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Transportation Nation

Senator Dianne Feinstein Wants To Save CA High Speed Rail -- As Republican Assemblywoman Tries to Kill It

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Rendering of a proposed high-speed rail station in Anaheim (image courtesy of California High-Speed Rail Authority)

UPDATED To keep California's increasingly beleaguered bullet train program alive, move it to the state DOT.

That's the recommendation of Senator Dianne Feinstein, who sent a letter Monday to California Governor Jerry Brown urging him to combine the state's High-Speed Rail Authority with the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans).

Senator Feinstein, a long-time supporter of high-speed rail, urged quick action by Governor Brown to avoid losing $3.5 billion in federal funds for the project.

Here comments came as Orange County Assemblywoman Diane Harkey introduced a bill to halt state debt funding for the high-speed rail project.

Assemblywoman Diane Harkey, R-Dana Point, today joined fellow Republican lawmakers in introducing legislation to halt state debt funding for the high-speed rail project.

"The verdict is clear, it’s time for California to move forward and de-rail this ill-conceived project," Harkey said in a statement. " Lack of future federal funding, oversight, accountability and inconsistency in route and planning, should sound a strong signal to pull the plug,” said Assemblywoman Harkey.  "This one project has the potential to double our state's debt and become a huge future drain on our state's budget, while our existing rail and roadway infrastructure is in dire need of repair.”

In her  letter, Senator Feinstein said she found it hard to “debunk” the conclusions of a report issued last week by a state appointed peer review committee that recommended against the release of state funds for the project.

However, Senator Feinstein said that combining the High-Speed Rail Authority with Caltrans would go a long way in addressing some of the concerns of the peer review committee. “I am concerned that our state’s future would be greatly hindered if this project either failed to get off the ground, or failed to be completed."

Interestingly, she continues: "I have spoken to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood about the importance of utilizing CalTrans’ expertise, and we both agree that your leadership in this area could improve prospects for success.”

The governor’s newly released 2012-2013 budget proposal calls for the creation of a new transportation agency that would consolidate a number of state departments and agencies, including Caltrans and the Rail Authority.

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Transportation Nation

California Budget Supports Bullet Train, Would Create New Transportation Agency

Friday, January 06, 2012

Badwater Road 178 in Death Valley National Park, CA (photo by Vlasta Juricek via Flickr)

California Governor Jerry Brown released his 2012-2013 budget yesterday -- six days earlier than planned -- after the document was accidentally posted on the state’s Department of Finance website. And yes: it still funds high-speed rail.

The proposal calls for $15.9 million in administrative support for the High-Speed Rail Authority, regardless of what happens with the current funding. The high-speed rail project is still in a review period.

This first draft of the budget estimates California’s deficit at $9.2 billion for the next fiscal year, which starts on July 1. Although that number is much lower than the $26 billion projected last year, it still means deep cuts for welfare and medical programs, the elimination of 3,000 state jobs, and the closing, consolidation and reorganization of more than 50 state agencies.

Under the new plan, transportation departments, which are currently part of the Business, Transportation, and Housing Agency, would get their own agency. The new Transportation Agency would include the Department of Transportation (Caltrans), the Department of Motor Vehicles, the High‑Speed Rail Authority, the Highway Patrol, the California Transportation Commission, and the Board of Pilot Commissioners.

In terms of transportation funding, the new plan proposes transferring close to $350 million in weight fee revenues collected from commercial trucks to the General Fund to offset transportation bond debt. It also cuts $3.7 million and 41 jobs from the Division of Mass Transportation. And the plan calls for a $13.9 million increase in payments to Amtrak for current intercity rail services in Southern California, which would reduce funding available for other projects.

You can read the budget proposal here.

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The Takeaway

Should Stephen Glass Be Allowed to Practice Law?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Stephen Glass is now a 39-year-old law clerk at a firm in Beverly Hills, California. But more than decade ago, he was a young reporter on the rise. Glass's career in journalism came to an abrupt halt after it was discovered that over 40 of his articles — written for The New Republic, Harpers, Rolling Stone and other well-regarded magazines — were largely fabricated. Glass made up quotes, invented sources, and backed up his work with elaborate fake notes, fake websites, phony email addresses, phone numbers, and voicemail messages. 

