Transportation Nation

Build Highways or Increase Transit? Planners Tackle Fort Meade Traffic

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Fort Meade is home to a number of defense organizations, including the National Security Agency, and most workers commute by car. (Photo courtesy of

Planners are looking for ways to improve the commute for the more than 56,000 people currently working at Fort Meade in central Maryland.

A top transportation planner at Fort Meade says there are a couple possible strategies to consider to reduce regional traffic congestion. One would be to build major highways at an estimated cost of $50 billion over 25 years. A second option is to use "transportation demand management," which is another way of saying increasing car pooling, rail and bus use.

Howard Jennings is a researcher at Arlington (VA)-based Mobility Lab, which specializes in commuter services. He says a multi-pronged approach is more feasible and less expensive than laying down miles of asphalt.

"Experience has shown that over the years if you build a highway, usually it is going to fill up in just a few years, and we can cite many examples of that," says Jennings.

The Fort Meade workforce has grown from 35,000 to 56,000 over the last ten years -- three times the size of the Pentagon -- and will grow more as its new Cyber Command mission gains traction.

Jennings favors the "transportation demand" approach, which also includes encourages more telecommuting. Add all these measures up, and Jennings says there will be significantly fewer single-occupant vehicles on the roads around Fort Meade.

"Peoples' commutes are very individualized," says Jennings. "There is no one-size-fits-all. We find that when offering up options to people, they will self-select what will work for them."

Jennings says what would work near Fort Meade, where the typical commuter now travels 20 miles alone in a car, would work around any of the region's 20 major job centers that hold 40 percent of the region's jobs.

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Transportation Nation

NY Gov. Cuomo: It's Going to Cost $5 Billion To Repair the MTA, Post-Sandy

Monday, November 26, 2012

On Monday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo huddled with the state's congressional delegation to go over his federal disaster aid request. "This state has suffered mightily," he said. (Watch the press conference, above.)

As in $42 billion worth of mightily.

Howard Glaser, a senior policy advisor to the governor, broke that figure down at a press conference. The number to restore transit, roads, and bridges, was "very big," he said, and "the big piece there is the MTA."

Glaser said the damage to the transit agency totalled $4.8 billion. "That's damage to the tunnels, to the rail system, to the subway system. This amount of money, the 4.8 (billion), would just restore it to where it was before the storm," he said, adding that "the signal systems in many of the tunnels have to be completely replaced, for example, and that's a lot of money."

(To put that number in perspective, that's about a year's worth of the agency's capital budget.)

At a committee meeting earlier Monday, the MTA tallied up what it said was a "not exhaustive" list of damages -- including flooding to under-river tunnels, subway stations, and track washouts, but didn't include a cost breakdown.

Read New York State's breakdown of Hurricane Sandy recovery needs here.


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Transportation Nation

Restoring Last Parts Of NYC Subway Is The Hardest

Monday, November 26, 2012

Salt-encrusted circuit board from a New York City subway tunnel. (Photo by Jim O'Grady.)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Seven of the eight subway tunnels flooded by Sandy are back in service. But New York City Transit president Tom Prendergast said it will probably be months before the authority finishes fixing the eighth tunnel, which carries the R train under the harbor between Brooklyn and Manhattan. He said the problem is with the tunnel's electrical systems, such as the switches that keep track of train locations.

"Electrical equipment doesn't like water for obvious reasons -- water is conductive," he told reporters at the Midtown headquarters of the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority. "But salt water is very conductive and when salt water dries, it leaves salt, which is also conductive when it gets re-wet."

Prendergast said the authority does expect to get the R train running between 34th and Rector Streets--a normally busy stretch in Manhattan--within two weeks.

But he said the South Ferry subway station is also months away from re-opening. Sandy flooded that station to the ceiling, leaving little inside it untouched.

"You've got wall tiles that are down, you've got railings that are damaged," Prendergast said. "You've got possible damage behind wall surfaces, you've got electrical equipment in the form of elevators and escalators." (See a pic of drowning subway escalators here.) And as with the R train tunnel under the harbor, the station's electrical switches are coated in salt water and must be replaced.

