Tuesday, December 04, 2012
By Kate Hinds
You can ride the H train for free -- but the shirt is a different story.
On Tuesday, the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority launched the Rockaways Collection -- shirts, magnets, and pins branded with the logo of the shuttle now plying the heavily damaged Queens neighborhood.
But can the MTA afford to give away money? The transit agency sustained $5 billion in damages from Sandy. It will cost $650 million alone just to restore A train service from mainland Queens to the Rockaways. It had to truck subway cars out to the neighborhood just to operate the free H train shuttle service.
An MTA spokesman says yes.
"We have a financial plan," says Aaron Donovan. “We will have money available through issuing short-term notes to restore the service and we expect to be reimbursed by FEMA and our insurance.”
The MTA announced last week it was taking on debt to pay for Sandy damages and will issue $950 million in bonds. At that time, chairman Joe Lhota said he had "an enormous amount of confidence" that the MTA would receive "a substantial amount of money" from the federal government.
To learn more about the H train, and to watch a video of how the MTA got subway cars out to the Rockaways, go here.
Tuesday, December 04, 2012
Mayor Michael Bloomberg calls it "the future of New York City."
Thursday, November 29, 2012
By Martin DiCaro : WAMU
(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) The Washington metropolitan region faces worsening traffic congestion and transit crowding as its population and job growth expand over the next three decades, according to a forecast released on Wednesday by a regional planning group.
The forecast by transportation planners at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments says large investments in infrastructure and improved land use policies are necessary to reduce the burden on an overtaxed highway and rail system.
“We’ve had a long period of time of inadequate funding for transportation,” said Ron Kirby, the director of the council’s Department of Transportation Planning, whose forecast says transit and roadway congestion will increase despite the expected billions of dollars in investments between now and 2040. It will take even more money, he said.
“The issues of Metro’s rehabilitation are well known but perhaps less well known is the lack of capacity expansion. We haven’t gotten to eight-car trains on Metro rail,” Kirby said, referring to Metro’s ongoing multi-billion dollar rehab project that does not include the addition of rail cars.
If 50 percent of Metro trains consist of eight cars by 2040, the forecast says the red, orange, yellow, and green lines will be congested (100-120 passengers per car) or highly congested (120+ passengers per car). Only the blue line would be rated satisfactory. If 100 percent of Metro trains consist of eight cars by 2040, the orange, yellow, and green lines will still be congested, according to the forecast, which is an aggregation of statistics and projections provided to the council by its member jurisdictions.
The forecast for the region’s highways is similar. Morning congestion traveling in the direction of the region’s core will worsen along I-95 in Prince William County, I-70 East in Frederick, I-270 South in Frederick and Montgomery Counties, I-66 East in Prince William and Fairfax, and the Dulles Toll Road Eastbound in Loudoun and Fairfax. The inner and outer loops of the Beltway will be more congested in Maryland, the forecast says.
“Carpooling is expected to increase some, because we do have some facilities coming on line,” said Kirby, referring to the just-completed 495 Express Lanes and under-construction 95 Express Lanes. “But there’s been relatively limited new highway capacity. At the same time, we are having very strong growth in the outer jurisdictions where there is relatively little transit. So those trips, whether they are work trips or non-work trips, are very dependent on the road system.”
The forecast says the region’s population will grow by 24 percent to 6.5 million by 2040. Employment is projected to grow by 37 percent, adding 1.1 million jobs.
As people and jobs flock to D.C. and its suburbs, choice of transportation mode will not dramatically change, according to Kirby’s projections. By 2040, 57 percent of all commuting trips will be made by people driving on their own, a four percent decrease from current levels. Carpooling is expected to increase from 11 to 14 percent of commuting trips, transit will remain steady at 24 percent, and biking and walking will increase from four to five percent.
Some lawmakers who sit on the Council of Governments board take issue with the forecast, saying its extrapolations do not account for changes in policy and other factors.
“It would be a mistake to think that’s what the future is going to be,” said Chris Zimmerman, a member of the Arlington County Board and proponent of transit-oriented development.
Zimmerman disagrees with the forecast’s projection that employment will grow fastest in the outer jurisdictions of Virginia, although the highest concentration of jobs will remain in D.C., Fairfax County and Montgomery County.
“The real question is where do you want the growth in jobs and population to be? That’s not a foregone conclusion,” Zimmerman said. “Almost all the growth in this region and the rest of the country is happening in more developed areas because the market is pushing it that way. If land use regulations change in ways that accommodate what the market wants to do, we’ll see an accelerated trend.”
Zimmerman says the future should not be seen as a competition between either cars or transit; transit-oriented development that combines retail, office, and residential properties in close proximity to a Metro station also encourages more walking.
“The reason for doing transit-oriented development is not simply to get more people on transit, but to get more people out of having to use any kind of vehicle for five, six, seven trips a day,” he said.
Zimmerman acknowledges the highway system will always need significant funding for maintenance and improvements, but if a million more jobs are coming to the region by 2040 it makes more sense – in his view – to attract them to places that workers can reach without a car.
Kirby’s forecast says the average number of jobs accessible within 45 minutes by transit will increase from the current 419,000 to 499,000 in 2040, a projection Zimmerman says will change with better land use policies.
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
By Jim O'Grady
(New York, NY - WNYC) The NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority held a board meeting Wednesday -- its first after Sandy -- and the main topic was how to solve a conundrum: filling the $5 billion hole that the storm blew in the agency's budget while simultaneously rebuilding New York's damaged transportation system.
NY MTA Chairman Joe Lhota seemed determined to assure the public that the agency, at the very least, had a plan. He began by saying revenue will not be raised by additional increases to planned toll and fare hikes in 2013 and 2015.
"The burden of Sandy will not be upon our riders," he said. "I have an enormous amount of confidence in our federal government that we will receive a substantial amount of money to get us back to the condition of functionality we had the day before the storm."
