Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Another Virginia congressman is adding his voice to Republicans questioning the McDonnell’s administration’s plan to construct a major north-south highway in Northern Virginia, a parkway running west of Dulles International Airport and Manassas Battlefield that critics call an “outer beltway.”
Friday, December 21, 2012
This is the second of a two-part series on plans to expand Northern Virginia’s road network and freight capacity of Dulles International Airport. (Part 1)
To elected officials and Virginia transportation planners, Dulles International Airport is an untapped well of economic growth. However, maximizing its potential will necessitate major improvements of the surrounding road network. That includes completion of a “north-south” corridor which is now in the conceptual stages.
On Dec. 12 the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority unveiled its intentions to pursue development of airport properties, including 400 acres on Dulles’ western side and sixteen acres around the future Rt. 606 stop of the Silver Line. The goal is to enhance the airport's industrial capacity as a freight hub.
“We are the only airport on the east coast with that kind of land available to us for development purposes. Cargo is down at Dulles right now, but it is down because of the economic uncertainty in Europe,” said Loudoun County Supervisor Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn). “The problem we have today is there is no easy access from the airport. The only access we have today is Rt. 28 and 28 is very limited.”
At their monthly board meeting, MWAA officials emphasized the importance of both expanding the Dulles Loop – Routes 606, 28, and 50 – and eventually connecting it to the north-south corridor. Studies to expand all three roadways are underway.
MWAA CEO Jack Potter indicated the agency would take a cautious approach to development.
“We do not want to make an investment either at Rt. 606 or in the western lands to put a lot of infrastructure in there. We are not going to build something and hope that somebody comes,” he said during a presentation to the MWAA board.
Elected officials in Loudoun County who support the “north-south corridor” concept see Dulles as a key to future economic growth and the roads it will require as relief for traffic-weary commuters.
"Anybody who lives in Loudoun County knows that more road capacity is necessary,” said Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles). “Keeping roads small doesn't prevent growth from happening.”
Environmental groups opposed to the construction of a multi-lane, divided highway west of Dulles Airport question whether the expansion of freight is the right goal.
“There are only so many pounds of freight that you can move on an airplane in an economical way. I think it is less than one-tenth of one percent of freight in Virginia comes by air. It is going to be an important economic activity but it is not the major way to move freight in the United States,” said Chris Miller, president of the Piedmont Environmental Council.
In his view, the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Northern Virginia master plan and MWAA’s development ideas amount to a move in the wrong direction, toward sprawl-inducing road expansions that could undermine the ongoing investment in the Silver Line rail project, scheduled for completion in 2018.
“I think the people who move west of Dulles Airport aren’t looking for another interstate highway with trucks on it to serve their neighborhood,” Miller said.
Miller uses the term “outer beltway” to describe the north-south corridor concept, a term that chafes supporters.
“If you want to unlock the potential of our economic engines – and Dulles is the biggest economic engine that we have in Northern Virginia – you’ve got to be able to tie it back to the other industries. If you look on the other side of the river, we have a large biotech industry in the I-270 corridor,” said Supervisor Buona.
“If you are able to create a [transportation] link between that industry and the IT and government contracting set, and that link connects to the airport, what you’ve done is create a corridor of commerce. You have not created an outer beltway,” he added.
Friday, November 09, 2012
(Orlando, Fla. -- WMFE) John Mica, the chair of the U.S. House Transportation Committee, joined with Florida Governor Rick Scott and other business leaders and elected officials near Winter Haven Thursday, for the symbolic groundbreaking of a new intermodal rail terminal.
Before grabbing one of the gold painted shovels, Mica, a republican from Winter Park, Fla. praised the governor for his business savvy and leadership in supporting the project, which will serve as a distribution hub for trains and trucks delivering cargo throughout Florida. The project came about after rail company CSX reroute freight traffic from 62 miles of track to accommodate the SunRail commuter train.
"We are very fortunate to have Governor Scott with his business background at this time and his vision for transportation and infrastructure," said Mica.
