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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

Federal Agency Ratchets Up Transit Push: Calculate Your Carbon Savings

Sunday, April 22, 2012

(Photo via the FTA)

As we reported earlier in the week, more than 80 percent of Americans drive to work alone. Now the Federal Transit Agency is ratcheting up its push to get more people out of cars and into buses (and trains too -- but that would have made for a tougher conceptual photo shoot to pull off).

(Widget not embeddable, so this is a screenshot.)

In preparation for Earth Day, the FTA has released a carbon calculator that tells you how much carbon you emit in a round trip to work. The FTA calculator assumes a commuter causes zero carbon emissions by joining on to existing public transit, which in a sense, is correct. A more accurate measure would be to evaluate the journey's pollution by emissions per passenger mile -- something a calculator on a widget couldn't easily do without knowing your own individual transit system's fuel efficiency.

Rest assured, if you drive to work your car is likely a major source of your environmental footprint, as the FTA points out:

"The average American produces 20 tons of CO2 per year, or 121 pounds per day. So, by taking existing transit rather than driving alone, for a daily commute of 10 miles each way, a person would save 4,600 pounds of CO2 per year (based on 240 working days per year). That is 2.1 metric tons, or about a 10% reduction in carbon footprint. By comparison, weatherizing their home and adjusting their thermostat would save a person about 2,800 pounds of CO2 per year."

 

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Transportation Nation

Houston Receives First-Ever Federal Funds for Light Rail Construction

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Photo by Gail Delaughter/KUHF

(Houston, TX -- Gail Delaughter, KUHF)   On a cold and sunny morning, construction workers in hard hats mingled with dignitaries under a tent at a northside Houston rail construction site. With the downtown skyline towering in the background, Metropolitan Transit Authority Chairman Gilbert Garcia kicked off events with a countdown and a shout of "Houston, we have liftoff."

The occasion was a signing ceremony for a first-ever agreement that brings federal dollars to Houston for rail construction. But it's something that almost didn't happen.

"Let's remember that a little more than a year ago, we almost had to stop this project dead in its tracks, said  Federal Transit Administration chief Peter Rogoff, referring to controversies during the transit authority's previous leadership. The agency was investigated for violating "Buy America" provisions by purchasing rail cars from a Spanish firm. Rules state that transit vehicles for federally-funded projects have to be bought from U.S. companies. That issue and others have now been resolved.
"Really the last year has been extraordinary productive in getting the kind of transparency and clarity on fiscal controls that made us very comfortable investing taxpayer dollars in this project," Rogoff said.

Metro has already been given $250 million of that money. It will fund a five-mile northward expansion of the Red Line, the only light rail line currently in operation in Houston. The money will also pay for the Purple Line, a seven-mile route that runs from downtown to the southeast.

This is going to bring hundreds of jobs in construction of the rail. Those are good-paying jobs. They will help sustain our community. But once it's complete, it will also move people to their jobs and from their jobs," said Mayor Annise Parker
A third line is also being constructed — that's the Green Line, and it's funded with local money. The trains are set to start running in 2014.
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Transportation Nation

Connecticut to Get Inter-City Bus Rapid Transit

Monday, November 21, 2011

The planned route for Connecticut's first BRT project, the New Britain-Hartford Busway.

Connecticut is on the road to building a bus rapid transit system. On Monday, the Federal Transit Administration announced $275 million in financial support for the 9.4 mile New Britain-Hartford Busway, which is set to launch in 2014 and carry 16,000 passengers a day between the two cities. The project is expected to be completed in two years at a total cost of $567 million.

Connecticut is applying lessons from other cities' BRT networks. Buses will have off-board fare collection and traffic signal preference for stretches where they do not run on exclusive roadways. The Busway will connect downtown New Britain with downtown Hartford. Its dedicated roadway will be constructed on a 4.4-mile abandoned railroad right-of-way, then alongside an active Amtrak route for the remaining five miles.  The U.S. Department of Transportation says a fleet of 31 "clean fuel" buses will serve the route's 11 stations, including one with Amtrak access.

This system is designed for commuting with frequent service. Earlier documents from the Conn. DOT said buses would run every three to six minutes. The latest fact sheet says buses will run every six at peak times, less often during off-hours. The service will be from 4:30 a.m. to about 1:30 a.m. The core BRT service along the old rail right-of-way will get from New Britain to Hartford in 20 minutes, about half what it currently takes and roughly what it takes to drive according to Google Maps estimates. Connecticut's DOT website ambitiously promises that "buses will travel faster than automobiles as they bypass congestion on arterial streets and I-84."

