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Transportation Nation

Why Was the Trans-Hudson River Tunnel Halted?

Monday, September 13, 2010

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) When the Newark Star Ledger reported yesterday that NJ Transit would be suspending activity on the so-called ARC tunnel (which stands for "access to the region's core") under the Hudson river, planners sat up in alarm.

The tunnel will allow NJ transit trains to effectively double their capacity into Manhattan, making transit an option for tens of thousands of NJ drivers, and bringing a steady stream of workers to midtown Manhattan ( Thirty Fourth Street and Sixth Avenue, to be precise). There, they'll be able to take the 34th Street bus rapid transit, planned for 2012, to gain access to a major new Manhattan development site, the Hudson Yards, on the far West Side.

The $8.7 billion project is funded half the the Port Authority, half by NJ Transit (which gets a dedicated stream of funding from Garden State Parkway Tolls), and is getting $1 billion in funding from the federal stimulus bill.

It's the largest single infrastructure recipient of stimulus funds under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, or ARRA, and is seen as crucial the the New York-New Jersey region's economic development.

But -- shock of shocks -- it may go over budget, and hence, as the Ledger reported it: " The month-long suspension of all new activity - imposed by NJ Transit Executive Director James Weinstein in the wake of concerns by the Federal Transit Administration - will be used to re-examine the budget numbers."

In the planning community today, there's an awful lot of head-scratching.  Did this really come from the FTA, and was the FTA legitimately concerned about costs?

If so, why? Other huge Manhattan infrastructure projects, like the Second Avenue Subway, have proceeded without full funding, the theory being that a significant infusion of funds to get a project going ends up drawing down more funds in future, by creating momentum around a project.

Does this signify that NJ Governor Chris Christie is backing away from ARC, or that he'd like to see the Garden State Parkway revenue go to other projects? Christie has been an opponent of raising the gas tax, and NJ's highway trust fund, like the federal government's is broke.

We're trying to sort this out...let us know what you're hearing.

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Transportation Nation

The second stimulus, I-69, and the battle for local control

Thursday, September 09, 2010

(Matt Dellinger, Transportation Nation)  Along with the proposal to jump-start a six-year transportation authorization with $50 Billion in funding, President Obama on Monday also suggested changes in the way such federal dollars are spent. His Administration's promotion of a National Infrastructure Bank and other reforms are early, tentative steps towards what could be a major reworking of the way we decide which projects to construct.

But deciding how to decide won't be easy. Anyone looking for an object lesson in the difficult issues ahead would do well to study the Interstate 69 controversy in Bloomington, Indiana, where the state and the city have locked horns over the biggest highway project in years.

At Eastern Greene Middle School in southern Indiana, citizens peruse maps of the state's route for Interstate 69

The proposed 1400-mile extension of Interstate 69 into a Canada-to Mexico "NAFTA" highway has been on the books for twenty years. It was one of the high-priority corridors designated in the 1991 transportation reauthorization—a notable exception in a bill that was otherwise hyped as the beginning of post-interstate multimodalism and increased local control over planning.

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Transportation Nation

$50 Billion More for Infrastructure? Just the Facts (The White House version)

Monday, September 06, 2010

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release

September 6, 2010

President Obama to Announce Plan to Renew and Expand America’s Roads, Railways and Runways

Infrastructure investments one key way to continue recovery and keep our economy growing


WASHINGTON – Today in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, President Barack Obama will announce a comprehensive infrastructure plan to expand and renew our nation’s roads, railways and runways.

This proposal is among a set of targeted initiatives that the President will outline in Cleveland on Wednesday to support our economic recovery and ensure long-term sustainable growth.  The plan builds upon the infrastructure investments the President has already made through the Recovery Act, includes principles the President put forth during the campaign, and emphasizes American competitiveness and innovation.

A fact sheet on the President’s plan announced today is below.

FACT SHEET: Renewing and Expanding America’s Roads, Railways, and Runways

The President today laid out a bold vision for renewing and expanding our transportation infrastructure – in a plan that combines a long-term vision for the future with new investments. A significant portion of the new investments would be front-loaded in the first year.

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Transportation Nation

A Lively Night in the Fight Over Interstate 69

Thursday, August 26, 2010

(Bloomfield, Indiana - Matt Dellinger, Transportation Nation)  Tonight will be a big night for opponents of Interstate 69 in southern Indiana. The 20-year long local battle against the Canada-to-Mexico highway is reaching a climax. The state has released a draft environmental impact statement for the short segment closest to Bloomington, where the road is widely unpopular.

