Transportation Nation

LOOK: Gold Line Rail Bridge is California History "With Some Artistry"

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority

The Gold Line Bridge in December 2012, just before completion of construction (Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority)

(Corey Moore - Southern California Public Radio, KPCC) Southern California's Gold Line light rail extension is years away from being complete. But the finishing touches are being put on the bridge that will carry it over the 210 freeway in Arcadia.

When completed in 2015, the light rail line will cross the bridge to travel the 11.5 miles between Pasadena and Azusa. Meanwhile, drivers can ponder the bridge's California touches: a design that incorporates both Native American basketry, and hatch marks similar to the patterns on a Western Diamondback snake.

Rendering of what the bridge will look like with light rail (courtesy Metro Gold Line)

Gold Line Construction Authority CEO Habib Bailan said the Authority didn’t want to build a regular, boring bridge. “You know, I’m so tired of seeing civil projects for governments built in a way that really don’t reflect society or any artistic or aesthetic value," he said. "And we had this opportunity [to] ... do it for minimal cost to enhance the bridge with better architecture and some artistry.”

Another view of the Gold Line Bridge

The supporting section runs perpendicular to the main bridge, and at either end sits a 25-foot high basket made out of woven concrete pieces. Each piece is six feet long and weighs 900 pounds. At the top of each basket are 16 concrete reeds, ranging from two to ten feet high.

British-born designer Andrew Leicester calls the bridge “sculptural history.” He said he created it to honor the native peoples and animals of the San Gabriel Valley.

“One layer, all upon another, all about transportation, moving people and moving goods," he said. "And the baskets serve this function.  They’re kind of an ancient, one of the earliest vessels for carrying goods back and forth.”

Read the whole story over at KPCC. And follow Corey Moore on Twitter.

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Transportation Nation

How Sandy Might Tweak Today's High-Speed Rail Privatization Hearing

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Rendering of an Amtrak NextGen high-speed rail train

On Capitol Hill today, high-speed rail in the Northeast will get dissected and debated.  This time though, Amtrak head Joe Boardman will sit at the witness table with some support from record ridership numbers. And also Sandy.

You can watch the House Transportation sub-committee hearings here at 10 a.m. ET and see the full list of-top level witnesses here

The hearing continues a series of grillings GOP lawmakers have been giving to Amtrak in a push to reduce the subsidies the national rail network relies on each year. Other witnesses on the docket include a DOT rep, an American Enterprise Institute Scholar and a Morgan Stanley managing director.

The 15 word hearing title obscures the topic, so it's pasted way down below in this post, but rest assured the conversation will cover privatization of high-speed rail along the Northeast Corridor.

Outgoing House Transportation Committee Chair John Mica who will chair today's hearing has long supported the idea of building high-speed rail in the Northeast because that route is the only one profitable for Amtrak, but he has argued that funding, and even operations, could be provided by the private sector. Big spending on big projects need not come entirely from the government, Mica has argued.

Robert Puentes of the Brookings Institution says, "Superstorm Sandy did change the conversation around infrastructure, particularly in the Northeast."

The storm, which caused $60 million in losses to Amtrak and billions in damages to other transit agencies, showed the need for expensive upgrades, and a scale of risk involved that demands more active government investment. "The enormous bills we have from Sandy are not going to be born by the private sector. It's ridiculous to think so."

He says, "there is a role for the private sector to play" and he hopes the hearings hone in on it because finding the right role is crucial.

Puentes also says, states are likely to play an increasingly large role in Amtrak funding in the future. As the national government becomes more reticent to pay for unprofitable rail routes, states that want to keep their service will have to start chipping in.

One test case to watch for this model could be the Sunset Limited line along the Gulf Coast that was washed away in 2005 by Katrina. Local officials are lobbying to get it back. The cash-strapped states of Alabama and Mississippi would need to pony up though, and so far it's stalled.

Today's hearing though, is on the Northeast Corridor, where megaprojects are on the table and profits are a reasonable lure for business involvement. The "vision" for high-speed rail still carries a price tag of $151 billion and a minimum construction time of several decades. There is no plan for how to find that huge sum.

Amtrak is likely to try to draw the focus to a more immediate project that is incremental to the "vision," the Gateway program, which would add two new tunnels under the Hudson River into New York's Penn Station from New Jersey. There are two existing Hudson tunnels at capacity now. They both flooded during Sandy along with two of  the four tunnels under the East River.

Petra Messick, a planner with Amtrak  says the tunnels are needed for projected ridership growth but, Sandy also showed the value that new infrastructure could bring.

"When the Gateway Tunnels are built, they will be built in the 21st century and include a host of features that will make them more resilient ... like floodgates," Messick says.

The existing tunnels are more than a century old.

And in case you were still curious, that full 15 word title is: “Northeast Corridor Future: Options for High-Speed Rail Development and Opportunities for Private Sector Participation.”


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The Brian Lehrer Show

Rebuilding Resilience: Lessons Learned

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, appointed co-chair of the NYS 2100 commission to improve the resilience of infrastructure in New York post-Sandy, discusses her efforts and what New York can learn from other parts of the world that have suffered disasters.

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Transportation Nation

As Connecticut's Transit Funds Shrink, the Call for Tolls Grows Louder

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Could this road one day see tolls? (Photo of the Merritt Parkway by dougtone via flickr)

(Neena Satija -- CT Mirror) Transportation advocates and officials across Connecticut gathered in the state capitol Monday to face a sobering fact: In an age of soaring deficits on both the state and national levels, the funds available for transit improvements are shrinking fast.