"You cannot build this state or this community or projects like this without people like Governor Scott."
Mica and Scott have not always seen eye to eye on big transportation projects in Florida, notably on the failed high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando, which the Governor nixed early in 2011 by rejecting $2.4 billion dollars in Federal stimulus money. At the time Mica panned the Governor's decision, labeling it a setback for the state's transportation, economic development and tourism.
While the high-speed rail plans collapsed, there's evidence to suggest Mica may have -indirectly- helped Central Florida's SunRail Commuter train avoid a similar fate during his tenure as chair of the house transportation and infrastructure committee.
Looking ahead to a second Obama administration, Mica said he hopes the president will work better with Congress on transportation issues this time around. "They've been absent without leave," said Mica. "I’m hoping that their second time around they’ll be more cooperative."
Advocates for increased transportation and infrastructure spending have lauded President Obama's stimulus plan and his advocacy of a national rail network.
Mica, who comfortably staved off a Democratic challenger to retain his seat in Florida's U.S. House District 7 Tuesday, is due to be termed out of his role as chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. However he says he'd like to hang onto the position if possible.
“Oh we’ll see," he said. "It depends on whether they grant waivers or not, and that’s yet to be decided.”
"I’ve been honored to chair for the last 2 years, ranking for four years, chaired a sub committee for six years, and I intend to be a leader in whatever capacity my colleagues choose,” said Mica, who's also in line for other potential committee chairmanships.
"But I’m not moving from transportation even if I took another slot,” said Mica, who added he intends to be in a key position to make decisions on transportation policy.
Republican Congressman Bill Shuster of Penn. has already expressed an interest in the committee chair position.
Florida Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad was also pondering the implications of the second Obama term. Prasad said it's important that there's leadership at the Federal level and that members of congress can work together to craft a long term highway transportation bill.
"I just hope we can get to a deal," said Prasad.
"The last deal was only two years, and partly because I think folks in congress wanted to get past this election... Now that the election's over, let’s not wait another two years to get another two year bill, let’s work next year and have a long term bill that creates a transportation vision for the country.”
Historically transportation funding bills were non-partisan bills approved for six years at a time to facilitate planning of longer term projects. For more on how that changed this Congress, read our previous coverage.
Thursday, September 06, 2012
(Billings, MT – YPR) – Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) officials say the railroad is keeping pace with the rapid growth caused by the Bakken Formation, the largest oil field in the lower 48 states.
The lack of pipeline capacity has led oil producers to turn to rail and semi trucks to bring crude from fields in western North Dakota and eastern Montana to market.
BNSF recently announced it has increased capacity to haul one million barrels of crude per day out of the region, known as the Williston Basin.
“Yeah, it’s fun isn’t it,” says Denis Smith, BNSF Vice President of Marketing of Industrial Products. "Three years ago there was one facility that could load a crude petroleum train up there. Now we’re going to have 10 by the end of the year and a dozen by next year. " These terminals load oil onto 100 car trains.
He says customers have spent about $1 billion on these loading facilities, rail cars, and other infrastructure. In turn, Smith says the railroad has had to make sure it had the capacity to move those trains to market.
“It’s about a dozen trains,” Smith says. “And it is impressive, but if you put it in light of something like our coal business where we haul 50-plus trains a day, we’re capable of doing it.”
According to a BNSF press release, the railroad’s network reaches all major coastal and inland markets and directly serves 30 percent of US refineries in 14 states through direct and interline service. The company has 1,000 miles of rail line in the Williston Basin area, serving eight originating terminals. BNSF also connects to 16 of the top 19 oil producing counties in central and western North Dakota and five of the six oil producing counties in eastern Montana.
The railroad recently announced it spent $197 million on projects in North Dakota and Montana. The company also hired more than 560 new employees across its service area.
Smith anticipates BNSF will continue to be a key transporter of Bakken/Williston Basin crude even if the proposed Keystone XL pipeline is constructed from Canada to the US Gulf Coast. The pipeline is primarily to transport Canadian tar sands crude to the US for refining, but on-ramps are planned in Montana to also transport Bakken crude.