The Indiana Department of Transportation will host a public hearing this evening on the DEIS.  Public comments against the highway have historically failed to convince the Indiana Department of Transportation or the various Governors who have advanced the project. But one of the most contentious debates has long been based in Bloomington.

Longtime I-69 foes Thomas and Sandra Tokarski, the founders of  Citizens for Appropriate Rural Roads, sent an urgent email to their supporters asking them to attend. “Governor Daniels is  fast-tracking and cheapening I-69,” they wrote, referring to Mitch Daniels’ strategy of reducing engineering standards in order to fit the project into the state’s shrinking budget. “It is VERY IMPORTANT for lots of people to show up and comment on this devastating project. We must speak out or be paved over.” 

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Transportation Nation

Last Pieces of I-35W Bridge Moved

Friday, August 20, 2010

Cars are seen August 4, 2007 in the twisted wreckage of the collapsed I-35W bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Some debris still sits in a park just beond the dark bridge above. An agreement was reached today to move it. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

(St. Paul, MN - MPR News)  Debris from the Interstate 35W bridge collapse in 2007 will soon be moved to a storage site, Minnesota Department of Transportation officials said today.

Mangled steel from the bridge had been placed on parkland along the Mississippi River as the National Transportation Safety Board investigated the collapse. The debris was also considered evidence in several lawsuits stemming from the collapse, so MnDOT was instructed not to remove it.

But Minneapolis residents and the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board complained last year that the seven-acre park had been closed too long. The board sued, saying it was losing parking revenue because the park was closed.

MnDOT spokesman Kevin Gutknecht said Friday that the department has come to an agreement with the park board and with victims of the bridge collapse who have a lawsuit pending against a contractor hired to inspect the bridge.  Moving the steel is expected to start in a couple weeks and will take some time, Gutknecht said.

"It has to be cut so it will fit on flatbed trucks," he said.  But he said MnDOT is happy to move it.  "We are really glad to be able to get that park open again. We know it's been a trial for the city and residents of the city," he said.  More from MPR News.

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Transportation Nation

The Party of Roads?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

(Matt Dellinger, Transportation Nation) You won’t find a clearer policy statement than the domain name for NoTrain.com. The web site was created on behalf of Scott Walker, the republican gubernatorial candidate in Wisconsin, who in a new campaign spot takes a stand against a proposed Madison-to-Milwaukee rail line. Rather than build the $810 million dollar federally-funded “boondoggle,” Walker says, he’d like to “fix Wisconsin’s crumbling roads and bridges.” He’s worried for the “hard-working families who are going to pick up the tab” for a train they may never ride.

The undercurrents are of states rights and fiscal responsibility. The television ad and the open letter that appear on the web site are directed not so much against Walker’s Democratic opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (who supports the rail plan), but against President Barack Obama, who won the state of Wisconsin two years ago by nearly fourteen percent.

Walker isn’t the only Republican gubernatorial hopeful employing the roads-vs-rail rivalry in a state that voted for Obama. California nominee Meg Whitman, the former eBay CEO, has complained that issuing bond debt for high speed rail is unwise in the current economy. She wants the plans put on ice. In Ohio, candidate John Kasich has proposed repurposing the $400 million in stimulus money set aside for faster trains serving Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, and Cincinnati, and using that money for roads. And in Maryland, Republican challenger Bob Erlich has taken issue with Governor Martin O’Malley’s goal to “dial up mass transit.” Erlich says he wants to see a better balance of highway and transit projects, and has suggested that a number of commuter rail projects be converted to a bus program.

The party is not monolithic against rail.

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Transportation Nation

The Highway Trust Fund: Big Wheel, Keep on Turning

Friday, August 13, 2010

Perpetual Motion by Norman Rockwell(Matt Dellinger, Transportation Nation)  Stephen B. Goddard, in his (very excellent) book Getting There, aptly compared the Highway Trust Fund to a perpetual motion machine. Devised in 1956 to pay for the Interstate Highway System, the HTF, as it’s often abbreviated, pooled gas taxes and other automobile-related revenues and spit them right back out as construction money for more highways, the presence of which encouraged more driving and therefore more revenue, and so on.  As Goddard tells it, the HTF was more of an engineering marvel than the roads it built: “It satisfied those who wanted spending linked to revenues, those opposed to diversion [of gas tax monies to non-highway purposes], and congressmen, who would now have one less vote to justify at election time.”

The magical self-feeding road beast did its thing for fifty years, but now, as transportation writer Yonah Freemark laid out last week, it’s become a much more complicated mechanism.

