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Transportation Nation

DC's Metro Takes Silver Line Plans to the People

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) Metro is starting to familiarize its customers with the service changes that will arrive with the opening of the Silver Line out to Reston, Virginia, a suburb west of Washington, D.C., expected by the end of the year.

The first of three open houses took place in Capitol Heights, Md. on Tuesday. "The first question people ask us is, 'When is it going to be here?'" says Metro's Jim Hughes. As he explains, the first phase of the $5.5 billion project is scheduled to open by the end of the year. "Particularly on the Virginia side, they've dealt with the construction for four years. They want it to happen."

The Silver Line has been a big story for a long time, because it will extend rail west into Virginia, eventually to Dulles International Airport and beyond into Loudoun County once Phase II of the rail extension is completed in 2018. Even so, some folks at Metro's open house who live at what will be the eastern end of the Silver Line — Largo Town Center in Maryland — have heard little to nothing at about it.

"I live in Largo and I know that the Silver Line will have an impact on my community," says 65-year-old Yvonne Alston. "And I just wanted to see exactly when it was opening and exactly where it would go."

Hughes, WMATA's director of intermodal planning, is also responsible for making sure there is enough bus service to get Virginia commuters to the four new rail stops that will open in Tysons Corner, where there will be no new parking lots.

The opening of the Silver Line will come at the cost of other Metro lines. It will reduce Blue Line service during rush hour by two trains an hour, or one every twelve minutes. Hughes expects that change to inconvenience 6,000 to 8,000 passengers per day.

"There will also be less service on the Orange Line between Vienna and West Falls Church, the end of the line, where we are expecting a lot of people to switch over to the Silver Line," Hughes says. "So we don't need as much service between those last couple stops."

Two more public meetings on the Silver Line are scheduled. The first is at 5 p.m. on Thursday, March 14 at the Reston Community Center in in Reston, Va. The second is at 11 a.m. on Saturday, March 16 at the Sheraton Crystal City Hotel in Arlington.

Residents can find out more about these meetings or submit comments online on WMATA's website.

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Transportation Nation

Car Sharing, Transit and Bike Access Could Render D.C.'s Parking Minimums Moot

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A parking garage in Georgetown (photo by AlbinoFlea via flickr)

(Washington, D.C. - WAMU) Downsizing parking is necessary to reduce car dependency in D.C., says one real estate expert.

Chris Leinberger, a George Washington University professor and advocate of new urbanism, says D.C. planners’ proposal to eliminate mandatory parking space minimums at new development in transit-rich corridors or downtown D.C. is forward-thinking.

“We don’t want to be in a position where we are still making buggy whips when in fact the market has moved on,” Leinberger said. “Bike lanes and pedestrian activity is a sign of civilization."

Since TN first reported on the proposed zoning change, some motorists have expressed frustration with the possibility it may be more difficult to park in certain neighborhoods. As new development – residential, retail, and office – attracts more residents, shoppers and workers, some motorists believe parking spaces may be tough to find if developers opt not to build underground garages beneath their buildings.

One reason D.C. planners believe new parking structures will not be needed is the growth of car sharing services, like Car2Go, that make car ownership unnecessary.

Car2Go, which charges users $.38 per minute, is marking its first anniversary in Washington this month.  The company says it has 19,000 registered customers in Washington who have taken 350,000 collective trips in the past year.

Leinberger says car sharing services reflect D.C.'s transition to a walkable urban environment that provides options like bike sharing, too.

“If you were to say, certainly ten years ago, but even five years ago that we would have in this city and fifty percent of folks go to work without a car and that forty percent of the households do not have a car, they would have had you committed,” Leinberger said.

Less emphasis on parking spaces also makes fiscal sense, he added.

“We are massively subsidizing the car, massively. All these parking spaces… here in downtown D.C., every one of these parking spaces is worth between $50,000 and $70,000. And we are charging as if they’re worth $10,000,” he said.

What motorists pay to park, either on the street with a residential pass or inside an underground garage, doesn’t come close to the expense of constructing and maintaining the parking spaces.

In his view, motorists will adjust to whatever zoning changes are approved, no matter how unreasonable they may now seem. Alternatives to driving and parking – Metro rail and bus, car sharing, bicycling – are gaining steam.

“If the car drivers are saying, give me everything that I want before you peel my fingers off of the steering wheel, you are not going to get it. You couldn’t build the interstate highway system in a year. It’s going to take time,” Leinberger said.

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Transportation Nation

Post-Sandy Repairs To NYC Subway Will Cause Years Of Disruption

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Tracks coated with the residue of saltwater flooding (photo by Jim O'Grady)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Expect delays. That's the message from the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority as it readies to spend $2 billion in federal relief aid to make repairs to the subway after Sandy.

Flooding from the storm coated thousands of electrical components in parts of the system with corrosive salt water. The MTA says riders can expect more frequent interruptions of service as those switches, signals, and other parts are replaced.

Immediately after Sandy, the MTA scrambled to get the subway up and running, sometimes with components that were damaged by flooding but hastily cleaned and pressed back into service. Much of that equipment is functioning with a shortened life span, and will be replaced.

That means a lot of repair work will be happening in the subways over roughly the next two years. MTA executive director Tom Prendergast says the work will cause more line shutdowns, called "outages."

"The problem we're going to have is how do we do that and keep the system running?" he told members of the transit committee at MTA headquarters in Midtown Manhattan on Monday. "We don't want to foolishly spend money; we want to effectively spend that money in a very short period of time. So there are going to be greater outages."

Except for the still-shuttered South Ferry terminal and severed A train link to The Rockaways, the subway was almost entirely back up and running within a month after the late October storm. But Sandy's invisible fingers, in the form of corrosion, can still play havoc with trains.

MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg said, "The subways have recorded more than 100 signal failures related to Sandy since service was restored after the storm, plus problems with switches, power cables and other infrastructure. Most of those failures happened in yards, but some were on mainline tracks and led to at least short service disruptions."

Twice last week, signals on the R train failed and briefly disrupted rush hour service. The problem was traced to components degraded by salt water caused by flooding in the Montague Avenue tunnel, which connects Brooklyn to Manhattan beneath New York harbor.

The MTA is in line to receive $8.8 billion in federal Sandy relief aid, which is to be split about evenly between repairs and hardening the system against future storms. Projects funded by the first $2 billion must be completed within two years after their start date. That will cause a flurry of repairs in large swaths of the subway--mostly in Lower Manhattan, the East River tubes, and lines serving waterfront areas of Brooklyn.

The MTA already shuts down or diverts train traffic from parts of the system on nights and weekends to upgrade tracks, signals and switches, and otherwise keep the subway in "a state of good repair." Add to that the new Fastrack program that closes sections of lines overnight for several days in a row, allowing work gangs to fix tracks and clean stations without having to frequently step aside for passing trains. And now comes even more disruptions in the form of post-Sandy repair and mitigation.

There's no word yet on when work will commence or on what lines the extra outages will occur, but straphangers would do well to start bracing themselves. Sandy wounded the subway to a greater extent than the eye can see, and it will take years--and extra breaks in service--to return the system to its pre-storm state.

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Transportation Nation

Toll Lanes Touted as Congestion Fix for Central Florida's I-4

Friday, March 08, 2013

Artist's impression of the I-4 Ultimate project through Orlando (Image courtesy of Florida Department of Transportation)

"We love Orlando, we love Mickey Mouse, we love Walt Disney, Universal, the Church Street Facilities, that great mall -- Millenia Mall, but dadgum that I-4, that's a headache," Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad told journalists in Orlando this week.

"We're going to fix that headache."

The Florida DOT is moving ahead with plans for the I-4 Ultimate project- a $2.1 billion dollar fix for I-4. The state's prescription includes adding toll lanes to a 21-mile stretch of the interstate running through the heart of Orlando. The department aims to begin construction in 2015 and complete it by 202o.

Prasad said four so-called "managed lanes" would be added to the interstate, leaving six lanes toll free. Tolls would be higher during heavy congestion periods and lower when traffic is light.

“We use tolls to only keep a certain number of people in the managed lanes so we can keep them going at 50 miles an hour," he said. "Say if I-4's ‘general purpose’ lanes – the toll-free lanes – are congested and you only charge a quarter, everybody’s going to be on it, and now you got another two lanes of gridlock. So what you do is you use tolls as a way to manage capacity coming in to the express lane.”