Funding on the federal level remains uncertain not only because of the slow negotiations to avoid the so-called "fiscal cliff," but also because a highway trust fund is nearly broke. Meanwhile, Connecticut's own deficit seems to rise daily -- it is now estimated at around $400 million for this fiscal year -- prompting budget cuts to a variety of different state agencies.

"In two years, our federal [funding situation] could be a disaster," said Jim Redeker, commissioner of Connecticut's Department of Transportation. "There's a real sense that we have to look very quickly at what the options are."

Like many other states, Connecticut is left with major transportation projects that have little or no source of funding at the moment -- including a badly needed overhaul of the Aetna Viaduct, a three-quarter-mile elevated stretch of Interstate 84 over Hartford, and the modernization of Metro-North's New Haven rail line, which carries upwards of 38 million passengers between Connecticut and Manhattan each year.

"These are multi-billion-dollar projects ... and the state does not have the funds to do them," said Emil Frankel, a former commissioner of Connecticut's Department of Transportation who is now with the Bipartisan Policy Center. "We have to look at other revenue sources."

Those sources must include tolls, he said, and was echoed by many others at the forum -- touching what had long been considered a "third rail" in Connecticut politics. Since a fiery crash at a toll barricade in 1983 killed seven people, Connecticut has eliminated all of its tolls and relies mostly on gasoline taxes and federal funding for transportation.

"We, as citizens, have to take on more responsibility for funding," said Oz Griebel of the MetroHartford Alliance, who ran for Governor as a Republican in 2010 and suggested highway tolls for the state at the time. He speculated that Gov. Dannel Malloy, who was criticized by many for embracing the controversial $570 million Hartford-to-New-Britain busway dubbed CT Fastrak, might now be willing to touch the third rail.

Redeker said the state has been studying the possibility of adding fees for highway drivers based on time of day, type of vehicle, and lanes. "Tolls need to be looked at, like everything else," he said. The Los Angeles area, which for years boasted of its toll-free highways, recently began charging tolls on an 11-mile stretch of its 110 Freeway.

Still, tolls -- or higher gasoline taxes, which have also been floated as a possibility on the national level -- wouldn't solve the problem. A large chunk of gas tax money that was technically meant for transportation in the state has for many years gone to other uses. Last year, Malloy put $40 million back into what's called the "Special Transportation Fund," but this fiscal year he took out $70 million. He offset the difference partly by fare increases on Metro-North that will take place on January 1, 2013.

If tolls were added, said many at the forum, they would have to be dedicated only to the Special Transportation Fund.

As Frankel put it, "People who use the system should pay for the system, and they should know that the money is being reinvested in the transportation system."

Kim Fawcett, who represents Fairfield and Westport in the Connecticut General Assembly, said she's been fighting for years to get her constituents to warm to the idea of tolls on I-95 or other highways in the state.

"How do I sell it?" she asked panelists at the forum on Monday. "We need a grand vision."

Perhaps, she suggested after the forum, she could "sell" her voters on tolls if they came with this promise: "You're going to get a commute of 30 minutes to New York City instead of the hour and 15 minutes that it currently takes on the train."

At the moment, though, the state doesn't have any long-term plan that would allow her to promote such a vision. And there's no guarantee that Connecticut won't continue to raid its Special Transportation Fund, making the situation even worse.

In his opening remarks at the Transit for Connecticut Forum, Malloy referred to that issue, saying pointedly, "Putting our fiscal house in order after 20 years of ignoring it is a very important issue...these days will be behind us."

He also pointed out that Connecticut does have a few major transportation projects already underway, including CT Fastrak and the new high-speed rail line that runs from New Haven through Hartford up to Springfield. (Those projects are financed largely through one-time federal grants).

Redeker said the Special Transportation Fund should not be affected by changes to the state's General Fund -- but in reality, there are no guarantees.

"At this point I'm really not aware of what the proposals are or what the debates are going to be, but it's a tough problem," he said.  "And we'll work together on it."

Redeker's agency budget totals about $1.2 billion, including both capital and operating expenses.

Neena Satija also blogs over at CT Mirror's Rant and Rail. Follow her on Twitter.

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New Jersey News

Locals Blast JCP&L

Monday, December 10, 2012

More than a hundred people turned out Monday night in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, at the first of a series of public hearings by the state's Board of Public Utilities, as part of a review of how the state's power companies handled Sandy.

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Transportation Nation

NJ Transit Chief: We Thought We Had 20 Years to Respond to Climate Change

Monday, December 10, 2012

Hoboken Terminal, flooding during Sandy (photo by accarrino via flickr)

The head of New Jersey Transit dug in his heels on Monday, defending the agency's preparations in advance of Sandy -- and adding it previously thought it would have at least 20 more years to adapt to climate change.

As Transportation Nation reported, critics say there's a direct line between NJ Governor Chris Christie's  inaction on climate change and New Jersey transit’s costly decision to store brand-new trains in low-lying, flood prone rail yards during storm Sandy.

At a Senate subcommittee hearing last week, New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg questioned NJ Transit's decision to park trains in rail yards that flooded during Sandy. But when agency head James Weinstein defended that decision, saying his information indicated an "80 to 90 percent range that no flooding would happen," the questions stopped.

For four days.