A network of feeder bus routes (map) is also being established to collect passengers from neighborhoods along the route--and cities as far away as  20 miles away, such as Waterbury. That connection will be an express bus route on standard roads.  See the route through satellite imaging here.

The U.S. DOT says the project will create 4,000 construction jobs, largely for the rails-to-BRT conversion, and 100 permanent jobs.

Read more at this slightly outdated fact sheet that was prepared before Monday's funding announcement.

 

 

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After Intense Weather, MTA Preps for Climate Change at a Cost

Friday, November 18, 2011

When Tropical Storm Irene struck New York City, many residents were relieved that the damage from the storm that threatened to deluge low-lying areas wasn’t far worse.

 

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Transportation Nation

For Transit Agencies, Climate Change Could Cost Billions

Thursday, November 17, 2011

With Sea Level Rise, Subways Flood in 40 Minutes During Intense Storms (Map Courtesy LDEO & Civil Engineering, Columbia University)

On the Sunday after Tropical Storm Irene blasted through the five boroughs of New York City, the city exhaled. Huge swaths of Manhattan hadn’t flooded, high winds hadn’t caused widespread damage. Perhaps no one was as relieved as then-MTA CEO Jay Walder, who had just taken the unprecedented step of shutting down the entire transit system.

“The worst fear that we had, which was that the under-river tunnels on the East River would flood with salt water, were not realized. We certainly dodged something there,” Walder said at a post-Irene briefing with city officials.

Listen to the audio:

If this sounds like dystopian fantasy, consider this: the Federal Transit Administration is now advising transit agencies to start adapting to climate change. “Climate change impacts are occurring now and will increase in the future,” reads the first line of an FTA report, Flooded Lines and Buckled Rails: Public Transportation and Climate Change Adaptation, released in August. “Aggressive action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will lower the severity of climate change impacts. Yet the amount of long-lived emissions already in the atmosphere means that a significant level of climate change is inevitable.”

“We have seen significant extreme weather conditions,” says Deputy FTA Administrator Therese MacMillan in an interview in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Washington, DC headquarters. “The patterns are pretty indisputable. The hundred-year floods are occurring every 20 to ten years. The hurricane intensities are repeating themselves and being very common. The extreme winter effects that we’re seeing in the Northeast are clearly in evidence. We need to deal with the fact that these extreme weather conditions are impacting our already stressed transit infrastructure.”

She continues: "To not address it would be a relatively naïve response to the fact that there are millions of dollars on the ground that, as responsible stewards of the taxpayers money, we need to do the best job we can to deal with them. Whatever arguments folks want to have about the sources of the impacts, we’re seeing impacts.”

And with Irene, according to Columbia University professor Klaus Jacob, one of the nation’s foremost experts on transit and climate change, the city came perilously close to seeing just the kind of flooding that the FTA wants transit systems to protect against.

The price tag for that protection, Jacob says, could be as much as $15 billion -- at a time when the MTA is already $10 billion short in funding its current capital plan.

Klaus Jacob With His Model of Subway Flooding (Photo: Andrea Bernstein)

As it happens, one part of the system saw exactly what the FTA report warned of during Irene. About 35 miles  north of the city, on the Port Jervis line, the MTA saw what the line manager, Fred Chidester, describes this way: “In over 28 and a half years I have not ever seen anything to this magnitude on any of our lines.  And the type of damage that was done is just unthinkable.”

Fourteen miles of the Port Jervis line were washed away during Irene. The Ramapo River, which is usually little more than a creek in some areas, was already swollen by a month of unusually heavy rains even before Irene hit, causing it to transform itself like some water-infused Incredible Hulk.

Chidester took me on a tour of the line, where workers are now furiously trying to get the tracks up and running by the end of the month. He showed me where the river had carried boulders, larger in diameter than a full-grown man, from under the tracks to a location 50 feet away. “Both tracks were hanging in the air,” Chidester recounts, “and the whole area underneath them for about 15 feet in depth was totally washed out.”

