Air Quality

Transportation Nation

Texas to Investigate Health Risks of Living Near Drilling Site

Monday, August 20, 2012

(Photo (cc) by Flickr user lmahornfan)

The number of oil and gas drilling sites is rapidly growing with the proliferation of hydraulic fracturing, commonly called fracking. Each new well brings new fears to neighbors who After a rise in breast cancer rates in one area attracted national attention in Texas, the state will now investigate the potential health effects of living near drilling sites.

The investigative reporting unit StateImpact, says previous limited studies have found no health risks in Texas, though studies in Utah and Colorado have pinned ill-health and smog on drilling. Dave Fehling spoke with Texas officials about the potential study.

Read the full story at StateImpact.

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Transportation Nation

(UPDATED) Greyhound to Move into Chinatown Bus Market after Law Change

Friday, August 17, 2012

View through the window of a Chinatown bus. (photo by brotherM / Flickr)

(New York, NY - WNYC) UPDATE: A source in the NY State Senate says this bill is now a state law. Here's a few of the law's main points: 

Bus permit applications must include identification of the intercity bus company, buses to be used, and bus stop location(s) being requested; total number of buses and passengers expected to use each location; bus schedules; places where buses would park when not in use.

The city, prior to assigning an intercity bus stop, must consult with the local community board, including a 45 day notice and comment period.

Intercity bus permits would be for terms of up to three years; permits will cost up to $275 per vehicle annually; permits must be displayed on buses.

Intercity buses that load or unload passengers on city streets either without a permit or in violation of permit requirements or restrictions will face a fine of up to $1,000 for a first violation, up to $2,500 for repeat violations, and suspension or revocation of permit.


New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is expected to sign a bill into law on Friday that would restrict where long distance bus companies can pick up and drop off passengers in New York City.

The bill becomes law if Governor Cuomo doesn't veto it by Friday at midnight, and would take effect after 90 days.

Greyhound and Peter Pan, two of the large carriers, are betting Cuomo will sign the bill: they're already vying for prime spots in Chinatown. Both have scheduled meetings next month with the transportation committee of Community Board 3 in Manhattan, which includes Chinatown.

The new law would require input from community boards before the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority could grant bus parking permits to a company. The permits would cost $275 per bus and be good for up to three years. Companies that operate curbside without a permit would risk a fine of $1,000 for a first violation and $2,500 for repeat violations.

As of now, bus companies can load and unload passengers at most legal parking spots in the city. Residents and officials in Chinatown, where many long distance bus companies do business, say that's causing crowding and pollution.

Greyhound operates discount carrier Bolt Bus. However, Greyhound spokesman Jen Biddinger said that if the company gets the new permits, they'd go not to Bolt Bus but "a totally new service operated by Greyhound." She declined to say how many spots the company is angling for. Greyhound currently offers curbside service at 34th & 8th at Penn Station.

Two accidents last year involving low cost bus lines killed 17 people. In May, the U.S. Department of Transportation shut down 26 "Chinatown" bus lines for safety violations.

State Senator Daniel Squadron alluded to those events when endorsing the current bill, "This first-ever permit system will bring oversight to the growing and important low-cost bus industry, helping to end the wild west atmosphere while allowing us to identify problems before they become tragedies," he said.

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Transportation Nation

Anger Over Chevron Refinery Fire in Bay Area

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Chevron refinery fire, 8/6/12 (photo by TheRealMichaelMoore via flickr)

The smoke from the Chevron refinery fire that started late Monday in Richmond, California has cleared -- but the controversy was still hot at a community meeting Tuesday night. Around 700 people attended the meeting in Richmond, where local government and health officials, as well as the refinery's general manager, faced frustration and anger.

Joan Davis from the Richmond Community Foundation began the meeting with a request: “Those of you who are feeling afraid, very quietly, stand. Those of you who are feeling angry, please stand, quietly.”

Almost everyone in the hall got to their feet.

They sat down again to hear from Nigel Hearne, the Chevron refinery's general manager. “I take personal and full responsibility for the incident that occurred last night. I'm really here to respect you, and to hear, listen about your concerns this evening," said Hearne.

Applause and boos were shouted, and a long line of people waiting to speak on a microphone formed down the center aisle. They talked about everything from illness and contamination from the fire, to racism and economic inequality in the community.

“I didn't get a phone call. I did not hear the sirens until 7 o’clock. You need to fix your system,” one community member said.

Another took the floor to say, “Them white people ain't thinking about y'all. Because why? A lot of y'all are black. So what? Let them die. They need to set up a clinic. They need to examine everybody out here. They need to find out the extent of the sickness of people in this community."

Yolanda Jones, a member of the community, expressed her concern about access to information. “I want to make sure that everybody in this room, including the people who could not get here, have access to fill out the form – not just on a computer, so that people who don't have a computer cannot fill it out. So people who don't have a house phone cannot know what to do,” she said.

Charles Hawthorne, who lives about ten miles from the refinery, left the meeting early in frustration. “Nothing's getting done,” he said. “People are shouting over each other, and they've turned it into their own political forum. To me, this was a big waste of time. They should have had more people to control the chaos."

An investigation into the causes of the fire is underway, headed by the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Chevron officials say they will cover expenses for health problems, property damage, and municipal costs associated with the fire.