At a New Jersey Assembly Transportation Committee hearing in Trenton on Monday, Weinstein was asked to retread the steps the agency took to secure its fleet in the face of the oncoming storm -- and explain why it decided not to study the impact of climate change on its rolling stock.

Assemblywoman Linda Stender picked up the issue.  "Back in March," she said, "it was reported that New Jersey Transit declined to have climate change consultants do an analysis -- they were told to skip it."

Not so, Weinstein said.

"Basically, it was a study to determine a study," he said. 'It was sort of the beginning of a process, and I think the response and the decision that as made at that time was  that if we understand the vulnerability of our properties, where we store equipment -- the way you deal with equipment is to move it to places where it's not vulnerable.  So I'm not quite sure what a consultant would have told us, other than ' this facility is in harm's way,  you need to move it out of harm's way.'"

Stender wasn't mollified. "I guess my concern is I don't understand why a decision like that was made," she said, pointing out that other transit agencies were studying the issue. "It really seems to me that was a very bad choice to have skipped something like that."

Weinstein disagreed with that characterization. The agency did the study, he said -- just not all of it.

"We did not skip the study," Weinstein retorted. "We actually executed the study. The only thing we didn't do in that study was an analysis of the actual equipment. We did an analysis, the beginning of an analysis, on the facilities...and the reason that we did that is because if you determine that the Meadowlands Maintenance Facility, for instance, is flood-prone, then.. that informs your decision not to keep equipment there...We actually -- that study is actually complete, I've seen a copy of it, although I confess I have not studied it, but I don't want to leave the impression that we just said 'no, we're not going to do that.' That's not what we did. We did the study; we just concluded that the way you address the equipment problem, the rolling stock problem, is by moving it."

But wouldn't a study show that the facility was vulnerable and the equipment should have been moved, countered Stender?

"Actually, Assemblywoman, that study showed -- concluded -- that we had as much as 20 years to start making -- to adapt to climatological changes that are taking place," said Weinstein, "and I just go back and say this: it was the worst storm in my memory, in our generation, and the reality is that there is no history of flooding at the Meadowlands Maintenance Complex. I know everybody says it's in a flood zone. It's not! The western part of Hoboken Terminal is not in a flood zone. Now, having said that, we are informed. We know now that under circumstances like Sandy that that's going to flood. So we've got to come up with a better idea."

"I would really recommend that ... you revisit that issue," said Stender. "The fact that it happened means that there was a possibility that it could happen and somebody didn't see it."

Later in the hearing, Weinstein said the Meadowlands facility could not be relocated -- "nor frankly do I believe, at least at this point, that there is a necessity to do it. I believe that we can build some resiliency in, and we're going to be looking that those, but frankly, rail yards have been located in that area of our state for well over 100 years."

He said NJ Transit planned to elevate some electrical substations. And, he said, it had learned from Sandy's experience. "I can assure you that we will not be parking equipment at the Meadowlands Maintenance Facility in the face of a similar storm in the near future."

Weinstein  also assured lawmakers NJ Transit wouldn't raise fares to cover the hundreds of millions of dollars worth of damage it sustained during the storm.  "Absolutely not. There will be no fare increase to cover the costs. We believe all of those costs will be covered by other means -- insurance, FEMA reimbursement. Period."

That assertion was questioned by Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula, who sounded incredulous. "You're assuring [us] that there won't be any rate increases, even though the insurance companies -- once they cover your damages -- they're going to hike up your premiums?"

"There will be no fare increases," Weinstein said firmly.

"For how long?" pressed Chivukula. "This is the question the committee - "

"For as long as I am executive director," Weinstein interjected.

"I don't know how long that will be," said Chivukula.

"Nor do I, sir," responded Weinstein, causing the assemblyman to dissolve into laughter.


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Transportation Nation

VIDEO: See What 25,000 LED Lights on the Bay Bridge Will Look Like

Monday, December 10, 2012

(Cy Musiker -- San Francisco, KQED) It will be sparkly.  Lighting technicians and workers are closing a lane on San Francisco's iconic Bay Bridge each evening this week to install 25,000 LEDs on the cables on the north side of the bridge's suspension span.

The work is part of an art project to honor the bridge's 75th anniversary.

"What happens is crews go up in the middle of the night and hang down the side of the bridge and attach up to 500 LEDs each evening, per shift," says Ben Davis, chairman of Illuminate the Arts, the group that's installing the lights. According to the group's website, "the Bay Lights is the world’s largest light sculpture, 1.8 miles wide and 500 feet high...[it will be] a monumental tour de force seven times the scale of the Eiffel Tower’s 100th Anniversary lighting."

"And the progress is just going great," says Davis. "We're over 10 percent complete, and we're completely on track for a grand lighting ceremony." That ceremony is scheduled for March 5, 2013.

Davis has raised $5.7 million dollars so far for the $8 million dollar project.

The lighting design is by light artist Leo Villareal, famous for his work at Burning Man and in museums around the world.  Davis says the project will bring attention to a bridge often overlooked for its more glamorous partner.

"I just about have an orgasm when I ride my bike across the Golden Gate Bridge." Davis said, "But I, like a lot of people here, have a really deeper love almost for the Bay Bridge, and its great to see this hard-working and really elegant bridge shine again in our consciousness."

The lighting project will be up for at least two years. It's not in time for this year's 75th anniversary of the Bay Bridge. But it will be finished in time for next year's America's Cup, and the completion of the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge.

Read more over at KQED.

