Friday, May 17, 2013
Bike lanes in Washington, D.C. vary from the simple—narrow lanes marked by thin, white lines squeezed between vehicular travel lanes and parked cars—to the advanced: protected cycle tracks lying between parked cars on one side and the sidewalk on the other.
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.”
Wednesday, May 08, 2013
The bird's eye view offered a vision of progress—modern transit spurring economic development—but Maryland homeowners who studied the path of the $2.2 billion Sliver Line at an open house organized by the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) on Tuesday night saw something different.
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
A study from the group Climate Central says northeast waterways were swimming in sewage following Sandy — much of it untreated.
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
A proposed highway that would skirt a Civil War battlefield is raising hackles in Virginia.
Thursday, April 25, 2013
Plans for a major highway in Northern Virginia are taking shape. Officials say the billion-dollar road would spur growth, but opponents say that premise is flawed.
Saturday, April 13, 2013
The construction of Phase II of the Silver Line Metrorail to Dulles International Airport, one of the largest public transportation projects in the U.S., will lie in the hands of the contractor team that makes the winning bid to the project’s owner, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA).
Friday, April 12, 2013
Now that the NY MTA has a new chairman in Tom Prendergast, and Local Transport Workers Union 100 has a recently re-elected president in John Samuelsen, the two sides can now sit down hammer out a contract.
Thursday, April 11, 2013
New York City Council speaker Christine Quinn gave voters their first detailed glimpse into what her transportation agenda would be if she's elected Mayor. It's like Bloomberg's -- but without the big, bold visions.
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
NJ Transit's board meetings will now be videotaped, and the agency is expanding the information on its Sandy recovery website.
It's part of an agency attempt to provide more transparency to the riding public -- many of whom have showed up at NJ Transit board meetings since Sandy to complain about confusing schedule changes, last-minute service outages, and a general lack of effective communication.
Jim Simpson, the state's transportation commissioner and NJ Transit chairman, said Wednesday at a board meeting that the videos of each board meeting will be available on the agency's website within 48 hours "to increase transparency on the board. We think it's really a good thing for everybody."
Executive director Jim Weinstein also said the NJ Transit website will now "include a listing of contracts associated with the Sandy recovery, as well as background on all projects." And the site now offers details on agency efforts to repair and replace trains damaged by Sandy.
NJ Transit has been under scrutiny for its decision to store rail stock in flood-prone areas during the storm, which caused nearly a quarter of its fleet to suffer damage.
The board also approved paying another $28.5 million to Canadian rail company Bombardier, which is repairing train cars damaged by Sandy. NJ Transit says it will reimbursed for storm expenses through a combination of federal aid and insurance money.
Following the meeting, Weinstein less enthusiastic about a different subject: a recent study endorsing a proposal to extend the #7 subway to Secaucus. "It’s not a New Jersey project," he said. "It emanated from the mayor’s office in New York and it clearly has some different points of view in New York, from the MTA." Weinstein sounded lukewarm about the project. "We'll see where it goes," he said.
One recent bright spot for the agency: Weinstein said NJ Transit got a ridership boost during last week's Wrestlemania, when the agency provided more than 35,000 bus and rail trips to the Meadowlands. The agency views the event as a dress rehearsal for next year's Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium, where the Jets and Giants play. Weinstein, who was on site for much of the event, described Wrestlemania as "quite an enlightening experience."
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
Preliminary repair work is underway at Maryland' s Silver Spring Transit Center, but officials still can't say when it will actually open.
The construction and design teams have agreed for now to pay for the necessary repairs to fix the structural problems at the Silver Spring Transit Center that were detailed in a scathing county report.
David Dise, director of general services for Montgomery County, says some repair work is already underway but that the major remediation work won't take place until late summer.
"Foulger Pratt was directed on Friday to begin the replacement of the faulty pour strips on the mid-level of the transit center," Dise says. "Parsons Brinkerhoff, the engineer of record, is beginning the design of the other remediation work that has to be done, the columns, the beams, and the topping slabs on the two levels."