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Transportation Nation

Duane Reade Moves To Electrify Some of its Fleet

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

(photo by Edgar Zuniga Jr. via flickr)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Duane Reade, the largest drug store chain in New York City, says it will electrify a quarter of its truck fleet .

The company claims converting 14 of its 60 trucks to electricity will reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by about 20 percent.

(Which they say is, in technical parlance, "the nitrous oxide equivalent of 1,000 tailpipes removed.")

Environmental group Mission Electric is working with Duane Reade to let the public vote on the first seven stores to get the green trucks. The company will be rolling out the voting Wednesday at an event held in conjunction with Mayor Bloomberg's Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability.  Office director David Bragdon said "Duane Reade’s investment in electric vehicles will help meet our ambitious PlaNYC goal of reducing NYC's green house gas emissions."

Duane Reade says the move will reduce air pollution, noise, and congestion. One added benefit -- especially welcome to sleep-deprived New Yorkers: "Because the new trucks do not require combustion, their operation is almost silent, reducing noise levels from overnight deliveries."


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Transportation Nation

After Long Fight, Congress Passes 2-Yr Surface Transportation Bill

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Tappan Zee Bridge (photo by Joseph A. via Flickr)

Congress approved a two-year, $100 billion transportation and infrastructure bill just days before the federal highway trust fund was set to expire.

The legislation comes after more than 1,000 days of wrangling by Republicans and Democrats over issues like Keystone oil pipeline approval allowing transit agencies to use federal capital funds for operating expenses during periods of high unemployment. (Neither provision made it into the final bill.)

Senator Barbara Boxer praised the legislation, after leading the Democratic side of negotiations in the Senate. She said it would save about 1.8 million jobs by keeping aid for highway and transit construction flowing to states and create another 1 million jobs by using federal loan guarantees to leverage private sector investment in infrastructure projects.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called it “a good, bipartisan bill that will create jobs, strengthen our transportation system and grow our economy."

But Advocacy group Transportation for America said the bill "disappointing." In a statement, the group said: "We are pleased Congress has averted a shutdown, and the associated loss of jobs -- but this is literally no way to run a railroad...Despite never passing their own bill, House leaders were able to eliminate dedicated funding for repair of bridges and highways; cut vital transportation dollars for cities and local governments; slash funding available to prevent pedestrian deaths; and erode public input and local control in the planning of major transportation projects.


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Transportation Nation

Sheridan Expressway: Did the Takedown Get Taken Down?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The city rules out a plan to tear down the Sheridan Expressway, saying it would cause too much traffic and cost too many jobs. (Pratt Center rendering)

For such a short highway, the fifty-year old Sheridan Expressway generates a lot of unhappiness.

"I don’t even know if you could call it an expressway," said Elena Conte, an organizer at the Pratt Center for Community Development. "It’s a fragment. It’s a mile and a quarter long."

It was planned by Robert Moses, whose original idea was to continue it through the Bronx Zoo. But local residents – not to mention the zoo and the New York Botanical Garden – opposed an extension and, in the 1970s, those plans were dropped.

But some Bronx residents have never made peace with even an abbreviated expressway. Activists, working together as the Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance, have for years been working to tear the highway down. In 2006, WNYC’s Andrea Bernstein went up to Bronx with the Pratt Center’s Joan Byron.

"There are three schools right on the expressway," said Byron. "So by redeveloping this as residential and parkland, those schools would have a green connection right across to the river." (A video of the plan is below.)

One of the supporters of this tear-down is Bronx congressman José Serrano. Two years ago he secured a $1.5 million federal grant to study three different options for the Sheridan: keep it, modify it, or take it down altogether. "The initial agreement we had, the understanding we had, was that they were going to look at everything," he said.

New York City won’t complete the study until next year. But officials recently said the removal scenario had “a fatal flaw” and it would no longer be considered.

"What I’m concerned about, what the community is upset about, what we’re all upset about, is that they immediately took off the table the possibility of full removal of the Sheridan," said Serrano. "We just think that’s totally unfair and improper."

But as much as some wanted the highway gone, others say it's a vital piece of the road transportation network.

"Well, we were completely dead set against that and have been since the dawn of time," said Matthew D’Arrigo. He's co-president of the Hunts Point Market, the massive food distribution center located off the expressway.

"Without the Sheridan," he said, "a thousand trucks a night would have just one way to get to this market."

He says the market hasn’t been shy about making it known that taking down the Sheridan could jeopardize its ability to do business – and the thousands of jobs it brings to the Bronx.

"Everybody. Everybody. Everybody knows our position on that," he said.

Right now, the market is in the middle of negotiations with the city for a long-term lease. After this weekend, if it doesn’t reach a deal with New York, Hunts Point Market can start talking to other places. Like New Jersey.

Privately, officials told WNYC that fear of losing the market prompted the city to drop the removal option.

But recent a press conference in the Bronx, Mayor Bloomberg said the decision was driven by data, not politics. "All of the traffic studies show that it would not be feasible to do that," he said.

Predictions that losing a highway would cause traffic hell have been wrong before. Sam Schwartz – also known as Gridlock Sam – worked for the city DOT in 1973, when part of the then-elevated lower portion of the West Side Highway collapsed. In a 2010 interview with WNYC, he described what happened.