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Transportation Nation

Critics: Christie Deep-Sixed Climate Change Prep

Friday, December 07, 2012

Christie on December 7 photo: NJ Governor's Office

"I know there are some folks at Rutgers who are looking at whether climate caused all this, but I certainly haven't been briefed in the last year, year-and-a-half on this," Christie told WNYC's Bob Hennelly last month.

But the question may be more than academic.

The state's transit agency that answers to Christie, New Jersey Transit, acknowledged this week it lost $100 million in trains and equipment. Some critics are linking NJ Transit's decision to store trains in low lying rail yards during the storm to its lack of a climate change preparation plan. The agency said, before the flood, it had figured that there was an "80 to 90 percent chance" there wouldn't be flooding.

That turned out to be a losing gamble, and one, critics say, that reflects a pattern in Christie's term in office.

In his first year, Christie closed the Office of Climate Change and Energy which had been created and given top-level priority under Jon Corzine.

It was run by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Its mission was to ready the state  to handle more severe storms, heat and rising sea levels.

“So none of this work is getting done,” said Bill Wolfe, a 30-year-veteran of DEP and now a harsh critic.

“And if you want to get something done, the DEP has all the tools to get something done and they’ve chosen not to use those tools for political reasons, reflecting the Governor’s priorities and Governor’s policy,” Wolfe said. “And they just don’t want to own up to that.”

Robert Martin, Commissioner for the Department of Environmental Protection, defended the Christie Administration’s efforts. The DEP hasn’t been weakened, he said, it’s been streamlined to cut red tape and wasteful spending.

Thrift is an issue Christie is comfortable talking about. Climate science isn't. As Sandy was bearing down on the region , WNYC’s Bob Hennelly asked Christie if the Governor was discussing the increasing severity of storms with climate change scientists.

“No, that’s over my head.,” Christie replied.

That’s been Christie’s approach to questions about climate change. Once he said he was "skeptical." When he was pressed about the increasing severity of storms, he maintained he’s a lawyer, not a scientist.

“But that’s what we have an academic community to do is to think about those bigger issues and if those experts have an answer for me, my door is always open to listen to them,” Christie said.

Several of the people who lost their jobs when the Office of Climate Change was cut now work in academia -- at Rutgers University.

The Bergen Record earlier this month dug up a video of David Gillespie, director of Energy and Sustainability Programs for NJ Transit, specifically saying the agency decided not to develop a climate adaptation plan.

 “The mitigation plan that we have for movable assets -- our  rolling stock --  is we move it out of harm’s way when something’s coming,” Gillespie said. “Generally we have enough time to do that, so we didn’t spend a lot of money on that.”

Gillespie said there’s  no need to make changes in the next five to 20 years, and that the agency has 50 years to adapt to climate change.   That's despite a federal study distributed to all the nation's transit agencies that warned them to protect their assets by readying for worsening storms.   And despite the lessons of Irene, where New York's transit system suffered the worst transit damage in modern history.

New Jersey was well prepared for Sandy,  said Martin, the DEP chief. “While unfortunately some lives were lost, by and large we protected the state, we protected thousands of lives and lots of homes and lots of property overall and again we’ve done a great job with that and the Governor provided great leadership overall."

And NJ Transit's James Weinstein told a Senate committee Thursday that the agency had no choice -- if moved elsewhere out of potential flood zones, the trains could have been damaged by falling trees, or stranded, as they were during Irene.  "Keeping the trains in the yards was the best decision, especially in light of what happened during Irene.”

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Transportation Nation

NYC Bike Share Delayed Again -- Until May, Sandy Flooding Cited

Friday, December 07, 2012

(photo by Kate Hinds)

New York City Bike Share, delayed from its initial summer, 2012 launch, is being delayed again. The city is now setting a May, 2013 launch date. Officials are citing damage from storm Sandy.

According to a DOT press release: "Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge flooded NYCBS’s facility at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, which sits along the East River, and where about two-thirds of the system’s equipment had been stored before the Oct. 29 storm. While portions of the system’s equipment were not significantly damaged, including bike frames and hardware, many parts of the system containing electrical components must have individual parts refurbished or replaced.

"NYCBS is currently working to identify, repair and replace these damaged parts, aided through insurance and supplemented by equipment that wasn’t stored at the Navy Yard, as well as by additional equipment from its supplier and from elsewhere in the delivery pipeline."

The bike share was initially scheduled for July, then August, then delayed until March 2013.  Bike share systems in Chicago, San Francisco, and an expansion in Washington have also been delayed. All four cities share a vendor, Alta Bike Share.

Launching bike share has been a part of the city's PlaNYC, a blueprint for reducing the city's carbon footprint and combating climate change. Climate change has been cited as a reason for Sandy's intensity and destruction.

The city also says some neighborhoods won't get bike share even at the newly delayed launch date.

"The timeline will affect the phasing for neighborhoods in the initial launch area. The 5,500 bikes will be located in the densest and most geographically contiguous parts of the service area in Manhattan south of 59th Street and in Brooklyn as work continues to extend to 7,000 bikes in the remaining parts of the Brooklyn service area and into Long Island City, Queens, by the end of 2013. Details will be announced as planning continues. And while planning is underway to launch the initial system in May, we remain committed to bringing the system to 10,000 bikes."

In a statement, Transportation Alternatives Executive Director, Paul Steely White, was philosophical. “New Yorkers are eager for this new transportation choice but we all know the damage Hurricane Sandy wrought on our city," Steely White said. "Every day, a new cost is added to the toll of destruction, and the damage to the bike share equipment is merely the latest. We’re thankful the storm spared so much of the equipment and grateful to see the program will still launch in the spring.”