An MTA video taken just days after the flooding show tracks twisted as easily as pieces of chewing gum, mangled into undulating waves. “That water could do this,” Chidester tells me, his voice trailing off into silence as he shakes his head.

The tracks of the Port Jervis line, following Tropical Storm Irene (image courtesy of NY MTA)

The Port Jervis line serves about 2,600 people a day. That’s tiny compared to the 5.2 million who ride the subway, but for those 2,600, the commute has been maddening. Those who ride the line are already super-commuters, with commutes easily two or even two-and-a-half hours. Even when it’s running properly, to get to or from Manhattan, riders have to switch in Secaucus or Hoboken. The line then travels through northern New Jersey to Port Jervis on the Delaware River, about 90 miles upstate, making a hook at the end.

After Irene, the line was cleaved in two.  Right where it crosses into New York and up to Harriman, the tracks have been unusable..The MTA provides buses, but the switch from the train to the bus causes both delays and anxiety. Jen Weisenberg’s commute now takes almost three hours. “I was hysterical crying. I was cursing my boyfriend out. I was asking why did I move here.”

Another view of the tracks of the Port Jervis line (image courtesy of NY MTA)

But the outage isn’t just inconvenient. The MTA invoked emergency powers to repair the Port Jervis line, at a cost of $50 million -- money it surely doesn’t have. A year and a half ago, to save money, the MTA cut some far-cheaper bus lines because its budget has been so stressed. But not fixing the line, for the MTA, is unthinkable.

Adding to the costs are a set of preparations to mitigate or prevent future flood damage. Chidester shows me where special culverts have been built under the tracks to absorb the force of the water. The ballasts are being shored up.

Metro North's Fred Chidester Shows New Drainage Pipes Under the Port Jervis Line (photo: Andrea Bernstein)

It’s hard to figure out how much extra that’s costing, because neither the MTA nor any railroad operator has experience this kind of washout in modern history. But, as Chidester says, “there’s no choice. I work for a railroad. I want to see trains running. I want to make sure they’re running right in the way they are advertised.”

Chidester says he’s no climate scientist. After trying to keep the line running through the worst snow season on record last year, and this October’s early storm, Chidester says he’s not sure about global warming. But the MTA is.

Projjal Dutta was hired by the MTA about five years ago to “green” its operations. But Dutta started just after a “freak” storm shut down the subway during rush hour in August, 2007, and his job morphed into something else: developing the MTA’s “climate adaptation” response. Making sure that the authority’s commuter rails can better withstand intense storms is part of that effort.

The MTA's Climate Adaptation Specialist, Projjal Dutta

But a lot of what Dutta does is focused on keeping water out of the subways. He takes me down to a subway vent in lower Manhattan. Most subway vents are flush with the sidewalk, like those “made most famous by Marilyn Monroe,” Dutta says.

When storm run-off rushes down city streets, it can run right down those storm drains into the subways. “With climate change and frequent flooding events and ever-higher water marks, their old levels were just not enough.” So the MTA has raised them about six inches, so floodwater will flow around them and into the storm drains -- not the subways.

Raising Subway Vents Prevent Subway Flooding During Storms (Photo: Andrea Bernstein)

There are other things the MTA is doing: platforms on the brand-new Second Avenue Subway and Number 7 lines will be “air tempered.” This century, stations will be hotter.

“We have to get that heat out,” Dutta says. “This is not for something as superficial as personal comfort, there’s lots of electronics that a train carries. We had a lot of heat related problems, so we’ve had to introduce cooling into areas that did not hitherto require heating.”

Dutta speaks matter-of-factly, but his words carry a punch. “Our core mission is to provide trains, buses, and subways.” Climate change adaptation, he says “takes something away from that core mission. If you did not need the air tempering, you could have built another station.”

He continues: “If there were more public transportation there would be less of this problem. It is ironic (that) in order to fight this greenhouse gas problem, resources have to be diverted from the regular running of a system. That’s a real tragedy.”

But perhaps not as tragic as having the entire system flooded, an eventuality that Columbia’s Klaus Jacob says is real. Jacob has worked with the MTA to model what would happen if you couple sea level rises – the FTA says to expect four feet by the end of this century – with intense storms like Irene. In forty minutes, Jacob says, all the East River Tunnels would be underwater. Jacob says he took those results to the MTA, and asked, if that happened, how long would it take to restore the flooded subway to a degree of functionality?

