Transportation Nation

Bay Bridge Bolt Fix Could Cost $10 Million, Opening Date Still Unclear

Thursday, May 09, 2013


California officials say they have a plan to stabilize bolts that failed earlier this year on the eastern span of the Bay Bridge.

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Transportation Nation

Extreme Weather Events in 2011 Costing Federal Highway Officials Hundreds of Millions

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Spring 2011 floods damaged a bridge in Ryegate, Montana (photo by MontanaTom1950 via Flickr)

(Billings, MT-YPR) When  U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) will provide more than $215 million in aid for storm-ravaged roads and bridges, the press release only hinted at the damage caused this year by extreme weather events:  tornadoes, hurricanes, record heat, and flooding.

In Montana alone, record snowfall, mountain snowpack, and spring rains meant an historic flood year. In mid-September, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials had identified nearly 1,500 public infrastructure projects, totaling nearly $50 million.

2011 is emerging as a record year for disasters. According to the Pew Center's, about 39 states are awaiting money to repair storm damaged roads, bridges and other public infrastructure. Some of that request was to the FHWA, for which Congress allocates up to $100 million a year.

(For a related story on climate change and transit costs, click here.)

“Communities suffering from disasters have been hard at work restoring vital transportation links so people can resume daily activities soon as possible,” says LaHood. “They did their part, and now it’s our turn to give the states the money they were promised to help pay for that work.”

Lynn Zanto of the Montana Department of Transportation estimated costs to the state from this spring’s flooding at $36 million. The state’s reimbursement from FHWA, which will help repair bridges and roads, is just over $2.56 million.

“Although this may seem like a small amount compared to our overall costs, we’re still very appreciative to our (Congressional) delegation, (and) Secretary LaHood,” Zanto said in a press release. “We do our best to make every dollar count and we’ll keep our fingers crossed and remain hopeful that we’ll see future reimbursements to help mitigate the impacts from the spring floods.”

Those projects would have to initially be paid for by local governments; reimbursement requests would be submitted to FEMA. The FHWA emergency relief money is only to repair or rebuild federal-aid highways and or roads located on federal land.

MDT’s Lynn Zanto says the agency worked quickly to restore the flow of traffic to flood damaged roads and bridges. She says this includes a South Central Montana bridge off of Interstate 94 that was damaged by flooding.

She says funding for that work came from the agency’s program fund that would otherwise pay for planned highway projects, which were put on temporary hold.

Of the $215 million in federal aid, California received the largest amount at $43 million. North Dakota follows at $31.5 million, and Vermont will receive just over $15 million.

The allocation is the second this year for the Federal Highway Administration, which also distributed $319 million for aid in April.   But those disbursements don’t match 2006 and 2007 disbursements for Hurricane Katrina damage.

Also extremely expensive for the FWHA: 2004 and 2005 disbursements for California, which cost in excess of $300 million each.



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Transportation Nation

210 Million Vehicles Cross Deficient Bridges Daily: Report

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Brooklyn Bridge, currently being repaired after receiving a "poor" rating (photo by Kate Hinds)

In Los Angeles, an average of 396 drivers cross a deficient bridge every second. In New York, that number is 203 drivers per second. And those cities don't even have the highest percentage of worst bridges in the country.

Transportation for America, an advocacy group fighting spending cuts to transportation, says in a new report that more than 18,000 high-traffic bridges are rated "structurally deficient."

In the New York metropolitan area, 17.5 million vehicles cross a deficient bridge every day. In the New Jersey portion of that metro area, 8,593,823 vehicles cross a deficient bridge every day.

This rating doesn't necessarily mean a bridge collapse is imminent. But it does mean that its "load carrying" elements are damaged or deteriorating, and a bridge that receives this rating will require frequent monitoring and significant maintenance to remain in service. Or, in a worse scenario, it will need to be taken out of service -- like Kentucky's Sherman Minton Bridge.

“The poor condition of our bridges is a problem that is not going away,” Andy Herrmann, president-elect of the American Society of Civil Engineers, “Most of the nation’s bridges were designed to last 50 years, and today, roughly a third are already 50 years or older.”

According to the report, Pittsburgh had the highest percentage of deficient bridges (30.4 percent) for a metro area with a population of over 2 million. Oklahoma City (19.8 percent) topped the chart for metro areas between 1-2 million, as did Tulsa (27.5 percent) for metro areas between 500,000-1 million.  You can download the full report here.

“Too many of New Jersey’s bridges are deteriorating and in desperate need of repair,” Senator Frank R. Lautenberg stated in a press release.  “Those in Washington who are undercutting transportation projects must stop, and work together to invest in infrastructure that will create jobs, make our communities safer and improve the economy for all.”

Everyone seems to agree that America's infrastructure is crumbling, but just how to pay for its repair is a politically divisive issue getting a lot of play in Washington these days. The Senate is considering a transportation appropriations bill this week, and the House and the Senate versions are far apart. Meanwhile,  President Obama's American Jobs Act -- which initially set aside $50 billion for infrastructure repair-- is being broken up into pieces by Democrats in an effort to get it to pass.

More about structurally deficient bridges from the Federal Highway Administration (pdf), below:

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Transportation Nation

Feds Stop, Yield To Cash-Strapped States on Road Sign Requirements

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

(photo by Abby flat coat via Flickr)

States will be able to squeeze a little more life out of their existing road signs, rather than replace the majority of them by 2018 to comply with government requirements.

U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Tuesday that "a specific deadline for replacing street signs makes no sense and would have cost communities across America millions of dollars in unnecessary expenses."

LaHood was referring to a 2009 decision by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), which publishes the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) -- the national book of road sign standards -- which would have required states and municipalities to upgrade existing road signs to make them more legible.

But then the feedback began rolling in -- and the DOT began backing away.