“We go to the Texas/Louisiana gulf but some of the other markets are better markets for producers up there [ND/MT],” Smith says. As an example, he says rail can deliver crude directly to markets in Philadelphia, Chicago, Florida, and the Pacific Northwest. “That’s the beauty and the surprise I think to the producers,” he says. “The reach that we have in terms of getting them to markets that give them the best buck for their oil.”
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
One of the largest freight carriers in the country is riding into the presidential election with a nationwide television advertising campaign designed to spark debate about infrastructure.
Virginia-based Norfolk Southern’s CGI-laden, Toy Story-esque advertisements show a boy falling asleep in his bedroom while his toys come to life, creating a thriving city that his train set races around. The release of the media campaign is timed to coincide with the Republican and Democratic national conventions, where the freight company will have a strong presence. According to AdWeek, Norfolk Southern is also a sponsor of CNN's election coverage.
“Wherever our trains go, the economy comes to life,” says the narrator.
"One of the points Norfolk Southern likes to make is that they invest in their own infrastructure,” says Jim Lansbury, creative director at RP3, the ad agency behind the campaign. "Airlines don't build airports and trucking companies don't build highways."
The American Society of Civil Engineers’ estimates that $2.2 trillion over five years is needed to modernize the country's infrastructure, from levees and dams to highways and bridges. The federal government's primary funding source for transportation projects is the gas tax, but there's little chance it will be raised.
“Gas tax revenues and receipts have been lagging behind what we want to spend on transportation at the federal level,” says Rachel MacCleery, a transportation expert at the Urban Land Institute in Washington, who says about 25 percent of all transportation spending nationwide flows from Congress.
“The Obama administration, early in the administration, has taken the gas tax off the table,” MacCleery adds. The 18-cent-per-gallon tax has not been raised since 1993.
With funding for projects tight, states like Virginia are turning to public/private partnerships to build major highways.
Funding major transportation projects that promise to create jobs has become a partisan issue, especially during a presidential election season. There is little enthusiasm for a new stimulus bill.
“Where you see lots of progress in infrastructure investments it definitely is a bipartisan effort,” says MacCleery. While overall spending figures are important, where the investments are made is equally critical. “Are we building the kinds of infrastructure systems that will help sustain the 21st century economy and really thinking about conservation? Are we maintaining the infrastructure we have now?”
Monday, July 30, 2012
(Billings, MT – YPR) An additional 60 trains of coal could roll through the Northwest rail network every day headed across the Pacific if forecasts are correct. Two manufacturing firms signed deals last week to build 20 new barges to increase export capacity, a sign of optimism from coal exporter Ambre Energy that port redevelopment proposals will gain approval.
Terminal developers are eying the lucrative Asian market, hungry for energy -- coal from Montana and Wyoming's Powder River Basin -- to fuel its economic engine. For example, Australian-based Ambre Energy is involved in two proposals to expand the Pacific Northwest port. Exports are constricted because of limited port capacity.
An expansion won't come easy though, considering the chorus of critics citing environmental, traffic, human health, and community concerns with coal shipping, export and even coal use. But in these tight economic times, coal shipping expansion remains popular with the general public, according to one recent survey.
An interim Montana legislative committee became the latest to weigh in on whether the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers should expand an environmental review for Pacific Northwest port projects with a mixed response to the idea, which would slow redevelopment.
The Sierra Club is leading an effort called the Beyond Coal campaign that includes stopping coal exports. Among the concerns cited: the global impacts of coal-fired power plants, the impact of coal dust on human health, and the increase in freight rail traffic that can snarl traffic in local communities.
The Sierra Club, affiliates of the Billings, Mont.-based Northern Plains Resource Council, and local governments like Missoula, Mont. are among those asking the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to expand its environmental reviews beyond just the port terminals projects and look at broader environmental areas and issues.