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Transportation Nation

More Congressional Outrage on High-Speed Rail

Thursday, December 15, 2011

John Mica, chair of the House T&I Committee

The gulf between the worldviews of  supporters and opponents of high-speed rail was on full display today as the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee grilled federal officials for the second time in two weeks on the merits of the California high speed rail program.

To opponents, California's high-speed rail is a costly boondoggle that will serve no one but farmers. To supporters, it's the only way to get ready for an expected population boom and lay the tracks for a more prosperous future.

"The entire high-speed rail program has been a bait and switch operation," said T&I Chair John Mica (R-FL)  -- repeating his argument (refuted by federal officials) that none of the programs would deliver trains close to 220 mph.

"The entire California program is imploding," Mica added.

But Rep. Corrine Brown (D-also FL) was ready with a strong retort: "Here we go again. The Republicans didn’t vote for high speed rail funding, they cut future funding -- yet we’re holding our second full committee hearing on the subject in two weeks.  We’re ending a year of work and still there’s no surface transportation bill, no FAA bill, no water resources bill."

"This committee is fiddling while the United States transportation infrastructure  is burning," Brown added. "If the current leadership of this committee" had been in charge when the interstate highway system was proposed, "we would be a third world country."

But nevertheless, Republicans on the committee expressed disgust that the first portion of the rail would be build in a "cow patch," in central California that won't be connected to either the high-population areas of San Francisco or Los Angeles, that it is now projected to cost more than twice what was originally discussed, and that ridership may not meet projections.

"It's like saying I didn't like dial up internet, so I'm not going to like broadband," scoffed Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, a Republican, at the concept that current passenger rail ridership could predict high speed rail ridership.

"The freeway is 23 lanes wide in Orange County," lamented Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA).  "You can see it from the moon. We need some alternatives."

But opponents had the most airtime, as a sharp exchange between freshman Maryland Republican Andy Harris and Administrator Szabo illustrated.

Harris, literally looking down at Szabo, repeatedly peppered him with questions, and often interrupted his answers.  "You're asking the people in the first congressional district of Maryland to pay for this," Harris said.

"There's a value in it to the people of the nation, " Szabo began. "Look at delays at San Francisco and Los Angeles aiports --"

But Szabo got no further as Harris spoke over him.  "The people in my district don't go to San Francisco or Los Angeles."

Szabo tried again. "It affects the timing --" before being cut off again.

Szabo also tried to explain why the first section is in the Central Valley (it's because that part is ready to go, and funding -- under the stimulus bill -- must be spent sooner rather than later) rather than in the San Francisco or L.A. areas but got lost in bureaocratese. "This comes down to congressional mandates under PRIA and ARRA, the ability to shift the dollars is not there, it is not there."

Asked about the hearings while he was holding a separate conference call on TIGER grants, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who was on the hot seat himself last week, said:

"Well, given the fact that I was in Philadelphia and now I’m in Cincinnati I have no idea what took place. I can tell you that as a result of the hearing that I went to, which was about 10 days ago before the Transportation Committee, I made a very strong case to the committee and to the Congress."

He continued: "High-speed rail will continue to be a priority for President Obama’s administration. The President and the Vice President have a very, very big broad view that high-speed rail is what the American people want, people in the states that where we’ve funded, in California and Illinois and along the Northeast Corridor, have been working on high-speed rail for at least a decade or more. Certainly in California they’ve been working on it for 15 years. And we are not going to be dissuaded by a few detractors who are too short-sighted to see the value of high-speed rail. We’ve made more than $10 billion worth of investments, this is the president’s vision, high-speed rail is coming to America, it’s what the American people want, and we will continue to press ahead with it."

 

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Transportation Nation

Audio Tour: The Worst Road in Wine Country

Monday, November 28, 2011

photo courtesy http://savelichauroad.com/

Decaying infrastructure on roads and bridges is a problem that plagues municipalities across the country. And the potholes only get worse in the winter months. In bucolic Sonoma County, a California destination for wine-loving tourists from all over the world, a transportation blog called the Road Warrior holds a poll each year for the worst of the roads. KALW sent reporter Lindsey Lee Keel for a drive on that road to find the balance between shrinking county budgets and bumpy country roads.