Prasad conceded there is a downside to building the extra lanes.

"There's going to be inconvenience- you're talking about $2 billion worth of work in a very constrained corridor- albeit a long corridor- getting done over five years. It's a lot of work."

However, Prasad said a similar $1.3 billion expansion project is successfully underway on South Florida's I-595. He said travel times along that stretch of road-- roughly 10 miles -- have only increased by an average of five minutes because of construction.

The state is putting up about half the $2.1 billion dollar cost of the I-4 Ultimate project and courting private investment to foot the remainder of the bill. Under a public-private partnership agreement with the state, private firms would also maintain and operate the toll lanes for a fixed length of time.

Prasad said the public private partnership allows Florida to take advantage of low interest rates and construction costs.

"What the state gets is delivering a project 20 years in advance," he said.

"If we were to do this project on a regular pay-go mechanism, we would be building it for the next 20 or 25 years and chasing congestion like we always do."

Gregg Logan, a managing director at the real estate advisory firm RCLCO's Orlando office, says the I-4 upgrade will help the local economy.

"You don’t want businesses that are here already and thinking about expanding saying, 'Gee, do I want to stay here and deal with this gridlock'- or companies that might be thinking about coming and bringing jobs. We want them to be looking at [Orlando] as a good place to invest because we have our act together."

And he says Florida has to look for new ways to fund infrastructure - with a combination of local government funding, private investment and user fees- because federal government dollars are limited.

"Like it or not that seems to be a collective decision we’ve made as a society for that’s how we’re going to fund infrastructure," says Logan, who adds he's worried the US is falling behind other countries in transportation infrastructure.

"When you look around the world right now and you look at where big rail projects and transit projects are being done, you find that’s in China Brazil, the Middle East," says Logan.

"We’ve sort of forgotten that part of what has made us great and enabled us to have the growing economy we have is that we made these investments in infrastructure. Now we’ve taken that for granted."

The Florida DOT is promoting I-4's managed toll lanes as one part of a multi-modal transport system that could also include bus rapid transit to complement Central Florida's SunRail commuter train. SunRail is slated to begin service in 2014, while private rail companies are also talking about an Orlando to Miami service and a maglev rail linking Orlando International Airport with the Orange County Convention Center.

Eric Dumbaugh, the director of Florida Atlantic University's School of Urban and Regional Planning, supports the addition of managed lanes to I-4. The challenge for Florida, he says, is to develop viable alternatives to driving.

"Our transit system is inadequate in all of our metropolitan areas: it doesn’t take us where we need to go, our development doesn’t link up to it as well as it should, so we’re trapped in our cars."

But Dumbaugh says he's optimistic about Florida's ability to develop a truly comprehensive transportation system, because a new generation is now demanding alternatives to the car.

"You survey millennials- they don’t want to drive," says Dumbaugh, who highlights the efforts of a group of Florida Atlantic University students to set up a transit themed installation in Miami this weekend.

 

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Transportation Nation

Old Diesel Equipment Still Spewing Soot Into Pittsburgh's Air

Thursday, March 07, 2013

(photo by Emily DeMarco/Public Source)

(Emily DeMarco, PublicSource) Morry Feldman downs two horse pills with breakfast. Then, he uses four different sprays. Two puffs into the mouth. Two into the nose. Repeat at dinner.

Feldman, 59, has severe asthma and allergies. And Pittsburgh is among the worst places he could live or work because of the region’s poor air quality.

“If I miss a dose, I start to get sick,” said Feldman, a senior account executive at WQED Multimedia.

Morry Feldman, who has severe asthma and allergies, and people like him are among the most vulnerable to 'dirty diesel' emissions. (Photo by Emily DeMarco/PublicSource)

Feldman is one of nearly 97,000 adults in Allegheny County with asthma.

The county received F’s in the American Lung Association’s State of the Air 2012 study.

Among the reasons cited by experts for the region’s poor air quality: diesel fumes.

The Pittsburgh City Council passed a local law in 2011 requiring construction companies to retrofit equipment that runs on diesel fuel in order to reduce emissions. But, to date, no dozers, diggers or dump trucks have had to comply.

Called the Clean Air Act of 2010, the local law focused on construction sites that received public dollars. If the development’s budget was larger than $2.5 million and it received at least $250,000 in public subsidies, it would have to retrofit a percentage of its diesel equipment.

Regulations for the ordinance haven’t been finalized, making it unenforceable.

Supporters of the ordinance have cried foul.

“If we truly want to be the most livable city, we have to contend with our air pollution,” said Rachel Filippini, the executive director of the Group Against Smog and Pollution, known as GASP. “And one way to do that is to clean up construction vehicles.”

GASP was part of a coalition of health, environmental, faith, industry, and labor organizations that helped to draft the legislation.

Small, but deadly

The Environmental Protection Agency has set standards for new diesel engines, but it’s the old engines that produce what’s known as ‘dirty diesel’ fumes. A typical diesel engine has a life span of 20 to 30 years.

It is widely accepted that dirty diesel exhaust contains tiny particles of soot, also known as black carbon. And that the smallest of these particles can go straight into the bloodstream and are linked to cancer, asthma and stroke.

In addition, the diesel exhaust contains nitrogen oxides, which, when released into the atmosphere on hot days, create ozone, a powerful irritant that can cause chemical burns in the lungs.

Children, the elderly, and people with chronic lung and heart conditions are among the most vulnerable to dirty diesel’s impact. And the workers who operate diesel equipment are the first to breathe the harmful emissions.

An operator uses an excavator to move debris on the Bakery Square 2.0 construction site. Equipment operators are among the first to breathe diesel emissions. (Photo by Emily DeMarco/PublicSource)

The city council passed the local legislation requiring developers to curb diesel emissions, in part, because Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods are densely packed, with schools and playgrounds often near construction sites.

If the legislation had been in effect, one construction site that would need to comply would be Bakery Square 2.0, a development on Penn Ave. that broke ground in January 2013. The $100-million project is the sister site to Bakery Square 1.0, home to Google’s Pittsburgh offices, high-end shops and a hotel.

Demolition of Bakery Square 2.0's existing structures is underway. Flags wave in the wind on top of Bakery Square 1.0. (Photo by Emily DeMarco/PublicSource)

With the help of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and the Urban Redevelopment Authority, according to a press release from the mayor’s office, the development was awarded about $2 million in federal funds. The development was recently awarded $4 million from the administration of Gov. Tom Corbett.

The Bakery Square 2.0 construction site borders Mellon Park and The Ellis School, an all-girls academy. Diesel equipment demolishes a vacant building close to the park and school. (Photo by Emily DeMarco/PublicSource)

The girls at the Ellis School who have asthma could be directly affected by the diesel emissions while Bakery Square 2.0 construction is underway, said Dr. Fernando Holguin, the assistant director at the University of Pittsburgh’s Asthma Institute.

“Maybe some children will wheeze a little more...and some kids may end up in hospital,” Dr. Holguin said.

Representatives from the project’s development company, Walnut Capital, did not return phone calls or emails requesting comment. A representative from The Ellis School said she didn't know enough about the ordinance to comment.

Just a piece of paper

‘Clean construction’ laws have sprouted across the country. Pittsburgh’s was modeled after New York City’s version, called Local Law 77.

New York’s version passed in 2003 and took about a year to implement. It also required convincing industry officials that the retrofits wouldn’t cause warranties to be voided or engines to explode, said Gerry Kelpin of that city’s Department of Environmental Protection.

Kelpin’s team is in charge of enforcing the law.

City leadership, including The New York City Council and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, strongly supported the law, Kelpin said.

Pittsburgh City Councilman Bill Peduto, who was the main sponsor of the ordinance, gave a copy of New York City’s regulations to Pittsburgh’s Law Department.

Meetings concerning the regulations to implement the ordinance have been going on for more than a year, according to Peduto’s office.

However, the regulations have not been finalized, said Daniel Regan, Pittsburgh’s solicitor.

Regan said they are waiting to hear from Peduto’s office. Peduto is running for mayor to replace Ravenstahl.

“We weren’t involved, nor were we asked to be involved, in drafting the legislation,” Regan said, adding they they thought it was important for the sponsors to review it.

When PublicSource asked about the implementation of the ordinance at a public event, Ravenstahl declined to comment.

