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Andrea Bernstein

Andrea Bernstein appears in the following:

Why has LaHood decided to argue his case after the ARC tunnel verdict was rendered?

Friday, October 29, 2010

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)  In his blog today and in a full-throated op-ed in the Newark Star-Ledger,  U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood gives a passionate eulogy to the ARC transit tunnel that was to go from New Jersey to Manhattan, but was killed this week by NJ Governor Chris Christie.   Workers are now refilling the dirt in the giant hole.    LaHood said today:

Gov. Chris Christie’s decision to terminate America’s largest transportation project was particularly disappointing. Unfortunately, his choice comes with profound consequences for New Jersey, the New York metropolitan region and our nation as a whole.

Tens of thousands of jobs that the tunnel would have created will be lost. Future New Jerseyans will face shrinking property values, suffocating road traffic, interminable train delays and increasing air pollution. A $3.358 billion federal investment in the region’s economic future will move elsewhere.

The caption to the photo above (of the portal to the current, lone, Hudson river train tunnel)  asks "is this really the symbol we want for America's infrastructure?"

But in the roughly six weeks between when Governor Christie first ordered the tunnel reviewed -- and even after LaHood had flown to Trenton to try and turn Christie around, Ray LaHood was almost entirely mum.      After meeting with Christie three weeks ago, he brushed past reporters.   His office issued only a terse statement that day, saying he'd had a "good discussion," with Christie, and proposals would be reviewed. Last week, while at a ceremonial ground-breaking at New York City's Moynihan station, LaHood was simiarly terse.

"He and I agreed that over a two week period, we would put together a plan for a path forward and we will be meeting with him at the end of the two weeks and presenting that information."

Meanwhile, Christie was defining the narrative,  speaking about the ARC tunnel both at official Trenton events and while out stumping for fellow Republicans.

But the U.S. DOT wasn't talking, at least not publicly.

Then, last Friday the U.S. DOT issued its first extensive release on the project.  From LaHood:

"In response to press reports, I want to clarify the range of numbers regarding the ARC tunnel project.

“The Department of Transportation has estimated the low-range cost of the project at $9.775 billion. The mid-range estimate is $10.909 billion and the high-end range is $12.708 billion.

The release  seemed to confirm that New Jersey taxpayers would be stuck with a very large bill, much larger than the state's $2.7 billion commitment.

But behind the scenes, LaHood was working furiously, and preparing for another face-to-face meeting with Christie.   It turns out that the federal government had developed a number of serious, substantive proposals for Christie. They included, as we were to learn: 

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Obama Administration Announces Big Spending Package on Transportation

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood's expected announcement of billions of dollars in federal grants for high speed rail today is beginning on a sour note. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie announced yesterday that he is stopping construction of an $8.4 billion Hudson River rail tunnel connecting New Jersey and New York. Citing billions of dollars of expected cost overruns, Christie says his "decision is final." This comes after LaHood made a personal appeal to Christie, and negotiations between the Obama and Christie administrations.

With Republicans running against President Obama's stimulus, an issue that's resonated with voters, LaHood's announcement comes at a questionable time. There will be events in Iowa, Michigan, California. There's also money for Connecticut and Florida. These are all states with close races. How is this going to affect the midterm elections?

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Districts in Play: What is the Forecast for the Sunshine State?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Voters in Florida have been party to two unusual races this election season. The Senate race has the incumbent Republican Governor Charlie Crist is in a three-way race as an independent against Tea Party-supported Marco Rubio and Democratic Congressman Kendrick Meek.

Vying for the governor's office are Republican candidate Rick Scott, running head to head against the state's chief financial officer, Alex Sink, the only Democrat to come this close to the office in decades, in a race that has the candidates accusing one another of fraud.

This against a backdrop of a state in dire straits. Florida's unemployment is fourth highest in the country at 11.9 percent, the foreclosure rate is second highest in the country. More than 20 percent of the state's residents are uninsured.

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Cuomo Talks Transit, Goes Off Script

Friday, October 22, 2010

WNYC

Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo released his urban agenda this week, an agenda that included things like poverty, housing, access to bank loans, and minority jobs.  As comprehensive as it is, the agenda did not include urban transit or planning, two rising topics on the national urban agenda.  But reporters weren't letting Cuomo avoid the topic.