That's just the beginning. Those repairs will take months to complete, so Dise can't say when the facility, already two years behind schedule, will open.
"Much of that will depend upon the final remediation plan being developed by Parsons Brinkerhoff and the subsequent schedule developed by Foulger Pratt after they receive the design," Dise says.
So the county, as of now, will not have to pump any more money into finishing the facility.
"The contractors that have performed the work that is in error must bear the cost of its repair," Dise says.
So it appears the county and the contractors have reached a resolution that will avoid costly, time consuming litigation, at least for the time being. The contractors may fight the county in court after the work is done to recover their expenses.
Tuesday, April 09, 2013
An 18-block stretch in the Bronx will be the first in New York City to test pay-by-phone parking.
The pilot program will allow people to use phone, internet or smartphone app to pay for 264 metered parking spaces along or adjacent to Arthur Avenue -- as well as spots in the city's Belmont Municipal Parking Field. To participate, motorists must sign up in advance on the Pay-By-Phone website. Each Muni-Meter in the pilot program has a QR code and a seven-digit number; the motorist must use either to confirm payment.
Users will receive a text or email when their meter is about to expire, and they will have the option of extending their time without having to return to their cars. According to the mayor's press release, traffic enforcement agents will use new hand-held scanners to cross-check the PayByPhone's data to ensure compliance.
"New York City parking has come a long way since we had to put a roll of quarters in our pocket," said city transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, making the announcement Tuesday in the Bronx with Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The pay-by-phone pilot will be tested for three months; it could then expand citywide.
Potentially more interesting than the ability to feed the meter remotely is the second half of Tuesday's announcement: a real-time parking availability map, seeded by information transmitted from roadbed sensors.
"Green indicates the greatest likelihood of a spot; yellow, the chances aren't so good, and red, well, you get the idea--" said Sadik-Khan. "Forget about it, as Marty [Markowitz] would say," interjected Bloomberg, referring to Brooklyn's Borough President.
Sadik-Khan added the map would cut down on the pollution created by cruising around and looking for a spot. "Knowing where to go, and to concentrate your search on where it's going to have the biggest value and the biggest payoff, is half the battle," she said.
In addition to being available online, the map is also available as a smartphone app. Bloomberg batted away suggestions that the app could encourage distracted driving. Bloomberg reasoned passengers could check the map -- or drivers could check it before they leave "or pull over. I mean, a lot of things are meant for you, you can't do it while you're --" here the mayor paused -- "in the shower, for example."
This cracked up the crowd. "I'm just trying to think of some other place you shouldn't," Bloomberg said, moving along to the next question.
Other cities around the world -- San Francisco, London, Vancouver, Miami -- use similar technology. Monica Hernandez, a spokesperson for the District Department of Transportation, said all 17,500 meters in Washington D.C. can be paid for via phone, and that the program had been in place for almost two years. "It's serving its purpose," she said. "It provides one more option for people looking to park."
With reporting from Christine Streich/WNYC.
Friday, April 05, 2013
Nearly five months after opening, the operators of the 495 Express Lanes are struggling to attract motorists to their congestion-free toll road in a region mired in some of the worst traffic congestion in the country.
Transurban, the construction conglomerate that put up $1.5 billion to build the 14-mile, EZ Pass-only corridor on the Beltway between the I-95 interchange and Dulles Toll Road, will let motorists use the highway free this weekend in a bid to win more converts.
“It takes a lot of time for drivers in the area to adapt to new driving behaviors. A lot of us are kind of stuck on autopilot on our commutes. That trend might continue for a while, too,” said Transurban spokesman Michael McGurk.
Light use of HOT lanes raises questions
McGurk says some drivers are confused about the new highway’s many entry and exit points. Opening the Express Lanes for free rides this weekend will let motorists familiarize themselves with the road, he said.
After opening in mid-November, the 495 Express Lanes lost money during its first six weeks in business. Operating costs exceeded toll revenues, but Transurban was not expecting to turn an immediate profit. In the long term, however, company officials have conceded they are not guaranteed to make money on their investment. Transurban’s next quarterly report is due at the end of April.