Doug Anderson, the deputy city controller whose inspectors will be in charge of enforcing the retrofitting requirements, said his inspectors haven’t been trained.

Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak, co-sponsor of the ordinance, said she hopes the regulations are written as soon as possible.

“Until it’s implemented, it’s just words on a page,” said Rudiak, who is running for re-election.

Rudiak said she has a list of ordinances that council passed that haven’t been implemented by this administration.

“At the end of the day, I want to make sure the public is aware of what’s really going on out there, and they can be the judge of how they feel about it,” she said.

According to Pittsburgh’s City Code, any ordinance that isn’t vetoed by the mayor, automatically becomes law; the Clean Air Act of 2010 was signed by Ravenstahl.

But in order for the law to be enforceable, rules need to be drafted.

The dirty diesel regulations have been in the works for more than a year.

“That’s a long time,” said Denise Rousseau, a professor of public policy at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College.

Rousseau, who was speaking about the role of elected leaders in implementing laws and not about any specific instance, suggested that the reasons for the delay might include an administrative backlog, logistical problems coming up with enforceable rules or pressure from an external source.

An undue burden?

Construction industry representatives, who were at the table during the drafting of the law, warned that retrofitting requirements might block small construction companies from doing business in Pittsburgh.

The Heinz Endowments, whose Breathe Project works with government and industry for cleaner air, contributed to an existing Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) fund to help small contractors retrofit their equipment. (The Heinz Endowments also supports PublicSource.)

“It was a way to help small contractors to still be competitive under a new requirement,” said Caren Glotfelty, senior director of The Heinz Endowments’ Environment Program.

A new piece of diesel equipment is a huge investment for companies, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Besides buying new equipment, companies can replace the engine, swap parts in the engine, or attach a filter to retrofit. Each option must be approved by the Environmental Protection Agency.

“Not all machines have solutions,” said Jason Koss.

Koss is the director of industry relations for the Constructors Association of Western Pennsylvania. About 15 members of the trade association have already retrofitted their equipment using money from the ACHD, he said.

Koss said there are always costs associated with new regulations.

Supporters of the law said opportunities to make the air cleaner are being lost.

And for people like Feldman, the costs of the region’s poor air quality are tangible.

Feldman, one of Dr. Holguin’s patients, developed asthma and allergies during his early 50s. But he hasn’t has an asthma attack for about four years because he regularly takes his medication.

The meds cost about $150 a month, even with health insurance through WQED. (The public broadcasting network is a news partner of PublicSource.)

Morry Feldman takes a cocktail of medications each day that allow him to live and work in a region with poor air quality. (Photo by Emily DeMarco/PublicSource)

Filippini, of GASP, said that doing nothing about the diesel air pollution may seem like the cheaper and easier thing to do, but the health and environmental costs are great. Children miss school because of asthma attacks; parents miss work to stay home with sick children. There are also more emergency room visits, and higher insurance premiums.

Pittsburgh has come a long way from its ‘smoky city’ image, Filippini said, adding that this law is a tangible step the city can take to clean up regional air pollution.

“It is a way that they can be a leader,” she said.

Reach Emily DeMarco at 412-315-0262 or edemarco@publicsource.org.

Correction: This story originally said that Councilman Bill Peduto is running for mayor against Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. Ravenstahl is not running for another term.

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Transportation Nation

Sequestration Means Less $$$ To Harden Northeast Transit Against Future Storms

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

One of eleven major NY subway tunnels flooded by Sandy. (photo by MTA New York City Transit / Leonard Wiggins)

(New York, NY - WNYC) New York area transit has received a double setback, both having to do with Storm Sandy and what's needed to recover from it: money.

Thanks to the sequester, the U.S. Department of Transportation will be disbursing five percent less in Sandy disaster relief to transit systems damaged by the storm. That means 545 million fewer dollars for the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority; the PATH Train, which connects northern New Jersey to Lower Manhattan; and transit agencies in six northeastern states battered by the storm.

The NY MTA officially learned of the funding reduction in a letter sent Tuesday from the president of the Federal Transit Administration to the authority's acting executive director, Tom Prendergast.

"Dear Tom," the letter began. "I have regrettable news..."

The letter went on to say that "due to inaction by Congress" -- meaning the failed federal budget talks -- there would be less money to recover from Sandy, "the single greatest transit disaster in the history of our nation."

Millions Less For Mitigation

The cut won't be felt right away because the first $2 billion in aid, out of nearly $10.4 billion, is in the pipeline. The NY MTA's first grant was $200 million "for repair and restoration of the East River tunnels; the South Ferry/Whitehall station; the Rockaway line; rail yards, maintenance shops, and other facilities; and heavy rail cars."

The PATH Train, which is operated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, received $142 million "to set up alternative commuter service; repair electric substations and signal infrastructure; replace and repair rolling stock; and repair maintenance facilities."

Future grants were supposed to be used, in part, to protect transportation assets and systems from future disasters. But the letter goes on to say that the cut will curtail those efforts: "FTA will now be required to reduce these investments by the full $545 million mandated by the sequester."

The feds say that the reduced pile of Sandy recovery money means priority will given to reimbursing transit agencies for "activities like the dewatering of tunnels [see photo above], the re-establishment of rail service ... and the replacement of destroyed buses."

Also Affected: A Troubled Megaproject

A spokesman for the NY MTA said the reduction in funds won't affect progress on mega-projects like the Second Avenue Subway and East Side Access, which will bring the Long Island Rail Road into Grand Central Terminal.

"East Side Access and Second Avenue Subway will keep rolling along," the spokesperson said.

But at what cost? In the case of East Side Access, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli gave a detailed answer on Wednesday, which constitutes transit setback number two. He said in a report that the cost of the project had nearly doubled from an original estimate of $4.3 billion to the current price tag of $8.25 billion. The completion date has also been pushed back ten years to 2019.

These semi-appalling facts are generally known. Less well known is the report's conclusion that the NY MTA's current estimates for the East Side Access timetable and final price tag "do not take into account the impact of Superstorm Sandy."

The storm did little to no damage to the project's eight miles of tunnels. But DiNapoli said it diverted NY MTA resources, which resulted in a construction delay at a key railyard in Queens, costing $20 million. The comptroller added, "Within the next three months, the MTA expects to determine whether the delay will have an impact on the overall project schedule."

In other words, there's a chance that East Side Access could be more than ten years late. A spokesman for the NY MTA declined to comment.

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Transportation Nation

D.C. Considering Lifting Mandatory Parking Minimums

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

(photo by vpickering via flickr)

The District of Columbia’s Office of Planning is considering a proposal to potentially squeeze the supply of available parking spaces in some neighborhoods as new development attracts more residents and jobs. If successful, it will mark the first major change to the city's zoning code since it was first adopted in 1958.

It's part of a growing city attempt to reduce congestion by offering its residents alternatives to the automobile – from bikes to buses to making walking more attractive.

Planning officials may submit to the zoning commission this spring a proposal to eliminate the mandatory parking space minimums required in new development in transit-rich corridors and in downtown Washington.  The idea squares with the vision of making the district less car-dependent and would let developers decide how many parking spaces are necessary based on market demand.  However, opponents say the plan denies the reality that roughly 70 percent of Washington-area commuters drive and removing off-street parking requirements in apartment and office buildings would force motorists to circle city blocks looking for scarce spaces.

“This is a very dangerous proposal.  We think it threatens the future of Washington, D.C.,” says Lon Anderson, the chief spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, which represents motorists and advocates road construction as a solution for traffic congestion.

A city where a car isn’t a necessity

Thirty-nine percent of D.C. households are car-free. In some neighborhoods with access to public transit, more than 80 percent of households are car-free.  Some recent developments wound up building too much parking to adhere to the mandatory minimums, including the D.C. USA shopping center in Columbia Heights, which is right next to a Metro station and busy bus corridor.

“The parking garage there is probably as twice as big as it needs to be, and the second level is basically not used so the city has had to scramble to find another use for it,” says Cheryl Cort, the policy director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth and advocate of the zoning change.

“Rather than having the government tell the private sector how many parking spaces to build, we think it’s better for the developer to figure out how it best wants to market those units," Cort added.

Developers favor eliminating the mandatory parking minimums because the construction of parking garages, especially underground, is enormously expensive.  Each underground space adds $40,000 to $70,000 to a project’s cost, according to Harriet Tregoning, the director of D.C.’s Office of Planning, who is working on the overhaul of D.C.’s zoning code. The code was last updated in 1958 when planners assumed the automobile would remain the mainstay of individual transportation.

