Transportation Nation

Federal Budget Uncertainty May Shortchange Maryland's Purple Line

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A proposed 16-mile, years-in-the-making light rail line -- like many other transit projects -- is subject to the funding priorities of Congress. And these days, that's not so certain.

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Transportation Nation

Maryland Seeks Private Operator for Purple Line

Tuesday, August 06, 2013


Maryland will pursue a private firm to design, construct, finance, operate, and maintain the $2.2 billion Purple Line light rail system planned for D.C.’s northern suburbs, says Governor Martin O’Malley.

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Transportation Nation

VIDEO: The First D.C. Streetcar in 50 Years Takes a Test Drive

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


D.C.'s streetcar won't be taking passengers for several more months, but engineers are already putting the vehicles through their paces, testing braking and acceleration -- and a feature called "dead man."

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Transportation Nation

Rogoff Slams House Transportation Bill

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff issued a sharply-worded statement today against the House version of the transportation bill, calling it "a huge step backward" and a "misguided bill."

Coupled with Secretary Ray LaHood's comments, where he called the bill "the most partisan ever," the statement represents one of the Obama Administration's most pugilistic stances to date. Here's the full statement:

“The House Majority’s approach eliminates a guaranteed funding source for mass transit that has been in place since the Reagan Administration and represents a huge step backward from a balanced transportation policy. The bill takes away billions of dollars that have already been collected solely for mass transit, impacting every American that rides a bus, or a train, or uses a paratransit van to get to work, school, or medical appointments each day.

“The House Majority proposal subjects all future Federal transit funding to partisan, controversial and unworkable funding schemes.  Meanwhile, the Senate has found a way to fund the needs of transit and highways in a bipartisan, non-controversial way.  There are no Democratic or Republican buses or rail systems. We can only hope that the House will follow the Senate’s bipartisan lead and fix this misguided bill.”

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Transportation Nation

Bike Share to the Alamo, Santa Claus Bike/Ped Trail, and Other Transit $$

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Alamo (image courtesy of San Antonio Missions National Historic Park)

Seems to be grant day for the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The feds are handing out $40.8 million for 58 projects giving better transit access to national parks.

Among the grantees are the City of San Antonio, which gets $324,000 to expand bike share to connect the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park to the Alamo.

There's also $340,000 to the town of Santa Claus, Indiana, to design a bike and pedestrian trail connecting the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial, local schools, and the town of Santa Claus.

The grants are part of the Paul S. Sarbanes Transit in Parks program, which is described in a press release as "administered by the FTA in partnership with the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Forest Service, the program funds capital and planning expenses for alternative transportation systems, such as shuttle buses and bicycle trails, in national parks and public lands. The goals of the program are to conserve natural, historical and cultural resources, and reduce congestion and pollution."

For a full list of grantees, including Marin County, New York City, and Alaska, click here.

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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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Transportation Nation

US DOT Hands Out Nearly $1 Billion in Transit Grants

Monday, October 17, 2011

Artist's Rendering of Woodward Avenue Lightrail (rendering courtesy Detroit 2020)

More love for Michigan from the Obama Administration.   U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood traveled to Detroit to announce some $928.5 million in transit grants for 300 public transportation projects around the country.

According to the DOT the grants "are made available through the Federal Transit Administration’s fiscal year 2011 Alternatives Analysis, Bus Livability, and State of Good Repair Programs, will go toward replacing or refurbishing aging buses, building or improving bus terminals, garages, and other transit facilities, installing bus-related equipment, and conducting studies to help communities select the best transit options to meet future transportation needs. "

The DOT pulled out three examples to highlight in its press release (two of them in the key swing states of Michigan and Pennsylvania.)   Other big grants include $11 million for Harris County, Texas (Houston's County), more than $100 million for the NY MTA for vehicle replacements and a new radio system for buses, and $25,000,000 to replace vehicles in Los Angeles.

The full list is here:

And here's what the DOT highlighted, in its press release.

•    The Southeast Michigan Council of Governments will receive $2 million to study a possible second phase of the planned Woodward Avenue corridor transit project in Detroit and the best mode of transit to pursue. The first phase, a light rail line still in the early planning stages, would end just south of Eight Mile Road. The second phase may one day provide additional transit solutions another 7.5 miles to Maple Road (Fifteen Mile Road).

•    Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority (Sound Transit) will receive $5.4 million to replace buses in its Seattle-area fleet that are beyond their useful lives with hybrid-diesel buses.

•    The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority will receive $5 million to restore Philadelphia’s historic 33rd Street and Dauphin Street bus facility, a 110-year-old facility that is in a state of disrepair.