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Feds Finally Release Their ARC Tunnel Estimates

Friday, October 22, 2010

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) When NJ Governor Chris Christie put the ARC Tunnel on hold last month, he alone made public his cost estimates -- overruns could go as high as $5 billion dollars.  Federal officials said they hadn't completed their analysis, but disputed that Christie's numbers were accurate.    Just now -- as the tunnel faces its...um, final decision point, the US DOT released the following statement:

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood Statement on the ARC Tunnel Project

Washington, DCU.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood made the following statement today on the ARC Tunnel project:

“In response to press reports, I want to clarify the range of numbers regarding the ARC tunnel project.

“The Department of Transportation has estimated the low-range cost of the project at $9.775 billion. The mid-range estimate is $10.909 billion and the high-end range is $12.708 billion.

“For complex projects, we do a range of estimates in the interests of accuracy. However, DOT is committed to working together through the life of the project to keep costs down to the lowest estimate.

“In addition, we’ve been discussing with New Jersey officials the simultaneous construction of the $775 million South span of the Portal Bridge project.

“We are committed to continuing the constructive dialogue we have had for the last two weeks with New Jersey officials to find a way to move forward on the ARC tunnel project, which will double commuter train capacity between New Jersey and New York.”

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The Aqueduct Report: an Indictment Against Albany

Friday, October 22, 2010

From the NY Inspector General's report on the Aqueduct Entertainment Group's bidding process and what it says about Albany's dysfunction to Andrew Cuomo's tightly controlled campaign and its lack of speficity, eavesdrop on WNYC's Brian Lehrer, Andrea Bernstein, Bob Hennelly and Azi Paybarah as they catch up on the latest in politics.

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ARC's Second D-Day Arrives... Late?

Friday, October 22, 2010

(New York -- Matthew Schuerman, WNYC)  New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was expected to make his final decision on the Access to the Region's Core train tunnel under the Hudson River today, but it's increasingly unclear whether that will happen.

The Associated Press and WNBC are reporting that Christie has extended the deadline, but do not attribute the information to any source. (WNBC says the governor will deliberate over the weekend.) They state that the governor is not meeting with US Secretary Ray LaHood.

An official close to LaHood told me there never was a meeting planned (even though LaHood said Monday, while at a ceremonial groundbreaking at New York's Moynihan train station Monday, of Governor Christie:  "He and I agreed that over a two week period we would put together a plan for a path forward and we will be meeting with him at the end of that two weeks and presenting that information."

Another official involved in the deliberations said that a meeting was never formally scheduled but was in the works for today. The official said the meeting fell through after the Associated Press reported last night that the true estimate of the tunnel's cost was $9.77 billion--much less than the $13.7 billion that Christie said it might cost. The official said the revised estimate comes from the federal government--as opposed to NJ Transit, which is in charge of the project--and that LaHood gave that estimate to Christie when the two met two weeks ago.

No comment from Christie's office so far. He's scheduled to campaign for Republicans in New Jersey later today.

Stay tuned.

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Agriculture Secretary: We'll Boost Ethanol for Transpo Fuel

Friday, October 22, 2010

(Washington, DC -- Todd Zwillich, Transportation Nation) The Obama Administration is getting ready to boost the use of ethanol in transportation fuel.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Thursday a new round of payments to US farmers for growing corn and other crops destined for gas tanks. The goal is to expand domestic production of ethanol and increase consumer demand for the renewable fuel.

Vilsack said his agency would also team up with the Federal Aviation Administration to encourage development of aviation fuel from biomass and farm waste, including switchgrass.

Vilsack framed the move as a way to reduce the United States' dependence on foreign energy.  "Today we still send a billion dollars a day outside our shores helping other countries' economies to grow while our economy recovers from a deep recession," he said in a speech in Washington, DC. "We can do better. We have to do better. Rural America is where we will do better," Vilsack added.

The expansion is part of a plan to boost US ethanol production from about 13 billion gallons this year to 36 billion gallons by 2022. The Environmental Protection agency recently approved a plan to increase the standard ethanol concentration in blended automobile fuel from 10% to 15% for newer cars, according to Bloomberg. Boosting ethanol production will mean the US will need more refineries. Vilsack said his agency would come up with a plan within the next two months to help fund the construction of five new refineries.

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NY Candidate Cuomo: Congestion Pricing "Moot"

Thursday, October 21, 2010

(New York -- Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)  Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo has been a bit of a cipher when it comes to transportation and transit.  He's bemoaned MTA inefficiencies, called into question an employer-tax imposed last year to help bail out the MTA, and said fares shouldn't go up. But he's said little about financing the authority over the long term.