"People panicked," he said. "They thought that was Armageddon. They thought that was the end."

It wasn’t the case. Traffic on some roadways did go up. “We had trouble tracing one-third of the people and it wasn’t that they weren’t coming in," Schwartz said. "When we looked at transit, transit went up. We had the same number of people coming in, but they weren’t coming by car.”

Schwartz wouldn’t comment specifically on the Sheridan, but cities like Milwaukee, San Francisco and Portland all say they’ve seen big economic and environmental benefits when urban highways have been torn down.

New York City DOT commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan called that comparison flawed.

"I think you know the Bloomberg administration has been very innovative when it comes to traffic engineering," she said. "But in this instance this particular option didn’t work -- but that doesn’t mean other options can’t work here and we’re going to continue to explore them."


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Transportation Nation

NYC Mayor Bloomberg: Cities Are Ahead Of Nations In Reducing Greenhouse Gases

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (photo by NYC Mayor's Office)

(New York, NY - WNYC) By the end of the decade, climate-related actions taken by cities around the world will reduce greenhouse gases by 250 million tons per year. That's what New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg told delegates at the Rio Earth Summit. He added that by 2030, the annual reduction of greenhouse gases by major cities could be a billion tons per year--the combined output of Mexico and Canada.

Bloomberg was addressing the Rio+C40 Summit, which he said includes 59 cities "from Bogota to Berlin, from Jakarta to Johannesburg, and from my New York."  One of every 12 people on the planet live in those cities, he said, and account for about 14 percent of the world’s total carbon footprint.

“The world is rapidly urbanizing," Bloomberg said. "Cities are becoming bigger and bigger. Our problems are sometimes harder and harder to tackle. Yet we continue to make major progress, even in times of tough budget cuts."

He said New York City has shrunk its carbon footprint by 13 percent in the past five years, and praised other cities for taking similar steps.

“Let me point out that nearly two-thirds of the climate change actions the C40 cities have taken have been paid for solely from our budgets – without support from our national governments," he said. "That’s because cities recognize our responsibilities to act; we haven’t waited for our national governments to go first."

Bloomberg also announced initiatives to improve the management of city solid waste, including reducing the release of methane and other greenhouse gases, and a web site "to provide a broad, deep, and constantly updated library on what the world’s cities are doing about climate change – and about the tools and resources cities can use to further their work."

Go here to read the mayor's full remarks.

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Transportation Nation

NYC's Refusal to Tear Down Sheridan Expressway Irks Activists, Locals

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Sheridan Expressway (photo: Dougtone via flickr)

Bronx Congressman Jose Serrano is fuming over the city’s decision last month not to tear down the aging Sheridan Expressway and replace it with mixed-use development.

Serrano, a Democrat, helped get a $1.5 million federal grant for a years-long study that examined replacing the aging Bronx highway with housing and parks. The congressman said the city made a decision about the road that runs through the South Bronx before the study was completed.

"It destroys their dreams," he said, referring to members of the community who worked for more than a decade on the project. "It destroys the study. It destroys any semblance of doing it right by immediately taking this option off the table."

A spokesperson for the city says the two remaining scenarios — to retain and to modify the Expressway — "will continue to undergo further analysis. The study will be completed in early 2013." The city has said removing the highway would divert too much truck traffic to local streets.

Serrano says he'll work with members of the community to try to convince the city to change its mind.

"Why would you quickly say removing it is not an option?" he said. "Well then, why even keep studying it? That wasn't the agreement we had. We were going to look at everything."

Activists shared Serrano's outrage.

"The first thing that we need to do is for the city to look at all the economic development options that are possible," said Elena Conte, an organizer at the Pratt Center for Community Development, which is part of the Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance. "And to make a decision that actually benefits all the stakeholders in the community. And that involves giving (the Sheridan's removal) the hard look that it deserves."

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Transportation Nation

TN Moving Stories: Lower Manhattan Bike Share Stations Revealed, Pittsburgh Faces 35% Transit Cuts, MN Biking Safer, CA High Speed Rail Segment Approved and Foo

Friday, May 04, 2012

Top Stories on TN:

New York reveals locations for lower Manhattan bike share docks, we've got the details (link)

NY Governor Cuomo releases the names of who will be making decisions on big infrastructure projects (other than him) (link) but doesn't give any hint how he'll fund the $5.2 billion Tappan Zee Bridge project (link)

Ireland's Transport Minister says that country over-invested in infrastructure and can't afford anything now (link)

Houston gets a bike share, and Gail gets all the details on how it will work (link)

And Kate takes a spin on Leipzig's tram and does cartwheels (link)  Metaphorically.