Letters from interested parties have become the weather vane revealing which way the winds of legislative oversight are blowing. The railroad BNSF's Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Matthew Rose recently wrote a letter to Wash. Governor Christine Gregoire to address concerns about the port projects. The Energy and Telecommunications Interim Committee (ETIC) of the Montana Legislature sent a letter of it's own to the Corp’s office in Portland, Oregon also opposing an expanded environmental review.
During a recent hearing, the panel heard from proponents, opponents and informational witnesses on the issue before voting on whether to send a letter to the Corps.
All of this back and forth follows a dramatic forecast released in a report by the Western Organization of Resource Councils called Heavy Traffic Ahead.
“Make no mistake about it,” says Terry Whiteside, a transportation consultant and co-author of the report. “This is a huge, huge increase in volume like we’ve never seen before in this part of the world.”
Whiteside projects an additional 27-to-63 trains per day could be the result of increased coal exports to Asia. He calculated that figure based on the export projections of 75 million tons of coal/day by 2017; up to 170 million tons of coal/day by 2022.
“The problem with the study is that it wrongfully assumes that BNSF would originate 100 percent of the Powder River Basin coal,” says spokeswoman Suann Lundberg in Fort Worth, TX. “That’s just not logical. The Powder River Basin is accessed by both the Union Pacific and the BNSF on what we call the ‘joint line.’ 50 percent of it moves on Union Pacific and 50 percent of it moves on BNSF. “
Lundberg says BNSF was not contacted by the authors of the study. She adds the railroad would only have access to one of the proposed six port terminals and the others are either located on other railroads or served jointly among railroads.
Whiteside says he did not contact the railroads, instead he looked at the empirical data and “forced it back on the system.” He adds the study wasn’t designed to be a debate about what the railroad wants.
“I don’t think its any secret that railroads are forecasting the volumes (rail) are going to grow,” says Jim Lewis of Montana Rail Link (MRL), which owns the track between Billings, Mont. and Sand Point, Idaho.
He says there are many reasons, including population and consumption growth for consumer goods, as well as high diesel prices and the semi-driver shortage facing the trucking industry. Lewis says the increase in rail freight traffic is driven by market demands, which can change. He says that’s happening now with the decrease in corn and other agricultural commodities because of the drought and it’s happening with coal.
“I find it kinda ironic that we’re talking about the potential for increased coal traffic in a year when we are forecasting our coal traffic will be below or flat to 2011 volumes,” Lewis says.
He says he also wasn’t contacted for the WORC study. As for the study’s projected increase in rail traffic number, Lewis says they’re not possible given MRL’s capacity constraints. There’s only a single track tunnels over the pass near Bozeman, Mont. and at the Continental Divide. “It would be very costly to try to expand upon that capacity in those two areas,” he says.
Lewis says currently on average, about 19 trains pass through Billings each day, some are MRL traffic, most is BNSF. He says some freight trains terminate at the Laurel, MT rail yards, about 15 miles west of Billings with the remaining 15 continuing west. Lewis estimates the maximum freight rail capacity on the MRL portion of track is about 30 trains/day.
BNSF is investing in its infrastructure. Since 2000, the railroad has spent over $36 billion on maintaining current lines, laying new track, and buying locomotives.
Lundsberg says in Montana, BNSF is spending $111 million in 2012 on infrastructure. She says these capital expenditures, however, are not aimed solely at forecasts of a growing Asian export market for coal.
“Freight traffic will increase with or without coal exports,” she says. “And that means additional traffic and we’re preparing for that.”
That has caused a face-off between groups like the Montana and Billings Chamber of Commerce and environmental organizations like WORC. Economic developers argue Montana and the rest of the country needs the jobs, tax revenue, and infrastructure that increased coal mining and the railroads bring to the region. Conservation groups worry it will be local communities and citizens who will bear the burden of paying for under- and over-passes to re-route traffic past this projected increase in train traffic while corporations are making millions of dollars and should be the ones to pay that cost.
The one thing all sides agree upon is why now is the time for the railroads to have discussions with local governments and citizens about coal, the proposed export terminals, and ways to mitigate the expected growth in rail traffic and resulting traffic jam issues.