 

 

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Transportation Nation

ANALYSIS: High Speed Rail Naysayer Scott Says Nay to California Costs

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Florida Governor Rick Scott wasted no time making hay of the formal increase in cost projections for high speed rail in California. “The news today out of California that High Speed Rail cost estimates have now tripled to the $100 billion range reinforces that Florida made the right decision earlier this year to protect taxpayers from just this sort of boondoggle,” Scott said in a statement. “As I said at the time, High Speed Rail would be far too costly to taxpayers and I believe the risk far outweighs the benefits. I’m glad Florida is no longer entangled in the high speed spending web.” 

Florida Governor Rick Scott. Photo by Gage Skidmore

 

But bullet train advocates contacted by Transportation Nation were just as quick to call out the Governor for playing politics. “As usual, Rick Scott is putting ideology way ahead of the facts,” wrote Kevin Brubaker, who manages the Midwest High-Speed Rail Network Project of the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Chicago. “Florida’s high-speed rail proposal was designed as a public-private partnership with the private sector bearing all the risk for cost overruns.  Private firms were ready to bid on this project, gambling their potential profits against potential cost increases. But Governor Scott never allowed the private sector to do what it does best. Instead, he canceled the project before private firms could bid and before his own government completed their analysis of the project.”

Indeed, as we reported in February, at least eight teams were prepared to answer the Request for Qualifications for the Tampa-to-Orlando line, and Florida had been expected to issue that RFQ within a month of Scott’s cancellation. Nora Friend, the Vice President of Public Affairs and Business Development at the Spanish rail company Talgo, told me then that, factoring in the strength of Disney tourism and the chance to extend the line to Miami. “We feel that the project warrants the risk.”

At any rate, it’s hard to compare the two projects. A full sixty-five percent of the cost estimate increase in California had to do with the number of viaducts and tunnels needed to pass through the mountainous areas of the Pacheco Pass, Tehachapi Mountains, and the San Gabriel Mountains. Those geographical features—and therefore the costs associated with them—would not be a concern between Tampa and Orlando.

What to critics was a weakness of the Florida segment—its relatively short route along what was already a major interstate—was for proponents and potential bidders a strength: The state of Florida already owned the needed right of way, so the engineering and routing challenges were not nearly as complex or unknown as those in California and elsewhere.

Likewise, some of the California project’s major liabilities—its 400-mile length, its passage through major urban population centers, its flexibility as to route—are tied to strengths. The CHSRA’s press release hinted at this when it cast even the new price as a bargain. "As the state’s population grows from 38 million people today to 60 million people by mid-century, it is estimated that without high speed rail California will need as much as $171 billion to meet its transportation needs,” the Authority said, citing “an additional 2,300 lane-miles of highways, 4 runways, and 115 airline gates.”

“With this business plan, the project has grown more expensive, but the plans are also becoming more realistic,” Petra Todorovich, Director of the America 2050 initiative for the Regional Plan Association, told Transportation Nation today. “We now have better information about phasing, costs, ridership, and ticket prices. It is essential that both supporters and opponents monitor the project closely to ensure that this level of transparency persists throughout the life of the project.”

Cost estimates by category for California High Speed rail. Black is the 2009 estimate. Yellow is the new low end and blue is the new high estimate.

Good information and transparency was all that Florida high speed rail advocates wanted from Rick Scott, and the Governor wouldn’t give them either. No matter the conclusions Scott or others draw from the news out of Sacramento this week, the CHSRA has certainly provided a level of transparency that exceeds almost any Californians’ level of curiosity.

Along with the new price tag, the California High-Speed Rail Authority released a set of detailed documents, including a 42-page report detailing the breakdown of cost changes and the reason for them ("There has also been an expansion of key cost items (viaducts, tunnels) consistent with more detailed design and additional geotechnical information.") and a 31-page cost benefit analysis ("The anticipated quantifiable benefits from the CA HSR project exceed their anticipated costs regardless of the phasing or the high/low cost scenarios presented.")