He said he didn't expect to see service cutbacks--though he didn't rule them out--and that he'd stick to a pledge to add or restore $29 million in subway and bus service.
Lhota said he is expecting FEMA and insurance to pick up 75 percent of the $5 billion tab. And he's hoping FEMA will boosts its reimbursement up to 95 percent. But the MTA can't count on that. As of now, the authority is on the hook for $950 million, which it needs right away to rebuild.
They'll get it by issuing $950 million in bonds. Lhota said the move will add $125 million to the authority's debt burden over the next three years. The best Lhota could say about where the money would come from is "cost-cutting measures" that are "unidentified at this time."
The MTA is paying $2 billion dollars in debt service this year. By 2018, debt service is expected to gobble up 20 percent of the authority's revenue. That's before figuring in the nearly $1 billion in debt that it voted to add Wednesday.
Lhota said the budget setback would not stop the authority's megaprojects, which are funded by its capital program. The Second Avenue subway, the East Side Access tunnel between Long Island and Grand Central Terminal, and the 7 train extension are essentially funded and nearing completion. Sandy delayed their construction but didn't flood them.
Today's decision to bring on more debt raised an alarm with Gene Russianoff of the New York Straphangers Campaign, an advocacy group. "Funding these needs by MTA bonds will increase pressure on fares through increased debt service - and it sets a troubling precedent for the funding of the next five-year capital program starting in 2015," he said in a statement.
Lhota added that all of the $5 billion will be spent on restoring transit to its pre-Sandy state. (Repairing the South Ferry Station alone is projected to cost $600 million.) None of the funds will be used to harden the system against future storms. That's going to take a whole other pile of money that hasn't been located yet.
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
By Martin DiCaro : WAMU
Planners are looking for ways to improve the commute for the more than 56,000 people currently working at Fort Meade in central Maryland.
A top transportation planner at Fort Meade says there are a couple possible strategies to consider to reduce regional traffic congestion. One would be to build major highways at an estimated cost of $50 billion over 25 years. A second option is to use "transportation demand management," which is another way of saying increasing car pooling, rail and bus use.
Howard Jennings is a researcher at Arlington (VA)-based Mobility Lab, which specializes in commuter services. He says a multi-pronged approach is more feasible and less expensive than laying down miles of asphalt.
"Experience has shown that over the years if you build a highway, usually it is going to fill up in just a few years, and we can cite many examples of that," says Jennings.
Jennings favors the "transportation demand" approach, which also includes encourages more telecommuting. Add all these measures up, and Jennings says there will be significantly fewer single-occupant vehicles on the roads around Fort Meade.
"Peoples' commutes are very individualized," says Jennings. "There is no one-size-fits-all. We find that when offering up options to people, they will self-select what will work for them."
Jennings says what would work near Fort Meade, where the typical commuter now travels 20 miles alone in a car, would work around any of the region's 20 major job centers that hold 40 percent of the region's jobs.
Monday, November 26, 2012
By Kate Hinds
On Monday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo huddled with the state's congressional delegation to go over his federal disaster aid request. "This state has suffered mightily," he said. (Watch the press conference, above.)
Howard Glaser, a senior policy advisor to the governor, broke that figure down at a press conference. The number to restore transit, roads, and bridges, was "very big," he said, and "the big piece there is the MTA."
Glaser said the damage to the transit agency totalled $4.8 billion. "That's damage to the tunnels, to the rail system, to the subway system. This amount of money, the 4.8 (billion), would just restore it to where it was before the storm," he said, adding that "the signal systems in many of the tunnels have to be completely replaced, for example, and that's a lot of money."
(To put that number in perspective, that's about a year's worth of the agency's capital budget.)
At a committee meeting earlier Monday, the MTA tallied up what it said was a "not exhaustive" list of damages -- including flooding to under-river tunnels, subway stations, and track washouts, but didn't include a cost breakdown.
Read New York State's breakdown of Hurricane Sandy recovery needs here.
Monday, November 26, 2012
(Emily DeMarco, PublicSource) Jessica Ferrell knows the danger of potholes. She fell twice because of the same one: Once when she was pregnant, then again when she was carrying her newborn baby in a sling across her chest.
She wrapped her arms around her son to protect him, but injured her leg in the second fall. In April 2009, she reported the pothole near Smithfield Street and Seventh Avenue to the city’s 311 Response Center. It was filled within five workdays.
“I don’t think it should take an accident to fix it,” said the 32-year-old hairdresser.
The average amount of time it takes to resolve pothole complaints is on the rise on the streets of Pittsburgh, according to a PublicSource analysis of 25,000 pothole complaints from Pittsburgh’s 311 center between 2006 and 2012.
In 2009, it took an average of five workdays to resolve pothole complaints. The response time doubled the following year. By 2011, residents were waiting nearly three weeks. Data show that it’s taking about the same amount of time to fill potholes in 2012 as in 2011.
Thirty-seven percent of the complaints over the six years were resolved within three workdays; 42 percent between four and 10 workdays; 9 percent took 11 to 20 workdays; and 10 percent took more than 20 workdays, or four weeks. The remaining 2 percent were unresolved.
As the time it takes to fill potholes climbs, so does the continuing degradation to Pittsburgh’s 1,000 miles of streets. The health of its streets already is compromised because of the city’s age, weather, topography and budget. And questions remain as to why some neighborhoods wait longer than others to have pothole complaints resolved.
The review of 311 data revealed the real cost of potholes: Cars with broken shock absorbers and axles. Flat tires. A radiator that fell out of a car. Motorists who swerved into oncoming traffic. Potholes outside elderly residents’ high-rise apartments. Potholes in bike lanes. Pedestrians with injured arms and knees. A child with a fractured wrist.
As Pittsburgh attempts to forge an identity as a destination city for entrepreneurs, scholars and young families, some would ask whether we can attract all those groups with such rutty roads. And, once the potholes are filled, driving down some streets can still be like rumbling over a path in a Third World country.