Wednesday, July 25, 2012
(Matt McCleskey, Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) The trucking industry is urging Virginia to abandon its plan to charge tolls on Interstate 95, launching a campaign called "Say NO to I-95 Tolls."
The goal of the anti-toll initiative, according to the Associated Press, is to get the Virginia Department of Transportation to drop a proposed plan to put tollbooths on I-95 in Sussex County. The toll would be $4 for passenger vehicles and $12 for tractor-trailers.
The effort includes a website, an online petition and a Facebook page and is organized by the National Association of Truck Stop Operators, the American Trucking Association, and the Virginia Trucking Association.
The Federal Highway Administration gave its preliminary approval last fall to let VDOT start a pilot toll program on I-95 to raise money for expanding highway capacity and for transportation improvements.
The only toll facility proposed so far is the Sussex County site.
Listen to the audio of this story at WAMU, or follow @WAMU885 for Washington, D.C. updates.
Tuesday, April 10, 2012
(Houston, TX -- Gail Delaughter, KUHF) The Port of Houston will turn 100 years old in 2014 and as part of the observance, a local arts organization is recording oral histories of longtime port workers, everyone from executives to deck hands, in an effort to tell the stories of the individual people behind one of Houston's biggest industries.
Houston Arts Alliance Folklife Director Pat Jasper is working to record 100 interviews for the centennial. She says she was drawn to the work because she wanted to explore how people develop their identities around their occupation.
With the help of a grant from the Library of Congress, Jasper launched the "Working the Port" project, with the goal of capturing the voices of the men and women who work in the diverse businesses that support the shipping industry. She says she also wants to create a better understanding of the port's role in the city's development.
"It's really amazing to think about the scale of the work they are doing, the size of those docks, the heft of those lines they are responsible for," she said.
The Port of Houston is one of the busiest ports in the world. The sprawling 25-mile complex along the Houston Ship Channel contributes billions to the local economy but Jasper says it's not really part of the everyday lives of most Houstonians. For one, much of the port's operations are tucked away on Houston's East End, a working-class neighborhood east of downtown that's away from the other major centers of the city. They've also tightened up security since 9-11. That means there aren't many viewing areas where the public can see what goes on at the port.
One of the people she talked to is Steve Bennett. He's a boatman, and his job is to help tie up the big ships. He talked about what it was like when he was first hired and learning from the older guys.
"When I joined the union what they did: they said, 'Okay, when you come to a union meeting, bring you a big Coke and a bag of popcorn, sit back in the back and just shut up. We don't want to hear anything from you.' So you know that kind of opened your eyes, what's going on here. But they treated you good."
Another person Jasper spoke with is Lou Vest. He's been a ship pilot since the 1980's. There's a lot of competition to become a pilot and Vest was interviewed about how he learned he'd gotten the coveted job.
"In the maritime industry being a pilot is like being invited to be in the major leagues, and it's like being invited to play with the St. Louis Cardinals. I was very pleased."
Vest is also a photographer, and has used his access to the port to capture vibrant images that are currently on display in the Houston Arts Alliance's gallery. As for Jasper's project, her interviews will be housed at the Library of Congress once they're complete. Several Houston organizations have also also expressed interest in preserving the voices of the port for future generations.
Friday, February 24, 2012
The head of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey wants to use the agency's clout as landlord to get more dock workers of color hired.
Patrick Foye said, "I regret having to say it, but the docks at our ports on both the New York and New Jersey side appear to be one of the last bastions in the region of what can only be described as deliberate racial and gender discrimination."
He said that dock workers are approximately 85 percent white and over 90 percent male, citing statistics from the Waterfront Commission. "This is not acceptable," Foye told union members and academics gathered for an NYU event about low pay rates for airport workers Wednesday.
Foye also called the racial and gender homogeneity of dock workers, "inexcusable inertia with respect to fair and diverse hiring." The PA head, who is took his post in November, promised strong action. The Port Authority owns the docks and leases the property to freight shipping and other companies.