Tri-State Transportation campaign offered a more grimly sanguine twist: "If a 150 percent increase in bicycling over the East River bridges in the days after the storm is any indication, bike share will help New York City’s residents and commuters weather the next storm even better."

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Transportation Nation

NJ Transit Chief: Our Trains, Equipment, Suffered $100 Million In Sandy Damage

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Bay Head Comet III's with debris (photo by NJ Transit via flickr)

New Jersey Transit lost $100 million in trains and equipment during storm Sandy, NJ Transit chief James Weinstein told a U.S. Senate panel Thursday.

The $100 million is part of a $400 million bill Sandy left for NJ Transit. The total includes damage to all 12 rail lines, which suffered flooding and some 630 downed trees.  This is the first public accounting of the  Sandy-related damage to NJ transit equipment.

The transit agency has been scrutinized in the wake of its decision to store trains during Sandy at two facilities that are in high-risk areas for flooding during hurricanes. By contrast, the New York MTA moved its trains out of Coney Island and Queens, two areas in New York's evacuation zone.

"Based on the information that we had in terms of the likelihood of flooding occurring at the Meadowlands complex, or at the Hoboken yard, that indicated there was a likelihood in the 80 to 90 percent range that no flooding would happen," Weinstein told the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security, chaired by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ).

In 2011, as TN has reported, the Federal Transit Agency issued a study warning transit authorities that storm surge-related climate change would create risks for transit agencies, and exhorted local transit agencies to move their trains out of harm's way during storms.  The FTA said the risk of flooding would increase over the years.

But just months ago, NJ Transit specifically rejected a climate change adaptation plan, as the Bergen Record reported this week.  "At a symposium of state and federal transportation officials in March, NJ Transit executive David Gillespie said he had told climate-change consultants working for the agency to skip any analysis of potential impacts on train cars and engines," The Record wrote.

By contrast, the NY MTA had developed a climate change adaptation plan and appointed two officials to oversee the MTA's response to hurricanes.

Weinstein maintained NJ Transit had little choice. He said the agency has few options about where to store trains. "That combined with the history led us to conclude that [yards in the Meadowlands and Hoboken were] the appropriate place to put the equipment, based on the information we had at the time we had to make the decision."

In response to a question from Senator Lautenberg, Weinstein said "this was the best decision, especially in light of what happened during Irene." Weinstein said during that storm, NJ Transit stored equipment in Pennsylvania -- where it was stranded as a result of inland flooding and trees falling on the tracks. "That's another factor that informed our decisions," Weinstein said.

"Some of that equipment was new, up-to-date?" Lautenberg interjected.

"Yes, sir," Weinstein responded. "We had some new locomotives that hadn't been accepted yet. Water penetrated up to the axles where the bearings are."

Then Lautenberg tossed Weinstein a lifeline: "It didn't sound like there were other choices to be made," said the senior U.S. Senator from New Jersey -- who, like  Weinstein, is in a position of pleading for relief funds from the federal government in the middle of difficult negotiations over tax hikes and spending cuts to avert the so-called "fiscal cliff."

"If you lay a flood plain map over our rail map there are very few places that are not prone to flooding," Weinstein said.  "I had 630 trees come down. If that starts coming down on equipment, it damages equipment every bit as badly as flooding would."

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Transportation Nation

Bloomberg: In Reponse to Climate Change, NYC Needs Levees

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Mayor Michael Bloomberg (photo: New York City Mayor's Office)

New York needs more coastline protections in the wake of climate change.  So says New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg Thursday, in a major address on rebuilding after storm Sandy delivered Thursday. Bloomberg was introduced by former Vice President Al Gore.

"Over the past month," Mayor Bloomberg said, "there has been a lot of discussion about sea walls. It would be nice if we could stop the tides from coming in, but King Canute couldn’t do it – and neither can we, especially if, as many scientists project, sea levels continue rising. However, there may be some coastline protections that we can build that will mitigate the impact of a storm surge – from berms and dunes, to jetties and levees."

We'll have more soon.  Meantime, you can find the full transcript of the remarks here.

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Transportation Nation

WATCH: Superstorm Sandy: The Devastating Impact on the Nation's Largest Transportation Systems

Thursday, December 06, 2012

(The hearings have ended.  Here's our story. Follow along with the live webcast of a Senate subcommittee hearing here . It begins at 10:30 eastern time.

We will be tweeting highlights -- so follow along.

Here's who's on tap to testify.

Witness Panel 1

  • Honorable Charles Schumer
    United States Senator, New York
  • Honorable Robert Menendez
    United States Senator, New Jersey
  • Honorable Kirsten Gillibrand
    United States Senator, New York

Witness Panel 2

  • Mr. John Porcari
    Deputy Secretary
    U.S. Department of Transportation

Witness Panel 3

  • Mr. Joseph Boardman
    National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak)
  • Mr. Joseph Lhota
    Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer
    Metropolitan Transportation Authority
  • Mr. Patrick Foye
    Executive Director
    Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
  • Mr. James Weinstein
    Executive Director
    NJ Transit
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Transportation Nation

Virginia Governor Promises Action on State's Transportation Funding Woes

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Interstate 495 - Virginia (photo by Doug Kerr via flickr)

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell offered no specifics in his “comprehensive transportation funding and reform” plan to raise an additional $500 million per year to prevent the state from running out of money to build roads by 2017.