“And there was a big silence in the room because the system is so old. Many of the items that would be damaged by the intrusion of the saltwater into the system could not recover quickly.  You have to take them apart. You have to clean them from salt, dry them, reassemble them, test them and cross your fingers that they work."

In a best-case scenario, Jacob calculated that it would take 29 days to get the subway working again. But in the meantime, a halted subway would almost halt the city’s economy, which, he says produces $4 billion a day in economic activity.

The thing is, Jacob says, the city came within a foot of that happening during Irene. Because the astronomical tides were so high, and the storm so intense, the storm surge mimicked a future where the sea is much higher than it is now. During Irene, Jacob says, the storm surge was 3.6 feet. “Had it been not 3.6 feet but 4.6, we would have been in deep trouble.”

Manhattan Flood Zones Under 4-Foot Sea Level Rise (Map Courtesy LDEO & Civil Engineering, Columbia University)

Remember what Jay Walder said at that Sunday afternoon briefing?

“The worst fear that we had, which was that the under river tunnels on the East River would flood with salt water, were not realized. We certainly dodged something there,” Walder said.

This time.

As for the Port Jervis line, after $50 million in emergency repairs, repaired tracks are expected to be open by months’ end.

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Transportation Nation

FTA Head: McDonnell To Pitch In $150 Million More To Dulles Metrorail

Friday, July 08, 2011

(Washington D.C. - WAMU) Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell may be pitching in more money to the Dulles Metrorail project, despite his recent complaints that its cost has grown too high.

Leaders at the local and state level in Virginia say they're worried the rising cost of the project will force fees on the Dulles Toll Road to rise painfully high. Money from tolls is paying for a large chunk of the plan to build a new Metro line to Dulles Airport.

Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff says, in the past few days, the McDonnell administration has told him it would contribute an additional $150 million to keep the tolls down.

McDonnell's transportation secretary, Sean Connaughton, won't confirm the offer, but he says it is one of the options under consideration.

Rogoff and other federal officials are working to mediate a dispute over the cost of the project between Northern Virginia's elected leaders and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. Rogoff says if the dispute isn’t resolved soon, it could kill the plan.

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Transportation Nation

Obama Puts Money on Houston's METRO

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

(Houston - Laurie Johnson and Wendy Siegle, KUHF News) There could be more money on the way for Houston's light rail system. President Obama's proposed budget for fiscal year 2012 sets aside a hefty $128 billion dollars for transportation projects across America - a 66% increase from 2010. It’s part of a new six-year transportation bill, pegged at $556 billion dollars. "We view this as a big win for public transit," said Peter Rogoff, the Federal Transit Administrator. Obama's budget includes a record $3.2 billion dollars for 21 capital transit rail and bus projects.

If passed, METRO's light rail project would receive another $200 million allocation - that's up $50 million from last year. The money would go towards the construction of the North and Southeast rail lines. George Greanias, METRO's president and CEO, points out that the proposed money is in addition to the $300 million already allocated to the agency. "We worked very hard last fall to regroup after a very difficult summer," Greanias said. "And I think the way we approached that regrouping work has made an impression on the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), on the Obama Administration."

The transit authority got in trouble with the FTA last year after a four month long investigation found the previous METRO administration had broken federal Buy America laws when it handed over two light rail contracts to a Spanish rail car manufacturer. That violation put $900 million dollars in federal grants on hold. METRO was able to come to an agreement with the Spanish company, ultimately canceling its contract in December. The settlement helped put METRO back on track to qualify for the total federal funds.

Obama's $200 million dollar bump for METRO is part of that pending $900 million dollar grant. Rogoff says there's no question last year's debacle delayed METRO's funding. But he says members of METRO's new administration have been willing to work with the FTA to fix the situation. "We have always said that we were not going to punish the commuters of Houston for the misdeeds of prior METRO leadership," Rogoff said. "And I think the amounts of money we have for both these lines in the budget reflect that." He said the FTA expects to finalize the full funding grant agreements before the end of 2012, and adds that both rail projects are on the list.

The transportation money is part of the Obama Administration’s latest $3.7 trillion dollar budget proposal that would slash spending by 2.4 percent.

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Transportation Nation

Down to the Wire on Whether NJ Will Pay $271 Million for Cancelling ARC Tunnel

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

(New York - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) The clock is ticking on a proposed deal between the feds and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie over his decision in October to cancel the ARC rail tunnel under the Hudson because of projected cost overruns.