Hard to know what's hipper... your lastest app, your fixie, your artisanal food, or your food truck (photo: Librarygroover via flickr)

Marketplace looks at why better fuel-efficiency could lead to higher gas prices (Marketplace)

A California board greenlights the first segment of that state's high-speed rail, construction could start this year (Fresno Bee)

...while candidates for Congress spar on its merits (Bakersfield Californian)

Business execs & Democrats speak out against biggest transit cuts in Pittsburgh's history (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

But in North Carolina, where voters approved a transit tax, plans are in the works for a light rail from Raleigh to Durham (

In Minnesota, more people are riding bikes, but fatalities are down (Chicago Tribune)

Used to be, when you hit a pedestrian, you were charged with a crime (Atlantic Cities)

And NPR's Planet Money team rides along as food trucks seek that "mystical spot) (NPR)

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Transportation Nation

Average Fuel Economy Drops for Cars Sold in April

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

(Chart via University of Michigan)

Americans bought more gas guzzlers in April than in previous months. A University of Michigan study found that the average fuel economy (according to the window sticker -- more on that below) is at 23.9 miles per gallon. That's .2 m.p.g below the March average, and the first drop since December. Overall fuel economy for American cars sold has been trending higher over the years with occasional dips and drops (see chart). April's average is nearly 20 percent higher than in 2007 when U. Mich started tracking the gas mileage of autos Americans buy.

The authors posit that a slight drop in gas prices spurred this slip backwards on m.p.g. as Americans felt more comfortable plunking down cash for bigger cars.

As you digest this American m.p.g. news, consider a German study from earlier in the week that finds automakers are exaggerating fuel efficiency claims for their cars, and doing it more boldly then in the past. The study finds that in 2001 carmakers claimed 8 percent more fuel efficiency than drivers got in practice. In 2012, that jumped to a 21 percent gap between promise and practice. Something a few drivers have taken seriously enough to sue over, and win.


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Transportation Nation

NYC, 44 Other Regions, Blow 2008 Smog Standards

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

(photo by: harry_nl)

(New York -- WNYC) New York City and surrounding suburbs currently blow past smog limits set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The agency’s latest data, released Tuesday, found that forty-five areas of the country fail to meet air quality standards for ground level ozone.

The standards were set by the Bush Administration in 2008. They allow 75 parts of smog per billion cubic feet of air. As you can see on the map below, pockets of the country in almost all regions fail to meet air quality standards, but the bulk of "nonattainment" areas are along the Northeast corridor and throughout California. (See the EPA's designations for each area here.)

The agency said that the noncompliant areas were assigned a classification based on how close they are to meeting the standards. The classifications range from marginal to moderate, serious, severe and extreme. Most of the areas that do not meet the standards, including the New York region, are classified as marginal – that is, closest to meeting the standards.

The EPA said it expects these areas would be able to comply within three years, usually as a result of recent and pending federal pollution control measures.

“The standards are too weak,” said Frank O'Donnell, president of the DC-based non-profit environmental group Clean Air Watch. O’Donnell is pushing for the EPA to move ahead with low-sulfur gasoline. “Now that gasoline prices are dropping, we urge the House Energy and Commerce Committee to drop plans to kneecap EPA authority to see cleaner gas standards,” said O’Donnell.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office said in a statement that the city has made progress on cleaner air... cutting greenhouse gasses by 12 percent below 2005 levels.

In an email, an EPA spokeswoman said it was a “coincidence” that the data was released on May 1st, World Asthma Day. Smog can reduce lung function and aggravate asthma.

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Transportation Nation

New Fuel-Efficiency Standards Could Mean Big Savings For Texans

Friday, April 20, 2012

Pickup truck in Houston. Photo by Gail Delaughter/KUHF

(Houston, TX -- Gail Delaughter, KUHF) As we've reported, a new study quantifies how much American's will save, in money and pollution, from higher-mileage cars hitting the roads. Well, the state that tops the list of savings is the oil state itself, Texas.

The report by the Natural Resources Defense Council found that U.S. drivers could save $68 billion under new fuel efficiency standards set to be implemented in 2030. Texas drivers will save more than $7 billion under a 54 m.p.g.  standard.

Auto industry analyst Alan Baum says automakers are already creating new vehicles in advance of a 35 m.p.g. standard that goes into effect in 2016. That includes pickup trucks, a popular vehicle with Texans.

"The consumer can pick the vehicle they want to serve their purpose and then find vehicles that have much better fuel economy," he said.

He's also seeing more people buy new vehicles because of high gas prices. "People are coming in and saying, I understand I've got a lot more choice here, there's better fuel economy, and I don't have to make a compromise in buying my vehicle. Please get me out of this thing and sell me a new product."

As for gas prices in Texas, the average price has been hovering around $3.83 a gallon, much less than the $4.00 mark currently seen in places like New York and California.

Texans do a lot of driving, and large vehicles such as pickup trucks are popular modes of transportation in both urban and rural areas.  Federal transportation figures show Texas has close to 15 million registered motor vehicles. The state ranks just behind California in the number of licensed drivers, with over 13 million people behind the wheel.

You can hear the KUHF story here.

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Transportation Nation

Report: Drivers to Save Almost $70 Billion by 2025 from Fuel-Efficient Cars

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Gas Prices, February 2012

UPDATED: The Natural Resource Defense Council says drivers will save some $70 billion by 2025 from fuel savings and other costs associated with cars that get 54.5 m.p.g. -- the federal standard in that year.

Individual drivers will save about $4,400 over the life of their cars -- accounting for the increased costs of high-mileage cars.

The report says increased fuel efficiency will cut U.S. oil consumption by 1.7 million barrels a day by 2030, the equivalent of the combined U.S. oil imports from Saudi Arabia and Iraq in 2011.

It will also cut carbon pollution by 297 metric tons, equivalent to the CO2 emssions of 76 coal power plants.