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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

With Nat Ford's Departure, What's Next for SFMTA?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Muni bus in San Francisco, California (Photo by BrokenSphere)

(San Francisco – KALW) With the official announcement today that San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency chief Nat Ford is departing after five and a half years on the job, the big question on people’s minds is what’s next for the city’s transit agency. Given that it handles -- or at least has a hand in -- almost every mode of transportation in the city, Muni needs not just a strong leader, but a versatile one.

This is not a calm time at MTA: The city recently launched SFPark, a dynamic pricing plan aimed at reducing congestion in the city; it’s implementing a number of changes to the way taxis are regulated, monitored, and priced; and it’s negotiating with the federal government over a billion-dollar full funding agreement for the Central Subway project. The agency is also in a particularly tough place with Muni’s operators, who overwhelmingly rejected the contract negotiated by union leaders and forced the union into binding arbitration.

Though the arbitrator’s ruling overwhelmingly favored management, both Ford and MTA board chair Tom Nolan said the city should prioritize improving its relationship with the rank and file. “We have to be very prudent and judicious as far as how that new contract is implemented,” said Ford. “We need to recognize that our operators are a great asset to this agency.” Nolan agreed, adding that the new chief would be expected to reach out and remain accessible to employees at all levels of the agency.

What else is the MTA looking for in its next chief? “The next person has to do everything Nat did, and work more closely than ever with our employees,’” said Nolan. He said the board would like to hire someone with a deep understanding of San Francisco’s complicated politics – and that a transportation background isn’t necessarily required.

Though he praised Ford’s work and refrained from any criticism, Nolan did express a wish that the next director would occupy the position for longer than Ford did. “I’ve been in my job for 17 years,” he said. “That’s unrealistic to expect. But when we go through all this, we want the person to stick around long enough to do something substantial.”

Bicycle and pedestrian advocates said they’d like to see the next chief prioritize complete streets and continue funding infrastructure to improve street conditions. “When we build great bikeways for people of all skill levels, people bike,” said Leah Shahum of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. Elizabeth Stampe, executive director of pedestrian advocacy group WalkSF, agreed. “This is a walking city, and how we spend our time and money should reflect that,” she said.

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Transportation Nation

Houston's Light Rail Expansion Could Be On Chopping Block

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

(Houston - Wendy Siegle, KUHF News) Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives want to dump a thirty-five year old federal urban transit program, called New Starts. The program,  governed by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), doles out $2 billion dollars a year to mass transit projects across the country. The House Republican Study Committee has proposed to ax the program to trim back federal spending. Transit projects all over the U.S. could be in jeopardy if the committee's recommendation is heeded - and Houston's light rail expansion program is one of them.

Paul Magaziner, a vocal opponent of METRO’s light rail system, thinks the program should be cancelled. “Like it or not, the 112th Congress will decide the fate of METRO," he told board members at this week's meeting. "The jury is out. Cease and desist until you know what Congress and the FTA will choose to do and be able to approve.”

METRO is currently waiting on at least $900 million dollars from the FTA’s New Starts program for use on the Southeast and North rail lines. The authority has already begun work on the lines under the assumption it will be reimbursed through the federal grants. But Magaziner says METRO should halt all rail construction until it has every penny in the bank to fund the program in its entirety.

But METRO president and CEO George Greanias says stopping now isn't logical. “I understand that we’re all wondering what the new Congress is going to do," he said. "And there’s certainly a lot of statements being made about what the proper course for the country is. I don’t see many businesses in this country, I don’t see many folks just sort of shutting down and saying, ‘We’ll wait for a year or two while the Congress decides which way their going to jump.’”

Greanias says he’s confident METRO will receive the much-needed funds from the FTA. He points out that the FTA sent METRO a $50 million dollar advance on the grant last month and also issued pre-approval letters allowing the authority to commence work on the lines without delay. Greanias says calls to stop Houston’s light rail expansion are imprudent. “To simply shut the program down would cost several hundreds of millions of dollars and you’d have nothing to show for it,” he argued.

Plus, he says, construction is already underway. Roads have been torn up so the project can’t just be abandoned. The METRO board more than doubled this year’s budget for the light rail program, increasing it from $143 million dollars to $345 million.

Board member Christof Spieler says canceling the program due to speculation on the political future of Congress would "go against the will of the voters," who voted in favor of the light rail program in 2003.

The proposal could come to a vote in the House by the middle of February.

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Transportation Nation

Christie: I won't pay $271 Million For Dead ARC Tunnel

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) Governor Christie's spokesman, Michael Drewniak, just emailed around the following statement. We'll have more soon, plus FTA response. (Yesterday, when asked about the ARC tunnel negotiations, Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff--who'd just spoken at a transportation conference--looked like he'd swallowed several lemons whole.  He wouldn't comment. ) From the email:

Last night, New Jersey’s legal counsel filed its response to the Federal Transit Administration’s demand for $271 million in ARC transportation funding.  Attached is the submission filed electronically with the FTA on behalf of NJ Transit, as well as a fact sheet.