Joanna Doven, the spokeswoman for Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, said he was unavailable to comment on the analysis, despite repeated requests by PublicSource. The city has no plans to do its own analysis of the data, she said.
During a telephone interview, Director of Public Works Robert Kaczorowski declined to speak specifically to the analysis, but, he said many variables, such as steep or narrow streets and weather, can slow the response time.
On the day he was speaking, Nov. 20, the city had only 38 outstanding pothole complaints, he said.
“Most of those will be addressed today,” he said.
Data alone do not account for the obstacles workers sometimes face, he said. For example, a crew recently had difficulty getting a truck down a narrow street in Lawrenceville. The men pushed wheelbarrows full of hot asphalt down the street to repair the potholes, he said.
And, because the crews document pothole repairs on paper, some resolution dates may not be entered into the 311 database promptly, he said.
Launched in 2006 after Ravenstahl took office, the 311 call center is for all non-emergency complaints. Since 2006, 4,000 to 5,000 pothole complaints a year have poured in from bus riders, cyclists, motorists and pedestrians.
About 30,000 potholes a year are repaired in Pittsburgh. The final numbers are larger than the number of complaints because if one pothole is identified in a complaint and there are four more on the same street, the crews fill all of them.
The goal of the Public Works Department: Resolve pothole complaints within four days, said Wendy Urbanic, the call center’s coordinator.
At various times, Ravenstahl’s office has stated in press releases about pothole patrols that the goal for filling potholes ranges from 72 hours to five days.
Video: Filling In
What happens after you call the 311 center? Videographer Renee Rosensteel looks at what goes into resolving your pothole complaints.
At the heart of this story is a larger issue: Potholes are indicators of the health of the streets.
Think of the streets like skin. When you suffer a burn or cut, it's crucial that the wound is cared for properly, rather than just with a Band-Aid, so it doesn’t become serious.
Pittsburgh is home to roughly 1,000 miles of hilly, non-gridded streets in less-than-perfect health. It’s typical to see streets with repaired potholes that stretch like knotted ribbons for entire blocks, causing a bumpy ride for bicycles and cars alike.
Once water gets under the surface of a street because of a pothole, its health is compromised, and a whole box of Band-Aids won’t fix the problem.
According to experts, potholes need to be filled within days.
“Once you start getting a large number of potholes, you need to resurface,” said Ray Brown, emeritus director of the National Center for Asphalt Technology in Auburn, Ala.
Pittsburgh has been behind on its street resurfacing schedule for years, Kaczorowski, the public works director, told PublicSource in August, before the analysis was completed.
The city should have been resurfacing 100 miles each year, Kaczorowski said. However, a former city official said the city could only afford to resurface 30 to 40 miles a year.
Pittsburgh’s budget for filling potholes is not identified in a line item, but is part of the city’s general operating budget. In 2011, the asphalt for potholes cost $260,107, according to an email from Kaczorowski.
In 2012, the Ravenstahl administration announced that 60 miles of streets would be paved at a cost of $11.3 million.
Private contractors do the resurfacing, Kaczorowski said. And this year, they are trying a new resurfacing method.
Past practice removed 3 to 5 inches of bad asphalt. But it was costly to remove that much material. The new method shaves only about an inch of asphalt off the surface of the road, Kaczorowski explained. It saves money because part of the material removed is used to resurface the road.
Newly resurfaced roads should have a life of 15 to 20 years, said Brown. While the shortcuts the city is taking can cut costs, Brown warned that unless the damaged pavement is completely removed, problems, like potholes, will reappear.
“If you continue to have potholes, then you probably have a pavement design problem,” Brown said.
Disparities in service
Between 2006 and 2012, its residents, living in neighborhoods like Greenfield, Glen Hazel and Squirrel Hill South, waited an average of 19 workdays for pothole complaints to be resolved.
In 2011, their pothole complaints averaged 32 workdays.
“That number really shocks me because I know our guys work really hard out there,” said Corey O’Connor, the District 5 councilman.
O’Connor has been in office for nearly a year. When a constituent complains about a pothole, his office calls the local Public Works division and the pothole is fixed within days, he said.
O’Connor said he would have to see the data before raising the issue with the council.
Doug Shields, who represented O’Connor’s district between 2004 and 2011, said regional disparities in service boil down to bad management from the Ravenstahl administration.
“Why does it take a phone call and a complaint to perform?” he said, adding that he’s seen potholes sit for months.
The winner in the analysis was District 2, represented by Theresa Kail-Smith.
The district’s neighborhoods include Crafton Heights and the West End and it had nearly the same number of pothole complaints as O’Connor’s district. Their average for filling potholes over the six-year period was six days.
“I think with all things, there’s always someone who is first,” she said,
adding that her district is last when it comes to other things.
Division 5 of Public Works repairs potholes in Kail-Smith’s district. The supervisor of the division, John McClory, said he sends a pothole crew out as the weather permits.
And fixing potholes can be a thankless job, he said.
“The guys take some abuse,” McClory said. “They just have to get back in the truck, and work.”
But the job is an important one.
Jessica Ferrell said she’s no longer angry about her injury that was caused by a pothole. She said she believes the 311 response center is “important for a prosperous city.”
She added that she hopes areas of the city used by cyclists and pedestrians get more attention.
“People can get hurt really bad,” she said. “I don’t think there’s any excuse for it.”
For maps and graphics about Pittsburgh potholes, go to publicsource.org.
How we did it:
PublicSource requested and received the 311 Response Center’s database from the city. It included complaint information for about 25,000 potholes.
Complaints that did not list a resolution date were excluded. Also excluded were the complaints that were the responsibility of county, state or private entities, which totalled only .5 percent of the complaints.
The analysis focused on the average number of workdays for filling potholes, excluding weekends and holidays.
The caveat? Pothole repairs are marked as resolved on paper work orders by public works crews. At times, the information may not be entered promptly in the 311 database.