Alan Baum, of Baum and Associates, an automotive forecasting firm, said consumer demand for higher mileage vehicles is growing.  "Before 2007 the expectation was that fuel prices would be low, and if they went up, that was the aberration," said Baum on an NRDC-organized conference call. " People in the 2005-6 period said, 'oh, okay, we’ve got a problem with whatever, political issues in the mid-east or supply shortages, etc – that’s a transitory thing and I’m not going to change my interest in fuel economy.’ From 2007 onward, it reversed."

"To the extent we enjoyed fuel prices under $3.00 in recent years, the general expectation from the consumer was that was the aberration. That the norm was going to be higher fuel prices."

NRDC says there were only 5 car models that got more than 30 m.p.g. in 2009, before the White House announced new fuel standards.  In the 2012 model year, there were 15 models.

Here's a list of state saving calculated by the NRDC.

1) Texas               $7.750 billion
2)California          $7.270 billion
3)Florida:             $6.683 billion
4) New York:       $2.959 billion
5)North Carolina: $2.797 billion
6) Georgia:           $2.564 billion
7) Virginia:          $2.179 billion
8)Pennsylvania:    $2.004 billion
9)Tennessee:        $1.958 billion
10)Arizona:          $1.887 billion
11) Illinois           $1.853 billion
12) Ohio:             $1.664 billion
13) Washington:  $1.547 billion
14) Maryland       $1.529 billion
15) Michigan       $1.520 billion
16) New Jersey:   $1.452 billion
17) Alabama       $1.271 billion
18) Kentucky:     $1.207 billion
19) Missouri:      $1.207 billion
20) Minnesota    $1.162 billion

And, in case you've forgotten, a gas price graph from AAA:

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Transportation Nation

NJ Gov Christie on ARC Tunnel: Believe Me, Not The "Bureaucrats in Washington, DC"

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

NJ Gov. Chris Christie spoke about the ARC Tunnel at a press conference in Bridgewater. (Photo by Sharyn Jackson/WNYC)

(New York, NY - WNYC) New Jersey Governor Chris Christie doubled down today in his fight with Congressional investigators over whether he used faulty numbers to justify killing the ARC tunnel.

As readers of TN know, ARC is an acronym for Access to the Region's Core, a commuter rail project that would have brought more trains between Manhattan and New Jersey--a crowded and increasingly popular corridor that is nearly at capacity.

Christie claimed the trans-Hudson tunnel was on track to cost $14 billion, with overruns borne by New Jersey taxpayers. But a new report from the Government Accountability Office says the price tag was more likely to have been $10 billion and that the state would have paid only 14.4 percent of that.

The issue is important because Christie rode it, in part, to make a name for himself as a politician who dared hold the line against government spending, which in turn thrust him into the ranks of Republicans who are considered viable presidential candidates. Following is a transcript of the governor's remarks on ARC and the GAO report from a press conference this morning; you can also listen to his comments below.

So the fact of the matter is that--and the last thing by the way that the report doesn't understand is what you understand about the way it works with the Port Authority. This was considered a New Jersey project in the Port Authority and you know that there has to be parity between New Jersey and New York spending. So every dollar we spent on cost overruns, either from the state of New Jersey or if you did it from the Port Authority, would come out of other Port Authority money that would go to other New Jersey projects. That cost New Jersey. So it's absolutely appropriate for us to say that that's a New Jersey cost, because that money would otherwise be available for other New Jersey  projects. So here's the bottom line, Michael. First is I don't think anybody in New Jersey needs advice from Congress about how to spend money. We see what a mess they're in down there. And I think the people of New Jersey are comfortable with the fact that I made the evaluation we couldn't afford this and cancelled it as a result. Secondly, the implication that somehow I should have let this project go forward and left it to later because they would have worked something out with us on the cost overruns? That's akin to like, I'm here from Washington and I'm here to help, you know. I was not putting New Jersey tax payers at that risk.

So let's everybody really read the GAO report and let's look at the commentary this morning from the person at the GAO who said this morning in the newspaper that the report does not opine on the accuracy of any of the numbers.

So, let's stop... I'm happy to be criticized -- happy to be criticized --  by Sen. Frank Lautenberg and the New York Times. I take that as a badge of honor. Actually it means I'm doing something right for the taxpayers in this state...

(another question, inaudible)

That's because they don't understand the Port Authority parity issue. That's New Jersey money, paid by New Jersey tollpayers. That expect it to go to New Jersey projects. And every nickel of cost overruns  that would go to that contribute to a greater contribution by New Jersey. Michael, look at our reporters notes from yesterday, we go through this in great specificity and what it shows from the real numbers is, that the cost to New Jersey was anywhere between 72 and 78 percent. And so this is just a basic misunderstanding by bureaucrats in Washington DC who don't understand how the Port Authority works. They say the Port Authority is not New Jersey money. Well it sure as hell is New Jersey money. And it's money that wouldn't be available to work on the Goethals Bridge. It's money that wouldn't be available to work on the Bayonne Bridge. It's money that wouldn't be available to rebuild the Lincoln Tunnel helix. These are all New Jersey projects. And that we would not get the money otherwise. So they misunderstand it...