“No matter how much mandatory parking we require in new buildings, if the landlord is going to charge you $200 per month to park in the building and the city is going to let you park on the street for $35 per year, you may very well decide… to park on the street,” Tregoning says. “Many developers are finding they have parking that they can’t get rid of, that they don’t know what to do with.  That’s really a stranded asset.”

Parking-free building coming to Tenleytown

On the corner of Wisconsin Avenue NW and Brandywine Street NW stands what used to be a billiards hall. The property, just a block from the Tenleytown Metro station, has been an eyesore for years. Douglas Development is expected to redevelop the site this year, turning it into a mixed-use retail and residential space with 40 apartment units and no on-site parking.

“When the Zoning Commission looked at this site and DDOT did some analysis, they found a lot of availability of both on-street parking and off-street parking.  There are actually hundreds of parking spaces around this Metro station that go dark at night,” says Cheryl Cort, whose group contends the construction of parking spaces drives up housing costs an average 12.5 percent per unit. If developers can't find a market for those parking spaces, they pass the costs onto tenants.

Douglas Development, which declined to comment on this story, received an exemption from the zoning commission to avoid the parking minimum at the Tenleytown property. Situated close to Metro and planning to market the apartments to car-free residents, the developers escaped having to build 20 spaces under the current regulations in the zone (C-2-A).

Douglas’s plan may look sensible given the conditions in the neighborhood, but AAA’s Anderson says it will cause problems.

“Are you going to have any visitors who might drive there to visit you?  How about your mom and dad, are they going to be coming in? Do they live locally or are they going to be driving in? If so, where are they going to park?” says Anderson, who says the past three years have seen 16,000 new car registrations in Washington.

Fewer cars in D.C.’s future?

In its fight against the parking policy change, AAA is being joined by community activists who claim their neighborhoods will be clogged by drivers looking for parking. Sue Hemberger, a 28-year district resident who does not own a car, says Tregoning’s proposal is too harsh. In her view, district officials are making car ownership a hassle.

“What I see us doing in the name of transit-oriented development is pushing people who won’t forgo car ownership off the edge of the transit grid,” Hemberger says. “I’m worried about the future of certain neighborhoods and I’m worried about the future of downtown.”

Anderson says D.C. is waging a “war on cars,” but Tregoning says changes to zoning regulations are not designed to make motorists’ lives miserable.  On the contrary, the planning director anticipates the number of drivers in the district will grow but they will have enough options to do away with car ownership, like the car sharing services of Zipcar and Car2Go.

“How does your walking, biking, or taking transit affect his ability to drive, accept to make it easier?” Tregoning says in response to Anderson. “The national average household spends 19 percent of income on transportation. In the district, in areas well-served by transit, our number is more like 9 percent of household income. So we happen to think lots of choices are a good thing.”

In 2012 the city of Portland, Oregon, commissioned a study to look at the relationship between car ownership and new development, after apartment construction with little to no on-site parking in the city’s inner neighborhoods raised concerns about the potential for on-street parking congestion.

The study found “that 64 percent of residents are getting to work via a non-single-occupant vehicle. Almost a third (28 percent) of those surveyed belong to car-free households; however, cars are still the preferred mode of travel for many of the survey respondents.”

About two-thirds of the vehicle owners surveyed in Portland’s inner neighborhoods “park on the street without a permit and have to walk less than two minutes to reach their place of residence, and they spend only five minutes or less searching for a parking spot,” the study found.

To Hemberger, the Portland study’s key finding is that people don't give up car ownership just because they commute to work via public transit.  In a city like Washington, Hemberger says, there will not be enough street spot to accommodate new, car-owning residents.

Decision could come this spring

The Office of Planning will submit the proposed removal of parking minimums to the Zoning Commission later this month or early April, where it will go through the public process again before a final decision is made.

“We are a really unique city because we have an amazing number of transportation choices. Our citizens end up paying a lot less for transportation than the rest of the region,” Tregoning says. “I don’t understand why that would be considered a war on cars to try to give people choices, the very choices that actually take automobiles off the road to make it easier to park, to make it easier to drive with less congestion.”

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City of Alexandria Joins Homeowner Battle Against Location of I-95 Ramp

Friday, March 01, 2013

Outside the Overlook community in Alexandria (photo by Martin Di Caro)

(Washington, D.C. - WAMU) For the first time since they began fighting the construction of a highway ramp near their homes, a coalition of eight homeowners’ groups in Fairfax County and Alexandria are getting some official help in their battle with the Virginia Department of Transportation.

Alexandria city leaders are pledging to lobby state transportation officials to reconsider the placement next to the homeowners’ properties of the planned northern terminus of the future I-95 Express Lanes, 30 miles of high-occupancy toll lanes extending from the Edsall Road area in Fairfax County to Garrisonville Road in Stafford County. The $1 billion public-private project is scheduled for completion in December 2014.

Before winning the public support of Alexandria city hall, the group Concerned Residents of Landmark had been rebuffed by public officials in their bid to convince VDOT to stop construction.

One of the group’s leaders, Mary Hasty, whose home in Alexandria’s Overlook community will stand just 75 feet from the completed exit ramp, says time is running out.

“We’re racing against the clock, yes. And my understanding is that VDOT has accelerated the building project of the ramp because they want it to be done so the opposition will stop,” Hasty said.

VDOT will begin pile driving at the site next week, a significant step in the building process, but Hasty remains steadfast.

“Even if they’ve driven the piles, when the public health issue comes to light, they can stop,” she said.

Alexandria Vice Mayor Allison Silberberg says the city has a responsibility to represent its constituents.

“Science is convincing, and they had an outside firm that’s very prestigious do this research and it is very convincing,” Silberberg said. “We are certainly going to make the case from an environmental and health perspective.”

Concerned Residents of Landmark spent more than $70,000 to hire the national law firm of Shrader & Associates to perform a traffic and environmental analysis of the project. Their study found backed up traffic on the exit ramp will spew a cloud of pollution in excess of federal safety standards, the group said.

“My biggest concern with VDOT is that they failed to fulfill their requirements under NEPA, the National Environmental Policy Act,” said Hasty, who said VDOT did not perform localized studies of pollution impacts on her community.

VDOT officials dispute the homeowners’ accusations.

“Our studies were approved back in the end of 2011 which met all federal and regulatory requirements and that is why we are proceeding with construction today,” said John Lynch, VDOT’s Northern Virginia megaprojects director.  “Their study used a different modeling technique and so we are trying to see why there is a big difference in the outcome of the two models.”

The Shrader study says 80,000 people in Fairfax County and Alexandria will be affected by pollution from vehicles exiting I-95, especially from particulate matter equivalent to what was spewed by the coal-fired GenOn electric plant that was closed down last year after a long battle with Alexandria.

“This is a health issue.  It’s incumbent on our elected officials to carry this message to Richmond,” said Herb Treger, the vice president of the board of directors of Watergate at Landmark, a community of 4,000 residents that joined Hasty’s coalition. “It’s a government project. Government projects can always be stopped. I worked for the government for 40 years.  I know they can be halted until the proper studies are done,” he added.

In order to determine if the project’s environmental impacts met federal safety standards, VDOT studied the location with the most traffic volume in the project corridor, the Springfield interchange, Lynch said.  That “worst case scenario” conformed to federal standards clearing the way for construction throughout the corridor, Lynch said.

“For the localized ‘hotspot’ analysis there are guidelines from the EPA to choose different locations for your project and typically you choose the worst place,” Lynch said. “It’s a qualitative analysis.  If you do it at the worst case scenario then you assume that it is fine everywhere else.”

VDOT has no plans to stop construction.

“We have no intention of going away,” Treger said.

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Anatomy of a Water Main Break

Thursday, February 28, 2013

A water main break rages under the South Millvale Bridge in Bloomfield in January. (Photo courtesy of PWSA)

(Larkin Page-Jacobs, Pittsburgh, WESA) You know it's winter in Pittsburgh when your car is getting beat up by pot-holes, the streets are chalky with salt, and water main breaks proliferate. But what exactly is going on below the pavement?

Clogged pipes, flooded basements and sheets of ice on roadways are some of the visible signs of water main breaks. But many leaks and breaks go undetected -- including sewer line breaks which filter through the soil and along side the pipes for months or years.