Last year, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said “I believe that this regulation makes no sense. It does not properly take into account the high costs that local governments would have to bear.  States, cities, and towns should not be required to spend money that they don’t have to replace perfectly good traffic signs."

Some state DOTs had delivered sober assessments of how much the regulations would cost to implement. "Based on Caltrans' limited assessment, it could cost between $500 million to $1 billion to implement the FHWA 2009 MUTCD requirements," said one. Another featured excited exhortations about typeface: "ALL CAPS signs are easier to read then mixed case signs! And mixed case signs are uglier too!" And many of them conveyed the same theme, summed up by a Tennessee official: "this... estimated cost for reflective sign replacement with the current time restrictions will further devastate an already strained budget."

Some changes, however, are non-negotiable. Ray LaHood wrote on his blog that "DOT has retained 12 deadlines for sign upgrades that are critical to public safety. These include installing “ONE WAY” signs at intersections with divided highways or one-way streets and requiring STOP or YIELD signs to be added at all railroad crossings that don’t have train-activated automatic gates or flashing lights."


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Transportation Nation

New Loop Around Memphis Moves Ahead

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

(Matt Dellinger, Transportation Nation)  In late June, the Mississippi DOT broke ground on another small piece of I-269 -- a new, wide loop a few miles to the north around Memphis, Tennessee. The outer ring highway, twenty-five miles and $669 million worth of which will traverse Mississippi, is part of the Interstate 69 project, sometimes called the “NAFTA Highway.” The loop is Mississippi’s largest active highway project, and I-69 is the nation’s.

Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez (far right) helps break ground on the I-269 project in Northern Mississippi (Photograph from USDOT Fast Lane blog).

Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez was there, in tie and shirtsleeves, to help shovel ceremonial dirt and to deliver remarks that summed up the sometimes-schizophrenic nature of America’s investment in new road infrastructure.

I-69, Mendez said, will “spur development and economic growth throughout the state,” while also “reducing congestion so people can spend less time in their cars and more time doing things they enjoy.”

This vision of new highways as congestion reduction is, many believe, bunk—especially when paired with the assertion that it will bring enough new traffic to spur economic development. The section of I-69 through Tennessee and Mississippi has met remarkably little organized opposition in the twenty years since it was first proposed, but several organizations around Memphis have spoken out against the new loop for just these reasons. As Tom Jones of Smart City Memphis blog put it, “The blind pursuit of more lanes and more roads without the fuller context for community in time creates an incomplete plan for transportation and replicates the same mistaken policies of the past.”

With transportation funds on the chopping block, it’s gotten harder to justify new roads (or faster trains) with speculative thoughts of economic development. A report released in May by the Pew Center on the States and the Rockefeller Foundation (a supporter of Transportation Nation) called out Mississippi as trailing behind other states when it came to spending and policy decisions.

“Mississippi aims to ‘provide a transportation system that encourages and supports Mississippi’s economic development’ and ‘ensure that transportation system development is sensitive to human and natural environmental concerns,’” the fact sheet (pdf) on the state read, “but it does not have performance measures to gauge progress in those areas.”

On the other hand, it’s hard to root against any plan that might light an economic spark in the impoverished Mississippi Delta, and to their credit, local officials in northern Mississippi have been emphasizing transit and compact development and other “livability” issues in their copious public meetings about I-269.

Is I-269 a good investment? Give us your thoughts in the comments section!

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

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Transportation Nation

TN Moving Stories: Taking Down Freeways Goes Mainstream, Bay Area Floats Transit-Oriented Development Plan, and Massachusetts Picks New Commuter Rail Line Route

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Image from the "One Bay Area" presentation of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments.

San Francisco's regional transportation and housing agencies (One Bay Area) are floating a 25 year-plan to prepare for a future in which the Bay Area has 2 million more people and 902,000 housing units -- and most of it built near rail stations, bus lines, walking paths or bike lanes. (Contra Costa Times)

Half a century after cities put up freeways, many of those roads are reaching the end of their useful lives. But instead of replacing them, a growing number of cities are thinking it makes more sense just to tear them down. (NPR)  You can see our earlier coverage of this issue here, on Marketplace.

Massachusetts transportation officials hoping to build a new commuter rail line have decided on a preferred route to connect Boston to New Bedford and Fall River. The state hopes to have the line built by 2017 -- but the funding has not been secured yet. (Boston Globe)

New Yorkers can now contest parking tickets online. (WNYC)

The Federal Highway Administration launched new standards for bridge inspections (The Hill), which Ray LaHood says will allow the FHWA to more clearly and easily identify bridge issues in each state.

United Auto Workers made concessions in 2008, when the American auto industry was limping. Now, Detroit car manufacturers are newly profitable -- and UAW officials are meeting today to map out strategy in advance of labor contract talks. (Marketplace)

Google has become the first customer for a new wireless EV charging station. The inductive charging system requires only proximity to the charging unit -- no plug or outlet necessary. (Wired/Autopia)

Some fuel-efficient cars can take years to reach the break-even point.  (KUHF)

Georgia's DeKalb County is expected today to approve a $2.7 billion wish list of transportation upgrades, but county officials are still reluctant to support asking residents to pay more in sales tax. And it sounds like no one thinks there's enough local control of the money. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

A Foursquare add-on will give users real-time transit schedules when they check in near a transit stop. (Mashable)

Top Transportation Nation stories we're following: NY's City Hall goes on a bike lane offensive, and Mayor Bloomberg speaks -- diplomatically -- about Iris Weinshall, who's not a bike lane fan. The Chinese demand for coal is pushing some American freight lines to the max. A former Metro executive is now working for a transportation lobbying firm. Watch a visualization of London's bike share system on the day of a tube strike. And: happy 200th anniversary, Manhattan street grid.

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