Seventy-three pages of detailed information is unlikely to impress anyone who’s already made their minds up about high speed rail. Whether their contents will mean more to California voters than $98.5 billion remains to be seen.

 

Matt Dellinger is the author of the book Interstate 69: The Unfinished History of the Last Great American Highway, which describes the Trans-Texas Corridor battle in great detail. You can follow him on Twitter.

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It's A Free Country ®

The Process is Political: Obama Campaign Opposes Ohio Early Voting Changes

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Obama Campaign Joins Effort Against Ohio Election Changes: Obama's campaign staff is bolstering a petition effort in Ohio to block enforcement of a law that shortens Ohio's early voting period, moves Ohio's primary up from May to March, and eliminates "the so-called "golden week" during which people could register to vote and cast ballots on the same day," reports  and moved next year's presidential primary to May from March," reports Ohio political reporter Marc Kovac. Republicans backed the bill and Governor John Kasich signed it, arguing that it was needed to make rules more uniform across counties. 

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The Leonard Lopate Show

Contract City: When a Town’s Budget Fight Turned Deadly

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Cities and counties across the country are facing deep budget shortfalls from an underperforming economy. New Yorker staff writer Tad Friend discusses how Costa Mesa, California, is dealing with the crisis. His article “Contract City,” appears in the September 5 issue of the The New Yorker.

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The Takeaway

California Town Demands Justice After Homeless Man's Death

Friday, August 05, 2011

Last month, six police officers in Fullerton, Calif., attacked 37-year-old Kelly Thomas, a homeless man with mental health problems. Witnesses say the police used excessive and brutal force in their attack, tasering Kelly at least five times. Thomas died later in hospital. Now, his father and Fullerton residents are demanding justice for his death, as evidence builds that police were overly forceful. Two videos uploaded to YouTube and Fullerton-based websites show witnesses’ reaction to the police action. In one video, the clicking sound of a Taser can be heard.

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The Leonard Lopate Show

The Pot Republic

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Michael Montgomery talks about “The Pot Republic,” the Frontline and Center for Investigative Reporting investigation of the country’s oldest, largest and most wide-open marijuana market in California. The bulk of the marijuana consumed in the United States used to come across the border from Mexico, Canada and elsewhere, but now more than half of it is believed to be grown in California, where an enormous black market has emerged under the cover of the state’s medical marijuana law. Several California counties are attempting to openly regulate pot production. Frontline’s “The Pot Republic” airs July 26, at 9pm ET on PBS.

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Transportation Nation

Carmageddon: Does Los Angeles Need More Lanes?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Matt Logue's photo illustration of an empty I-405 through Los Angeles. Visit www.mlogue.com.

(Matt Dellinger, Transportation Nation) – This weekend’s “Carmageddon,” the fallout expected from a complete shutdown of 10 miles of Interstate 405 through the Sepulveda Pass between downtown Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley, has taken the shape of a summer blockbuster. It’s going to be big, suspenseful, action-packed, life-changing. Except instead of a must-see, Carmageddon is this season’s must-avoid.

Listen to the Matt Dellinger and L.A.-based journalist Alyssa Walker on the Takeaway here.

The brouhaha derives from a $1 billion effort to add a single carpool lane to the Interstate, which first requires the tearing-down and reconstruction of the Mullholland bridge that crosses it and cramps it. That demolition is why the road must be closed completely for the weekend. Of course, even on a good day, the 405 is considered taboo by locals who can avoid it. The half million cars that routinely drive the 405 ever weekend will need to find other routes, or not leave the garage, the prospect of either is what the city is bracing for.

The city’s transit agency will be temporarily waiving fares in an effort to encourage behavior that is, well, alien to most Angelinos. And Jet Blue offered—and sold out of—special $4 tickets between Burbank and Long Beach, the absurdity of which we won’t even attempt to detail. Anyway, others have captured the mania well, as one can see from LA Weekly's arch FAQ and this amusing video collage (with bad language) concocted by Good magazine.

