Monday, June 03, 2013
By Kate Hinds
U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg's final tweet was about a proposed train tunnel under the Hudson River. It was a fitting coda to a career that drove transportation policy — transforming everything from smoking on airplanes to instituting stricter blood alcohol standards for drivers.
Thursday, April 19, 2012
By Kate Hinds
A new trans-Hudson tunnel got a $20 million vote of confidence Thursday -- but it remains to be seen whether it will win approval in political environment riven by dissent over transportation funding.
The Gateway tunnel project-- deemed "absolutely critical" by U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in a hearing last month -- was proposed last year as an alternative to the ARC tunnel, a similar project cancelled by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in 2010.
According to Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), who 's trying to bring a new rail tunnel to fruition, Gateway is expected to increase Amtrak and NJ Transit's capacity into New York by 65 percent.
Both New Jersey senators have thrown their support behind the project. “The Gateway Tunnel is critical to addressing our state's transportation crisis,” said Lautenberg in an emailed statement. Senator Robert Menendez, also quoted in the email, added: “We are at capacity on all Hudson River crossings, so the Gateway Project is simply essential to New Jersey’s economic growth and for our commuters."
Lautenberg is smarting over the ARC tunnel. At a Senate hearing yesterday, he testily asked a Port Authority executive: "Why did the administration that we have in office now cancel $6 billion worth of money that we raised through this place to build a tunnel and get 22,000 cars off the road?"
If the $20 million wins full Senate approval, Amtrak will have a total of $35 million to begin design and engineering work on Gateway. In November 2011, the Senate approved $15 million for the project. Amtrak had initially requested $50 million for a design and engineering study.
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
By Kate Hinds
Listen to a conversation about the hearings -- and hear some audio from them - below.
UPDATED A Senate hearing ostensibly on the fairness of toll hikes devolved into a slugfest between Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Bill Baroni, Deputy Executive Director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Lautenberg has been seething since New Jersey Governor Chris Christie killed the ARC commuter tunnel under the Hudson River in late 2010. Last summer's Hudson River toll hikes -- raised by as much as 50% -- only added fuel to the fire.
Lautenberg had a line of questions prepared, including when the Governors of New Jersey and New York knew about the 2010 toll hikes and whether Baroni thought they were fair.
But Baroni, a Christie appointee, was prepared. "It is impossible to argue fairness in tolls if you don’t pay them," he said, pointing out that the senator -- a Port Authority commissioner from 1978-1982 -- had used an agency-funded EZ Pass at Port Authority toll crossings 284 times (a perk -- since discontinued -- formerly available to Port Authority commissioners for life).
Lautenberg seemed caught off guard by the statement, and although he quickly brought the line of questioning back to the toll hike, it looked like he had brought a butter knife to a switchblade fight.
The senator was also unable to pin Baroni down on one of his key issues: what did Governor Christie know about the Port Authority's plans for last summer's toll hikes, and when did he know it? Baroni wouldn't get specific. "I'm not going to talk about conversations that I have with different administration officials," he said -- spurring Lautenberg to retort: "Are you running a protection agency there?" "Excuse me?" responded Baroni, all wounded indignation.
But with all things Lautenberg and Christie-related, all roads lead back to the ARC tunnel. Senator Lautenberg is furious with the governor for canceling the trans-Hudson tunnel -- a project which the senator had long championed. "Why did the administration that we have in office now cancel $6 billion worth of money that we raised through this place to build a tunnel and get 22,000 cars off the road?" he spat at Baroni. A brief mic outage muted the Port Authority executive's response.
Lautenberg went on to grill Baroni about accusations of political patronage at the Port Authority, and told Baroni he had two weeks to supply the Senate committee with the names of people Governor Chris Christie had recommended for employment at the Port Authority.
"Sure!" said Baroni. "Should we go through them now?"
"Your impertinence is barely tolerable," Lautenberg told Baroni.
Later in the hearing, which stretched to almost 70 minutes, Baroni described the agency's plans to expand platforms at Harrison's PATH station. "Under the plan, we're going to be able to go to ten cars, and that's going to help us bring more rail —"
The senator abruptly hit the gavel twice. "Thank you very much. This hearing is over."
After the hearing, Senator Jay Rockefeller, Chair of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee chided Baroni: “I am troubled and disappointed by accounts of inappropriate discourse and decorum by a witness at the Senate Commerce Subcommittee this morning. A basic level of civility is expected from every witness who testifies in a formal Senate hearing and reports suggest that standard was not met today.”
Later this afternoon, Governor Chris Christie's press secretary, Michael Drewniak, sent the following statement dripping with enmity: (full statement at end of post) "Let’s accept the obvious: the hearing was a partisan charade. Senator Lautenberg is deluding himself if he actually believes the practices he oversaw, participated in and encouraged during his time as a commissioner with the Port Authority are not relevant in explaining the Port Authority inherited by Governors Cuomo and Christie."
For his part, Lautenberg sent out a statement saying "Mr. Baroni engaged in distraction, deception and diversion. I am very disappointed that the Port Authority continues to operate behind a veil of secrecy."