Christie has until the end of today to decide whether he will reimburse the Federal Transit Administration $271 million spent on ARC. In exchange, the agency would then turn around and hand back $128 million to the state for projects that improve air quality by cutting traffic congestion.

Meanwhile, earlier today Christie told Bloomberg TV: "We're having conversations with Mayor Bloomberg and others regarding the extension of the No. 7 train to Secaucus, New Jersey, which would do what we really wanted the ARC tunnel to do originally." (See WNYC for the full story.)

Governor Christie has said the state doesn't owe the money. Last month, he directed New Jersey Transit to hire Patton Boggs, a high-powered Washington law firm, to make the case for him with the federal government--by lawsuit, if necessary. The firm now stands ready to file suit if an agreement isn't reached in the next several hours.

"We have until midnight tonight," said Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak earlier today. "We have about seven hours and forty-nine minutes, something like that. We expect that our attorneys in Washington will be filing a timely response today."

Asked at a transportation conference in Washington how the negotiations were going, FTA Administrator Peter M. Rogoff declined to comment. The agency has already granted the state two extensions on an original deadline of December 24.

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Transportation Nation

TN Moving Stories: LA Retires Last Diesel Bus, Why Taxis Are Scarce in NYC at 5pm, and Snowstorm Disrupts Travel -- but Newark Is Prepared

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

"Giant amoeba-shaped" snowstorm blankets northeast, snarls flights, causes some transit disruptions. (New York Times)

Get your NYC winter storm travel advisories here.

Senator John Kerry warns that partisan fighting threatens US's global standing, urges colleagues to invest the hundreds of billions to repair the nation’s decaying transportation infrastructure and build a renewable-energy technology sector. (The Hill)

Wondering how Newark prepared for today's snowstorm? Wait no more!

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority retires its last diesel bus today, becomes first (and only) major transit agency in the nation with a fleet that is totally equipped with alternative-fuel technologies. (Los Angeles Times)

Ever feel like you can't get a taxi on a NYC street at 5pm? You're right, because data proves cabs disappear by the hundreds between 4pm and 5pm. (New York Times)

Chicago's Metra commuter rail introduces a quiet-car program, providing a haven for passengers who don't want to "hear about every medical malady in the world." (Chicago Tribune)

A federal audit sharply criticizes Miami-Dade Transit for shoddy financial management and weak internal controls -- including improper accounting for bus fare boxes and a failure to document how federal grant money has been spent. No word yet on when federal transit dollars will flow to Miami again. (Miami Herald)

TheCityFix takes a look at how transit systems worldwide use symbols to help you find your way.

The Takeaway looks at hybrids vs. electric cars at the Detroit Auto Show; listen below!

New York Daily News cartoonist Bill Bramhall neatly combines Mayor Bloomberg's apparent flight from Bermuda during the 12/26 blizzard with his attempts at improving city snowplows.

Bill Bramhall, New York Daily News

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Transportation Nation

New Jersey Gets More Time to Come Up With $271 Million

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) The Federal Transit Administration has told New Jersey it has two extra weeks to come up with the $271 million it owes on the ARC Tunnel project.

Earlier this week, the FTA sent a letter to Patton Boggs, the law firm that New Jersey Transit hired to fight the $271 million bill, extending the repayment deadline to January 10, 2011.  The original deadline was this week.

NJ Transit has been disputing the amount--and its reluctance to pony up the money immediately has paid off.  Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said recently that if the state repays the money in full, the DOT will give New Jersey $128 million back for projects that improve air quality by cutting traffic congestion.

You can read the FTA's letter to Patton Boggs below.

Response to Patton Boggs Extension Final Dec 20

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Transportation Nation

Houston METRO Cancels Controversial Contract With Spanish Rail Car Company

Friday, December 17, 2010

(Houston -- Wendy Siegle, KUHF News) METRO’s board has approved a deal to terminate its controversial contract with a Spanish rail car company. The settlement means METRO is moving closer to negotiating a much-needed federal grant for the construction of two light rail lines.

Earlier this year the Federal Transit Administration ruled that METRO, under the previous leadership, broke "Buy America" rules when it awarded two light rail contracts to Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles (CAF), a Spanish-owned rail car vendor.