"I intend to use every tool at our disposal," he said, "including leases with new customers, lease extensions and modifications with our existing customers, and most importantly, conditioning the Port Authority's future investments of billions of dollars in improvements on first reaching acceptable, concrete and enforceable, diversity hiring plans."
The International Longshoremen's Association, the union representing workers at the port of New York and New Jersey, controls hiring for new dock workers. At hearings last year, the ILA argued that they could not find sufficient non-white candidates for stevedore positions. The ILA did not return TN's requests for comment.
Thursday, November 24, 2011
(Billings, MT – YPR) – Railroads are benefiting from the drilling boom in the Bakken Oil Formation. The region encompasses southern Canada bordering portions of Eastern Montana and Western North Dakota.
Denis Smith is vice president of marketing for industrial products for Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNSF). He says railroads have a long history of hauling crude petroleum, including from the Bakken, “but at this scale and at this volume, that’s what makes it unique and different and very exciting,” he says.
Smith says BNSF’s increase in traffic isn't just from hauling crude petroleum from the oil wells in the Bakken and surrounding Williston Basin. He says these wells also need deliveries of drilling supplies like sand, pipe, and other heavy materials. He says the shortage of semi trucks and drivers and the current lack of pipeline capacity means companies are turning to railroads.
He says to accommodate the increase of drilling activity, BNSF has been laying new sections of track for its customers from its main line to the terminals to accommodate these shipments.
“So if anyone is spending a lot of money right here, right now on track and capacity it’s the customer,” Smith says. He says customers are also having to buy rail cars.
TransCanada has proposed building the Keystone X-L pipeline that is to originate at the tar sand oil fields in Alberta Canada and extend to refineries and distribution terminals along the Gulf Coast in Texas. The pipeline was also expected to pick up crude from the Bakken.
The Obama Administration announced earlier this month a decision on a permit will be delayed as the U.S. State Department considers an alternate pipeline route. Originally, a decision was anticipated by the end of 2011.
In the meantime, Smith says oil companies continue to rely on rail to transport crude to market. Even if the Keystone X-L project is approved and permitted, it will take time to construct the nearly 2,000 mile long pipeline. “Rail is the most immediate and quickest way to get the oil to the marketplace at the moment,” Smith says.
He adds rail is also more flexible. He says a pipeline is point-to-point while BNSF transports crude to multiple locations from the Bakken. This includes to refineries and distribution and storage terminals in Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, California, and to the East Coast.
That’s why Smith says BNSF expects to have a continued role in the Bakken even if the Keystone X-L pipeline is approved and operating.
“Theoretically, technically, mathematically it will take away a lot more barrels than are currently going, but we feel that on the rail-side we’ll have a solid 20-25 percent of the daily production up there (Bakken) move by rail,” he says.
BNSF is not the only railroad that’s seeing an increase in its rail traffic. The Calgary Herald reports Canadian Pacific is also increasing its investment because of the Bakken oil boom, as are other rail lines.
TN Moving Stories: SF Wants to Move People, Not Cars; Freight vs. Passenger Rail; and It's Awfully Dark in Minnesota
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
San Francisco's Municipal Transportation Agency wants to "focus on moving people, not cars," says agency head. (San Francisco Chronicle)
Lights out, Minnesota: some towns are turning off streetlights to save money. (Minnesota Public Radio)
Freight railroad companies balk at sharing rails with high speed passenger trains. (Wall Street Journal)
Did Governor Christie say that he'd replenish NJ's Transportation Trust Fund with the Hudson rail earmark? What he meant to say was that he was waiting for recommendations. (Star Ledger)
The Infrastructurist reports on a (fairly unscientific) trial to determine: which makes you crazier, commuting by bus or by car?
Monday, April 19, 2010
Four hundred tons of flowers sat rotting in the cold room of an airport in Kenya over the weekend, waiting to be shipped to Europe. These flowers are among the first collateral damage of the Icelandic ash cloud which has turned most of Europe's airspace into a no-fly zone and delayed travel for some 6.8 million people.