The closing of one of the highway-happy city’s great arteries has clearly hit a nerve, and its not hard to understand why. Just as Y2K scare tapped into our country’s latent unease about increasingly digital world, the closure of the 405 exposes Los Angeles’ complete dependency on its bloated freeway network. (For a wonderful historical perspective on the 405’s place in Los Angeles landscape, see Mike Anton’s retrospective in the Los Angeles Times. For gripping photo illustrations of empty LA Streets, check out the work of animation supervisor Matt Logue, or even buy a print.)

Christopher Hawthorne, the architecture critic for the LA Times, dished out a little schadenfreude, but wondered whether the scene would play out so terribly after all: “Still, it's not as though L.A. has not been through this before. When the 10 Freeway was shut down for three months after the 1994 Northridge earthquake, drivers adjusted and life went on. Longtime Angelenos still talk about how light traffic was during the 1984 Summer Olympics, despite predictions of regionwide gridlock.”

I spoke on an infrastructure panel with Hawthorne this spring at the LA Times Festival of Books, and saw him draw gasps and angry looks when he suggested that Los Angeles should join other cities in tearing down elevated stretches of freeways in favor of surface boulevards with park-like walkable retail districts. It wouldn’t be such a drastic change, he quipped, “The 405 is basically a park already.”

Highway-to-Boulevard conversions might be a far reach for LA, but widespread transit improvements and innovative congestion relief measures are already underway around town. Last week, the city broke ground on a pilot conversion of 25 miles of existing carpool lanes to tolled “ExpressLanes.” On long swaths of the 10 and the 110, HOV lanes (High Occupancy Vehicle) will become HOT lanes (High Occupancy Toll). Solo drivers will be able to pay anywhere between a quarter to $1.40 per mile to drive the open lanes during peak hours. When the option presents itself in 2013, the city is projecting a first year take of $20 million in tolls.

Nearby Orange County, as it happens, is home to the first HOT lanes in the country. In December of 1995, managed toll lanes opened along California 91, the Riverside freeway. Their success has led many to believe that HOT lanes have great potential. We are regularly reminded (pdf) of their virtues by the Libertarian likes of Robert Poole at the California-based Reason Foundation, and they’ve been recently deployed in places as geographically and politically varied as on the Katy Freeway in Houston and around the Beltway in Washington, DC.

These managed lanes are priced according to demand, either dynamically or with set schedules, and they let eager drivers choose to pay a toll that can in turn be spent subsidizing buses that now have a congestion-free lane to travel. Best of all, the underlying philosophy is more sound. Pricing current capacity more aggressively to encourage more efficient use holds more promise than constantly trying to build ahead of demand, a folly that even Los Angeles recognizes as impossible.

Marc Littman, a spokesman for the regional Metropolitan Transportation Authority, told the Associated Press that the new HOT lane conversions were the future for southern California. "It's very difficult to build new freeways in the Los Angeles area — we're just built out,” he said. “So the idea is to better manage the freeways that we have, to squeeze more capacity out of them.” Freeways aren’t free, he insisted. You pay with money, or you pay with traffic.

Metro spokesman Rick Jager agreed. He told KTLA, "We don't have the money to build new freeways. We don't have the land to build new freeways, so this is a way that we can better manage what we already have."

In time, maybe the new 405 lane will undergo a similar transformation. Already, Metro is counting it as a transit project, because "potential project alternatives could include light rail, bus rapid transit service on the I-405 carpool lanes with bus-only on and off ramps, peak-hour bus rapid transit-only shoulder lanes, or a transit/toll facility." But in the short-term, of course, the city is focused on the benefits to cars, the alleged improvement in traffic flow and air quality that may come, very temporarily, from having one more lane.

Without "project alternatives" like those mentioned, the widening will probably just mean more cars. But if the lesson being taught elsewhere in the city gets learned, Carmageddon may be the last of a dying breed of highway capacity projects. If we’re lucky, there won’t be a sequel.

Matt Dellinger is the author of the book Interstate 69: The Unfinished History of the Last Great American Highway. You can follow him on Twitter.