The violation put $900 million dollars in FTA grants for a rail expansion on hold. METRO president and CEO George Greanias says, by canceling the contract with CAF, METRO has a better chance of securing the funds. “This meets a very important requirement the FTA put on us if we were going to move forward on the full funding grant agreement,” Greanias said.

Listen to the story here.

METRO had already sunk $41 million dollars into the construction of the rail cars before the Spanish company was told to stop work. Under the agreement CAF will pay back $14 million dollars of that to METRO. The agreement stipulates that CAF will forfeit any additional payments for unpaid work and lost profits.

Greanias says METRO plans to rebid the light rail contract in January. CAF USA, a subsidiary of the Spanish company, will be able eligible to participate in the re-procurement process. Greanias says CAF USA will be treated like every other bidder. “We’re being very careful in putting together the re-procurement request that we have a very level playing field," Greanias notes.  "And we have the Federal Transit Administration working with us to make sure that what we do creates a level playing field.”

As for the $900 million in federal funding, Greanias says he expects to get a definitive answer from the FTA in June or July. He's confident METRO will receive the funding, but stresses that if it doesn't, the agency has a backup plan to keep the rail expansion moving.

“If for some reason the full funding grant agreements did not come through we’d have more than sufficient local funds to do exactly what the fall back alternative says, which is to complete the East End line, bringing it across Main, and cleaning up the streets—getting everything back in better shape than we found it when we started—and being prepared to extend the other lines as money comes available.”

Greanias says he doesn’t anticipate any problems in qualifying for the grant as long as METRO continues to comply with the FTA.

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Transportation Nation

NJ Transit Hires K Street Powerhouse to Fight $271 Million Tab for ARC Tunnel

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Law firm Patton Boggs is a major K Street lobbyist in Washington, DC.

(New York -- Jim O'Grady, WNYC) New Jersey Transit is ratifying Governor Christie's decision to hire DC law firm Patton Boggs to fight a $271 million tab from the federal government for work on a defunct tunnel project.

Patton Boggs is one of Washington's most influential--and best paid--lobbying firms. New Jersey Transit executive director James Weinstein says the firm's expertise in the ways of federal bureaucracies make them worth the $485 an hour they'll be charging the state.

"Whatever we pay this law firm is going to be far less than what the federal government and the Federal Transit Administration is asking us to pay them," Weinstein said.

The FTA is giving the state until December 24 to pay its "debt to the United States"--reimbursement for initial work on the ARC tunnel project. Governor Christie cancelled it in October, citing the possibility of cost overruns. The move has proved popular with 56% of polled voters in New Jersey.

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Transportation Nation

TN Moving Stories: Copenhagen To Open Bike Superhighways, and the Return of the Roosevelt Island Tram

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

More on the FTA demanding repayment of $271 million in ARC Tunnel money from New Jersey Transit in the Wall Street Journal.

Construction company Schiavone, which has worked on the subway stations at Times Square and South Ferry, admitted that it defrauded government programs and evaded federal minority hiring requirements. (New York Times)

Copenhagen to open bike "superhighways," which will hopefully alleviate the "two-wheeler traffic jams (which) are especially regular on the main Noerrebrogade thoroughfare used by around 36,000 cyclists a day." (Grist)

Lufthansa says it will begin using biofuel on a daily flight beginning next year. (Alt Transport)

RadioBoston looks at a new interactive map that shows all of Boston's reported bike crashes.

London Underground employees take part in another 24-hour strike--and say that walkouts could escalate in 2011. (BBC)

In Pakistan, trucks aren't just vehicles--they're art. (World Vision via WBEZ)

Some cities are testing a new network-based approach to parking. "Streetline...mounts low-cost sensors in parking spaces, retrofits existing meters and ties them into a mesh wireless network to draw a real-time picture of the spaces available, the cars needing tickets and how much to charge for parking." (Wired)  One of those places is Roosevelt Island, which may also begin its own bike share program. (DNA Info)

Speaking of all things R.I., the Roosevelt Island tram returns to service today. Just to be on the safe side, pack some lunch and forego drinking liquids 12 hours before boarding.