Today, in his most extensive remarks to date on transit, he didn't add much.

The occasion was the release of his 273-page urban agenda, which by the way, did NOT include transit.  It was the kind of "urban agenda" you'd hear in the 1990's: anti-poverty, affordable housing, minority jobs. (By contrast, Shaun Donovan, the current HUD Secretary -- Cuomo's former job -- has made sustainable, walking, transit-rich communities a major plank in his agenda.)

But all the journalists there, pretty much, wanted to talk transit.  In fact, I didn't raise the subject.  A Daily News reporter did.

"There's going to be a need for more efficiency," Cuomo said of the MTA.  "More effectiveness, better management.  You can't have over $500 million in overtime. You can't have thousands of people making over $100,000 a year .  I believe the Governor should be accountable for the MTA."

My turn.  But what about funding for the MTA?  Does he support congestion pricing?  [As Mayor Bloomberg does?]  Bridge tolls? [As Lt. Governor Richard Ravitch does?]

"Congestion pricing was proposed," Cuomo parried.  "It was discussed.  It was basically rejected by the legislature.   I don't know that there's been any change in opinion.  I think it's moot.  I understand the concept.  I understand that it was rejected.  I don't think it would pass if it came up again, unless something changed."

Without offering specifics, he added. "There's going to be a number of revenue raisers. The instinct is going to be to say 'more money more money more money.'   I understand that.  Part of the discipline I want to bring is a fiscal discipline to the state and the MTA.  The answer can't always be more money."

But then Melissa Russo of WNBC Channel 4 asked (I'm paraphrasing): how could he say, if it didn't happen, it won't happen?  What about all the other things he wants to happen -- like government reform?  Isn't the problem that the legislature hasn't made them happen?

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Pro-Transit Groups say Cuomo Proposal to Abolish MTA "Empty Rhetoric"

Thursday, October 21, 2010

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)  You might think pro-transit groups would be allies with New York Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo (he's not the guy who wants to "take a baseball bat" to Albany).  But Transportation Alternatives and the left-leaning Drum Major Institute have released a 5-step plan for stabilizing the NYC MTA's finance.  And they don't seem too happy with the Democrat, and what he's said (and not said) about how he'd finance the MTA.   (He hasn't said.)

From their press release:

"Empty rhetoric about abolishing or restructuring the MTA fails to address the heart of the matter: how the gubernatorial candidates would hold state lawmakers accountable for decisions that caused the severe service cuts and painful fare hikes now disproportionately affecting lower and moderate income working families,” said John Petro, urban policy analyst at the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy. “To be a true Albany reformer, our next governor must have a real vision and plan for how to tame the MTA’s runaway debt and establish more sustainable revenue so that the public transit system serves all New Yorkers.”

Cuomo's presenting an "urban agenda" today.  We'll have more later.

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ARC Transit Tunnel Deadline Approaches ...Again; Christie Says There's No "Money Tree"

Thursday, October 21, 2010

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)  Tomorrow is the second manufactured deadline for life or death of an $8.7 billion rail tunnel from New Jersey to New York, but there's little that's happened in the last two weeks to suggest NJ Governor Chris Christie, a fiscal conservative whose star in on the rise in the GOP, will change his mind.

(Two weeks ago today, Christie announced he was pulling the plug on NJ's financing and shutting down the project. Next day, in an unusual move, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, a project advocate, flew to Trenton and convinced a reluctant Christie to "review options.")

Advocates are fighting back hard -- the hardest and loudest they've been since the tunnel first slipped into jeopardy this fall -- but behind the scenes there's not much optimism that Christie can or will be turned around.

Ideas have been presented to Christie, ranging from innovative financing to rolling out the project in phases, but a viewing of Star-Ledger video certainly doesn't make it sound like he's changing his mind.

Christie on ARC tunnel: It's not a bad idea, but it's way over budget

While campaigning in Pennsylvania this week Christie talked about his middle-class roots: "In our house, when I used to go my mother and say 'I'd like something new, I'd like to buy something ' my mother would look at me and say 'well, of course Christopher, you can have that just go in the back yard and take the money off the money tree. You know where that is, right?'...to me it is a moral imperative to say no to these things."

Meantime, NJ Democrats received late yesterday a packet of documents on ARC they'd requested under NJ's open records law. They say they're reviewing them now...we'll have more later.

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Political Road Trips

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Joe Klein, political columnist for TIME Magazine, Transportation Nation's Andrea Bernstein, and Pop + Politics host Farai Chideya, reflect on their individual road trips around the US, talking to politicians and voters about the upcoming election season

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Election Report: Obama bails out GM, Dems tanking in Michigan.....