Speaking in Fairfax County at his annual transportation conference, Governor McDonnell called on lawmakers to stay in session next year until they find a solution to Virginia’s long-term funding woes, which are exacerbated by the transfer of money from the state’s construction fund to required highway maintenance projects.

“I don’t think we can wait any longer,” McDonnell said. “I don’t think I can continue to recruit businesses to Virginia and see the unemployment rate go down unless we are able to get a handle on and provide some long-term solutions this session to that problem.”

The Republican governor, who is one year from leaving office, did not specify what he will ask lawmakers for when they convene in Richmond in January.

“I’ll tell you when we’re ready… before the session,” the governor said in brief remarks to reporters following his speech. “These are plans that take a lot of work to put together.”

He refused to take a position on whether the state’s gas tax should be increased, although he indicated that doing so alone would not generate adequate revenue. The tax of seventeen-and-a-half cents per gallon, which currently accounts for about one-third of the state’s transportation funding, was last increased in 1986. It has lost 55% of its purchasing power when adjusted for inflation.

Improved automobile fuel efficiency and the rising costs of highway construction materials have reduced the gas tax’s buying power, McDonnell said.

“A key ingredient of asphalt has increased by approximately 350% over that same time,” he said.

Critics contend the McDonnell administration cannot be trusted to direct new revenues wisely. One of the most vocal critics points to a record of highway construction instead of transit projects as evidence, especially from the $4 billion dollar package approved for the administration by the legislature.

“He squandered most of that,” said Stewart Schwartz, the executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. “It’s gone to rural highway projects that have very low traffic demand and are not high priorities given the traffic congestion within northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.”

Schwartz listed State Rt. 460 in southern Virginia, the Coalfields Expressway, bypasses in Charlottesville, and plans for an “outer beltway” in northern Virginia as examples of poor spending priorities by the administration, while transit projects like the Silver Line Metro rail and existing roads like I-66 need help.

“They are not targeting the areas of greatest need. You are not getting the best bang for your buck. You are spending a few billion dollars on the wrong things,” said Schwartz.

New revenues would likely be directed to construction projects under the state’s transportation trust fund, which currently loses hundreds of millions of dollars annually to required maintenance.  The trust fund’s formula directs fifteen percent of its monies to transit projects.  The remainder is for road building.

Governor McDonnell denied his administration is neglecting transit and other modes of transportation.  “It’s going to be a multi-modal approach.  Road, rail, and mass transit, all of those will be beneficiaries of a funding plan,” he said.




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Transportation Nation

Calif. County Cancels Transportation Tax Recount

Thursday, December 06, 2012

BART train (photo by Keoki Seu via Flickr)

(Jon Brooks -- San Francisco, CA - KQED) The Alameda County Transportation Commission has called off the partial recount of votes on Measure B1, which lost in the squeakiest of squeakers this election. The measure, which needed a two-thirds majority, fell just 0.14 percent shy -- about 700 votes out of 350,000 cast.

B1 would have doubled the county's transportation sales tax to one cent in order to raise almost $8 billion for transportation projects over 30 years.

Arthur Dao, executive director of the ACTC, told us today that the partial recount focused on precincts that had shown both the highest level of support and also a high number of undervotes for B1, all in Berkeley. Yesterday's recount examined about 28,000 ballots, with just seven additional yes votes found, Dao said. "That's a very small number statistically to get us to the 750-800 yes ballot we'd need to get us to the two-thirds threshold."

Dao said the cost of the recount was under $8,000.

Plans are in the works for another measure, he said. "We will be regrouping, remobilizing, and rethinking with the objective of going back to the voters."

The county's current half-cent transportation sales tax expires in 2022. Last week, Dao cited inadequately paved streets, cuts in AC Transit bus service, and increased demand for transportation in the face of requirements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as pressing projects that need to be addressed by the county.

Read more over at KQED.

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Transportation Nation

Homeowners Group Notches Up Fight Against Billion Dollar Highway Expansion

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) A state project with federal money is meeting with local opposition, in a sign that construction and infrastructure expansion often sparks not-in-my-backyard resistance. A homeowners group in a Washington, D.C. suburb says studies performed by traffic and environmental analysts it hired show the construction of a highway ramp near their homes will ruin their quality of life.

Members of Concerned Residents of Overlook, an upscale community adjacent to I-395 in Alexandria, Va., pleaded with the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Tuesday night to support their request that the Virginia Department of Transportation suspend construction of the ramp, which is the planned northern terminus of the future 95 Express Lanes, 30 miles of high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes extending from the Edsall Road area in Fairfax County to Garrisonville Road in Stafford County. The $1 billion public-private project is scheduled for completion in December 2014.

“VDOT has usurped its responsibility. It has provided only a regional analysis of the impact of pollutants and traffic congestion. They haven't evaluated the public health risk to the residents,” Sue Okubo, an Overlook resident, told the board.

“This ramp, if it goes through as proposed, will bring major congestion as well as major amounts of pollution,” said Mary Hasty, Okubo’s neighbor.

The county supervisor who represents their neighborhood, Penelope Gross, rebuffed their plea, telling them to contact VDOT because it is a state project on state property, although staff of Board Chairman Sharon Bulova briefly met privately with Okubo to listen to her concerns.

The Overlook group claims VDOT failed to adequately study noise and air quality impacts that will result when traffic exits the new express lanes onto I-395 or local roads. The neighbors fear exiting highway traffic will back up and idle on the exit ramp.