The Nissan Leaf wins the 2011 European Car of the Year designation. Take that, Chevy Volt! (USA Today)

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Transportation Nation

Feds to NJ: We're Telling You AGAIN -- You Owe Us for Killing ARC Tunnel

Monday, November 29, 2010

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation)  The Federal Transit Administration has told New Jersey Transit -- for a second time -- that it's on the hook for more than $271 million after canceling a rail tunnel connecting the state with New York, according to a debt notice obtained Monday by The Associated Press.

Here's a copy of the letter. (Which was sent certified mail, return receipt!)njtunnel2

Read the story here, and stay tuned!

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Transportation Nation

Feds to NJ Transit: You Owe Us $271 Million for ARC Work. NJT: Not So Fast

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

On Monday, the Federal Transit Administration sent this letter to NJ Transit requesting immediate repayment of $271 million in federal money spent on preliminary work for the ARC tunnel project killed by Governor Chris Christie on October 27th.

The federal government had obligated $350 million already for the initial phase of planning and construction. Of that, New Jersey has spent just over $271 million and the feds want it back. NJ Transit, for its part, is saying not so fast. Their response is below the FTA letter.

ARC Repayment Letter

NJ Transit issued Transportation Nation this response:

"NJ TRANSIT received the FTA request for repayment on November 8, 2010.  At this time, we are reviewing the request, and are assessing our options.  NJ TRANSIT does not agree that the issues are as clear cut as portrayed in the FTA letter."

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Transportation Nation

TN Moving Stories: A Birds-Eye View of the Marathon, LaHood Threatens to Pull WI Stimulus $, and FTA To NJ: Where's Our $271 Million?

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Ray LaHood's "congratulatory" phone call to Wisconsin's governor-elect, Scott Walker, involved threatening to yank $810 million in stimulus money if Mr. Walker doesn't soften his opposition to a high-speed rail line between Milwaukee and Madison (Wall Street Journal). Don't worry, Wisconsin--Illinois will take that federal money off your hands.  (But hey! New York already called dibs on that cash!)

Speaking of money, the Federal Transit Administration sent New Jersey a bill for $271 million for the canceled ARC tunnel, plus the promise of an audit. (AP via WSJ)

Illinois senator Dick Durbin wants the EPA to investigate complaints that toxic diesel pollution is inundating commuter rail cars and Chicago's two major rail stations. (Chicago Tribune)

Last night's Community Board 7 meeting about the new Columbus Avenue bike lane focused on complaints from business owners about parking--and an admission from the DOT that the actual number of spaces taken was 67, not the 55 that was originally projected. (DNA Info)

New York's MTA put together a birds-eye view of Sunday's marathon, weaving together footage from its traffic cameras.

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Transportation Nation

TN Moving Stories: More finger pointing in Hudson River Rail Tunnel, Google Invests in "A Bike Lane With A View," and MTA Deficit Plan "Risky"

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Department of Transportation wants airlines to refund baggage fees in the event of lost or delayed luggage.  Unsurprisingly, there's opposition from an airline trade group, which says defining a timely delivery is "subjective." (Marketplace)

The Hudson River rail tunnel saga continues: Senator Lautenberg says that Governor Christie won't let NJ Transit staff meet with the Federal Transit Administration. (Star-Ledger)

Google invests in Shweeb, a human-powered monorail line. "Think of it as a bike lane with a view," says NPR.

A Maryland ban on (cell phone) talking while driving goes into effect this week. (WAMU)

Bangladesh to develop the "Greater Dhaka Sustainable Urban Transport Corridor Project," which contains BRT lines and an elevated expressway.   (Daily Star)

The New York State comptroller says the MTA's plan to reduce $1 billion deficit is risky (DNA Info).  Read the audit here (PDF).

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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

More Concerns Over Civil Rights in Bay Area Transportation

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

(San Francisco, CA - Casey Miner, KALW News)  It was nearly a year ago that local transportation advocates filed a complaint against BART, alleging that the agency had not complied with federal civil rights legislation when making plans for the Oakland Airport Connector. The Federal Transit Administration agreed, and BART lost $70 million in stimulus funding as a result.

Now, it’s not just BART that’s under scrutiny. BART gets its federal funding via the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the regional body that doles out state and federal funds for transportation projects, and they’re on the feds’ radar as well. Last February, the FTA asked MTC to prove that it had procedures in place to make sure everyone who got money was complying with federal law.

You can read the back and forth on the Public Advocates website (the local group that filed the original complaint), but the gist of it is this:

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