad news is that represents a 4.4% drop in ridership–or 10 million fewer rides than the year before.

So why are fewer people riding the city’s buses, rail and trolleys?

First, imagine this: You’re standing at a MUNI stop in San Francisco, transfer in hand, ready to get on a bus. A bus drives right on by. Packed full. Okay, no big deal – you wait for another one, but then that one goes by too. Sound familiar? Backers of November ballot measure Proposition G say they feel your pain. Their solution is to change the way MUNI operators are paid. Right now, the city charter guarantees them a set salary: MUNI drivers must be the second-highest paid in the country. (Right now, they’re behind Boston.) Prop G would change that, so they’d have to do collective bargaining like other city unions. Is this really the way to make those buses stop where they’re supposed to? Listen to the story at KALW News.

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If The Volt Is Electric, Why Does It Have A Gasoline Engine?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

President Barack Obama drives a new Chevy Volt during his tour of the General Motors Auto Plant in Hamtramck, Mich., July 30, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

(Detroit -- Jerome Vaughn, WDET)  When is an electric car truly electric?  That’s what some auto industry watchers are asking, after seeing new information released by General Motors.

The Detroit automaker says the gasoline engine on the new Chevy Volt can sometimes help power the wheels.

The Volt has been championed as General Motors' effort to make a viable all-electric car that consumers will demand in large quantities.

The car can travel between 25 and 50 miles on an electric charge.  After that, the gasoline engine recharges the Volt’s battery pack for longer distances.

But GM’s revelation that there’s a connection between the gasoline engine and the powertrain makes the car seem more like a plug-in hybrid vehicle to some auto enthusiasts.

GM says it hadn’t previously shared all of the details on the Volt, because it was protecting proprietary information while awaiting patent approvals.

Production of the Volt is scheduled to begin next month.

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TN Moving Stories: Airline tarmac delays down, complaints up; MTA sued for lack of access; and New York's most veteran cabbie retires after 62 years

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A class-action lawsuit being filed today says that New York's MTA "makes travel next to impossible for New Yorkers with physical disabilities." (New York Daily News)

Ridership on Amtrak's Northeast Corridor line is up almost five percent over last year -- which translates into $900 million more in revenue for Amtrak. (WBUR)

Long tarmac delays for airlines continue to decline (Los Angeles Times). It's not all rosy, though: complaints about airlines are up over a third (Columbus Dispatch).

DC's Metro conducts review of escalators and elevators, finds a host of problems (WAMU)

Vancouver creates a continuous network of protected bike lanes (Good)

Will Silicon Valley become the Detroit of the electric car industry? (NPR)

New York City cabbie hangs up license after 62 years behind the wheel (New York Daily News)

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