Lautenberg has requested that the GAO examine interstate tolling authorities. Meanwhile, late this afternoon, word was released that a joint New York-New Jersey hearing on the Port Authority -- scheduled for this Friday on Staten Island -- is being postponed.
Read below for a partial transcript of a piece of this morning's exchange. You can watch a archived video of Wednesday's hearing here.
Here's a transcript of part of this morning's exchange:
Lautenberg: The question is: did the size of the increase strike those of you who make decisions at the Port Authority as being fair? I mean, that’s a substantial -- 50% increase to cross the bridge. That’s a lot of money.
Baroni: Senator, thank you for the question, and I know that the conversation we heard, some of my colleagues talking about much it is. But as I described before, Senator, that if you are a cash-paying, non-EZPass using, rush hour driving truck, you are causing the most challenges physically to our crossings. For every fully-loaded tractor-trailer that goes across our bridges, it (causes) 10,000 times the damage to our bridges as one car. But one of the reason we built all of the discounts in, Senator, is to be able to -- those folks who are commuting, who have an EZ Pass, or drive in off-peak, and, Senator, respectfully I understand the concerns that people have about paying tolls across the Hudson. It is something that commuters as you mentioned, Senator, each and every day – but respectfully, Senator, you only started paying tolls recently. For years, Senator, as former commissioner of my agency, you received free EZ Pass. Year after year – in fact, I have a copy of your free EZ Pass. I’ve got letters from ‘01 --
Lautenberg: how often was it used? Do you know?
Baroni: yeah, actually. ’01, ’02, ’03
Lautenberg: what? how many times?
Baroni: I can tell you. In...
Lautenberg: I’m not going to permit you to continue with this silliness.
Baroni: Well, Senator, you took 284 trips for free in the last two years you had the pass.
Lautenberg: I want you to answer this question. (Baroni. Sure!) Is this fair? Is this toll increase fair to the public at large?
Baroni: I think, Senator, for those--
Lautenberg: talk about the individual cars (crosstalk) I want to keep you on track. So. Let's go.
Baroni: Senator, it's impossible..certainly, Senator. It is impossible to argue fairness in tolls if you don’t pay them.
After that testy exchange, Baroni talked about the Port Authority's discount toll programs and how many vehicles use EZPass (81%) -- but Senator Lautenberg was doing the slow burn.
Lautenberg: To pull out that little thing that I got after serving after in the Port Authority for four years -- I don't even think about using it, Mr. Baroni.
Baroni: of course not, because we took it away.
Lautenberg: Well, what happened, what happens, it was there, that's what they did, that's what I took and I'm not going to defend it. That's a silly thing to bring into this. I want to discuss your direction of this grand agency and where the money is gone, and why the increases were so large. What - what - is that fair play in your view? Why did the administration that we have in office now cancel $6 billion dollars worth of money that we raised through this place to build a tunnel and get 22,000 cars a day off the road? Do you want to talk about those things?
Christie's office sent out the following statement:
"As we learned today, Senator Lautenberg himself perpetuated some of the very dysfunction that only now, under Governors Christie and Cuomo, is being reversed through reforms and intensive audits. A few counterpoints raised by Deputy Executive Director Baroni:
→ Senator Lautenberg, a wealthy businessman who was a commissioner of the Port Authority from March 1978 to December 1982, received free annual passage at Hudson River crossings and parking privileges at all NY/NJ airports for 24 years. Mr. Baroni pointed out that in the final two years of his free EZ Pass, the Senator made no less than 284 free toll crossings.
→ At the height of his hypocritical moments today, Senator Lautenberg became enraged when Mr. Baroni pointed out that one of Sen. Lautenberg’s 2002 campaign staffers in charge of “U.S. Senate Candidate Visibility” was hired at the Port Authority after the campaign as a “principal energy specialist.”
While Mr. Baroni told the Senator he was available to talk all day and present evidence about PA tolls and operations, the hearing ended abruptly with Senator Lautenberg visibly angry over the turn of events. Repeatedly, Senator Lautenberg tried to stop Mr. Baroni from providing answers that didn’t fit the hearing game plan or that held inconvenient truths.
→ “I’m not going to permit you to continue with this silliness,” Senator Lautenberg said as he cut off Mr. Baroni’s discussion of EZ Pass discounts available to motorists and the Senator’s free privileges. “Certainly Senator,” Mr. Baroni replied, “it is impossible to argue fairness in tolls when you don’t pay them.”
→ Let’s accept the obvious: the hearing was a partisan charade. Senator Lautenberg is deluding himself if he actually believes the practices he oversaw, participated in and encouraged during his time as a commissioner with the Port Authority are not relevant in explaining the Port Authority inherited by Governors Cuomo and Christie.
→ The toll hikes at the NY/NJ crossings were the last thing the Governors wanted to see happen. But by 2010, the agency was mired in a fiscal crisis years in the making that required the reduced toll hikes the two Governors finally had to approve. And the undisputed fact of history is that only since Governor Christie took office have reforms been enacted, payroll numbers and costs beenreduced and independent audits – warts and all – been ordered. Sure, hold a hearing, ask all the relevant and necessary questions you like, but Senator Lautenberg should have spared us the hypocrisy and fake outrage.