While the submission clearly sets out New Jersey’s case, pay particular attention to the four-page introduction, which aptly and succinctly describes why the State of New Jersey has no lawful or administrative obligation to repay any of the $271 million demanded by the FTA. The FTA overstates the funds that are even at issue and makes a demand for repayment that is far broader than authorized by statute.  Specifically:

Of the $271 million FTA demands, the vast majority -- $225.5 million -- consists of:

(1) funds that were expended prior to the execution of the August 2009 ESWA (Early Systems Work Agreements); and

(2) the State’s own formula funds that New Jersey was entitled to as a matter of right, and chose to apply to the Project.

The ESWA simply was not the source of these funds and the statute makes clear that these funds are not “Government payments made under the work agreement.”

As is by now abundantly clear, Governor Christie cancelled the project due to multi-billion dollar cost-overrun projections for a project that previously had an agreed upon price tag of $8.7 billion.  Billions in those cost overruns would have been borne by New Jersey  -- something unforeseen and entirely out of the state’s control, and a burden Governor Christie was not willing to place exclusively on New Jersey and its taxpayers.
Opposition to Demand

NJT’s Response To FTA’s Repayment Demand

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Transportation Nation

FTA Awards Transit Funding; Second Avenue Subway & LIRR Big Winners

Monday, December 27, 2010

Second Avenue Subway (NYC MTA)

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation)  The Federal Transit Administration awarded a round of grants today for transit projects currently underway -- see details from the FTA's press release below.

FTA Announces $182.4 Million in Funds for Seven Major Transit Projects Underway Across U.S.

Projects Include Subway, Light Rail, Commuter Rail

WASHINGTON – The Federal Transit Administration today announced that is advancing a total of $182.4 million in New Starts funding for seven transit projects already under construction in New York, Dallas, Salt Lake City, Seattle, and Northern Virginia.

“By making these payments now, we’re not only fulfilling the federal government’s commitment to these projects sooner, but we’re also giving a well-timed boost to communities that have made an important investment in their transportation infrastructure,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “We want to keep the projects moving and people working with these early investments, which will save these cities money over the long haul.”

The grants being awarded today will not increase the federal government’s overall share in the projects. Rather, a portion of the federal share for each project is being paid earlier than expected because of unallocated funds in FTA’s Fiscal Year 2010 budget for new construction.

“The advance payments being announced today will free up local funds that can now be used for other transit projects that will make it easier for families to get to work, to school, and to other important destinations,” said FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff. “These advances will also result in the savings of financing costs that local sponsors would have otherwise incurred.”

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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

Feds to NJ: Okay, We'll Credit You $128 Million For ARC Tunnel

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - The U.S. Transportation Department tells New Jersey it will be credited nearly half the $271 million it owes the federal government for a scrapped NY-NJ rail tunnel if it pays back all it owes.

New Jersey got the tunnel tab for money already spent after Gov. Chris Christie abandoned the $8.7 billion project because of potential cost overruns.

The bill is due Dec. 24.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg has been negotiating with federal transit authorities to get the bill reduced. Christie approved the hiring of a Washington law firm to fight it.

A Dec. 14 letter confirming that $128 million would be credited to a congestion mitigation account after New Jersey repays the debt was signed by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. The Associated Press has obtained a copy of the letter.

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Transportation Nation

The Record: Feds say Christie knew of risk on tunnel

Friday, December 10, 2010

From today's NJ Record:

The feds say NJ Governor Christie was aware his predecessor, Jon Corzine, had signed an  "Early System Work Agreement" to get federal funds to NJ quickly for the ARC Tunnel project -- and that such an agreement meant money would have to be returned if the project wasn't built.

Christie reaffirmed New Jersey's commitment to the project in an April 8 letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood that called the tunnel "critical for the transit riders of New Jersey and the region."

"Given the time constraints of current contractor bids, I look forward to an expeditious award of the second Early System Work Agreement," Christie wrote. Six days later, FTA notified NJ Transit the agreement was granted, allowing for contracts to go forward on parts of the project in North Bergen and Kearny, according to documents released Thursday by the USDOT.

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Transportation Nation

TN Moving Stories: Miami-Dade Transit Tries To Figure Out Fed $ Freeze, and Queensboro Bridge To Be Renamed for Koch

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Why did the federal government freeze funding to Miami-Dade Transit? Bad accounting practices--or fraud? (Miami Herald)

Two major New York transportation structures are to be renamed. So: to get from lower Manhattan to Brooklyn, take the Carey Tunnel; from Manhattan to Queens, take the Koch Bridge. The former mayor is delighted by the renaming of the Queensboro. “It’s not soaring, beautiful, handsome, like the George Washington or the Verrazano,” he said. “It’s rugged, it’s hard working — and that’s me.” (New York Times)