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The Takeaway

150 Years on, China’s Rail Role Would Use U.S. Labor

Friday, June 24, 2011

Nearly 150 years ago America built the first transcontinental railroad, and 10,000 Chinese laborers used pickaxes to cut tunnels and rail-lines for just $30 per month. Now, President Obama is promoting high-speed rail, and the Chinese are again involved.  This time, though, they don't just want to swing an axe.  They want to design and part-fund it and have Americans provide the labor. Alastair Leithead, a reporter with the BBC, has been looking at the story for their series "Power of Asia." We also hear from Brian Leung, an associate professor of creative writing at University of Louisville, the author of "Take Me Home" a book about Chinese Americans in the nineteenth century.

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It's A Free Country ®

What Other States Tell Us About the Fight After Legalized Gay Marriage

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

New York is on the verge of becoming the sixth state to legalize gay marriage — and the third to do so through legislation rather than litigation. But that's just one battle for pro-gay activists. In every other state to pass same-sex marriage, legalization has put opponents back on offense in courts and statehouses, with mixed results.

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The Takeaway

Will California's Budget Help the Struggling State?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

California legislators passed a budget Wednesday, just hours before a midnight deadline. This year, lawmakers risked losing their paychecks if they did not produce a budget on time. Only a simple majority was needed to pass the budget, but state Democrats say it is not ideal. Gov. Jerry Brown must now face the budget and decide whether to keep it as it is or confront the issues and send the budget back for more work.

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Transportation Nation

Amtrak California Ridership Hits Record Numbers

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A billboard for Amtrak California.

(San Francisco – KALW) California's high-speed rail project may be struggling to find funding, but it's not because nobody wants to ride trains.

The state's transportation department, known as Caltrans, reports that ridership on Amtrak's California lines is up significantly. The Capitol Corridor route saw an increase of almost 10% over the past year, while ridership on the San Joaquin route went up nearly 13%.

Revenue on the San Joaquin route increased by 19%.

The numbers – which, according to Caltrans, are at an all-time high – are notable because the routes are similar to those eventually envisioned for the state's high-speed rail system, linking the Bay Area, Sacramento, and Bakersfield.

Caltrans rail marketing chief Debbie Mullins said a large part of the increased ridership could be attributed to high gas prices. But, she said, advertising matters. Beginning in March, Amtrak undertook a $1.3 million PR blitz, stringing billboards around major freeway corridors in Sacramento, Los Angeles, and the Central Valley. The billboards were black and white, with colorful icons showing all the benefits of riding a train: food, power outlets, etc. They also featured 26 different taglines emphasizing the benefits of train travel over both cars and planes ("Experience space travel," "There's no backseat driver when there's no backseat"). Mullins said Amtrak is planning a more comprehensive study to quantify the effects of billboard and online campaigns.

What does this say about the state's appetite for high-speed rail? Mullins declined to speculate, but she did note that Amtrak ridership has risen steadily despite fluctuating gas prices. "People recognize the amenities of the train: food, electricity, just the freedom to walk around," she said. "Once they're introduced to that, they look at the train with a whole new set  of eyes."

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The Takeaway

Is Flogging Better Than Prison?

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that California's overcrowded prison system violates the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The Court ordered California to transfer or release thirty thousand inmates over the next two years. But California isn’t the only state with a high rate of incarceration. The U.S. has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. Peter Moskos thinks that Americans are in denial about the brutality of our prison system. And he has a provocative idea about how to change it. He's the author of the new book "In Defense of Flogging" and an assistant professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

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The Takeaway

Total Recall: Tracing the Schwarzenegger Scandal

Friday, May 20, 2011

The news that Maria Shriver was leaving her husband, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, earlier this month sent shock waves across the nation. The reason for her seeking a divorce remained just speculation in the media and blogosphere until the Los Angeles Times broke the revelation that Schwarzenegger had a secret love child. Sharon Waxman, founder and CEO of TheWrap.com, and Tracy Weber, senior reporter for ProPublica, talk about what this scandal says about our culture.

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Transportation Nation

California Applies for High Speed Rail Funds

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Here's the CA release:

CALIFORNIA SUBMITS APPLICATION FOR BILLIONS

IN RAIL CONSTRUCTION PROJECTS

State, Governor send strong signal that California is ready to put federal dollars to work

SACRAMENTO – The State of California submitted its application today for the federal High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program for billions in rail construction projects, including a request for funding to complete construction of the “backbone” of the planned statewide high-speed rail system.