Here's Senator Lautenberg's statement:
PORT AUTHORITY’S BARONI CALLS $12 TOLLS “FAIR”
LAUTENBERG PRESSES PORT AUTHORITY ON ALLEGATIONS OF PATRONAGE AND MISLEADING THE PUBLIC
BARONI ENGAGES IN “DISTRACTION, DECEPTION AND DIVERSION” AT HEARING
WASHINGTON – At a U.S. Senate Commerce Committee Surface Transportation subcommittee hearing today, Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg pressed Port Authority Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni on the Port Authority’s recent toll hikes and allegations of patronage and mismanagement.
During his testimony, Mr. Baroni stated that $12 tolls on drivers are “fair” and repeatedly refused to answer questions about when Governor Christie became aware of proposed toll increases.
In contrast to Mr. Baroni, witnesses from AAA and the American Trucking Associations were very clear about their strong opposition to the toll hikes, the burden they put on families and businesses, and the lack of opportunity for public input about the toll increases.
“We called this hearing to help New Jersey drivers understand the reasons behind these massive toll increases and what steps the Port Authority is going to take to fix their serious problems,” said Sen. Lautenberg. “Instead, Mr. Baroni engaged in distraction, deception and diversion. I am very disappointed that the Port Authority continues to operate behind a veil of secrecy. Despite this stonewalling, I will continue to stand up for New Jersey commuters and businesses.”
Tuesday, April 10, 2012
By Kate Hinds
(UPDATED WITH MORE INFORMATION) A federal government's report is raising questions about why New Jersey Governor Chris Christie scrapped the ARC tunnel.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie canceled the trans-Hudson tunnel in 2010, saying that the cost could balloon to $14 billion and that the state would be on the hook for overruns. But a Government Accountability Office report says that the state was only kicking in 14.4 percent -- not the 70 percent that Christie was claiming -- and the cost of the tunnel would not have exceeded $10 billion.
The governor is standing by his figure, saying the GAO isn't counting the New Jersey dollars that the Port Authority would've had to spend on the project, and that the state also would have been billed for related upgrades, like a new railroad bridge near Secaucus.
In statement, Christie's office said: "It was the FTA’s own projections, in an August 2010 memo, that confirmed a rise in projects costs from $8.7 billion to anywhere between $10.9 and $13.7 billion, not including the $775 million Portal Bridge Project that was necessary to complete the ARC project in its entirety."
But U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg, who requested the GAO report, said in a statement that the tunnel was "critical to the future of New Jersey’s economy and it took years to plan, but Gov. Christie wiped it out with a campaign of public deception." He added: "commuters were sacrificed for the short term political needs of the governor."
Here's a pdf of the report, which was released Tuesday.
(with reporting from Jim O'Grady)
Tuesday, April 03, 2012
By Jim O'Grady
MTA chairman Joe Lhota says a proposed extension of the 7 train subway line from Manhattan to New Jersey is "not going to happen in our lifetime. It's not going to happen in anybody's lifetime."
Lhota said "the expense is beyond anything we're doing," adding that building railyards in New Jersey would be costly.
Lhota was speaking Tuesday morning at a breakfast meeting of the New York Building Congress at the Hilton Hotel in Midtown Manhattan.
He was asked about a trans-Hudson rail connection and what might fill the gap of the ARC Tunnel, a project killed by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in late 2010. Lhota said he favors Amtrak's proposed Gateway Tunnel project, which would bring Northeast Corridor trains from New Jersey through a tunnel under the river to an expanded Penn Station. "I think it's really important to support that," he said.
The impetus for a 7 train extension comes from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who proposed the project last year.
"I've told the mayor this, I can't see that happening in our lifetime," Lhota said.
Within hours of Lhota's comments, speaking at his own press event, Mayor Bloomberg said he understood funding was an issue, but that he hoped the 7 extension "happens in somebody's lifetime."
"I have great respect for Joe Lhota and he' s a realist," the Mayor added. "I don't know, we can keep trying. It would be great if it happened. Having more tunnels over to New Jersey will help both New Jersey and New York City. If people can go back and forth and it would clean the air because there would be less traffic jams on the tunnels and bridges. Getting a ways to have people come in and out of the city with mass transit is obviously the way to go. I'm sure what Joe is referring to is its very hard to see the funding for that come right now--if someone could provide the funding, I can tell you Joe Lhota could build it.".
Lhota said that he understood the project's appeal to some riders. "Of course New Jersey would like to have it because they think they can get across the Hudson for $2.25."
But then he reiterated his assessment of a subway to Secaucus: "Not a chance."
Tuesday, November 01, 2011
By Kate Hinds
A trans-Hudson alternative – the Gateway Tunnel – won a small victory Tuesday when the Senate approved $15 million for Amtrak to begin design and engineering work on the project.