I urge you all to look at it and to stop reading the New York Times as your primary source for information on this. It was a leaked report, spun by partisans to the New York Times. And if you read the report they do not once say that we exaggerated the numbers. They don't once give an opinion as to which numbers were right. One thing they do point out in there, is three times in five months, the FTA changed the numbers. You want me to rely upon the FTA estimate when they changed them three times in five months? What that shows me is they had no idea what this project was going to cost, and that's what I was saying. We had no way of knowing how much this was gonna cost, but the one thing the GAO report does confirm? New Jersey was on the hook for every dollar of the cost overruns. And the only thing they can say is, well, the federal government may have helped in the end. Yeah, you know, that's like, I'd be happy to pay you tomorrow for a hamburger today. Sorry, I'm not letting the New Jersey taxpayers be exposed in that way.


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Transportation Nation

California High Speed Rail To Cost a Third Less

Monday, April 02, 2012

A rendering of California's high-speed rail (image courtesy of California High-Speed Rail Authority)

Better, Faster, Cheaper? That's the promise being pushed by the agency in charge of California's ambitious high-speed rail project as it unveiled an updated business plan for the ambitious project to connect Los Angeles and San Francisco by bullet train. The California High-Speed Rail Authority released an updated business plan that now puts the price tag at $68.4 billion with a completion in 2028.

That's about five years sooner and $30 billion cheaper than a draft plan released last fall that drew wide criticism as a potential boondoggle. The new cost is still $25 billion more than the plan approved by voters four years ago in a referendum to allow the issue of bonds to finance the project.

The new business plan was created at the behest of Democratic Governor Jerry Brown who has remained a steadfast supported of high-speed rail unlike Republican governors in Wisconsin and Florida. Some lawmakers questioned the convenience of the new estimates in the updated business plan.

Some of the cost and time savings will come from a "blended" approach to rail construction, merging the new bullet trains with existing commuter lines. It would involve upgrading commuter rail in L.A. and in the San Francisco Bay Area while building the initial HSR line in the Central Valley as planned using federal funds.  Los Angeles gets linked to the Central Valley first, then San Francisco in a following phase.

To pay for it CAHSRA wants to use "cap and trade" revenues as a potential "dedicated funding source." Private investment continues to be spotlighted as a major source.

with Julie Caine -- KALW, and Associated Press

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Transportation Nation

Traffic Light Along New Maryland Toll Road

Friday, March 30, 2012

Photo: Martin Di Caro

(Washington, DC -- Martin Di Caro, WAMU) Traffic appears pretty light on the Intercounty Connector, especially now that electronic tolls are being collected, but the Maryland Transportation Authority says traffic volumes are on target.

The completion of the eastern segment of the Intercounty Connector in late November promised to transform commuting by opening an 18-mile toll road cutting east-west across Montgomery County, Md.

Approximately 20,000 vehicles travel the ICC on average on weekdays, with the western segment seeing more volume than the eastern one by about 10,000 vehicles per day.  It takes three years for volume to ramp up on a new toll road, according to an ICC spokeswoman.

Raw data show that traffic volume significantly dropped after the collection of tolls began in early December.  On December 4, a Sunday, more than 44,000 vehicles drove the western segment of the ICC.  The next day saw volume fall to fewer than 26,000 vehicles.

In the Tanglewood subdivision of Silver Spring the sounds of birds and crickets on pretty suburban streets is now mixing with the constant, distant hum of traffic.  But the sound is less distant for Ken Schmidt, who purchased his home on Trebleclef Lane two years ago.  A new sound barrier standing about 20 feet high runs right behind his backyard.

“There is the old saying ‘not in my backyard.’ But here it is,” Schmidt says.  “When we purchased the house, the state website for the ICC spoke of two plans that ran north and south of Rt. 198.  This plan was not on the main page.  I assumed it wasn’t an option.”

Schmidt says he might have done more thorough research, because he would not have bought his home had he known where the ICC would be built.  Instead he recently spent $13,000 for new windows to block the sound of traffic from filling his home where he lives with his wife and baby boy.

“It’s 100 times better than it used to be but unless we went with even more expensive windows with more layers of glass, even that wouldn’t have solved the problem completely,” says Schmidt, who says dust kicked up by passing traffic and carried by the wind often covers his home, another reason to keep the windows closed.

Two doors down Trebleclef Lane lives Jeff Owrutsky, who bought his home in the early 1990s.  Over the past 20 years he witnessed the long-running public process that ended with the construction of a highway he actively opposed.

“This has been on the books since the ‘50s so we got wind of it before we moved here.  Certainly everybody said they would never build it but I guess you can say they have now,” Owrutsky says.  “A lot of the problem with this road is that it cost so much money.  It’s busting the bank in terms of our whole transportation budget.”

Owrutsky says he is getting used to his new environs but misses what his backyard used to be like.  “It was dense, full of trees, and there’s also an auto park over there.  It used to be that the trees would shield us from all the lights of the auto park.”

The ICC was designed to reduce traffic congestion on heavily congested east-west roads in Montgomery County, but the Maryland Transportation Authority says traffic analyses will take months to complete and there are no studies available.

In interviews with, residents near one of those roads, Briggs Chaney Road., say it’s difficult to tell whether traffic has dwindled over the past four months.