Ford begins shipping the Transit Connect, the first all-electric commercial van. (Detroit News)

Does Toronto Mayor Ford need the approval of city council to scrap Transit City? He says no; the council says not so fast. (Toronto Star)

Fed up by the lack of live transit data from the NYC MTA? Someone put together a crowdsourcing app that live-tracks trains. (Wired)

Public transportation workers strike in Athens to protest the Greek government's austerity measures. (MarketWatch)

What transit options are on the table for Staten Islanders, who suffer some of the longest commutes in the country?  Possibly resurrecting the North Shore Rail Line. (NY1)

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Christie Hires Law Firm to Fight Feds Over ARC Reimbursement

Thursday, December 02, 2010


New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has hired a law firm to challenge a $271 million tab the federal government says the state owes for the canceled ARC rail tunnel. Christie says he's approved the selection of high-powered Washington, D.C. firm Patton Boggs.

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Transportation Nation

Christie Hires Big DC Lobbying/Law Firm to Argue Transit Tunnel case

Thursday, December 02, 2010

From Governor Christie's Press Office (analysis coming):

Governor Chris Christie Approves Retention of Law Firm to Protect Taxpayers from Unreasonable FTA Demands

For Immediate Release

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Trenton, NJ – Furthering his commitment to protect New Jersey taxpayers, Governor Chris Christie today approved New Jersey Transit’s retention of a law firm to challenge the Federal Transit Administration’s attempt to bill the state $271 million in connection with the Governor’s cancellation of the ARC Tunnel project with its billions in potential cost overruns.

In cancelling the tunnel project, Governor Christie sought to protect taxpayers from an open-ended bill for a project whose final costs were unknown and unpredictable and which left New Jersey responsible for all cost overruns.  Now, Governor Christie will extend his pledge to protect taxpayers by challenging the federal government in its demand for more money from New Jersey.

“It’s not surprising that the same federal transit agency that had no clear way to pay for cost overruns of a project already hurt by poor planning and inequitable cost sharing is relying on bureaucratic power plays to wring even more money from New Jerseyans,” Governor Christie said.  “New Jersey and its taxpayers should not be responsible for these costs, which is why our Administration is making every effort to fight the FTA’s unreasonable demands.  I simply cannot allow our state to be taken advantage of any further over this highly flawed project.”

The Governor also said he was gratified to see bi-partisan support emerging from New Jersey’s Congressional delegation in support of the move to challenge the FTA and protect New Jersey taxpayers.

The Governor has authorized New Jersey Transit to retain the Washington, D.C. law firm of Patton Boggs, LLP.  NJ Transit will consider ratifying the contract at its regular board meeting on December 9.

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Transportation Nation

Christie Hires Law Firm To Stop FTA From Collecting ARC Money

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) From the AP:

Governor Chris Christie plans to challenge the $271 million the federal government says New Jersey owes after canceling a rail tunnel.

Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak says the administration is completing plans to retain a Washington, D.C., law firm. The firm has expertise in federal transit matters and will try to stop the Federal Transit Administration from collecting money spent on engineering and construction for the Hudson River tunnel.

Christie killed what was the nation's most expensive public works project because of potential cost overruns.

The FTA sent New Jersey a bill on Nov. 24 payable within 30 days.

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Transportation Nation

TN Moving Stories: LaHood Harshes On Street Sign Overhaul, NJ Reacts to FTA Bill, and Will the Volt's Rising Tide Lift Michigan High Tech Industry?

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

NJ politicians react to FTA's demand that the state repay $271 million in canceled ARC funds.  One report says that Gov. Christie has lawyered up and plans to file a lawsuit to fight the bill; another says that the state congressional delegation may try talking to the feds to get the amount reduced. The federal government says that the money must be repaid by Christmas Eve.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg news says that Gov. Christie will reallocate $1 billion in ARC tunnel money to roads. "Governor Chris Christie, who killed the tunnel last month, is looking for ways to pay for highways and mass transit without support from the Transportation Trust Fund Authority, which has reached its borrowing capacity."

Minnesota governor-elect Walker declares his state's high-speed rail plan is dead, but will public meetings across MN and Wisconsin this week sway him? (Milwaukee Public Radio)

As the Chevy Volt launches, so too do the hopes of Michigan's high-tech industry. "Today, the state has 17 companies that help make batteries for electric vehicles, projected to create 63,000 Michigan jobs in the next decade." (Detroit Free Press)  Hey, want to see how the Volt is made?

Ray LaHood backs away from street sign overhaul, says the regulation "makes no sense." (New York Daily News)

Australia wants to reduce road injuries and deaths by 30%.  "Australians should not regard death and injury as an inevitable cost of road travel." (Sydney Morning Herald)

All 197 airlines that fly to the U.S. are now collecting names, genders and birth dates of passengers so the government can check them against terror watch lists before they fly. (AP via NPR)

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