Friday, September 30, 2011
This just in from the U.S. Department of Transportation, there is an ARC tunnel settlement. The federal government had maintained that New Jersey owed $271 million for money spent on the now-cancelled Access to the Region's Core Tunnel project that would have expanded rail access between New Jersey and New York's Penn Station. As recently as this morning, the feds had said that NJ owed an additional $2.6 million in interest on that money.
We'll have reactions and analysis coming in a bit. Here are the official statements.
Statement of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced today that he has signed an agreement with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for the state to reimburse the federal government $95 million for money that was supposed to be spent building the ARC Tunnel. New Jersey terminated the project and the Department has been seeking repayment of $271 million in federal dollars spent by the state on the project.
The $95 million settlement will permit DOT to recover all of the $51 million in New Starts money provided to New Jersey for the ARC Project, so that those funds can be made available to other communities for public transit projects. This amount also recovers approximately 50 percent of the funds provided to New Jersey under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and this money will be returned to the United States Treasury. In addition to the cash payment amount, New Jersey will be required under the terms of the settlement agreement to spend more than $128 million in CMAQ program funds on transit-related projects that have been reviewed and approved by DOT.
“We appreciate the support and encouragement of Senators Lautenberg and Menendez in reaching an agreement that is good for the taxpayers of New Jersey, but also helps to improve infrastructure in the state,” Secretary LaHood said. “I thank the governor and his legal team for reaching this agreement.”
Here's the statement from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie:
“I am pleased to announce that we have negotiated a good-faith settlement with the Federal Transportation Administration that puts the interests of New Jersey taxpayers first by substantially reducing the federal government’s original demand. The 5-year payment schedule on a $95 million settlement – which contains not one additional dollar of New Jersey taxpayer money – would be offset by more than $100 million in insurance premium refunds. This represents a fraction of the federal government’s initial claim and won’t cost New Jerseyans any additional money, which would otherwise go to infrastructure improvements. I want to thank U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and his staff for their good-faith efforts in working with us and putting the interest of New Jersey taxpayers ahead of politics. I also want to thank New Jersey Transit and Executive Director Jim Weinstein for their commitment to working toward this settlement.”
NJ's Senate delegation has also weighed in. A joint statement reads:
Today's agreement builds on a deal reached in December between DOT and Senators Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) that New Jersey would not have to ultimately pay back $128 million of the total $271 million debt. Of the remaining $143 million, thanks to pressure from Senators Lautenberg and Menendez - as well as members of the state's House delegation, New Jersey's liability will be reduced to $95 million under this deal.
"I thank Transportation Secretary LaHood for honoring our initial agreement to reduce New Jersey's liability by $128 million off the bat. The further reduction in the state's liability will take pressure off New Jersey taxpayers as well," Lautenberg said. "The Governor's decision to kill the ARC tunnel project will hurt New Jersey in the long-term, but we were happy to work with the Department of Transportation to help reduce the costs of this mistake."
"While I remain disappointed that the state abandoned this job-creating project for which we fought so hard to fund, I'm thankful to Secretary LaHood for working to resolve this dispute in a way that best protects our taxpayers," Menendez said.
Thursday, September 22, 2011
By Kate Hinds
A power outage stranded 1,500 passengers on two NJ Transit trains in a tunnel for hours this morning outside of Penn Station.
A spokesman for Amtrak, which operates the tunnel, said the power failure that occurred around 9 a.m. Thursday affected four trains — two of which officials say are being pulled from the tunnel by rescue engines after the others were successfully removed.
Amtrak doesn't know what cause the power outage, and had no estimate for restoration. There were extensive service delays between New York and New Jersey as of noon Thursday.
Passenger Jason Uechi, a software developer, was on the 8:20 a.m. train from Montclair, N.J. He was stuck on the train for more than two hours. He said the lights were on in the car but the air conditioning was not.
“Like any incident in New York, it takes this kind of thing to make people talk," he said, noting passengers were calm and even shared electronic devices. "We were quick to crack jokes about getting rescued and all those kinds of things.”
Robin Isserles, a sociologist on the same train, said the experience of being stuck wasn't great, but "people have been really wonderful, the crew have been informing us when they could. It’s actually been not as bad as expected.”
The tunnels, which run underneath the Hudson River, carry NJ Transit and Amtrak trains between New York and points south. They are at capacity, and officials have been trying figure out how to build another trans-Hudson tunnel for some time. In a bill approved Wednesday by the Senate Appropriations Committee, Amtrak would get $15 million for preliminary engineering of two new Hudson River tunnels next year despite tight budget controls on overall transportation spending.
Last year, citing fears of cost overruns, NJ Governor Chris Christie pulled the tunnel on a new transit tunnel being built under the Hudson, which had already been under construction.
Tuesday, June 07, 2011
By Kate Hinds
The US Department of Transportation wants NJ Transit to return $271 million it gave the state for the ARC tunnel.
The digging had been underway for a year when Governor Christie killed the project last autumn out of what he said were concerns about potential cost overruns. When the Federal Transit Administration sent a bill, NJ Transit hired a DC law firm.
So far, New Jersey has spent about a million dollars in legal fees on the battle. Officials said the state doesn't have a set limit on legal costs. Meanwhile, interest on the $271 million debt -- which the feds say the state is also responsible for -- is accruing at 1%, or about $225,000 a month.