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Luz Guardarrama voted Obama in 2008, but says shes "tired" of politics and will stay home this year. Nothing particularly impresses her about the Obama tenure, not even the bailout of the auto industry.

(Jackson, Michigan - Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) None of the bailouts have made Americans particularly happy. TARP was a Bush initiative -- supported by Obama, but not of his making. The stimulus was a series of internal compromises which gave a huge part of the spending control to Congress. But the GM bailout was an Obama plan, and one the White House considers an almost unqualified success. "The contrast between where these companies" -- Chrysler and GM -- " and the auto industry are today, and the situation President Obama faced when he took office are stark," the White House wrote in a report of April of this year.

In careful language, the analysis says some 1.1 million jobs had been at risk, but that the bailout had enabled the car companies to stay afloat, restructure, and, in GM's case, repay their loan 5 years ahead of schedule. Obama called the bailout a "success," and analysts agreed.

Writing in Bloomberg Business Week, David Welch noted:

"So far, it is tough to argue that the bailout hasn’t worked. GM is in the black, having reported an $865 million profit in the first quarter with black ink looking likely for the rest of the year.... Chrysler is at least making an operating profit, which puts the company in much better shape than most analysts thought it would be a year ago."

So, you'd think this would be a big selling point for the White House, right? A political plus? Dems should be cruising in Michigan -- if nowhere else? You'd be wrong.

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What Happens When Government Bailouts Work?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

WNYC

Let's do a thought experiment. Let's say that one of the last governors of New York — David Paterson, Eliot Spitzer, George Pataki, or Mario Cuomo — actually had saved an industry. Let's say they'd used the power of the state's purse to keep a company from failing, turned it around, and could reasonably have claimed to have saved a million jobs. Would that have helped either party in upstate New York, where jobs have been hemmoraging for decades? A look at Michigan's electoral situation shows just how hard it is to make that argument, particularly for Democrats.

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Transit Tunnel Proponents, Caught Off Guard, Fight Back

Monday, October 18, 2010

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)  Almost up until the time New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said he'd be shutting down the largest transit construction project in U.S. DOT history, federal government supporters and local planners seemed to believe the ARC tunnel couldn't die.

The project's benefits were too great, they thought — doubling commuter rail capacity into New York City, reducing carbon emissions, creating 6,000 construction jobs and many more permanent jobs — for it to die.

But they read Governor Chris Christie wrong.  A belt-tightener whose national star is on the rise in the Republican party, Christie had become alarmed by some preliminary figures he'd seen showing cost overruns, and never wavered from that stance, even as his administration was quietly lobbied.

Now the lobbying is getting noisy. The New Jersey AFL-CIO is staging a "major rally" Tuesday at the construction site, and the Regional Plan Association, Tristate Transportation Campaign, and other groups are leafleting and say they'll be running advertisements in major dailies.

They have as their ally U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood.  LaHood already convinced a reluctant Christie to "review options," over a two-week period ending this Friday on the project's future.  The agreement came after an unusual meeting where LaHood and top staff flew to Trenton.  LaHood said Monday he'll be meeting again with Christie to "present information" gleaned in the two-week review.  No word yet on what kinds of options New Jersey and the U.S. DOT are looking at, or whether all this noise will budge the determined Christie one bit.

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Supports of Commuter Tunnel Begin to Get Loud

Monday, October 18, 2010

WNYC

While Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey was reviewing the fate of an $8.7 billion commuter tunnel under the Hudson River, tunnel proponents quietly lobbied to keep it alive. But the strategy didn't work. Christie announced he would kill the tunnel because of concerns of cost overruns. He reluctantly agreed to "review options" after U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood flew to Trenton to try and reverse the project's fate. Now project proponents are coming to life, staging rallies, running newspaper ads and leafletting commuters.

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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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Countdown to the Elections

Friday, October 15, 2010

With just 17 days left before Election Day, WNYC's Andrea Bernstein, Bob Hennelly and Azi Paybarah catch up on the various statewide races.

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The Election Mood in Changeable Ohio

Friday, October 15, 2010

WNYC

WNYC's Andrea Bernstein continues her reporting from swing counties this election season with a stop in Canton, Ohio. The Rust Belt community has taken some hard knocks in the recession, and after going for Obama in 2008, voters here are tired, frustrated, and once again, getting barraged with negative political ads. 

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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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