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
By Martin DiCaro : WAMU
The Virginia Department of Transportation will study traffic volume over the Potomac River in an effort to determine where the most people and goods will cross as the region’s population grows, the agency said Tuesday.
The study – scheduled for completion next spring – will not recommend a solution but instead provide a basis for consultations with transportation officials in the District of Columbia and Maryland about how best to improve transportation across the river from Point of Rocks in the west to the Route 301 bridge in the east.
“We want to essentially gauge and develop the data from which we can make some informed decisions regarding the best alternatives to deal with the current traffic conditions and what we expect in the future,” said Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton in an interview with Transportation Nation.
Connaughton downplayed the possibility his office would push for the construction of a new bridge over the Potomac.
“We’re really not prejudging anything. In fact, we’re not really getting into what’s the best alternative,” he said.
The study already has its critics, who say the Republican administration of Governor Bob McDonnell has been pushing for a new Potomac River bridge for years.
“They are pushing for another bridge even though the real fixes we need to make are at the American Legion Bridge,” said Stewart Schwartz, the executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, which supports expanding mass transit instead of road expansions. To Schwartz, a new bridge connecting Virginia and Maryland would lead to more congestion and sprawl. He favors implementing transit options on the American Legion Bridge.
“In the near term, that can be buses on dedicated bus lanes with frequent service, connecting the Red Line and the Silver Line, connecting Tysons Corner and Fairfax County job centers with the Montgomery County job centers,” he said. “Fortunately, Fairfax County and Montgomery County have already met and are pursuing the transit investments that are needed both short term and long term.”
Connaughton disputes the allegation the McDonnell administration is after a new “outer beltway” at the expense of mass transit investments.
“This is one of the things that will be the hallmark of the McDonnell administration, is that we are pursuing increased transit opportunities, as well as dealing with congestion on our roadways, and looking for bike paths and pedestrian paths. We are doing everything. This is not a one-solution-fits-all,” he said.
If Virginia officials privately favor building another Potomac River span, they may meet resistance across the river. In an October letter to Secretary Connaughton, Acting Maryland Secretary of Transportation Darrell Mobley clarified his agency’s position.
“The Maryland Department of Transportation’s (MDOT's) highest priority remains the preservation of our existing infrastructure and the safety of the traveling public. MDOT does not intend to revisit the years of debate regarding new crossings of the Potomac River,” the letter said. “We are interested in the study of potential improvements to existing crossings, including: the Governor Nice Bridge along the US 301 corridor, the American Legion Bridge on the Capital Beltway, and the potential addition of transit across the Wilson Bridge.”
Connaughton said he believes D.C. and Maryland officials are in agreement that a study of future traffic volume is necessary. As far as a possible solution, he said, “we haven’t gotten there yet.”
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
By Jim O'Grady
(New York, NY - WNYC) Poll results show that Superstorm Sandy has remade two kinds of landscapes in New York: physical and psychological. Beachfront is gone, trees are uprooted and whole communities have been forcibly rearranged by a monster tide. No less dramatically, a majority of New Yorkers are expressing love not only for their elected officials but everyone's favorite bureaucratic whipping boy, the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
You read that correctly.
The latest Quinnipiac University poll finds 75 percent of New Yorkers rated the authority's performance during and after Sandy at "excellent" or "good." That's better than the Red Cross's 66 percent approval rating, and the dismal 37 percent approval for the region's utility companies, which struggled at times to bring the power back.
NY MTA chairman Joe Lhota was highly visible in the days and weeks following the storm as his workers methodically pumped out no less than seven under-river tunnels and, one by one, got them back to carrying trains and vehicular traffic.
The NY MTA also showed a fair degree of nimbleness by running shuttle buses over cross-river bridges until the subways were dried out. (Taking a cue, the NY Department of Transportation today announced its plan to run a temporary ferry from the hard-hit South Shore of Staten Island to Manhattan.) And the authority captured the public imagination with an online map that showed the the subway recovering in real time.
The Quinnipiac poll, which surveyed more than 1,000 registered voters in New York, also reported that Mayor Bloomberg's odd-even gas rationing system won favor by 85 to 12 percent. Other winners: President Obama, New York Governor Cuomo and, with the best numbers, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. See the full results here.
Thursday, November 15, 2012
By Martin DiCaro : WAMU
The agency managing the largest public rail expansion in the nation voted to increase tolls on a Virginia highway in part to help fund construction of the Silver Line.
On Wednesday, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority unanimously approved raising the full, one-way toll on the Dulles Toll Road to $2.75 effective January 1, an increase of $.50. In January 2014 toll will increase to $3.50.
The toll increases are a major part of the financing plan for the Silver Line extension to Dulles International Airport, a 23-mile, $5.5 billion project whose first phase is scheduled for completion late next year. The MWAA board put off a decision to increase tolls again in 2015 because of the possibility of obtaining additional state and/or federal dollars.
MWAA has two avenues to secure additional funds: Virginia’s General Assembly, which has provided only $150 million to date, and the federal TIFIA (Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act) loan program.
“Our project is, bar none, (one) of the more worthy projects in the country for TIFIA loan financing,” said MWAA Board Chairman Michael Curto in remarks to reporters after the agency’s vote. “We’ve seen the enhanced TIFIA loan program so we’re positioned well, given that the project is shovel ready. We’re ready to move."
Curto is not the only public official who has expressed optimism a federal loan with come through. However, MWAA has a lot of competition for TIFIA dollars. Nineteen major transportation projects totaling $27 billion are currently applying for loans, and Congress has authorized $1.75 billion for TIFIA the next two fiscal years.
“The pool is very small compared to what the needs are just for our rail system,” said Terry Maynard, a board member of the Reston Citizens Association, which represents 58,000 residents in a Fairfax County tax district. “It's going to be very hard to get a significant contribution.”
The association opposes not the Silver Line’s construction but its financing plan, which leaves fifty percent of the entire project’s cost on Dulles Toll Road users (75 percent of Phase II).