NJ Transit spokesman Paul Wyckoff said that “talks between parties are continuing.” He added: “Hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake, and taxpayers deserve the very best effort we can provide them.”
The US DOT said that there was no new update, and Governor Christie's office did not respond to requests for comments.
Thursday, February 24, 2011
(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) UPDATED WITH US DOT COMMENTS: Republican Florida Governor Rick Scott is sticking to his decision to kill the Tampa to Orlando high speed rail.
Scott's decision is a major setback to President Obama's goal, put forward in his state of the union, to link eighty percent of Americans to high speed rail within 25 years.
In an unusually sharply worded statement, U.S. Department of Transportation spokeswoman Olivia Alair said “The U.S. Department of Transportation has addressed every legitimate concern Governor Scott has raised with respect to plans to connect Florida through high-speed rail. We have repeatedly and clearly told Governor Scott and his staff that Florida would not bear financial or legal liabilities for the project, and that there is strong private sector interest in taking on the risk associated with building and operating high-speed rail in the state.”
Last week Scott abruptly announced he would be pulling the plug on the $2.7 billion rail line, the first true high speed rail in the U.S. The Tampa to Orlando line, which was also to stop at Disney World, was to have been complete in just four years -- by 2015. Scott said Florida's $280 million investment carried too much risk, and that he would return $2.4 billion to the federal government.
But a day after Scott's decision,
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
By Kate Hinds
(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) New Jersey politicians might not have agreed about the ARC tunnel -- but when it comes to paying back the federal government $271 million in ARC money, they present a united front ... against paying, that is.
Yesterday, Governor Christie's office released a copy of a letter that the entire New Jersey congressional delegation --13 congressmen (yes, the entire delegation is male) plus the two senators -- sent to DOT Secretary Ray LaHood, expressing concern that "forcing New Jersey to pay these funds will undermine efforts for a new Trans-Hudson tunnel."
New Jersey has been pursuing legal action to avoid repaying the Federal Transit Administration $271 million that the agency billed the state for work on the ARC tunnel project. This letter appears to be the latest attempt by the state to try to get off the hook for the bill.
We reached out to the DOT for comment, wondering: what triggered this letter? Were there discussions afoot about repurposing that money for a new iteration of a Trans-Hudson tunnel -- like the Gateway Tunnel or extending the #7 subway? The DOT says they have "no update."
Monday, February 07, 2011
By Jim O'Grady
(New York - Jim O'Grady and Kate McGee, WNYC) Gateway Tunnel--bride, son, mutant offspring of ARC--you choose--has been unveiled.
Amtrak President Joseph Boardman joined New Jersey Senators Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez on Monday to pledge $50 million for an engineering and planning study of a new trans-Hudson rail link between New York and New Jersey. It was the first of many steps if the $13.5 billion project is to come to fruition.
Like ARC, which was canceled by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie for potential cost overruns, the Gateway Tunnel is meant to address a bi-state rail crisis.
TN Moving Stories: New Trans-Hudson Tunnel To Be Announced Today; Disabled DC Residents To See Fare Hike; Congestion Pricing Opponents Fret About Its Comeback,
Monday, February 07, 2011
By Kate Hinds
Amtrak and NJ Senators Lautenberg and Menendez are set to announce the next iteration of a planned trans-Hudson tunnel: The "Gateway" tunnel, which would largely follow the same footprint as ARC from Secaucus to New York City, but connect to new tracks in an expanded New York Penn Station instead of dead-ending deep under West 34th Street. (TN)
Traffic deaths are up slightly in NYC -- but the city’s traffic fatality rate remains among the lowest in the country, holding steady around a quarter of the national rate. (New York Times)
A NY Daily News editorial accused NYC DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan of being too secretive about where her office plans to install future bike lanes. "Trying to pry information about bike lanes out of Sadik-Khan's shop is this city's version of phoning North Korea to ask about atomic weaponry."
More cheer for JSK: Potholes wreak havoc upon New York's roads. "Mother Nature has thrown everything at us this winter, and we're striking back,"says the NYC DOT commissioner. (NY Daily News)
South Africa's transport minister turned over ownership of Johannesburg's bus rapid transit company --which had been opposed by taxi drivers -- to taxi industry shareholders. (Times Live)
Disabled Washington area residents are facing significantly higher fares starting this month on MetroAccess. Officials say the price of travel on the para-transit service will nearly double. (WAMU)
Ford will boost vehicle production for US market while trimming Lincoln dealerships. (Wall Street Journal)
The Obama administration has decided to allow limited collective bargaining rights for transportation security officers. (Washington Post)
A Charleston (SC) paper comes out in support of a bike/pedestrian walkway over a bridge, says: "It is time to recognize that transportation should include driving, biking and walking."
Opponents of congestion pricing in NYC are moving swiftly. "We'd like to prevent that proposal from seeing the day of light of day," said Queens Assemblyman David Weprin. (WNYC)
New York's MTA says the tunnel boring machine that has been making its way down Second Avenue is about to complete its first run.