At least a quarter of Pittsburgh’s water is lost annually -- much of it to cracked pipes -- but it is the big breaks, the show stoppers, that make it into the news. Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority spokeswoman Melissa Rubin said there are times you can see the water shooting into the air.

“Unfortunately people aren’t typically aware of their infrastructure, they go in, turn on the faucet and there’s water...flush the toilet and that’s great. [But no] thoughts [are] ever put into it until you see water shooting in the air. And oh my gosh you can’t take a shower,” said Rubin.

Miles of Pipes, Countless Breaks

Pittsburgh has 1,200 miles of pipes, many of them around a century old. When they are replaced, the moldering cast iron pipes are changed out for ductile iron pipes for water and PVC for sewers. But Rubin says it is rare that they replace an entire street’s worth of infrastructure because pipes and paving are expensive and the work is disruptive. Instead the process is often piecemeal with pipes being patched or repaired with clamps multiple times before they are finally replaced.

Rubin explained there are two types of breaks: “splits where there’ s a hairline fracture on the side of the pipe, and there’s complete blow outs where it cracks in half.”

Breaks have many culprits. The freezing and thawing cycle of the ground shifts the soil which pushes against the pipes. The make-up of the soil plays a part too – whether it is clay, rocky, or acidic - they all pose problems for long buried pipes. Then there is the engineering standard by which the pipes were placed in their earthen bedding in the first place. Additionally, many of the pipes are tenuously thin from decades of degradation as water wears down the metal. Carnegie Mellon University Professor of Civil Engineering Dave Dzombak said this is common problem in city’s with old infrastructure.

“All metals except for gold and silver corrode when in contact with water," he said, "and that’s a process we call oxidation – long-term contact with water.”

Complicating Factors

Dzombak explained humans also have a hand in certain water main breaks. He points out that breaks frequently occur in clusters which are caused by the very people who are trying to fix the original break.

“There’s a pressure distribution and it’s variable across the system. And if we are fixing one pipe, and we have to close off part of the system, it changes the pressure in other parts of the system and weak spots will fail when we do that. Parts of the system will see somewhat higher pressures, and just enough to take a weak-walled pipe and have it fail. So it’s frustrating – we get one break and fix that and boom, boom, boom around that we start getting other breaks,” said Dzombak.

Yet another complicating factor to repairing water main breaks is the maze of subterranean lines that keep the city humming. The PWSA's Melissa Rubin says the presence of other utilities sharing trenches with the water and sewer pipes is some times indicated by industrial graffiti marking the pavement.

“You see the green arrows and the red, the yellow and the blue. The blue is the water line, green is sewer, red is cable, and yellow is gas – so they all come out and mark so that you’re not damaging other infrastructure in the process of your repair.”

In January a major water main break under Ft. Pitt Boulevard could not be repaired until a nearby gas leak was fixed first.

But short of water pouring onto streets and sudden drops in water pressure, it can be tough for utilities to know when and where a break has occurred. Professor Dzombak technology will meet that need eventually.

“Better monitoring out in the distribution network, better monitoring for pressure, for flows, for quality of water. New technologies are being developed for monitoring that are less expensive. And we’re going to see more and more of that in the years ahead.”

Until then, the city will continue to be on guard for winter’s inevitable disruptions both from the sky and from under the ground.

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Washington State Admits Bridge Problems Result Of Design Flaw

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The first new bridge pontoon on its way to Lake Washington in 2012. (Flickr photo/WSDOT)

(Derek Wang - Seattle, KUOW) Washington Secretary of Transportation Paula Hammond said Tuesday that cracks in the pontoons for the state Route 520 floating bridge project were largely the result of a flawed design by the state.

The pontoons are the floating part of the 520 bridge across Lake Washington, the longest floating bridge in the world. They’re huge concrete structures that support the roadway; the larger pontoons are about the length of a football field and weigh the same as 23 Boeing 747 jetliners.

Last year, cracks were discovered in the pontoons for the new bridge, which prompted then-Governor Chris Gregoire to convene an expert panel to review the situation.

The panel released their findings on Tuesday, and found two reasons for the cracks: the contractor didn’t follow the state’s engineering guidelines as it was building the pontoons, and the state had a faulty design.

WSDOT never ran models that tested the pontoon design.

Specifically, the cracks occurred when the steel bands were used to compress the concrete pontoons, a process called post-tensioning. Originally, those bands were inserted through the lengths of the pontoons.

The fix involves using the same technique but in a different direction. WSDOT said it would insert the steel bands across the width of the pontoons and compress the concrete, which should eliminate the major cracks.

Washington Secretary of Transportation Paula Hammond said her department did not follow standards of good practice. She said WSDOT never ran models that tested the pontoon design.

“Engineering is all about analyzing and testing, and checking, whether it’s a pontoon or bridge or highway off ramp. And so I think a step was missed,”she said.

Hammond said she didn’t know why that step was missed, but she said she requested an internal review and heads might roll. “What are the accountabilities for those employees?” she said.

The development comes at a time when there will be a change in leadership at WSDOT. Last week, Governor Jay Inslee announced a new transportation secretary, effective next month.

Hammond said the pontoon problems have been frustrating for her. “I know I’ve taken a very strident approach to lessons learned, what exactly happened, how do we go after making sure this never happens again. And as I leave, if that’s what I can leave the agency, an awareness of what we did wrong and how we can improve ourselves for the future, then I would say that at least that’s a positive note,” she said.

Hammond said the contractor, Kiewit-General Joint Venture, will work to fix the pontoons. The state has about $200 million in its contingency fund to cover the costs. WSDOT will have to negotiate with the contractor to determine which party pays for the repairs of the different cracks, because both WSDOT and Kiewit-General are responsible for the problem.

The work means that the floating section of the bridge will probably open in the fall of 2015, Hammond said. The contract for the floating bridge calls for the project to be open by July 2015, although officials had publicly said they hoped it would be open by the end of 2014.
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Virginia House and Senate Negotiators Strike Transportation Funding Deal

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Virginia capitol building (photo by Thruhike98 via flickr)

In a final attempt to reach a compromise on measures to raise substantial new revenues for transportation before the scheduled adjournment of the legislative session, Virginia House and Senate negotiators struck a deal that replaces the state’s gas tax with a lower tax on the wholesale price of gasoline, but raises the sales tax.

The deal eliminates the state’s seventeen-and-a-half cents per gallon gas tax, replacing it with a three-and-a-half percent wholesale tax. It also raises the state sales tax to pay for roads, but not by as much as the governor wanted.  The sales tax would increase from 5 to 5.3 percent under the deal reached by a conference of ten legislators. A $100 registration fee for hybrid and electronic vehicles is also included.

The deal, which would raise approximately $869 million a year when fully implemented, now heads to the House and Senate for floor votes by the end of the week.  While passage in the Republican-led House seems certain, the deal may run into trouble in the Senate, where Democrats and Republicans each hold 20 seats.  Some Democrats remain unhappy with the plan to use general fund (sales tax) revenue to pay for transportation.

“The reduction in the gas tax makes no sense to me,” said Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax). “Obviously I want to raise money for transportation… but it’s a little bit of a shell game, quite frankly. Historically we’ve used sales tax for education and this is a major step in the other direction.”

Petersen calls the $100 registration fee for alternative fuel vehicles “asinine.”

“We want people to drive fuel efficient vehicles.  Why would we penalize them?” he said.

To appease Northern Virginia lawmakers, the negotiators included Governor McDonnell’s proposal to use $300 million in increased sales tax revenue to finance the Silver Line rail extension to Dulles Airport.

The $5.5 billion Silver Line project is managed by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which has lobbied Richmond for funding in order to offset projected toll rate increases on the Dulles Toll Road.  Those tolls are supposed to pay for 75 percent of Phase II of the Silver Line’s construction cost under the current financing arrangement.

‘When it comes to the Silver Line the $300 million is vital to future toll mitigation.  I would hate to think this opportunity would be lost,” said MWAA chief executive Jack Potter.

The negotiators’ deal created an unexpected potential difficulty for the Silver Line extension. The agreement requires that Loudoun County approve a countywide commercial and industrial tax (C&I) in order to be eligible for state transportation dollars for local projects. However, in 2012 the county created two special tax districts around its future Silver Line station stops.  Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles District) says an additional C&I tax would make the county uncompetitive with surrounding jurisdictions in attracting businesses.