“We really want this to get built and succeed,” Maynard said. “We are pressing that all the money [MWAA] receives relieve the burden on toll road users.” Fairfax County residents have relayed their concerns to MWAA that drivers looking to avoid higher tolls will opt for already congested secondary roads, further clogging their communities with traffic.
Curto promised that MWAA will lobby Richmond for additional funding. He declined to criticize the McDonnell administration’s spending priorities, which have seen hundreds of millions of dollars allocated for highway expansions.
“We are going to reach out, work closely and hope to encourage the governor’s administration and the folks in Richmond that Dulles Rail should be the recipient of additional funds. As Secretary LaHood said, it is a model project,” Curto said.
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
By Jim O'Grady
(New York, NY - WNYC) Cars can now use one of the two tubes of the Hugh Carey Tunnel, formerly the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, in New York.
Governor Andrew Cuomo, who held a press conference at the mouth of the tunnel with NY MTA chief Joe Lhota and US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, said crews have worked around the clock to repair Sandy damage.
"When you saw this tunnel just a week ago, it was filled with water floor to ceiling," he recalled. "It defied belief, what was in this tunnel. And now 15 days later, one of the tubes will open."
Cuomo said both tubes of the 1.7 mile tunnel--the longest vehicular under-river crossing in North America--were flooded with 43 million gallons of debris-laden seawater that damaged electrical, lighting, communications, surveillance and ventilation systems.
The eastern tube -- the one usually dedicated to vehicles traveling from Brooklyn to Lower Manhattan -- is now open to Brooklyn-bound cars and buses for the evening commute from 3 pm to 7. Friday morning, it will be open for Manhattan-bound traffic during the morning rush between 6 and 10. No trucks are allowed for now.
The governor said the western tunnel suffered worse damage and will not be open for another "few weeks." With both tubes in operation, the tunnel normally carries 50,000 vehicles on an average weekday.
Cuomo is asking the federal government for $30 billion in disaster aid, including $3.5 billion to repair the metropolitan area's bridges, tunnels and subway and commuter rail lines. That request is pending. In the meantime, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is pitching in with $10 million from the highway trust fund.
At the press conference, LaHood explained: "I’m here because the president has said to us, 'Get to New York. Do what you can, when you can do it, as often as you can do it. Take your cues form the governor.'" He said the $10 million request was approved in two hours, before implying that President Obama will come bearing many more relief funds when he visits New York on Thursday.
When a reporter asked the governor whether the U.S. Department of Transportation could cover the whole price tag for the state's recovery from Sandy, Cuomo deadpanned to LaHood, "You don’t have $30 billion dollars, do you?" The answer was, no.
D.C. Beltway Opens HOT Lanes to Breeze Past Traffic for a Price, but Strapped Gov't Won't Get Revenue
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
By Martin DiCaro : WAMU
(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) Heralded as the Beltway’s largest expansion that will provide drivers in Northern Virginia congestion relief for a price, the 495 Express Lanes ceremoniously opened Tuesday morning as Governor Bob McDonnell (R-Va.) cut the ribbon on the $2 billion project.
“So many said that expanding the Beltway was just not a possible task given the multiple challenges. It would consume VDOT’s entire budget, some would say at the time. It would take an immense amount of property. And yet the private sector came up with this concept of a high occupancy toll lane,” the governor said at a ceremony in Tysons Corner.
The high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes will actually open to traffic November 17. Two new lanes will run in each direction for fourteen miles between the Dulles Toll Road and I-95 interchange in Fairfax County, Virginia.
If all goes according to plan, there will never be traffic slower than 45 miles per hour in the HOT lanes.
HOV-3 vehicles and buses may use the 495 Express Lanes for free. All other motorists must pay electronic tolls through EZ Pass that will be dynamically priced: the higher the traffic volume on the Express Lanes, the higher the toll. The highway’s operators are required to keep traffic moving at least 45 miles per hour.
The project was made possible through a public-private partnership with Fluor-Transurban, an engineer and construction conglomerate. Virginia gets a $2 billion dollar road; Transurban receives the toll revenues for 75 years as per its contract with the state. Virginia funded roughly one-fifth of the cost ($409 million); Transurban provided $1.5 billion with considerable help from a $589 million federal loan through the TIFIA program.
The use of public-private partnerships to complete massive transportation projects is raising questions about Virginia’s lack of tax revenue and conservative debt capacity to build needed infrastructure. The state’s gasoline tax of $.17 per gallon hasn’t been raised in 25 years; 85 percent of gas tax revenues are used for maintenance of existing roadways, according to Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton.
“When you look at projects that are growing in cost and complexity it is becoming more difficult for the public sector to be able to design, build, and finance them,” Connaughton said. When pressed on whether the Republican administration of Governor Bob McDonnell would ask the state legislature to raise the gas tax, Connaughton would not commit to a position.
“The governor is working with his team right now as well as leadership in the general assembly to develop a consensus package to address our transportation funding challenges,” said Connaughton, who said gas tax revenues have been depleted by inflation and improved vehicle fuel efficiencies.
“People are buying more fuel efficient vehicles. They are buying alternative vehicles and hybrids, and we are actually seeing an impact on our gas tax revenues for vehicle miles traveled,” he said.
The gasoline tax’s diminishing returns are not a reason to avoid raising it, according to Virginia Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-Va.).
“So long as the current administration in Richmond is unwilling to deal straightforwardly with the issue of declining revenue, we are going to starve the Commonwealth of any new infrastructure except for projects like this which are uniquely funded with massive amounts of federal aid,” Connolly said, referring to the large federal loan secured by Fluor-Transurban.
Connolly said both Virginia and the federal government should raise their gas taxes and index them to inflation. The federal gas tax has remained at $.18 per gallon since 1993.
If an attempt were made to finance such a project by floating bonds without leveraging private equity, Connaughton said the state’s debt capacity would not allow it.