Snakes on a train! Boston transit officials say a 3-foot-long boa constrictor that slithered away from its owner on a Red Line subway car a month ago has been found on an adjoining car. (Boston Globe) (And nope, there was NO WAY that headline could be avoided.)
And speaking of ARC: NJ's state Ethics Commission has dismissed allegations the state’s transportation commissioner might have violated ethics policies through his involvement with the ARC train tunnel to New York City. (The Star-Ledger)
Top Transportation Nation stories we're following: A new trans-Hudson tunnel will be announced today. Meanwhile, NYC has hired an engineering firm to study the feasibility of extending the #7 train to NJ. Opponents of the Prospect Park bike lane have lawyered up, while adjustments are in the works for the Columbus Avenue bike lane. And Metro North has slashed service on the New Haven line by 10%.
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Monday, February 07, 2011
By Kate Hinds
Amtrak president Joe Boardman and New Jersey Senators Lautenberg and Menendez plan to stand up today at the Newark Hilton and announce a “Gateway Tunnel” between New Jersey and Manhattan. They’ll propose to build the new tunnel by largely following the footprint of Access to the Region's Core, or ARC, a rail link under the Hudson River that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie killed in October for projected cost overruns.
Construction on ARC had already begun. Gateway Tunnel would pick up where that project left off—with key differences.
Like ARC, Gateway would consist of a pair tunnels with one track each. But its capacity would be less. ARC was set up to carry 25 commuter trains per hour. Gateway would be designed to allow an additional thirteen New Jersey Transit Trains and eight more Amtrak trains per hour.
And whereas ARC was supposed to terminate at platforms under Macy’s, a block east of Penn Station, Gateway would end a block to the south, nearer to street level. The block—West 30th and West 31st Streets between 7th and 8th Avenues—now mostly holds small businesses like restaurants, bars and a repair shop for musical instruments.
A staff member for an elected official familiar with the project said Amtrak, which is taking the lead on the tunnel, would have to assemble properties on the Manhattan block to make it feasible. He said on the New Jersey side, Gateway would use a hole that construction crews had already started digging for the ARC Tunnel at Tonnelle Avenue near Secaucus.
Amtrak is estimating it will take 10 years and $13.5 billion dollars to complete the project.
An important part of the work would be to raise the Portal Bridge, a notorious bottleneck between Kearny and Secaucus over the Hackensack River. Trains must now slow to cross the 100 year-old bridge, or stop altogether while it is moved to let boats pass by. A modernized bridge, along with a new tunnel’s added capacity, would speed up Amtrak’s service along the Northeast Corridor and help set the stage for future high-speed rail.
The Gateway announcement is sure to set off a round of fearsome politics.
Amtrak and the two U.S. Senators will essentially be proposing their tunnel as an alternative to an extension of the 7 subway train from Midtown Manhattan to Secaucus, which the Bloomberg administration has been pushing—and on which it just voted to spend a quarter of a million dollars for an engineering study. Will Bloomberg push back, contending the 7 train extension would be cheaper?
What will Governor Christie have to say? He and Senator Lautenberg have traded contemptuous barbs since Christie killed ARC in October.
Will the Gateway announcement affect the Federal Transit Administration’s demand that New Jersey pay back $271 million of federal funds spent for preliminary work on ARC, which Christie and his DC law firm, Patton Boggs, is fighting? One of the arguments Patton Boggs has made is that ARC-related design work and research is proving useful to other public works projects. Therefore, it needn't be refunded. If Gateway moves forward in ARC’s tracks, would Christie’s case against the FTA be strengthened?
Former Port Authority of New York & New Jersey Chairman Anthony Coscia, now on the Amtrak board of directors, is expected to join in today’s announcement. Will he nudge the deep-pocketed Authority to line up behind Gateway?
And as always, who will pay for it? If the project’s backers manage to find enough funds without pinching a single penny from New Jersey’s depleted coffers, will Governor Christie support the tunnel—holding his nose, perhaps, while crouching next to Senator Lautenberg as they each wear a hard hat and stick ceremonial shovels into the ground?
These questions and more will be raised this week, a week that the Obama Administration plans to devote to promoting infrastructure. And that raises one last question. Will Democratic Senators Menendez and Lautenberg boost their new rail initiative by prevailing on the president to express support for it, or at least say the words, “Gateway Tunnel,” in a speech? We’ll see.