“Our experts say that they will be standing for extended periods of time. That’s going to cause a concentration of pollutants that well exceeds EPA standards for safety for humans,” Hasty said. “One of the pollutants exceeds EPA standards by four-thousand percent.”

Concerned Residents of Overlook hired the national law firm of Shrader & Associates to manage their independent analyses. Shrader has litigated cases involving plaintiffs who claimed they were harmed by toxic chemicals and dangerous products.

The Virginia Department of Transportation has denied that it failed to adequately study the environmental impacts on the 95 Express Lanes project.

“It would be very difficult to make a change at this point having gone through a lot of the studies and approvals at the state, regional, and federal levels,” said John Lynch, VDOT’s regional transportation director for Virginia megaprojects, in a prior interview.

“We went through the federal requirements and developed an environmental assessment which includes analysis for both noise and air quality,” Lynch said.  “The bottom line is those studies met all the federal requirements and it was reviewed by both the Federal Highway Administration and Environmental Protection Agency. We wouldn’t have gotten approval to move forward with this project if it didn’t meet those requirements.”

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Transportation Nation

New Tappan Zee Bridge Design Released

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Rendering of  Design Proposal 1 for the new Tappan Zee Bridge, NY, estimated to cost $3.142 billion. (New York State Thruway Authority)

A selection committee has recommended a futuristic design for the new Tappan Zee Bridge, with suspension supports leaning outwards, giving the bridge the look of a stripped-down building by Santiago Calatrava.

Calatrava has designed the World Trade Center transit hub, the Milwaukee Museum of Art, and the Athens Olympic stadium.

The New York State Thruway Authority -- the agency in charge of the project -- will consider the design, along with two others, for a new Tappan Zee Bridge. The three designs were released at Governor Cuomo's cabinet meeting Wednesday.

The designs range from $3.142 billion to $4.059 billion when all estimated costs are totaled. All three proposals are being called "transit ready," though images of the bridge being recommended don't show buses or transit on the roadway.

Details of how the proposals will be financed still haven't been released. Governor Cuomo said both the bridge's full cost and the amount of federal financing (still unknown) would have to be tallied before a bridge financing plan could be released.

The three designs will be considered December 17th by the Thruway Authority board.

The state had said the bridge would cost $5.2 billion, but had been hoping the cost would be adjusted downward -- in part to lower future tolls  on drivers.

For more on why the bridge matters nationally, and the planning process to date, see our previous coverage.

More soon on the design details.

Design Proposal 1, seen in daytime, for the new Tappan Zee Bridge. (New York Thruway Authority)


Design Proposal 2 for the new Tappan Zee Bridge. Estimated cost, $3.99 billion. (New York State Thruway Authority)


Design Proposal 3 for the new Tappan Zee Bridge, estimated cost $3.99 billion. (New York State Thruway Authority)

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The Brian Lehrer Show

It's the System

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Hurricane Sandy left New York and New Jersey waterways with a big raw sewage problem and revealed the flaws in wastewater infrastructure. Plus: Venezuela's El Sistema program of social change through music; the M23 rebellion in Congo; and the shows that ushered in television's golden age.

Transportation Nation

Prediction: D.C. Area Highway and Transit Crowding Will Get Worse

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Washington DC - I-395 from D NW (photo by thisisbossi via flickr)

(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) The Washington metropolitan region faces worsening traffic congestion and transit crowding as its population and job growth expand over the next three decades, according to a forecast released on Wednesday by a regional planning group.

The forecast by transportation planners at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments says large investments in infrastructure and improved land use policies are necessary to reduce the burden on an overtaxed highway and rail system.

“We’ve had a long period of time of inadequate funding for transportation,” said Ron Kirby, the director of the council’s Department of Transportation Planning, whose forecast says transit and roadway congestion will increase despite the expected billions of dollars in investments between now and 2040. It will take even more money, he said.

“The issues of Metro’s rehabilitation are well known but perhaps less well known is the lack of capacity expansion. We haven’t gotten to eight-car trains on Metro rail,” Kirby said, referring to Metro’s ongoing multi-billion dollar rehab project that does not include the addition of rail cars.

If 50 percent of Metro trains consist of eight cars by 2040, the forecast says the red, orange, yellow, and green lines will be congested (100-120 passengers per car) or highly congested (120+ passengers per car). Only the blue line would be rated satisfactory. If 100 percent of Metro trains consist of eight cars by 2040, the orange, yellow, and green lines will still be congested, according to the forecast, which is an aggregation of statistics and projections provided to the council by its member jurisdictions.

The forecast for the region’s highways is similar. Morning congestion traveling in the direction of the region’s core will worsen along I-95 in Prince William County, I-70 East in Frederick, I-270 South in Frederick and Montgomery Counties, I-66 East in Prince William and Fairfax, and the Dulles Toll Road Eastbound in Loudoun and Fairfax. The inner and outer loops of the Beltway will be more congested in Maryland, the forecast says.

“Carpooling is expected to increase some, because we do have some facilities coming on line,” said Kirby, referring to the just-completed 495 Express Lanes and under-construction 95 Express Lanes. “But there’s been relatively limited new highway capacity. At the same time, we are having very strong growth in the outer jurisdictions where there is relatively little transit. So those trips, whether they are work trips or non-work trips, are very dependent on the road system.”