“Almost all the debt capacity for the state is spoken for today and out into the future. If you want to get projects done, given the cost involved, you have to look for ways to bring in the private sector,” said Connaughton, who acknowledged public-private partnerships only work in cases where the private sector investor would have a dedicated revenue stream. In the instance of the 495 Express Lanes, that would be tolls.
“There are a limited number of projects that actually can generate the types of revenues that help offset the costs of the infrastructure. Public-private partnerships are a tool in the tool chest. We want to use them where they make sense… but at the end of the day we still have to look at the broader package of funding sources,” Connaughton said.
In Connolly's view, public-private partnerships have another limitation. "There is a limit to the public tolerance for new toll facilities," he said.
Tuesday, November 06, 2012
By Martin DiCaro : WAMU
A homeowners’ group in Alexandria is fighting a proposal by Virginia transportation planners to build a highway ramp near their homes.
Concerned Residents of Overlook, an upscale community adjacent to I-395, wants the Virginia Department of Transportation to relocate a ramp that will serve as the northern terminus of the 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.
“The ramp is going to be about 75 feet from my house,” said Mary Hasty, who has lived in Overlook for ten years. Hasty says she's learned to live with the constant din of highway traffic but did not expect VDOT would ever build an exit ramp so close to her residence.
“You get used to the hum of traffic, but I certainly never anticipated that I’d have cars 75 feet from my house and my patio and garden,” she said.
The group claims VDOT failed to adequately study noise and air quality impacts that will result when traffic exits the new express lanes onto I-395 or local roads. The neighbors fear exiting highway traffic will back up and idle on the exit ramp.
“Our biggest issue is that they moved the end point, called the terminus, of the HOT lanes from Crystal City, Arlington County to our backyard and they did not do any studies specifically to determine the impact on our communities,” Hasty said.
Hasty’s friend and neighbor, Sue Okubo, said the ramp will ruin property values, too.
“Already a number of neighbors are putting their houses on the market,” Okubo said.
“Maybe there won’t be an impact. I don’t believe that. That’s why we are having independent studies to determine what the impact is. We are late in the game and it is a David vs. Goliath scenario, but we are pushing really hard.” Hasty added.
Construction of the ramp is already underway. Relocating it is unlikely, according to state officials.
“It would be very difficult to make a change at this point having gone through a lot of the studies and approvals at the state, regional, and federal levels,” said John Lynch, VDOT’s regional transportation director for Virginia megaprojects. Lynch refuted the homeowners’ claims that the state failed to study traffic and pollution scenarios.
“We went through the federal requirements and developed an environmental assessment which includes analysis for both noise and air quality,” Lynch said. “The bottom line is those studies met all the federal requirements and it was reviewed by both the Federal Highway Administration and Environmental Protection Agency. We wouldn’t have gotten approval to move forward with this project if it didn’t meet those requirements.”
Lynch said VDOT responded to residents’ concerns by extending auxiliary lanes to mitigate traffic congestion at the future interchange, adding that all the pertinent documents have been shared with the Overlook community.
“We have been very transparent in providing all of the information that they requested,” Lynch said. “We’ve met with the community multiple times both in 2011 and 2012 during project development.”
Tuesday, October 30, 2012
All NJ Transit service remains closed Tuesday afternoon following Hurricane Sandy with no estimates for resumption of rail and bus service throughout the state, nor for the vital commuter routes connecting New Jersey to New York City.
The prospects for resumption of service are dire and daunting. "This is unprecedented damage," Nancy Snyder, a NJ Transit spokesperson, told Transportation Nation. Agency infrastructure and equipment is "quite damaged, if not crippled" she said.
Crews began assessing the damage at 8:00 a.m. Tuesday, an intensive and arduous process that involves inspecting 500 miles of tracks and 300 rail crossings -- in addition to flooded bus terminals and train stations.
Key transit hubs in the NJ Transit system remained flooded Tuesday, including Hoboken, Secaucus Junction and Newark Penn Station.
"Right now there is no estimate for service restoration," Snyder said.
To follow the latest updates on resumption of service on all transit lines in the NY area, check our Transit Tracker.
Monday, October 22, 2012
By Kate Hinds
The "energy highway" proposed by New York Governor Cuomo at this year's State of the State address now has a blueprint.
The plan, which was released at a cabinet meeting in Albany, details plans to increase energy transmission in the state.
Read the press release below. The full blueprint can be found here.
GOVERNOR CUOMO RECEIVES PLAN TO MODERNIZE THE STATE'S ENERGY INFRASTRUCTURE AND SPUR BILLIONS OF DOLLARS IN PRIVATE SECTOR INVESTMENT
Plan for Up to 3,200 MW in Additional Electric Generation and Transmission Will Spur $5.7 Billion Investment, Helping Ensure Clean, Reliable, Affordable Power for New York's Future
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today received the Energy Highway Task Force's Blueprint, a comprehensive plan that will add up to 3,200 megawatts (MW) of additional electric generation and transmission capacity and clean power generation through up to $5.7 billion in private investments. The 3,200 MW outlined in this blueprint would provide enough energy to power approximately 3.2 million homes.
The Energy Highway initiative, introduced in the 2012 State of the State address, is a centerpiece of the Governor's Power NY agenda, which was put in place to ensure that New York's energy grid is the most advanced in the nation and promotes increased business investment in the state.
"As we work to grow New York's economy, we need reliable, affordable, and clean power to leverage significant private sector investments, to allow businesses to grow, and to create jobs," Governor Cuomo said. "The energy highway will ensure that businesses and residential consumers across New York State have access to the affordable power they need to plan for not just today, but also for the future. An economy built to last requires a power infrastructure that gives businesses the confidence and security they need to hire new workers and plan for years to come, and this Blueprint continues to position New York State as a national leader in clean energy production and investment."