TN Moving Stories: TX Transpo $ "in Crisis," Car Poolers Disappear, and How To Plow Your Driveway...With Your Bike
Saturday, January 29, 2011
By Kate Hinds
Where are the car poolers? The percentage of workers who car-pool has dropped by almost half since 1980. (New York Times)
More ARC tunnel casualties: a week before Governor Christie froze construction on the ARC Tunnel, the Port Authority paid $95.5 million to rent a Manhattan waterfront parcel officials said was critical to the commuter-rail project. (NJ Record) Also: Stewart International Airport was supposed to be the long-sought fourth major airport to serve the New York metropolitan area. But the lack of a rail link has made its future unclear. (NY Times)
The chairman of the Texas House Transportation Committee says that transportation funding in that state is in "a crisis." (AP via the Houston Chronicle)
Calling it "another arrow in our automotive safety quiver," Ray LaHood visits a company that's working on an alcohol-detection prototype that uses automatic sensors to instantly gauge a driver's fitness to be on the road. (AP via NPR)
Officials in Alaska say that climate change is hurting that state's infrastructure. (Fairbanks Daily News-Miner)
Rahm Emanuel wants to expand Chicago's bike network. (Chicago Sun-Times)
Sources say NY Governor Cuomo will propose a reduction in MTA funding - but he doesn't want to trigger an increase in what riders pay to ride the subway, buses and commuter trains. (NY Daily News)
Despite growing tea party opposition to high-speed train proposals, Republican Bill Shuster, the new chair of the House railroad subcommittee, told a group of New England political leaders that he supports the proposed $1 billion New Haven-to-Springfield line, envisioning it as part of a high-speed rail network that would link Boston, Montreal, Manhattan, Albany and Washington, D.C. (Hartford Courant)
NYC manufacturer for NYC bike share? Ever since New York City started asking for proposals for a citywide bike-share program in November, a small bike factory in Queens has been trying to get noticed. "A contract for 10,000 or more bikes for New York City's program would be a huge boost for the small company, and would mean hiring more welders, painters, assemblers and packers for the Queens plant." But can they compete against BIXI? (Crain's NY Business)
What counts as an alternative form of transportation at Portland State University? The car. (OregonLive.com)
How to plow your driveway...with your bike. (Gothamist)
Top Transportation Nation stories we're following: DC bike sharing: it's not just for tourists. The NY State Senate majority leader made some enigmatic comments about transportation funding. And over a dozen members of Congress descended upon Grand Central to talk about high-speed rail in the Northeast.
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Thursday, January 27, 2011
By Kate Hinds
Texas Department of Transportation executive director Amadeo Saenz has resigned, just weeks after a hand-picked panel of advisors urged his bosses to make leadership changes at the highest levels. (Dallas Morning News)
A foot of snow KO's NYC's bus system. (WNYC)
Will Atlanta's fractured mass transit system finally become unified? "Local leaders...have asked the Legislature to form a regional mass transit agency to serve as an umbrella over the metro area’s various systems." (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Detroit is suffering from a plague of potholes, exacerbated by the weather -- and the budget. Video of a bumpy ride below. (Detroit Free Press)
Ray LaHood blogs about vehicle-to-vehicle communication: "intelligent cars talk to each other wirelessly, warning drivers of potential dangers."
NJ Senator Robert Menendez supports the concept of extending the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail into Staten Island, but he wants to hear specifics of the plan before committing to full support. (The Jersey Journal)
NJ Gov Christie would rather fight the feds than repay ARC money. (WNYC)
A Bronx-based trucking company paid $450,000 in parking tickets last year; the owner won't participate in the NYC Delivery Solutions parking program. "That program is like paying off the Mafia," he said. "It's saying, 'Here, Mr. Bloomberg, here's some money so I won't clog up the courts.'" (NY Daily News)
The Arizona Republic looks at the future of federal transportation funding, and concludes that proposals such as Mesa's light-rail extension and Tempe's streetcar are vulnerable and could be delayed.
Top Transportation Nation stories we're following:
Congestion pricing is percolating around NYC...again. (link)
The head of the NTSB says that when it comes to safety, we can pay now or pay later. But we will pay. (link)
Houston says howdy to the Nissan Leaf. (link)
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Wednesday, January 26, 2011
(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) Governor Christie's spokesman, Michael Drewniak, just emailed around the following statement. We'll have more soon, plus FTA response. (Yesterday, when asked about the ARC tunnel negotiations, Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff--who'd just spoken at a transportation conference--looked like he'd swallowed several lemons whole. He wouldn't comment. ) From the email:
Last night, New Jersey’s legal counsel filed its response to the Federal Transit Administration’s demand for $271 million in ARC transportation funding. Attached is the submission filed electronically with the FTA on behalf of NJ Transit, as well as a fact sheet.
While the submission clearly sets out New Jersey’s case, pay particular attention to the four-page introduction, which aptly and succinctly describes why the State of New Jersey has no lawful or administrative obligation to repay any of the $271 million demanded by the FTA. The FTA overstates the funds that are even at issue and makes a demand for repayment that is far broader than authorized by statute. Specifically:
Of the $271 million FTA demands, the vast majority -- $225.5 million -- consists of:
(1) funds that were expended prior to the execution of the August 2009 ESWA (Early Systems Work Agreements); and
(2) the State’s own formula funds that New Jersey was entitled to as a matter of right, and chose to apply to the Project.
The ESWA simply was not the source of these funds and the statute makes clear that these funds are not “Government payments made under the work agreement.”
As is by now abundantly clear, Governor Christie cancelled the project due to multi-billion dollar cost-overrun projections for a project that previously had an agreed upon price tag of $8.7 billion. Billions in those cost overruns would have been borne by New Jersey -- something unforeseen and entirely out of the state’s control, and a burden Governor Christie was not willing to place exclusively on New Jersey and its taxpayers.