To opponents of the project, five months of relatively light traffic on Virginia’s new $2 billion road is enough to draw judgments. Vehicle miles traveled (VMT) has not recovered since the recession knocked millions out of work and more commuters are seeking alternatives to the automobile, according to Stewart Schwartz, the executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth.
“They miscalculated peoples' time value of money. They overestimated the potential demand for this road,” said Schwartz, who said the light use of the 495 Express Lanes should serve as a warning.
“We should not have rushed into signing a deal for hot lanes for the 95 corridor, and we certainly shouldn’t rush into any deal on I-66,” he said.
Transurban is counseling patience.
“We’re still in a ramp-up period. You’ve probably heard us say that since the beginning, too, but with a facility like this it’s a minimum six months to two years until the region falls into a regular pattern on how they’re going to use this facility,” McGurk said.
In its first six weeks of operations toll revenues climbed on the 495 Express Lanes from daily averages of $12,000 in the first week to $24,000 in the week prior to Christmas. Traffic in the same period increased from an average of 15,000 daily trips to 24,000, according to company records. Despite the increases, operating expenses still outstripped revenues.
It is possible that traffic is not bad enough outside of the morning and afternoon rush hours to push motorists over to the EZ Pass lanes on 495.
“It may also show that it takes only a minor intervention to remove enough cars from the main lanes to let them flow better,” said Schwartz, who said the 14-mile corridor is simply pushing the bottleneck further up the road.
Even Transurban’s McGurk says many customers who have been surveyed complain that once they reach the Express Lanes’ northern terminus at Rt. 267 (Dulles Toll Road), the same terrible traffic awaits them approaching the American Legion Bridge.
Express Lanes a litmus test for larger issues
The success or failure of the 495 Express Lanes will raise one of the region’s most pressing questions as it looks to a future of job and population growth: how best to move people and goods efficiently. Skeptics of highway expansions, even new facilities that charge tolls as a form of congestion pricing, say expanding transit is cheaper and more effective.
“An approach that gives people more options and reduces driving demand through transit and transit-oriented development may be the better long-term solution. But we’ve never had these DOTs give us a fair comparison between a transit-oriented investment future for our region and one where they create this massive network of HOT lanes,” said Schartz, who said a 2010 study by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments pegged the cost of a tolled network of 1,650-lane miles of regional highways at $50 billion.
Transportation experts say a form of congestion pricing, either tolled lanes or a vehicle miles traveled tax, may be part of a regional solution to congestion. The public, however, needs to be explained why.
“As long as the majority of system remains non-tolled and congested then you are not going to solve the problem,” said Joshua Schank, the president of the Eno Center for Transportation, a D.C.-based think tank.
“Highways in this region are drastically underpriced. People are not paying enough to maintain them and they certainly are not paying enough to pay for the cost of congestion. The American people have been sold a bill of goods because they have been told that roads are free. Roads cost money,” he added.
The 495 Express Lanes are dynamically-priced, meaning the tolls increase with demand for the lanes. The average toll per trip in the highway’s first six weeks of operations was $1.07, according to Transurban records. As motorists enter the lanes they see signs displaying how much it will cost to travel to certain exits, but no travel time estimates are displayed. “It is important to be very clear to drivers about the benefit of taking those new lanes, and I am not sure that has happened so far,” said Schank, who said it is too early to conclude if the Express Lanes are working as designed.
“It’s hard to know if it works by looking whether the lanes are making money. I don’t know if that is the right metric. It’s the right metric for Transurban, but it’s not necessarily the right metric from a public sector perspective,” he said. “The real metric is to what extent does it improve economic development and regional accessibility, and that’s a much harder analysis that takes some real research and time.”
Thursday, April 04, 2013
(New York, NY - WNYC) Build higher. That's what the federal government is saying to the owners of structures badly damaged by Sandy. Northeast flood zones now have tougher re-building requirements that apply across the board: to houses, businesses and government infrastructure.
Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood stood in front of an Amtrak electrical station in a New Jersey swamp to make their point: any structure more than half destroyed by Sandy that is being rebuilt with federal funds, must be lifted higher than before. The new standards require a building owner to consult an updated FEMA flood map, find the new recommended height for his structure and then lift it a foot above that.
LaHood explained why: "So that people don't have to go through the same heartache and headache and backache that it's taken to rebuild."
LaHood says the Amtrak electrical plant, which was knocked out by Sandy, will be lifted several feet at a cost of $25 million. A statement from the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force has details on the new standards:
WASHINGTON – Today, the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force announced that all Sandy-related rebuilding projects funded by the supplemental spending bill must meet a single uniform flood risk reduction standard. The standard, which is informed by the best science and best practices including assessments taken following Hurricane Sandy and brings the federal standard into alignment with many state and local standards already in place, takes into account the increased risk the region is facing from extreme weather events, sea level rise and other impacts of climate change and applies to the rebuilding of structures that were substantially damaged and will be repaired or rebuilt with federal funding. As a result, the new standard will require residential, commercial, or infrastructure projects that are applying for federal dollars to account for increased flood risk resulting from a variety of factors by elevating or otherwise flood-proofing to one foot above the elevation recommended by the most recent available federal flood guidance.
This is the same standard that many communities in the region, including the entire state of New Jersey, have already adopted – meaning federally funded rebuilding projects in the impacted region often already must comply with this standard. In fact, some communities require rebuilding higher than this minimum standard and if they do so, that stricter standard would supersede this standard as the minimum requirement.
“Communities across the region are taking steps to address the risks posed by climate change and the Federal Government needs to be a partner in that effort by setting a single clear standard for how federal funds will be used in rebuilding,” said Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, who also chairs the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force. “Providing this guaranteed minimum level of protection will help us safeguard our investment and, more importantly, will help communities ensure they are better able to withstand future storms.”
“President Obama has called on us to invest in our nation’s infrastructure—and that includes ensuring that our transit systems, roads, rails and bridges are built to last,” said Transportation Secretary LaHood, who joined Secretary Donovan in making the announcement in New Jersey today. “The flood risk reduction standard is a common sense guideline that will save money over the long-term and ensure that our transportation systems are more resilient for the future.”
Today’s announcement does not retroactively affect federal aid that has previously been given to property owners and communities in the Sandy-impacted areas. It also does not impact insurance rates under the National Flood Insurance Program, which is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Moving forward the federal standard applies to substantial rebuilding projects (i.e. when damage exceeds 50 percent of the value of the structure) that will rely on federal funding.
The specific steps that these types of structures will need to take include:
- Elevating – the standard would require structures to elevate their bottom floor one foot higher than the most recent flood risk guidance provided by FEMA; and/or
- Flood-proofing – in situations where elevation is not possible, the standard will require structures to prepare for flooding a foot higher than the most recent flood risk guidance provided by FEMA – for example, by relocating or sealing boilers or other utilities located below the standard elevation
These additional steps are intended to protect communities from future risk and to protect taxpayer investments over the long term.
The programs which received funding in the supplemental bill and will be impacted by this standard include:
- HUD: Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery program
- HHS: Construction and reconstruction projects funded by Social Services Block Grants and Head Start
- FEMA: Hazard Mitigation Grant Program and the Public Assistance Program
- EPA: The State Revolving Fund (SRF) programs
- DOT: Federal Transit Administration's Emergency Relief Program, as well as some Federal Railroad Administration and Federal Highway Administration projects
Thursday, April 04, 2013
(Derek Wang - Seattle, KUOW) Bertha is here. The world’s largest tunnel boring machine arrived in Seattle Tuesday after being shipped from Japan. It’s expected to reach land sometime this week. After that, in a few months, it will get to work drilling the tunnel that will replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct.
The Washington State Department of Transportation named the machine, Bertha, after Seattle’s first female mayor, Bertha Knight Landes. The name was suggested by two school kids who won WSDOT’s naming contest.