The Blueprint includes specific actions designed to add up to 3,200 MW in new generation and transmission, including plans to:
· Invest $1 billion for 1000 MW of new electric transmission capacity
· Initiate $250 million in new renewable energy projects, leveraging $425 million in private investment and creating 270 MW of new power
· Modernize and repower existing inefficient, high emission plants to create 750 MW of power, enabled by approximately $1.5 billion investment.
· Generate 1,200 MW of additional capacity through approximately $1 billion investment to help meet reliability needs to address retiring power plants across the state.
· Accelerate $1.3 billion of investment in existing transmission and distribution projects to enhance reliability, improve safety, reduce cost to customers and reduce emissions.
· Invest $250 million to develop Smart Grid technologies and create the most advanced energy management control center in the country.
· Initiate field studies of Atlantic Ocean offshore wind development potential
The interagency Energy Highway Task Force will begin swift implementation of the proposed actions. These steps will significantly reduce the time required for development of energy infrastructure and includes a first-of-its-kind solicitation of new transmission projects by the Department of Public Service.
The Blueprint reaches every corner of the state with both locally focused and statewide actions to provide system reliability and economic development benefits. In Northern New York, strategic investments in transmission system upgrades will facilitate access for renewable energy projects to electricity markets. Western New York will undergo an immediate review of the viability of repowering options for power plants that have announced retirement plans and could benefit from a new Community Support Plan in the event plants are closed. Repowering, reducing transmission congestion, and offshore wind initiatives in the downstate region will help to green the power plant fleet supplying the highest energy demand area of the State. Upgrades throughout the state will support regional job growth and economic development.
The Energy Highway Task Force created the Blueprint after reviewing 130 responses provided by 85 entities including investor-owned utilities, private developers and investors in response to its Request for Information (RFI), issued in April. Public comments submitted on the RFI responses were also considered in the development of the plan as were publicly available reports and analyses. In April, along with the issuance of the RFI, the Task Force convened two conferences—an Energy Highway Summit at which power industry leaders explored the State's energy issues and challenges, and a Conference of RFI Respondents and Interested Parties.
Governor Cuomo provided his vision for the Energy Highway in his 2012 State of the State address. He named Gil C. Quiniones, president and chief executive officer of the New York Power Authority, and Joseph Martens, commissioner of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation as co-chairman of the Task Force. Joining them on the Task Force are Kenneth Adams, president, chief executive officer and commissioner of Empire State Development; Garry A. Brown, chairman of the New York State Public Service Commission; and Francis J. Murray, Jr., president and chief executive officer of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.
To view the Energy Highway Blueprint, visit www.NYEnergyHighway.com.
Monday, October 22, 2012
The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is getting ready for its new Atlantis shuttle display with a $100 million building. Construction began in January, and the exhibit is slated to open in July 2013. On November 2nd, Atlantis will make the journey by road from the Kennedy Space Center on a special 76 wheel transporter. The 9.8 mile trip will take all day, with stops along the way for ceremonies with shuttle program employees and the public.
The building that will house the space shuttle is about 116 feet tall and will have a floor area of 90,000 square feet -- big enough to accommodate the 78-foot wingspan and 57-foot height of the orbiter.
Getting Atlantis over to the Visitor Complex is a delicate operation, but not quite as tricky as Endeavour's recent trek through Los Angeles.
"We are at the space center, there's 144,000 acres that we've got to work with here," says Tim Macy, the director of project development at the visitor center. "There's some big wide open spaces."
Still, some modifications have been made to accommodate the shuttle's move.
"We'll take down a ton of light poles, stop signs and traffic signals to get here, but that's just logistics," says Macy. A short section of roadway has also been built to bring the shuttle into the building.
Macy says the trickiest part of the move will likely be maneuvering the shuttle into the new display hall.
After the the orbiter is safely inside, it will be wrapped in protective "bubble wrap" to shield it while construction continues.
The new section of road leading up to the building will be torn up and eventually replaced with landscaping.
Workers will start filling in the final wall of the building withing days of Atlantis being moved inside. Up to 150 people a day are working on the project, and Macy says crews could be increased if necessary.
“I’m really confident in the schedule," says Macy.
"I mean, we’ve built in some weather days that we haven’t had to take advantage of in terms of the exterior of the building, and as anyone will tell you, once you get in and you get sealed up, you can control your own destiny.”
The completed display hall will include a replica of the external tank and solid rocket boosters that visitors will walk under as they enter the building. One of the outside walls incorporates a "swoop" that will be covered by orange cladding to symbolize the shuttle flight.
"You know when it comes down and gets into its de-orbit burn, that orange color, the glow that comes around the base of it, that's the look we're going for there," says Macy.
Tim Macy is confident visitors will be impressed when the display opens next summer.
"We think we're telling the right story here, and we understand the responsibility that's been given to us," says Macy.
"We didn't just get [the orbiter], we feel we've earned the opportunity to present this to the public."
Thursday, October 18, 2012
By Kate Hinds
(With reporting from Pat Bradley, WAMC) Earlier this week, New York MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota and NYC Transit President Tom Prendergast made a 300 mile pilgrimage north to a place of significance to city transit riders: the Bombardier manufacturing plant in Plattsburgh, New York.
"My understanding is two-thirds of all the equipment that's been made here has actually shown up at either the New York City Transit Authority, or the Long Island Rail Road, or Metro-North," said Lhota.
And that trend will continue: in June, the MTA signed a $600 million contract with Bombardier to build 300 new subway cars. Those cars are in the design phase and will be delivered to NYC in 2015.
Lhota told reporters that while he toured the facility, he paid attention to the little details. "When I was on the train that's being built for NJ Transit," he said, "I was noticing they put little coat racks behind each one of the chairs, where someone could put a coat or a sweater, or put their purse -- that's a great little feature."
He also took the opportunity to point out that what's good for downstate transit is good for upstate.