“I don’t see a major difference since the ICC road has been open.  When I go to Rockville, I take Rt. 28 and I think it is more congested,” says Alfiya Akhmed, who has lived on Briggs Chaney for seven years.

Some have noticed a positive change.  “Before we were kind of congested but now there is less traffic on Briggs Chaney,” says Gladstone Botsoe, a commuter who uses the road three times per week.  But commuter Rob McKellar says the traffic seems about the same, and he blamed the tolls on the ICC for keeping people on the local roads.

“With the economy the way it is I don’t think people want to pay.  I wouldn’t pay to go on that road,” McKellar says.

About six miles southwest of where Briggs Chaney Road runs parallel to the ICC, a stream runs through Northwest Branch Park, where many trees have fallen or are tilting down, their roots exposed above the stream bank.  Environmentalists say the ICC will exacerbate the problem of storm water run off that has already caused so much damage to the ecosystem.

“It’s hard to say whether any particular thing has caused the increased damage, but you have to figure that all those acres of concrete with run off is going to have an effect that is different than acres of forest where the water seeps in slowly,” says Anne Ambler, the president of Neighbors of Northwest Branch.  She and Dave O’Leary, the chairman of the Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club, described to the cycle that may transform the forest permanently for the worse.

“When we have lots of pavement… the storm pours in really quickly and the streams will come up quickly and gouge out the sides of the streams.  This water level will bounce right up and could be two or three times as deep as it is now.  Where we have these sharp bends in the stream that water pounds against the sides, undercuts the banks, and trees will fall in,” O’Leary says.

As more trees tumble into the stream, roots and all, the stream grows wider, causing further erosion.  As more trees fall, more sunlight breaks through the canopy, causing the growth of invasive species which now blanket the forest bottom.  The invasive plants prevent the seeds of older trees from taking root, and the forest will fail to sustain itself.

“Over the next couple of decades we will see this whole area transform.  A forest will become a few trees, different vegetation on the ground, the water is polluted.  What was appealing in 1990 or 1995 is much less so in 2015,” O’Leary says.

The state has five ongoing storm water management projects just for the area of the Northwest Branch, but Ambler says the problem is to a considerable degree irreversible.

“Progress is not a question of putting down more concrete.  The situation where we find ourselves now with climate change, progress would mean concentrating preserving our fresh water which is scarce and investing in other forms of energy,” she says.

Listen to an extended audio report on this issue here.


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Transportation Nation

Pols Tiptoe Around Plan To Revolutionize NYC's Toll System

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges connecting Manhattan (left) to Brooklyn.

(New York, NY - WNYC) Rejoicing. Also dread. That's the response from transportation advocates to the latest funding vote from the leadership of New York's transit system.

The board of the NY MTA has approved $13.1 billion to fund the next three years of its capital plan. It will be financed mostly by debt: $7 billion from bonds and $2 billion in low-cost federal loans.

This means the agency is sticking with ambitious projects like the Second Avenue Subway (rejoice!) but a debt crisis looms if the agency doesn't find new sources of revenue soon (dread!).

And that's why money-making transportation ideas will not die, even if they're sure to face serious opposition, like the plan to put tolls on the historically free bridges spanning the East River. Such tolls would produce a dedicated revenue stream for the NY MTA, and that would reduce the political brinkmanship and deficit spending that characterize the funding agreements behind the authority's five-year capital budgets.

The latest version of the tolling plan, promoted by former NYC traffic commissioner Sam Schwartz,  would bring in an estimated $1.2 billion a year, two-thirds of which would go to the NY MTA. (Go here for details on how that money would be raised, and here for a PowerPoint version of the plan itself.)

After today's NY MTA board meeting, chairman Joe Lhota was asked whether he'd discussed the plan with elected officials. "I have not talked to anyone other than Sam Schwartz directly on the plan," he said. "So I don't know where it's going."

Then Lhota gently nudged the idea into the debate over long-term transportation funding. "I do believe that people are focused on this," he said. "It'll probably be a very big item during the mayoral race next year."

It's hard to know whether his prediction will come true but it's easy to see why he would want it to be so. The Schwartz plan envisions $8 billion a year in transit capital and $400 million for maintenance projects to keep the system in a "state of good repair." Being able to count on that money would make the planning side of Lhota's job a lot easier. And after all, smoothly functioning subways, buses and commuter trains are essential to the New York City economy. Why shouldn't mayoral candidates be discussing a plan that could stabilize their financing?

But the fate of any tolling scheme ultimately rests with the state. "I have not had any conversations with the governor... regarding Sam Schwartz's plan on congestion pricing," Lhota said later in the day. A spokesman added that, officially, Lhota  “has taken no position on the plan."

Of course that doesn't mean he's not rooting for it, at least a little. Governor Andrew Cuomo's office did not immediately respond with a comment on the issue.


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Transportation Nation

Possible Increased Coal Train Traffic Raises Community Concern

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A typical coal train traveling through Montana.

(Billings, MT – YPR) – Asian markets are demanding more fossil fuels from the Rocky Mountain area and that has some environmental groups in the state worried as plans to transport more coal by rail take shape the coal-rich Powder River basin in Montana and Wyoming.