According to Linea Laird, WSDOT’s tunnel project administrator, the tradition and practice of naming tunneling machines dates back to the earliest mining traditions.
“Originally, it was part of the patron saints of protection of underground workers,” she said. “There would be even a little shrine that would be established there for the workers.”
Laird says the name of the saint gave the miners something personal that they could relate to as they did their dangerous work. Paying homage to their saints evolved into naming tunneling machines.
Naming is commonplace in the tunneling industry these days. Miami named its machine after Harriet Tubman. And Sound Transit named two machines Balto and Togo, after two famous Husky dogs that inspired the Iditarod. And the tunneling machines boring new subway tunnels under the streets of New York City bear a variety of names, including Molina, Georgina, and TESS.
Chris Dixon is supervising the contractors who will be operating Bertha. He’s been in the tunneling business for decades.
“There were two machines that drove tunnels on one contract on the Los Angeles Metro Red Line subway, they called them Thelma and Louise.” Dixon says another machine used in Puerto Rico was named after the wife of a contracting executive.
Laird concedes that the name Bertha might not be the prettiest. But she says the name conjures up something that is big, solid and has a down-home quality to it. That, Laird says, seems like an appropriate description of Bertha’s new home: Seattle.
Wednesday, April 03, 2013
Maryland's Montgomery County Council approved an additional $7 million to pay for construction work already completed at Silver Spring Transit Center, which is already two years behind schedule and about $80 million over budget.
The $7 million approved by county lawmakers has nothing to do with major design and construction problems detailed in a county report released two weeks ago.When it comes to who will pay to repair those problems, county officials say it will likely be determined in litigation with the project’s contractors.
“We will move expeditiously to make sure that we make the necessary repairs and that the taxpayers of Montgomery County will not have to pay for the flaws of the contractor,” says County Executive Ike Leggett, who has threatened to cancel the county’s contract with Foulger Pratt and other contractors and sue to recover any funds paid to fix the transit center’s construction issues, like inadequately thick concrete.
“Whatever we spend we will get back because we are going to pursue to the ultimate degree of the law and the legal process to make sure the county is reimbursed for anything we may have to put out in advance,” says Leggett.
Council President Nancy Navarro echoed Leggett’s vow to go to court, if necessary, to protect taxpayers but left open the possibility the county is also responsible for the mess at the transit center.
“I have not said at any moment that the county could not have some responsibility in this. It is possible,” says Navarro, who says the transit center could open to the public while any litigation proceeds.
No lawsuits have been filed yet.
Contractor Foulger Pratt has said the county’s design plan was flawed from the start. Company executive Bryant Foulger has said any safety issues concerning concrete and reinforcing steel bars are the county’s responsibility.
Tuesday, April 02, 2013
Over a dozen plans for improving rail in the Northeast Corridor are under consideration by the federal government, ranging from minor improvements to a future with 220-mile-per-hour bullet trains between Washington and Boston -- not to mention new service between Long Island and New England.
These various options are detailed in a new report released Tuesday by the Federal Railroad Administration. NEC FUTURE sketches out 15 alternatives representing different levels of investment through the year 2040 in the 457-mile corridor.
The options, in turn, have been grouped into four separate categories which grow progressively more ambitious: while those in Level A focus on achieving a state of good repair, Level D would build a separate high-speed rail line between Boston and D.C. and bring new service in the region, primarily in Long Island, New England and the Delmarva peninsula.
The report aims to jump-start public debate about how rail capacity should be shaped in the region. "It is intended to be the foundation for future investments in the Northeast Corridor, a 150 year-old alignment that has guided the growth of what is now one of the most densely populated transportation corridors in the world,” said Rebecca Reyes-Alicea, NEC FUTURE program manager for the Federal Railroad Administration. “(It) will further the dialogue about the rail network in the Northeast and how it can best serve us over for the years ahead.”
Over the next year, these 15 options will be winnowed down. The federal government wants to have a single alternative in place by 2015.