The R train tunnel is one of the longest under-river crossings in the system and took more time to dry out, leaving more equipment damaged than in other tunnels.

A spokesman for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the MTA's price tag for damage caused by Sandy tops $5 billion.

(Click here to see what parts of the NYC subway system are still down.)

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Transportation Nation

Data Dive: Pittsburgh Struggling to Fill Potholes

Monday, November 26, 2012

(Emily DeMarco, PublicSource) Jessica Ferrell knows the danger of potholes. She fell twice because of the same one: Once when she was pregnant, then again when she was carrying her newborn baby in a sling across her chest.

She wrapped her arms around her son to protect him, but injured her leg in the second fall. In April 2009, she reported the pothole near Smithfield Street and Seventh Avenue to the city’s 311 Response Center. It was filled within five workdays.

“I don’t think it should take an accident to fix it,” said the 32-year-old hairdresser.

The average amount of time it takes to resolve pothole complaints is on the rise on the streets of Pittsburgh, according to a PublicSource analysis of 25,000 pothole complaints from Pittsburgh’s 311 center between 2006 and 2012.

In 2009, it took an average of five workdays to resolve pothole complaints. The response time doubled the following year. By 2011, residents were waiting nearly three weeks. Data show that it’s taking about the same amount of time to fill potholes in 2012 as in 2011.

Thirty-seven percent of the complaints over the six years were resolved within three workdays; 42 percent between four and 10 workdays; 9 percent took 11 to 20 workdays; and 10 percent took more than 20 workdays, or four weeks. The remaining 2 percent were unresolved.

As the time it takes to fill potholes climbs, so does the continuing degradation to Pittsburgh’s 1,000 miles of streets. The health of its streets already is compromised because of the city’s age, weather, topography and budget. And questions remain as to why some neighborhoods wait longer than others to have pothole complaints resolved.

The review of 311 data revealed the real cost of potholes: Cars with broken shock absorbers and axles. Flat tires. A radiator that fell out of a car. Motorists who swerved into oncoming traffic. Potholes outside elderly residents’ high-rise apartments. Potholes in bike lanes. Pedestrians with injured arms and knees. A child with a fractured wrist.

As Pittsburgh attempts to forge an identity as a destination city for entrepreneurs, scholars and young families, some would ask whether we can attract all those groups with such rutty roads. And, once the potholes are filled, driving down some streets can still be like rumbling over a path in a Third World country.

Joanna Doven, the spokeswoman for Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, said he was unavailable to comment on the analysis, despite repeated requests by PublicSource. The city has no plans to do its own analysis of the data, she said.

During a telephone interview, Director of Public Works Robert Kaczorowski declined to speak specifically to the analysis, but, he said many variables, such as steep or narrow streets and weather, can slow the response time.

On the day he was speaking, Nov. 20, the city had only 38 outstanding pothole complaints, he said.

“Most of those will be addressed today,” he said.

Data alone do not account for the obstacles workers sometimes face, he said. For example, a crew recently had difficulty getting a truck down a narrow street in Lawrenceville. The men pushed wheelbarrows full of hot asphalt down the street to repair the potholes, he said.

And, because the crews document pothole repairs on paper, some resolution dates may not be entered into the 311 database promptly, he said.

Launched in 2006 after Ravenstahl took office, the 311 call center is for all non-emergency complaints. Since 2006, 4,000 to 5,000 pothole complaints a year have poured in from bus riders, cyclists, motorists and pedestrians.

About 30,000 potholes a year are repaired in Pittsburgh. The final numbers are larger than the number of complaints because if one pothole is identified in a complaint and there are four more on the same street, the crews fill all of them.

The goal of the Public Works Department: Resolve pothole complaints within four days, said Wendy Urbanic, the call center’s coordinator.