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Transportation Nation

San Francisco Breaks Ground on New Transbay Terminal

Friday, August 13, 2010

Only 25 percent of San Francisco Bay Area residents use mass transit -- but local planners are serious about trying to get that number up. As KALW reports, local political glitterati are getting behind a new bus terminal, which they one day hope will be a hub for rail, buses, and BRT.

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Transportation Nation

Breaking Ground on the Post-Interstate Interstate

Saturday, August 07, 2010

(Matt Dellinger, Transportation Nation) The highway megaproject, an animal still thriving in China and other developing countries, has become something of an endangered species here in America. This has a little bit to do with actual endangered species—and more specifically the environmental laws we put in place to protect them. It also has a lot to do with money, which is kinda tight these days: The Highway Trust Fund is famously broke, and the transportation reauthorization bill is stalled because there’s no consensus on how to make up for anemic gas tax revenues.

But despite all of this—and despite the fact that, technically, the interstate construction program ended in the mid-1990s—the biggest new interstate of the post-interstate era is still struggling its way into existence up and down the middle of the country.

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Transportation Nation

Over the river and through the towns: the fight over how to build California high-speed rail

Friday, August 06, 2010

(San Francisco—Casey Miner, KALW News) First things first: the California High-Speed Rail Authority didn't actually decide anything significant at its monthly meeting yesterday. The board voted unanimously to follow its staff's recommendations about two big sections of the project, Fresno-Merced and San Francisco-San Jose. But those recommendations were merely that staff continue to study the available options for building the rail tracks through those areas.

Those options, though, stirred up a whole lot of controversy. Mayors, councilpeople, assemblymen, activists and concerned citizens packed the auditorium to the point where it was standing-room only for most of the meeting, which began at 9am and lasted well into the afternoon.

At issue was the proposed structure of the train down the Peninsula from San Fransisco to San Jose.

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Transportation Nation

Brooklyn Bridge to get "Christo"-Style Treatment

Sunday, August 01, 2010

(New York -- Kate Hinds, WNYC)  As part of its $508 million rehabilitation, the Brooklyn Bridge will get wrapped in canvas beginning in about two months.

Hasan Ahmed, who oversees the Brooklyn Bridge for the New York City Department of Transportation, says workers will install a huge canvas shield that will protect motorists while the bridge is repainted. "It will be lots of material."

Workers will repaint five million square feet of steel -- and first the old leaded paint has to be removed. Hence the need for a canvas shield. And that necessitates a lot more than throwing down a drop cloth.

"In a couple of months you will see a major difference in the outlook of the bridge," Ahmed tells WNYC's Kate Hinds. "When the containment is styled to creep up from one side ittle by little a whole section of the bridge will be covered."

The canvas won’t cover the bridge’s wood-plank pedestrian walkway, which is elevated above the road.  But the drive across the span will soon change.

Says Ahmed "When you are driving on the bridge, you will not see the sky, because you will see a while or off-white or light brown shield on the top of you."

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Transportation Nation

Bridge is Up the River, Bronx Span Floated into Place

Monday, July 26, 2010

Photo: Stephen Nessen

Bridge goes under a bridge. (Willis Avenue, under the Manhattan)

(Stephen Nessen, WNYC) To make everything less disruptive, the New York City DOT says, it had a new Willis Avenue Bridge built upstate, floated it down the Hudson, and had it make a brief stay in Bayonne, NJ, before floating it up the East River this morning. Rubbernecking abounded. See the slide show, here.

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Transportation Nation

GAO Report: A Quarter of Bridges "Deficient"

Thursday, July 22, 2010

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) And that's an improvement. In a report released to Congress today, the GAO says "one in four bridges in the United States is either structurally deficient and in need of repair, or functionally obsolete and is not adequate for today's traffic." Turns out that's better than it was twelve years ago, but the GAO is decrying the lack of comprehensive information on state and local bridge spending. The GAO says that makes it impossible to measure whether federal bridge spending is effective, and whether localities are using federal funds to supplant spending they would have made anyway.

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Transportation Nation

Tunnel Vision Complete As Manhattan Bedrock Crumbles

Thursday, July 15, 2010

(New York, NY - Matthew Schuerman, WNYC)  I was there.  At about 4:15 p.m. Eastern time, a giant boring machine drilled through the last of Manhattan bedrock to complete the tunnel for an extension of the Number 7 train.  The event marks a political milestone for Mayor Bloomberg.  It's also expected to develop Manhattan's Far West Side in the same way London supported Canary Wharf with an extension of the Jubilee Line.