The Yellowstone Valley Citizens Council (YVCC) , an affiliate of the conservation group Northern Plains Resource Council, was one of the sponsors of a two-day conference in Billings, Mont. to discuss how to mitigate any increase in rail traffic. Railroad tracks cut right through downtown Billings. Their concern is heightened as plans to build a shipping terminal near Longview, WA have resurfaced.

The conference brochure states, “About 22 freight trains a day pass through Billings. Increased coal export could add about 40 more trains a day.”

Organizers say train traffic already causes traffic congestion and delayed emergency service response. They add, increased coal train traffic would exacerbate that and there’s the added public health concern about flying coal dust.

Burlington Northern Santa Fe railway spokesman Zak Andersen of Fort Worth, Tex. says he understands the concerns of communities across the West, including Billings, about the possibility of increased coal train traffic. But he calls the figures cited by YVCC speculation.

“It seems to be based around the anticipation of exporting coal off the West Coast,” he says. “There are several facilities proposed. They’re in the process of getting permitted. None of them are built. So until any of them are built, you really don’t know what the amount of (train) traffic will be.”

Concern about rail traffic is not new, says Candi Beaudry, planning director for the city of Billings. She says the first study on the issue came out in 1960. She says coming up with a mitigation plan is easy.

“But where are we going to find the money? The money is huge as far as the obstacle to resolving the problem,” she says.

Beaudry says this is an issue confronting communities across the country. She notes, for example, the BNSF and Montana Rail Link rail lines would have to cross Montana, Idaho, and Washington on their way to any West Coast port.

“They’re all experiencing and all dreading the impacts of increased rail traffic,” she says. “So we may not be looking at just a local solution but possibly a regional and hopefully a global solution.”

Some environmental groups are opposed to expanding or building new port terminals out of concern of the climate impacts of burning more coal.  But BNSF’s Zak Andersen says the railway also uses those ports to export Montana agricultural products to Asia.

Beaudry told conference attendees about the project in Reno, NV that lowered the train tracks just over 30 feet. The project cost:  $265 million.

She says Reno did not undertake this project because of coal trains. “They did have a lot of train traffic,” Beaudry says. “But what was the driving impetus behind this project is that they felt their downtown was losing business and they really wanted to revitalize the downtown area.”

“I don’t want to see the trains go away,” says Greg Krueger, development director of the Downtown Billings Partnership (DBA). The Billings native says he’s one of those who gets caught waiting for trains downtown.

“I’ve also waited in line at Target. I’ve also waited in line to go through security at the airport,” he says. “Waiting is a part of life. So I think we have to be relative here.”

He says DBP has worked on this issue, including spending about $800,000 to create a “quiet zone” so trains no longer have to blast their horns at downtown rail crossings. Krueger says before that happened, businesses found they couldn’t conduct work by phone because of the noise.

Tax increment financing paid for the quiet zone.

It’s going to take local dollars to pay for any remedy, says Krueger’s counterpart, Lisa Harmon of the Downtown Billings Association. She warned conference attendees not to look to the federal or state government to pay for a rail traffic mitigation project, like what Reno did. Instead she suggested cheaper alternatives: changes in traffic signals to reroute traffic to existing rail underpasses, better signage to alert motorists earlier when there’s rail traffic through downtown, and easing traffic congestion through the creation of a downtown shuttle or advocating walking and bicycling.

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Transportation Nation

After Fukushima, Greenhouse Gases Rise in Japan

Friday, March 09, 2012

A sobering by-product of the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster in Japan last year -- the country has had to rely more on natural gas for its energy, and that's meant a big jump in greenhouse gas emissions.

On our partner The Takeaway David Biello, associate editor of environment and energy at Scientific American, discusses the future of nuclear energy, one year out with host John Hockenberry.   You can listen to the full interview here.

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Transportation Nation

NY City Council Bill Would Up Electric Bike Fine

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

(Photo by Flickr user: Miss Havisham's Tea Party)

New legislation in New York City could make it twice as costly to speed on an electronic bike.  City Councilwoman Jessica Lappin will introduce legislation Wednesday that would double fines for e-bike speeders who travel faster that the citywide 15 mile per hour limit. That would increase penalties from $500 to $1,000.

“My office constantly receives complaints about electric delivery bikes speeding down our crowded streets and sidewalks,” Lappin said. “We need higher fines and better enforcement, which should make pedestrians safer in their own neighborhoods.”

A relatively new mode of transport, e-bikes zipped into New York City’s culture about a year ago and have since become ubiquitous.  While many have safety concerns about e-bikes, anyone who eats take-out probably benefits from their speedy service – the electric bikes have become synonymous with hot, fresh, delivery food.  And many e-bike owners are commercial delivery cyclists that depend on tips for a majority of their income.  The more deliveries they make, the more money they earn.

Andrew Rigie, Executive Vice President with the New York City Chapter of the New York State Restaurant Association, said the increased fines would hurt small businesses and their employees.  “E-bikes allow more deliveries to be conducted in a quicker amount of time, which means the business can make more money, and the delivery cyclists can make more in tips.”  He said the bikes are also more friendly to the environment.

But Councilwoman Lappin said she has tried to engage small businesses in her district.  “I have developed a flyer that we have volunteers and interns take into small businesses and restaurants to talk to them about the rules of the road, with posters in multiple languages,” said Lappin.  She hopes there eventually be a full hearing on her proposal.

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