The forecast says the region’s population will grow by 24 percent to 6.5 million by 2040. Employment is projected to grow by 37 percent, adding 1.1 million jobs.

As people and jobs flock to D.C. and its suburbs, choice of transportation mode will not dramatically change, according to Kirby’s projections. By 2040, 57 percent of all commuting trips will be made by people driving on their own, a four percent decrease from current levels. Carpooling is expected to increase from 11 to 14 percent of commuting trips, transit will remain steady at 24 percent, and biking and walking will increase from four to five percent.

Some lawmakers who sit on the Council of Governments board take issue with the forecast, saying its extrapolations do not account for changes in policy and other factors.

“It would be a mistake to think that’s what the future is going to be,” said Chris Zimmerman, a member of the Arlington County Board and proponent of transit-oriented development.

Zimmerman disagrees with the forecast’s projection that employment will grow fastest in the outer jurisdictions of Virginia, although the highest concentration of jobs will remain in D.C., Fairfax County and Montgomery County.

“The real question is where do you want the growth in jobs and population to be? That’s not a foregone conclusion,” Zimmerman said.  “Almost all the growth in this region and the rest of the country is happening in more developed areas because the market is pushing it that way. If land use regulations change in ways that accommodate what the market wants to do, we’ll see an accelerated trend.”

Zimmerman says the future should not be seen as a competition between either cars or transit; transit-oriented development that combines retail, office, and residential properties in close proximity to a Metro station also encourages more walking.

“The reason for doing transit-oriented development is not simply to get more people on transit, but to get more people out of having to use any kind of vehicle for five, six, seven trips a day,” he said.

Zimmerman acknowledges the highway system will always need significant funding for maintenance and improvements, but if a million more jobs are coming to the region by 2040 it makes more sense – in his view – to attract them to places that workers can reach without a car.

Kirby’s forecast says the average number of jobs accessible within 45 minutes by transit will increase from the current 419,000 to 499,000 in 2040, a projection Zimmerman says will change with better land use policies.

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Transportation Nation

NY MTA Takes On Major Debt Rather Than Raise Tolls & Fares To Pay For Sandy

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

NY MTA Chairman Joe Lhota.

(New York, NY - WNYC) The NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority held a board meeting Wednesday -- its first after Sandy -- and the main topic was how to solve a conundrum: filling the $5 billion hole that the storm blew in the agency's budget while simultaneously rebuilding New York's damaged transportation system.

NY MTA Chairman Joe Lhota seemed determined to assure the public that the agency, at the very least, had a plan. He began by saying revenue will not be raised by additional increases to planned toll and fare hikes in 2013 and 2015.

"The burden of Sandy will not be upon our riders," he said. "I have an enormous amount of confidence in our federal government that we will receive a substantial amount of money to get us back to the condition of functionality we had the day before the storm."

He said he didn't expect to see service cutbacks--though he didn't rule them out--and that he'd stick to a pledge to add or restore $29 million in subway and bus service.

Lhota said he is expecting FEMA and insurance to pick up 75 percent of the $5 billion tab. And he's hoping FEMA will boosts its reimbursement up to 95 percent. But the MTA can't count on that. As of now, the authority is on the hook for $950 million, which it needs right away to rebuild.

They'll get it by issuing $950 million in bonds. Lhota said the move will add $125 million to the authority's debt burden over the next three years. The best Lhota could say about where the money would come from is "cost-cutting measures" that are "unidentified at this time."

The MTA is paying $2 billion dollars in debt service this year. By 2018, debt service is expected to gobble up 20 percent of the authority's revenue. That's before figuring in the nearly $1 billion in debt that it voted to add Wednesday.

Lhota said the budget setback would not stop the authority's megaprojects, which are funded by its capital program. The Second Avenue subway, the East Side Access tunnel between Long Island and Grand Central Terminal, and the 7 train extension are essentially funded and nearing completion. Sandy delayed their construction but didn't flood them.

Today's decision to bring on more debt raised an alarm with Gene Russianoff of the New York Straphangers Campaign, an advocacy group. "Funding these needs by MTA bonds will increase pressure on fares through increased debt service - and it sets a troubling precedent for the funding of the next five-year capital program starting in 2015," he said in a statement.

Lhota added that all of the $5 billion will be spent on restoring transit to its pre-Sandy state. (Repairing the South Ferry Station alone is projected to cost $600 million.) None of the funds will be used to harden the system against future storms. That's going to take a whole other pile of money that hasn't been located yet.

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Transportation Nation

Totaling Sandy Losses: How New York's MTA Got to $5 Billion

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

It will take $600 million to restore the South Ferry/Whitehall subway stations in lower Manhattan. Returning A train service to the Rockaways will take $650 million. And it will cost $770 million to repair flood-damaged signals in Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan.

Those are the three big-ticket items on the New York MTA's $5 billion list of damages the agency sustained during the storm surge brought on by Sandy.

On Monday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo -- who is seeking $42 billion in federal disaster aid for the state -- said it would take $4.8 billion just to return the MTA to the condition it was in prior to the hurricane. The discrepancy between the two totals: the MTA's list includes $124 million in lost revenue, as well as $144 million in additional operating expenses.

Some items on the list have already been completed; others will take more time. At Monday's MTA committee meetings, New York City Transit president Tom Prendergast said the South Ferry subway station is months away from re-opening.

An example of the damage sustained at the South Ferry station, which was flooded during Hurricane Sandy.(Photo: MTA New York City Transit / David Henly)


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