For the past year, a pair of machines has been digging the mile-long tunnel, starting at 26th street and 11th Avenue and ending, today, underneath the Port Authority Bus Terminal at 8th avenue and 41st street.  There the extension connects with the current number 7 subway line.   Here's more of what the big moment was like from our broadcast of All Things Considered this afternoon.

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Transportation Nation

A Bridge Floats Down the Hudson

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

flickr user: Pro-Zak (by-nc)

(New York, NY - Collin Campbell, Transportation Nation)  A 350-foot bridge floated into New York harbor under the cover of night this morning. It’s the replacement span for the Willis Avenue Bridge and was built near Albany and sent down the river.

New York City’s Department of Transportation assembled the bridge in Coeymans, New York to avoid the impact that construction

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Transportation Nation

A Life Refining, Mining and Drilling into the Earth

Friday, July 09, 2010

Refineries, open-pit mines, and mining camps can seem like remote locations. Unless they are your father's photographic obsessions. Over at the WNYC culture page, writer Carolina Miranda muses on her engineer father's five decades of snapshots of oil refineries, open pit mines, and mining camps.  At left, a view of the Caletones copper smelting project in the Andes, as captured by Felipe Miranda in 1968.

We write about oil and energy, all the time at Transportation Nation, but these photos tell the story from a whole new angle. Literally.  --Andrea Bernstein

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Transportation Nation

Big Brooklyn Bridge Contractor Got "Marginal" Rating on Minority Hiring

Friday, July 02, 2010

(Kate Hinds, WNYC) One of the main reasons WNYC decided to monitor the renovation of the Brooklyn Bridge is that we thought following this $508-million project would provide a good test case for government transparency. We would publicly mull over questions like How does the city award contracts? Where will the materials come from? Who will get the jobs? Read on, and we'll tell you how the main bridge contractor, Skanska-Koch, got a "marginal" rating for hiring women and minorities. But first...(more)

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Transportation Nation

Highways get a $3.7 billion boost in House bill

Thursday, July 01, 2010

(Todd Zwillich, Transportation Nation, Washington, DC) National transportation programs get a $3.7 billion dollar boost over last year in the House’s latest appropriation bill funding the Department of Transportation.

The increase includes new money for highway repairs and improvements, which have been in limbo with Congress unable to reach agreement on transportation or highway policy bills.

The House Appropriations Committee released a summary of the bill Thursday as the bill works its way through the legislative process on its way to the floor later this summer. DOT would get a total of $79.4 billion in Fiscal 2011, which begins Oct 1. That’s $3.7 billion more than the agency’s budget this year and $1.7 more than requested by President Obama.

Most of the money in the bill—$45.2 billion--goes to federal highway maintenance and construction. It’s a $3.1 billion increase designed to help fill a hole left by the stalled transportation reauthorization bill.

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Transportation Nation

BART Oakland Airport connector roars back to life

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

This proposed walkway to new train has been cut from plans, which now call for riders to walk across these lanes of traffic.

(Nathanael Johnson, KALW) Streetsblog and the Bay Citizen are reporting that in California's Bay Area, BART has a tentative plan to take money from local agencies to realize its plans to build a train to the Oakland Airport. BART would use this money to replace the funding revoked by the federal government when Washington learned that the project was not in compliance with the Civil Rights Act.
But if the project doesn’t comply with a federal law, further federal funding is in doubt.  And it's unusual for local goverments to invest funds with no hope of federal money.  And funding plan drinks the milkshake of other transportation projects, while putting taxpayers on the hook for millions more in taxes and debt.

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Transportation Nation

Minnesota Says It's Making Progress With Bridge Inspections

Friday, June 18, 2010

(St. Paul, Minnesota - Dan Olson, MPR News)  The Winona Bridge underscores Minnesota's aging transportation infrastructure.  State bridge inspectors on a routine inspection last week spotted  spreading corrosion, made a repair and slapped on some weight restrictions. The rust illustrates the problems associated with that 69-year-old structure and dozens of other spans around the state.

The 2007 collapse of the 35W bridge in Minneapolis put bridge safety at the top of the state's transportation agenda. In 2008, a report from the Office of the Legislative Auditor found problems with the Minnesota Department of Transportation bridge inspection system.  The Auditor's report cited untimely bridge inspections, with only 85 percent of bridges inspected within the federal 24-month standard. MnDoT had too few inspectors and documentation of maintenance performed following bridge inspections was inadequate.  State officials say they're making progress responding to bridge inspection shortcomings.

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