The federal government recently announced that states can apply for Florida’s returned $2.43 billion in high-speed and intercity passenger rail funding. This funding includes $1.63 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funding and $800 million in Fiscal Year 2010 Department of Transportation funding. Applications were due today.

“California’s application seeks funding for projects that will be the building blocks for a statewide network of rail lines linking high-speed and intercity rail lines to regional rail lines,” wrote California Governor Edmund G. Brown in a letter introducing the state’s application. “The projects will provide the foundation for a transportation system that will improve mobility, help the environment, reduce energy dependency, and put Californians to work.”

The California High-Speed Rail Authority submitted its application for the entirety of the re-allocated funds, including a primary ask for funds to extend initial construction of its statewide system into downtown Merced and to downtown Bakersfield, including both stations and the complicated area of track known as the “Wye”, requesting $1.44 billion and offering a 20 percent state match from the Proposition 1A (2008) funding. This application seeks final design and construction funds for civil infrastructure, including track work, and two stations.

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Transportation Nation

WEDNESDAY: Personal Car-Sharing on the Takeaway

Thursday, March 31, 2011

http://www.flickr.com/photos/randychiu/3503567616/sizes/m/in/photostream/

When you really think about it, you probably don't use your car all that much.  You drive to work – then leave your car in the lot all day while you’re inside. Or you leave town for a few days – then don’t use your car for the next three weeks. Meanwhile, plenty of other people don’t have cars, but sometimes need them.

Three new companies in the San Francisco Bay Area – Getaround, RelayRides, and Spride Share – are trying to match those idle cars with people who want to drive them. Each model is a little different, but the basic idea is the same: when you’re not using your car, you can rent it out to anyone who needs it. And if you need a car? You can rent anything from your neighbor's station wagon to a brand-new Tesla Roadster.

Transportation Nation's Casey Miner will be on The Takeaway this  morning to talk about personal car-sharing-- listen below! And catch her full story later that day on KALW News.

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Transportation Nation

Report: California's Bridges Crumbling -- and San Francisco's Are the Worst

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

(San Francisco – Casey Miner, KALW News) A new report by transit advocacy group Transportation for America provides a sobering assessment of the condition of California's bridges: in short, not good.The report finds that one in eight bridges are structurally deficient in some way. In the Bay Area, that number rises to one in five; in San Francisco, it's more than one in three.

County Number of bridges Number of structurally deficient bridges Percentage of bridges that are structurally deficient Average annual daily traffic on structurally deficient bridges
San Francisco 116 40 34.5% 2,569,899
Alameda 601 130 21.6% 5,608,117
San Mateo 344 74 21.5% 3,064,075
Sonoma 601 121 20.1% 737,485
Santa Clara 939 182 19.4% 5,804,761
Contra Costa 560 105 18.8% 3,241,193
Marin 199 31 15.6% 1,117,587
Napa 150 23 15.3% 80,153

A bridge is considered "structurally deficient" when one of three bridge components – deck, superstructure, or substructure – receives a poor grade on a federal scale. The worst bridges receive low grades across the board. Of the 40 San Francisco bridges deemed structurally deficient, city officials oversee only five; four of those are currently slated for repair. Caltrans and other agencies are responsible for the rest.  The bridges that received the lowest rankings were by the Caltrain station at 22nd and 23rd Streets; the most highly-traveled structurally deficient bridge was the 5th St./Hwy 101 bridge.

The report did not assess the state's biggest, most iconic bridges – neither the Bay Bridge nor the Golden Gate bridge were included. Instead, it looked at the thousands of workaday bridges that most motorists hardly think of: the highway on-ramps and overpasses that connect freeways and surface streets. These bridges are, on average, just over 44 years old – slightly older than the national average of 42 years. Most bridges are designed to last roughly 50 years.

The report notes that though California's bridges rank in the bottom third nationally, the state has used up all available federal funding to try and address the problem, even going so far as to shift funds designated for other purposes. The state spent $907 million on bridge repair in 2008. The report notes that across the country, repair needs far outstrip available funds: while funding has increased by $650 million over the past several years, the need has increased by $22.8 billion.

Read the full report here.

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