Opposition to Demand
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
By Jim O'Grady
(New York - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) The clock is ticking on a proposed deal between the feds and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie over his decision in October to cancel the ARC rail tunnel under the Hudson because of projected cost overruns.
Christie has until the end of today to decide whether he will reimburse the Federal Transit Administration $271 million spent on ARC. In exchange, the agency would then turn around and hand back $128 million to the state for projects that improve air quality by cutting traffic congestion.
Meanwhile, earlier today Christie told Bloomberg TV: "We're having conversations with Mayor Bloomberg and others regarding the extension of the No. 7 train to Secaucus, New Jersey, which would do what we really wanted the ARC tunnel to do originally." (See WNYC for the full story.)
Governor Christie has said the state doesn't owe the money. Last month, he directed New Jersey Transit to hire Patton Boggs, a high-powered Washington law firm, to make the case for him with the federal government--by lawsuit, if necessary. The firm now stands ready to file suit if an agreement isn't reached in the next several hours.
"We have until midnight tonight," said Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak earlier today. "We have about seven hours and forty-nine minutes, something like that. We expect that our attorneys in Washington will be filing a timely response today."
Asked at a transportation conference in Washington how the negotiations were going, FTA Administrator Peter M. Rogoff declined to comment. The agency has already granted the state two extensions on an original deadline of December 24.
TN Moving Stories: ARC Repayment Deadline Absolutely, Positively Jan. 25th; NJ Gov. Christie to NY Sen. Schumer: Mind Your Manners
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
By Kate Hinds
NJ Governor Chris Christie says when it comes to voicing opinions about the ARC tunnel, NY Senator Charles Schumer should "mind his manners on the other side of the Hudson River."
Meanwhile, New Jersey's third--and final--deadline to repay the federal government $271 in unused ARC tunnel money is January 25th. (NorthJersey.com)
Amtrak passenger rail service will be restored to downtown St. Paul when the $243 million renovation of the Union Depot is complete next year. (Minnesota Public Radio)
San Francisco Muni employees will lose their free parking perk--and agency officials have vowed to crack down on their staff who park illegally on the street and sidewalks around their job sites (San Francisco Chronicle). But exactly when this will happen is unclear.
In his State of the City speech today, Mayor Bloomberg will roll out a proposal to change taxi rules to make it possible to hail a new category of livery cab anywhere in the outer boroughs. (WNYC)
Mismanagement in the Washington State Department of Transportation caused a “gross waste of public funds,” costing the state $42.5 million in cost overruns. (The News Tribune)
The Federal Transit Administration on Tuesday cleared the way for Oahu to begin construction on a $5.5 elevated rail transit system. (KITV)
One side benefit of China's epic traffic jams: enterprising village residents sell food to stranded travelers at a markup. (New York Times)
Ray LaHood says that "the number of laser strikes on airplanes in 2010 nearly doubled from the previous year to more than 2,800. This is the highest number of incidents since we first began keeping track in 2005."
A new British study found public transit riders are six times more likely to suffer from acute respiratory infections, and occasional riders are most at risk. (New York Daily News)
Which cars cost the most to insure? Rule of thumb: "Any vehicle that would cause a teenage boy to stop and gawk." (MSN Money)
Minneapolis' Caribou Coffee redesigned bus shelters to look like ovens as part of an ad campaign to promote their new breakfast sandwich. Yes, that heating element is real. (Adrants.com)
Why are thieves swiping catalytic converters from vehicles--which happened this week at an auto dealership in Wayne, New Jersey? 1) The pollution-reduction devices contain platinum and palladium, and 2) they're relatively easy to steal. (The Star-Ledger, KRDO)
Top Transportation Nation stories that we’re following: NY Senator Schumer and NJ Governor Christie are trading rhetorical blows over the ARC tunnel. Also: House Transportation Committee chair John Mica says the next transportation authorization bill needs "alternate means of financing," and Montana legislators continue to wrestle with that state's DUI problem.
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Tuesday, January 18, 2011
By Jim O'Grady
(New York - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) First, U.S. Senator Schumer took the podium at a business breakfast this morning and slammed New Jersey Governor Chris Christie for killing the $9 billion ARC rail tunnel under the Hudson River.
Easy for you to say, retorted a spokesman for Governor Christie, when New York will be on the hook for "zero, zilch, nothing" if the project goes over budget--perhaps by several billion dollars.
In response, a spokesman for Schumer accused Christie of "throwing the baby out with the bathwater" by not negotiating with the Feds about relief from potential cost overruns, thereby costing area workers "tens of thousands of jobs in the near future and ease travel for millions of commuters." He added that by terminating the tunnel, Governor Christie had "flushed $6 billion in federal and Port Authority money down the tubes.”
Now Christie's spokesman, Michael Drewniak, has made yet another reply. "We are very comfortable with our decision on behalf of New Jersey and its taxpayers," he said. "Senator Schumer embraces deficit spending, we do not."
Drewniak concluded by implying that Schumer's 30 years in Congress have made him something of a free-spender: "He’s been in Washington a long time."