At various times, Ravenstahl’s office has stated in press releases about pothole patrols that the goal for filling potholes ranges from 72 hours to five days.

Video: Filling In

What happens after you call the 311 center? Videographer Renee Rosensteel looks at what goes into resolving your pothole complaints.

Sick streets

At the heart of this story is a larger issue: Potholes are indicators of the health of the streets.

Think of the streets like skin. When you suffer a burn or cut, it's crucial that the wound is cared for properly, rather than just with a Band-Aid, so it doesn’t become serious.

Pittsburgh is home to roughly 1,000 miles of hilly, non-gridded streets in less-than-perfect health. It’s typical to see streets with repaired potholes that stretch like knotted ribbons for entire blocks, causing a bumpy ride for bicycles and cars alike.

Once water gets under the surface of a street because of a pothole, its health is compromised, and a whole box of Band-Aids won’t fix the problem.

According to experts, potholes need to be filled within days.

“Once you start getting a large number of potholes, you need to resurface,” said Ray Brown, emeritus director of the National Center for Asphalt Technology in Auburn, Ala.

Pittsburgh has been behind on its street resurfacing schedule for years, Kaczorowski, the public works director, told PublicSource in August, before the analysis was completed.

The city should have been resurfacing 100 miles each year, Kaczorowski said. However, a former city official said the city could only afford to resurface 30 to 40 miles a year.

Pittsburgh’s budget for filling potholes is not identified in a line item, but is part of the city’s general operating budget. In 2011, the asphalt for potholes cost $260,107, according to an email from Kaczorowski.

In 2012, the Ravenstahl administration announced that 60 miles of streets would be paved at a cost of $11.3 million.

Private contractors do the resurfacing, Kaczorowski said. And this year, they are trying a new resurfacing method.

Past practice removed 3 to 5 inches of bad asphalt. But it was costly to remove that much material. The new method shaves only about an inch of asphalt off the surface of the road, Kaczorowski explained. It saves money because part of the material removed is used to resurface the road.

Newly resurfaced roads should have a life of 15 to 20 years, said Brown. While the shortcuts the city is taking can cut costs, Brown warned that unless the damaged pavement is completely removed, problems, like potholes, will reappear.

“If you continue to have potholes, then you probably have a pavement design problem,” Brown said.

Disparities in service

You can get a pothole filled more quickly in some areas of the city than in others. City Council District 5 was the loser, according to PublicSource’s analysis.

Between 2006 and 2012, its residents, living in neighborhoods like Greenfield, Glen Hazel and Squirrel Hill South, waited an average of 19 workdays for pothole complaints to be resolved.

In 2011, their pothole complaints averaged 32 workdays.

“That number really shocks me because I know our guys work really hard out there,” said Corey O’Connor, the District 5 councilman.

O’Connor has been in office for nearly a year. When a constituent complains about a pothole, his office calls the local Public Works division and the pothole is fixed within days, he said.

O’Connor said he would have to see the data before raising the issue with the council.

Doug Shields, who represented O’Connor’s district between 2004 and 2011, said regional disparities in service boil down to bad management from the Ravenstahl administration.

“Why does it take a phone call and a complaint to perform?” he said, adding that he’s seen potholes sit for months.

The winner in the analysis was District 2, represented by Theresa Kail-Smith.

The district’s neighborhoods include Crafton Heights and the West End and it had nearly the same number of pothole complaints as O’Connor’s district. Their average for filling potholes over the six-year period was six days.

“I think with all things, there’s always someone who is first,” she said,
adding that her district is last when it comes to other things.

Division 5 of Public Works repairs potholes in Kail-Smith’s district. The supervisor of the division, John McClory, said he sends a pothole crew out as the weather permits.

And fixing potholes can be a thankless job, he said.

“The guys take some abuse,” McClory said. “They just have to get back in the truck, and work.”

But the job is an important one.

Jessica Ferrell said she’s no longer angry about her injury that was caused by a pothole. She said she believes the 311 response center is “important for a prosperous city.”