"Whenever I go to Albany, and I want to talk about the MTA -- for those folks who are not from the New York metropolitan area, they're going to say 'well, why should we care about the MTA?'" Lhota recounted. "Most of what we spend on our capital program -- the billions of dollars that we spend on new cars, on rails -- most, not all of it, but a huge majority of it, is made in New York State....we need the product, we help people up here get the jobs."
Thursday, October 18, 2012
By Martin DiCaro : WAMU
The operators of Virginia’s I-495 Express Lanes unveiled the highway’s incident command center on Wednesday where traffic monitors will watch the flow of vehicles on a widescreen monitor displaying a dozen camera angles. The new lanes are expected to open by the end of fall.
The center will operate 24/7 with staffers monitoring traffic volume in order to compute toll rates. The new roadway – connecting the Dulles Toll Road to the I-395/I-95/Springfield interchange 14 miles to the south – will charge drivers dynamic tolls, meaning the price will change depending on traffic volume. The more traffic, the higher the toll.
The express lanes’ private sector operator, Transurban, is required to keep traffic moving at least 45 m.p.h., so if traffic slows due to heavy volume tolls, will be significantly increased to deter further drivers. Transurban invested $1.5 billion into the lanes as part of a public-private partnership with Virginia, and will receive toll revenues for the next 75 years.
“Three times per mile we will have detector stations that will give our control center here information regarding what is the volume of traffic and what is the speed of traffic,” said Transurban operations manager Rob Kerns. “Our dynamic pricing is scheduled to update every fifteen minutes.”
Transurban has not released precise toll rates because of the dynamic nature of the pricing system. Moreover, once the highway opens, staffers will need some time to determine what rates work best.
“The tolls are set minute to minute based on what's actually happening out there. We won't know until the road opens how drivers are reacting to different toll prices,” said Jennifer Aument, a project spokeswoman.
The average toll will be between $3 and $6 during busy periods, said Aument, who said the Express Lanes are designed for use a couple times a week when drivers need a dependable ride. The new lanes will run parallel to 495’s regular travel lanes that are often clogged bumper-to-bumper.
Aument is encouraging drivers to familiarize themselves with the coming changes to the Beltway at 495ExpressLanes.com and to sign up for an E-ZPass as soon as possible. Only E-ZPass will be accepted in the new lanes, with HOV-3, buses, and motorcycles riding free. However, carpoolers will still need to obtain an E-ZPass Flex transponder.
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
By Kate Hinds
New York will be accelerating more than $1 billion worth of work on infrastructure projects already in the city's capital plan.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg cautioned that these are not big ticket items. "The bulk of them are completely unglamorous," he said, adding that most of them can be completed within a 20-month time frame. The city is accelerating the work to take advantage of low interest rates.
A description of the authorized projects includes road and bridge repairs, waterfront infrastructure development, and improvements to city buildings and libraries. The mayor said an additional 300 miles of city roadways will be resurfaced, and it will also speed up the removal of PCBs from lighting fixtures in schools.
These are projects that are "ready to go, need to happen, and will be finished in the fixed timetable," the mayor said. He estimated that the work would create 8,000 jobs, mostly in the construction industry.
Bonus: hear the mayor announce the initiative in Spanish.
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
By Martin DiCaro : WAMU
Dennis Martire and the agency he worked for would be paid little attention – if not for the responsibility running one of the largest public transportation projects in the country: the Silver Line Metro rail to Dulles International Airport.
Wednesday morning Martire officially resigned from his position as a member of the board of directors of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) after months of criticism directed from high places at both his professional behavior and the conduct of the airports authority itself.
In his first interview since settling a costly legal dispute with Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell's administration and agreeing to resign, Martire -- a high-ranking official with the labor union LiUNA -- defended the agency’s record and denied any wrongdoing.
‘We have a policy that allows us to go to airport conferences. It’s not like we pull out a globe, spin it, and say 'we’re going here today,'” Martire said.
A Washington Post editorial in May accused Martire of spending more than “$38,000 attending five conferences in 2010 and 2011,” including a nine-day trip to attend a 36-hour conference in Sardinia.
“It was a three-day trip [the editorial board] made into a nine-day trip. The conference was only three days. I flew from there to somewhere else on my dime, not on MWAA’s dime,” he said.
In August, the federal Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood sent MWAA a letter expressing outrage at “ongoing reports describing questionable dealings including the award of numerous lucrative no-bid contracts to former Board members.” MWAA (pronounced "em-wah") has publicized reforms of its spending, travel, and contracting practices, but Martire believes the board of directors and the agency’s leadership allowed their opponents to turn such issues into a distraction from MWAA’s stewardship of the Silver Line.
“The airports authority has handled this project remarkably well,” said Martire, who said a project labor agreement (PLA) -- a pro-union provision voluntarily undertaken by the prime contractor in the Silver Line’s Phase 1 construction -- kept the project on-time, on-budget, and with a strong record of worker safety.
“Compared to other major infrastructure projects in northern Virginia like the Springfield interchange or the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, it’s a model project. Those projects were all hundreds of millions of dollars over budget. The taxpayer is the one who has to eat that money,” he said.
Martire said “it’s a disgrace” that the state of Virginia has provided only $150 million dollars for Phase 2 of the Silver Line, which has an estimated price tag of $3 billion, and he urged the federal government to provide additional funding to bring down the projected toll increases on the Dulles Toll Road. Under the current financing arrangement, those tolls will cover 75 percent of Phase 2’s costs. A full, round-trip toll would rise to $9 in 2015 under current MWAA projections.
“You’re going to have rail to Dulles and beyond, but the tolls are still my major concern. This could be a boondoggle if it’s built out there with $10 tolls,” Martire said.
Martire also shrugged off criticism for supporting the use of a non-voluntary PLA in planning process for Phase 2, accusing its critics of opposing organized labor.
“I do work for a labor union,” Martire said. “There’s no doubt that the governor of Virginia and Congressman [Frank] Wolf, both Republicans, do not like labor. They don’t like what labor stands for.”