“If the Legislature moves forward with this proposal it would force us to reexamine our funding mechanism for Metro [Silver Line] and create a great deal of doubt,” Letourneau said in an interview with WAMU 88.5.

Loudoun's participation in the Silver Line project is vital to eventually extending rail to Dulles International Airport.

In addition to the special tax districts for the coming commuter rail, Loudoun’s Board of Supervisors has in place a special tax district for businesses along its busy Rt. 28 corridor. A C&I tax of 12.5 cents per $100 assessed property value would render the county at a steep disadvantage to neighboring Fairfax, Letourneau said.

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White House Infrastructure Plan Shifts Focus from New Building to Repair

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

President Barack Obama's new $50 billion infrastructure plan -- a remarkably consistent number he's pushed several times before -- has a twist.  This time, the President wants to prioritize fixing roads and bridges over building new ones, which has been the previous focus of most U.S. government transportation spending.

"The new plan focuses on 'fix-it-first,'  according to a U.S. DOT spokesman, "prioritizing the most crucial repair projects that we can fix right away to keep our economy moving. "

In his state of the union speech, the President raised the specter of 70,000 structurally deficient bridges.  That's not a new number--nor does it mean those bridges are in danger of imminent collapse--but it's an alarming one.

President Obama has long argued for infusions of infrastructure spending to jump-start the economy, and to, um, pave the way for a more economically secure future.

But Congress hasn't passed any of them, and now Washington is deeply mired in strategies to avoid the cuts brought on by the so-called "sequester," a provision of the 2011 debt deal.

"The more the President talks about 'fix-it-first,' the better," said Phinneas Baxandall of U.S. PIRG.

Fifty billion dollars, by the way, is just about the same amount Congress just approved to fix damage caused by storm Sandy.

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NJ Gov Christie: "Chewed Away" Shore Road Will Be Rebuilt

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A coastal Jersey roadway ravaged by Sandy will take two years and over $215 million to repair.

Aerial photographs of the Mantoloking Bridge and Route 35, before and after Sandy (image by NASA Goddard Photo and Video via flickr)

Speaking Tuesday in the shore town of Lavalette, Governor Chris Christie said the state has received federal funding to rehabilitate a 12.5 mile stretch of Route 35 running from Point Pleasant Beach to Island Beach State Park.  The road, which is a block from the Atlantic Ocean, "sustained some of the most severe damage in the state," said Christie. "Thousands of truckloads of debris and sand" were removed in the days after the storm, he said, and the road was "chewed away" in places. In Mantoloking (see above), the storm cut a new inlet between the ocean and the bay.

Christie said the scope of the damage left him with a decision: "Build back to where we were, or rebuild better and stronger." He added: "our decision is to rebuild better and rebuild now."

The new roadbed will be 24 inches thick instead of the current eight -- incorporating both an asphalt pavement top and sub-base materials to act as drainage and stabilization. There will also be a new drainage system and pump stations. "The new system will be built to handle 25-year storms, which is the maximum attainable given the peninsula's geology," reads the press release.

That's reasonable, says Dr. Tom Bennert, pavement expert at Rutgers' Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation. He said  the force of the water generated by Sandy was tremendous.

"It would be very difficult for any structure, even pavement, to withstand that," he said. "A 25-year flood, based on the geology, based on the fact that there is quite a high water table in that area, you’re only going to be able to drain so much, is a very realistic target."

Bennert said he was glad to see the state pay attention to the drainage system, which he said is critical. "It’s kind of hard to visualize," Bennert says, "because when we’re driving on the road we just see the top. But really there’s six to 12 inches of asphalt below that, then granular material used as a foundation to support the asphalt."  That granular material provides drainage to make sure if water gets in, it doesn’t stay there.

Bennert also said Route 35 needed work even before Sandy hit. "A lot of our pavements in this state have lived past their design life," he said, and that includes Route 35.  "It was a pavement that was built quite a while ago and honestly...really needed to be reconstructed to begin with."

The project is being divided into three phases. The first section of the road to be repaired will be the northernmost stretch, which currently has just one travel lane open in each direction. Work will begin this summer.

According to New Jersey Department of Transportation spokesman Tim Greeley, "the Complete Streets model has been incorporated into our design for all three contracts." He says the state will be installing new sidewalks, as well as upgrading many existing intersections with ADA-compliant curb ramps, high visibility crosswalks and some pedestrian signal heads at certain locations.

Greeley adds: "While there are no dedicated bike lanes planned, the reconstructed roadway shoulders will be built to the same strength as the travel-lanes and will therefore provide a safer and smoother ride for cyclists."

The New Jersey Department of Transportation says that while it tries to limit summer construction along shore highways, work on Route 35 will be ongoing throughout 2013. At least one lane of traffic will be open in each direction at all times.

To watch Governor Christie make the funding announcement, see the video below.

For more, check out the WNYC series Life After Sandy.

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Investigation: Washington Airport Agency Leadership Targeted Pro-Labor Board Members in Rail Line Fight

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Dulles Airport (photo courtesy of Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority)

(Washington, D.C, - WAMU) A former board member of the authority in charge of airports in the Washington, D.C. region is accusing the agency's leaders of not telling the whole truth in testimony before Congress, and internal emails suggest three current authority board members worked with officials in Richmond, Va. to remove one of their colleagues, an investigation by WAMU has found.

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) is trying to rebuild the public's trust after a tumultuous 2012. But key officials who remain in their MWAA posts were involved in the political maneuvering that ended in the resignations of two pro-labor, Democratic board members who, their opponents say, were threatening the completion of the Silver Line: Mame Reiley and Dennis Martire, who supported a controversial pro-union provision for the construction of the rail project's second phase.

Twenty-three pages of emails obtained by WAMU suggest that Republican board members Tom Davis and Todd Stottlemyer, as well as Democrat Rusty Conner, were aware of Gov. Bob McDonnell’s intention to remove Dennis Martire from the MWAA board and communicated with Republican officials in Richmond to secure Martire's removal.

And former MWAA board member Bob Brown, a Democrat, says agency CEO Jack Potter and board vice-chairman Tom Davis did not tell the whole truth when they told members of a House subcommittee last November that the hiring of Mame Reiley to a staff position was only Potter’s idea.

The emails, along with Brown's allegation, suggest that an agency designed to be insulated from political pressures was riven by them.  The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is comprised of four jurisdictions: D.C., Maryland, Virginia, and the federal government (three board members are presidential appointees). The board members terms are staggered to prevent any single mayor or governor from exerting excessive influence over the appointment process.  Yet it appears the Republican administration of Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell sought to replace members of the board of directors not when their terms expired but through political pressure exerted by its allies.

‘Not illegal, but against the grain’

Reiley resigned from the board in February, citing health concerns, and began a new, $180,000 per year position shortly thereafter.

“Nobody did anything illegal, but it goes against the grain, of the notion of these kinds of non-political regional agencies,” said Brown.

Brown says Davis, who was appointed by McDonnell, orchestrated the hiring of Reiley to a special position created for her. Brown says he knows this because both Reiley and Davis told him so.

“Tom was the one that conceived of the idea of how to persuade Mame Reiley to resign her seat and open up that prior Democratic appointment for McDonnell to fill,” Brown says.

By replacing Reiley on the MWAA board of directors with Todd Stottlemyer, the McDonnell administration secured another Republican vote against a pro-labor provision included in the bidding process for Phase 2 of the Silver Line. McDonnell and Republicans in the General Assembly fought against that provision, known as a PLA or project labor agreement, and the all-Republican Loudoun County Board of Supervisors threatened to pull out of the project over it.

MWAA had defended the pro-labor provision against these attacks for months, but bowed to this pressure and voted to kill the PLA on June 6.

Davis denies he orchestrated Reiley’s hiring. Reiley did not return calls and emails seeking comment.

“There are other people, who I am not going to get into, that basically initiated this conversation,” Davis said. “I didn't have a dog in that fight but I thought getting her off the board frankly at that point would be a win-win for everybody.  So I acquiesced and didn't raise an objection to it.”

Potter, the MWAA CEO, finalized Reiley's hiring and continues to take sole responsibility for the decision — a decision that was among questionable dealings highlighted in an audit by the U.S. Department of Transportation last year.

“I stand by what I testified in front of Congress. I made the decision on the hiring and it was my sole decision. I made the decision to hire Mame Reiley, period,” Potter told WAMU 88.5 in an interview this week.