Because it's conceptual, no cost estimates are included in the report. But existing documents provide a baseline. In 2010, Amtrak identified $9 billion alone in state of good repair projects for the NEC, with an additional $43 billion in investment just to meet projected 2030 ridership levels for the current system. Meanwhile, another Amtrak report estimated the cost of bringing high-speed rail to the NEC at $151 billion.
Dan Schned, a senior transportation planner at the Regional Plan Association, said "what’s possible and what Congress has the stomach to spend are two different things."
But he said that funding need not come solely from Congress. "Successful high-speed rail projects around the world have private sector participation," Schned pointed out, adding that "the arrangement of public and private financing and project delivery issues will be the most challenging" aspects of overhauling the NEC.
The Federal Railroad Administration is holding workshops in New Haven, Newark and Washington D.C. next week to present the plan to the public. For more information, go here. Read the full report below.
Monday, April 01, 2013
(New York, NY - WNYC) New York is Holland now: the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority is building a wall to keep out the sea along a two-mile stretch of the A subway line on its way to the Rockaway peninsula in Queens. The wall is made of thick steel and runs along the eastern side the tracks on the island of Broad Channel, in the middle of Jamaica Bay.
The $38 million project is the MTA's first big step since Sandy to prevent flooding from future storm surges.
To make sure the wall is strong enough to hold off another flood, workers are pounding each section about 30 feet into the ground. In the end, the wall will rise only seven feet above the rails, two feet above Sandy's height. The MTA thinks that's high enough.
On a recent windy afternoon, Contractor Mitch Levine was watching workers pile drive and weld each section into place. He said the wall is designed to withstand salt water. "This steel is special steel," he said. "It's marine steel, which will stop it from eroding over the course of 100 years."
Keeping the hungry waves at bay
NY MTA program manager Raymond Wong said the wall is supposed to prevent future storm surges from doing what Sandy did in this area, which was rip the embankment right out from under 400 feet of track.
"The tracks were hanging in the air," he said.
For three weeks after Sandy, each tide took another bite from a larger section of the embankment--until the NY MTA rebuilt the shore by dumping tons of stone and concrete next to the tracks. But this stretch of the A train across Jamaica Bay is still not in service. Thousands of riders now cram into crowded shuttle buses and face rush hour commutes that can end after midnight.
The wall will also serve a second purpose: keeping debris off the line. Forty-eight boats came to rest on the tracks after Sandy, along with jet skis, docks and fuel tanks. The clean up alone took three months.
Why a wall?
NY MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz said engineers chose a steel wall to protect the A train because, "It could meet strength requirements as well as timing requirements--we wanted to make sure the wall would be in place by May 1." The line is scheduled to return to full service by summer.
Although Jamaica Bay is part of Gateway National Park, Ortiz said the wall didn't need to go through "any type of approval process" because it's within the right-of-way of the tracks, which is controlled by NYC Transit. Ortiz said the NY MTA did consult with the National Park Service and Army Corps of Engineers about the plan.
Bringing the power back
The MTA is taking a much more short term approach to repairing the A train's damaged electrical system. A mile away from Broad Channel, a control house sits in the railyard at the end of the line in Rockaway Park. Inside, Wong showed off rooms stuffed with equipment that looked modern in the 1950s, when it was installed. One panel has thousands of fuses, each with its own hand-lettered tag. Sandy turned these rooms into temporary aquariums.
"Everything was just coated in salt water that undermined the copper," Wong said. "When we came here, this whole thing was a big block of rust."
Electricity is vital to the subway. It powers signals that keep the trains apart, and switches that move those trains down the right track. There's also lighting at stations, public address systems, and power to the third rail to move the trains--the list goes on.
So what is the MTA doing to protect the electrical equipment at low-lying sites from future storms? "We're just trying to get up and running over here," Wong said. "There's really not much you can do."
Wong said, ideally, the MTA will lift the control house 10 feet in the air, rip out the old components and computerize the system. But that's millions of dollars and years away. His goal right now is to get the A train back by summer, however he can.
Click here for more photos of restoration work on the A line.