Potter noted in his November testimony, “My judgment was not good in terms of the hiring of that person.”  He added, however, that the position was necessary to develop land to offset rising costs at Dulles International Airport.

Davis testified at the same hearing that he knew the job was being created for Reiley.

“I was aware. There were board members it was run by,” Davis testified. “This was a complicated situation.”

Board members emailed about Martire’s ouster

McDonnell on June 14, 2012 attempted to remove Dennis Martire from MWAA's board "for cause."  It was just one week after the board voted to remove the pro-labor provision from the Silver Line bid process. Martire supported the PLA but had also been embarrassed by accusations that he abused MWAA’s travel policy.

Emails sent by Davis, Stottlemyer, and board member Rusty Conner suggest they knew of the governor's intention to dump Martire in February — four months earlier, according to emails which were obtained from a Fairfax Circuit Court filing.

In an email sent on Feb. 18, 2012 Davis wrote to David Speck, a former MWAA board member and member of Virginia’s House of Delegates. “I think they will try to remove Denny so that means two more [board] openings,” the email from Davis reads. “ [Virginia Transportation Secretary] Sean Connaughton is the key decision maker. It may be helpful for them to keep this bipartisan.”

A Fairfax Circuit Court judge blocked the governor’s attempt to remove Martire. The board member eventually settled his legal dispute with the commonwealth and agreed to resign his board seat.

Davis admitted he wanted Martire off the board, but insists it was not for political reasons, and that there was nothing improper in him supporting the labor leader’s removal.

“My job was to try to get a rail system built. This board was dysfunctional. It wasn't just the PLA. It was the lack of transparency. There were 20 things going wrong at that point,” Davis told WAMU 88.5 in an interview.

One of those things going wrong was the insertion of the labor agreement into the bidding process for Phase 2 of the Silver Line, which would have awarded contractors a bonus in their bidding scores if they agreed to enter into a voluntarily labor agreement with the workforce building the rail line. As a right-to-work state, Virginia’s General Assembly voted to withhold $150 million in funding if the PLA provision remained.

Project costs would have escalated under the project labor agreement, Davis argues. But Potter sees a value in such agreements; he credits the PLA Phase 1’s construction with keeping the project on time and on budget.

“The project labor agreement included a no-strike clause.  It assured that there was an available trained workforce for the project.  It produced an outstanding safety record. It provided management flexibility in the form of flexible work schedules that were very much needed given the nature of the type of work that was being done,” Potter said at an MWAA board meeting.

Bids for Phase 2 of the Silver Line construction are due by April 19.

In mid-May, Davis emailed fellow board member Conner, telling him that the PLA would be overturned June 6. "We all need to keep powder dry until then including Richmond," meaning the move to remove Martire should wait until after the PLA vote.

Conner emailed back,  "Call Sean [Connaughton] and tell him not to pull the trigger on Martire until the 7th,” referring to the Virginia transportation secretary.

But Connaughton says it wasn’t his call; the Governor had the final say on Martire’s removal.

“The airports authority members are supposed to be representing the interests of the people that they were appointed by,” Connaughton said. “Each one is governed by the laws of the jurisdictions that appointed them.  They are not supposed to be off doing things that are contrary to the interest of the jurisdictions in the region.”

In a June 1 email, Davis seems to joke that Martire may "keep his parking if he resigns, not if he is removed."

MWAA provided Martire $855,000 to pay his legal fees.  The authority also provided Davis, Stottlemyer, and fellow board member Rusty Conner $196,000 for their legal fees incurred fighting subpoenas for 700 emails requested by Martire’s lawyers. The emails cited in this story were part of that filing. The $196,000 was paid to the law firm DLA Piper, where board member Rusty Conner is a partner.

"A Clean Sweep"?

Despite MWAA’s efforts to turn over a new leaf on ethics and practices, one government watchdog said the continued political infighting will affect the agency’s ability to perform its duties.

“Given all that has gone in the past couple of years with the board, it really seems like the best course of action would be a clean sweep and an entirely new set of board members,” said Melanie Sloan, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Both the MWAA board chairman Michael Curto and CEO Jack Potter should also resign after being implicated in the Department of Transportation audit, Sloan said.

“It’s impossible for the public to have confidence in board members who engage in conduct like that,” she said.

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Port Authority Denies Sandy Damage Will Delay Completion Of World Trade Center Transpo Hub

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Part of the transportation hub under construction at The World Trade Center. (photo courtesy of NY-NJ Port Authority)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Pulses were sent racing today when it was apparently revealed that the World Trade Center transportation hub, already years behind schedule, had suffered another setback because of Sandy.

Cheryl McKissack Daniel, a consultant for the $3.8 billion project, told the New York Times that water damage had significantly pushed back the hub's completion date of 2015.

"And now, after Sandy, that added another year and a half to the whole project," she said. "Everything was flooded — everything was new and flooded. And all of that had to be replaced because it’s all electrical work."

Not so, say spokesmen for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the Tishman Construction Corporation, which has a major hand in building the hub. It was designed by star architect Santiago Calatrava.

"The anticipated completion date for the World Trade Center transportation hub remains 2015," said the Port Authority's Anthony Hayes. Tishman spokesman Brendan Ranson-Walsh echoed the sentiment in an emailed statement:

"Ms. McKissack Daniel incorrectly informed The NY Times about the completion date of the WTC Transportation Hub. Per the Port Authority of NY and NJ, which is overseeing the project, the anticipated completion date of the Hub is 2015. No change in date has been announced by the Port Authority."

Hayes said further that no part of construction at the World Trade Center has been delayed by Sandy, even though the site was inundated with millions of gallons of water. "There has been no impact because of Sandy in terms of completion times at the World Trade Center," he said.

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NY MTA Might Re-Open The Old South Ferry Station, Just Don't Ask When

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

NY MTA shows Sandy damage to a control room at South Ferry Station at the southern tip of Manhattan. (photo courtesy of NY MTA)

(New York, NY – WNYC) The NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority says it’ll take two to three years and $600 million dollars to completely repair the South Ferry subway station, shuttered since storm Sandy. In the meantime, the authority is looking for ways to partially re-open the station and restore 1 train service to the tip of Manhattan.

 “We can’t have the impacts that people are experiencing today” go on much longer, said MTA executive director Tom Prendergast.

He was referring to the thousands of riders who pour off the Staten Island Ferry each weekday and must now walk several blocks to connect to the 1 train. Before Sandy inundated South Ferry, those riders could catch the 1 train quickly and easily by entering the spacious station and walking down a flight of stairs.

The MTA won’t give a timeline for the station's partial re-opening. That led City Councilman David Greenfield to ask whether Prendergast could provide “a timeline on when you would have a firm timeline?”

Prendergast answered, “No.” But he later said the authority could offer a timeline in "two or three months." Prendergast said he’s ruled out shuttle buses to replace the missing train service because the buses can’t carry enough riders, even when "swinging low," which is transit-speak for full-to-bursting.

He added that the NY MYA is thinking about re-activating the old South Ferry station, a landmark that  was mothballed when the new station got a top-to-bottom rehab and expansion thanks to $545 million in post-9/11 recovery funds. (The new station opened in 2009.) But the old station, with its tightly curved tracks, would need platform extenders and new entrances.

"There's also some equipment that’s now mounted on the platform," said MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg.

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Transportation Nation

Officials: As Construction Site, World Trade Center Vulnerable To Floods

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

One World Trade Center with 9/11 in the foreground. (photo by melfoody / Flickr)

(New York, NY - WNYC) A Port Authority of New York and New Jersey official says a built-out World Trade Center site will be less vulnerable to future storms like Sandy once construction is done by 2020. But the authority hasn't decided what to do in the meantime to protect the site from rising tides.

Construction sites that include open pits, as does the 16-acre World Trade Center site, are vulnerable to flooding. And much of the site is built on landfill where the Hudson River once flowed--and would flow again if not for retaining walls.

But Port Authority executive director Pat Foye wouldn't elaborate on what steps could be taken to protect the site from flooding while under construction, and harden the site once construction is done in an age of climate change and rising sea levels.

"Port Authority people and outside experts are looking at how to make the site more resilient," Foye said. He wouldn't give details about possible mitigation efforts beyond saying, "The review continues."

Foye estimated it will cost $2 billion to repair storm damage to the World Trade Center, along with the rest of the authority's facilities, including airports, bridges and tunnels. Foye said $800 million alone is needed to fix the PATH train system, which only recently returned some of its lines to a pre-Sandy schedule.

Foye said insurance reimbursements and FEMA payments should cover those costs."There will be no material impact on the budget," he said.

Still under construction in Lower Manhattan is One World Trade Center, which carries a price tag of $3.8 billion, making it the world's most expensive new office tower. To offset the costs of the 1,776-foot skyscraper, the authority last year levied higher bridge and tunnel tolls and reduced spending on transportation infrastructure.

One World Trade Center is scheduled to be done by early next year. But some part of the larger World Trade Center site will be under construction, and vulnerable to flooding, for at least the next eight years.

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Transportation Nation

VIDEO + PICS: As Grand Central Bustles, A New Station Is Clawed From The Rock Below

Thursday, January 31, 2013

http://youtu.be/ULIx8QVZbKU

(New York, NY - WNYC) Michael Horodniceanu, the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority's master builder, was sweating as he stood in a cavern blasted from the layers of schist below Grand Central Terminal, which marks its 100th year on Friday. He was considering the question of which, in the end, would be thought of as the bigger job: building the original terminal or the the tunnels that the authority is bringing into a new $8.24 billion station it is constructing beneath the existing one.

"This one," he said. "Because people have been building above ground for a long time. We've been digging for a long time--we have about 6 miles of tunnels just in Manhattan. We've been digging under the most expensive real estate you can find in New York."

What's he and hundreds of sandhogs are creating is a project called East Side Access: 350,000 square feet of track, platforms, escalators and concourses that will, for the first time, connect Long Island Railroad to the East Side of Manhattan. It will double the size of Grand Central Terminal without enlarging its footprint, and it is expected to shave 40 minutes off the commutes of about 160,000 passengers per weekday. Currently, Long Islanders who work on the East Side of Manhattan must travel to Penn Station, on the West Side, and double back.

The project is $2 billion over-budget and its 2019 completion date puts it six years behind schedule--another reason Horodniceanu is sweating.

This is people-intensive work," he said. "We use the best technology but, in the end, it takes people." As he spoke, a worker operated a backhoe that clawed rock from a watery pit. The pit was lit by a high-intensity kleig light, which barely held back the subterranean gloom.

Scene from the massive East Side Access project beneath Grand Central Terminal. (photo by Jim O'Grady)

Every day 750,000 visitors pass through Grand Central Terminal, making it the largest hub for train traffic in the world. Of East Side Access's impact on Grand Central Station, Horodniceanu said, "What we are doing now is we are basically preparing it for the next 100 years. "

On left, Michael Horodniceanu, president of MTA Capital Construction, takes an elevator to an excavation site 160 below Grand Central Terminal. (photo by Jennifer Hsu)

(photo by Jennifer Hsu)

(photo by Jennifer Hsu)

(photo by Jennifer Hsu)

(photo by Jim O'Grady)

(photo by Jim O'Grady)

(photo by Jim O'Grady)

(photo by Jennifer Hsu)
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Transportation Nation

How Grand Central Terminal Survived the Wrecking Ball - And Lived to 100

Thursday, January 31, 2013

(New York, NY - WNYC) Soon after Grand Central Terminal opened in 1913, it was viewed as an one of the great public spaces in America, an icon of modern travel. By the 1940s, a popular radio drama bearing its name would open with a blast from a locomotive whistle and an announcer crying, "Grand Central Station! As a bullet seeks its target, shining rails in every part of our great country are aimed at Grand Central Station, part of the nation's greatest city."

Thirty years later, developers wanted to take a wrecking ball to Grand Central and replace it with an office tower.

In truth, the place was seedy. That's according to Kent Barwick, a former head of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission and a key player in the effort to prevent the destruction of the terminal to make way for an office tower. "It was pretty dusty and the windows were broken," he recalled of Grand Central back then. "It was dark and and littered with advertising everywhere. And there wasn't any retail except for a couple of newsstands that had near-poisonous sandwiches and undrinkable coffee."

(We've done some terrific coverage of Grand Central in the past year:  a tour of the Grand Central clock tour with The Invention of Hugo Cabret author Brian O. Selznick here and a cool behind-the-scenes video of Grand Central's secrets here.)

The Fight Is On

The terminal was owned by the Penn Central Railroad, a company in decline because of America's move to the suburbs and car-dependent travel.  The much vaunted Interstate Highway Bill also spelled death for long-distance rail travel. In 1975, Penn Central was careering into bankruptcy and desperate to squeeze a windfall from its prime Manhattan real estate. So it proposed to do to Grand Central what it had done to Penn Station: sell the development rights to a company that would tear down the Beaux-Arts masterpiece and erect a steel and glass tower.

But Grand Central, unlike Penn Station, was landmarked.

The owners sued in state supreme court, claiming the new landmark law was unconstitutional. The railroad won, and moved to demolish Grand Central. The preservationists scrambled.

Barwick and his colleagues at The Municipal Arts Society called a hasty press conference in the terminal at Oyster Bar. Barwick's boss, Brendan Gill spoke first. "If we can't save a building like this, what can we do?" he asked.

The preservationists knew they were fighting to save not only the building but the landmarks law itself. And they knew from press descriptions of them as "a troop of well-known New Yorkers" that some of their opponents were painting them as elitists who wished to suspend New York in amber. Former consumer affairs commissioner Bess Meyerson spoke next, and addressed the issue.

"It's not really a question of change," she said. "If any city understands change, it's our city. But I think it's high time that we ask that very important question, 'Change for what?'"

Cause célèbre

The next speaker was Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, whose presence transformed preservation from a stuffy to a glamorous pursuit. "I think if there is a great effort, even if it's at the eleventh hour, you can succeed and I know that's what we'll do," she said.

The New York Times prominently featured her in its coverage the following day, noting her "eleoquence," as well as her "two-piece tan dress adorned with heavy long gold chain." The effort to save Grand Central was, from that moment, a national issue.

Barwick recalled that Onassis also wrote a letter to Mayor Abe Beame, and that the letter began, "'Dear Abe, How President Kennedy loved Grand Central Terminal.'"  Barwick laughingly added that, "I don't know, and I don't need to know, whether President Kennedy had ever expressed himself on that subject."

Not long after, Beame told the city's lawyers to appeal the state supreme court's decision, an appeal the city won. The case then moved, in 1978, to the U.S. Supreme Court.Penn Central again argued it should be able to do what it wanted with its property. New York's lawyers said the city had the right to regulate land use through the landmarks law.

The verdict

The justices sided with the city. Grand Central Terminal was saved and, in the early 90s, underwent a restoration that brought back its luster. Penn Central Railroad eventually became Metro-North, which last year saw near-record ridership of 83 million passengers.

Barwick said that today, the city can't imagine being without Grand Central Terminal. "You see New Yorkers all the time, staking a claim in that building, pointing up to that cerulean sky and saying, 'Hey. this belongs to us,'" he said.

Grand Central Terminal turns 100 years old tomorrow.

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Transportation Nation

NJ Transit Hoboken Terminal Reopens Post-Sandy, Sort Of

Monday, January 28, 2013

Hoboken station Photo: Scott Gurian

(Hoboken, NJ -- Scott Gurian, New Jersey Public Radio) The main waiting room of New Jersey Transit's Hoboken Terminal re-opened just in time for the evening commute on Monday, just shy of three months after Sandy raged through the region.

But many commuters were not impressed.  Joanne Hempel was frustrated that the terminal's regular ticket booths, news stands and bathrooms remain closed, forcing commuters like herself to use bathrooms on their trains or in a row of unheated port-o-johns. Another commuter said he wished the waiting room had been open last week, so he'd have had a warm place to sit, but he added, "I'll take what I can get."

Temporary ticket booths at Hoboken Terminal (photo: Scott Gurian)

New Jersey Transit's Executive Director Jim Weinstein did his best to apologize, as he handed out coupons for free coffee and thanked riders for their patience with the limited rail service and continuing terminal repairs.

"We know this has been a trying time," Weinstein said. "The men and women of New Jersey Transit are working as hard as we can possibly work to get the system fully restored," he said, adding, "We've still got a ways to go, but we're getting there."

He said the re-opening of the historic terminal's waiting room was a sign of "great progress." 

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