She added that she hopes areas of the city used by cyclists and pedestrians get more attention.

“People can get hurt really bad,” she said. “I don’t think there’s any excuse for it.”

For maps and graphics about Pittsburgh potholes, go to


How we did it:

PublicSource requested and received the 311 Response Center’s database from the city. It included complaint information for about 25,000 potholes.

Complaints that did not list a resolution date were excluded. Also excluded were the complaints that were the responsibility of county, state or private entities, which totalled only .5 percent of the complaints.

The analysis focused on the average number of workdays for filling potholes, excluding weekends and holidays.

The caveat? Pothole repairs are marked as resolved on paper work orders by public works crews. At times, the information may not be entered promptly in the 311 database.


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Transportation Nation

Sandy Data Shows NYC Commuters Are Transpo-Adaptable: Report

Monday, November 26, 2012

In the days following Hurricane Sandy, when New York's regional transit systems were either completely shut down or barely limping along, commuters still found a way to work -- by biking more, embracing ferries, temporary "bus bridges" and HOV lanes, even leveraging social media to find rides or temporary office space.

According to a new report from New York University's Rudin Center, the storm's aftermath brought out a uniquely New York commuting creativity.

"In many U.S. cities, which are limited to cars, buses or other singular transportation modes," the report states, "the disruption caused by Hurricane Sandy would have, at least temporarily, crippled the economy." Not so in New York, where residents "displayed impressive inventiveness to maintain their mobility. Individuals created new routes and combinations of modes to get to work, using a variety of systems."

The report surveyed 315 commuters about modes of transport and commute times. That's a small sample considering the millions of people affected. And asking a commuter to estimate how long they took to get to work can invite exaggeration, the Rudin report is an impressive attempt to quantify the chaos of ad-hoc mobility choices during the storm.

While almost everyone saw their commutes increase, Staten Islanders fared the worst. For residents of that hard-hit borough, commute times in the days following Sandy nearly tripled.

It was no picnic on the roads, either: "Commute times by private car for survey respondents nearly tripled, from an average of 47 minutes pre-Sandy to an average of 115 minutes post-Sandy."

The report also praises New York's MTA for keeping the public updated about service changes, and recommends the agency maintain its adaptable subway map. But other transit providers don't come off as well: "During the Hurricane, the Port Authority [which operates the PATH train system] and NJ Transit provided remarkably limited information throughout and following the storm about their service."

Read the full report here. See an impressive interactive timeline of Sandy's impact on transportation.

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Transportation Nation

Fed Study Warned Transit Agencies of Flooding Potential

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

(Nancy Solomon, New Jersey Public Radio) A year before storm Sandy, federal officials warned transit agencies to get their trains out of flood zones in advance of severe storms.  But New Jersey Transit, the nation's third largest transit agency, didn't heed that advice.

Maps produced in 2009 by the Army Corps of Engineers, taking into account storm dynamics and shoreline elevation, showed NJ Transit's rail yards well within potential flood zones for a Category 1 or larger hurricane.

Even as New York's MTA was moving subway and commuter trains to higher ground, NJ Transit parked valuable trains squarely in the middle of known potential flood zones for a Category 1 hurricane -- the equivalent of New York City's evacuation "Zone A." While the MTA had much of its system up and running within a week,  NJ Transit has taken much longer.

A spokesman for Governor Chris Christie says the trains were stored in in places that had never been inundated before. "You can prepare for a worst-case scenario," the spokesman, Michael Drewniak, said.  But, he added "the standard of preparedness was definitely raised by this storm."

In an interview with the NJ Star-Ledger published Wednesday, NJ Transit officials maintained the trains were stored where they "should be."

A year earlier, however, the Federal Transit Agency had distributed a report on climate change adaptation called "Flooded Bus Barns and Buckled Rails."  The study warned transit agencies to prepare for worsening storms and floods. New Jersey Transit has not released a detailed accounting,  but Reuters has reported damage to trains could cost tens of millions of dollars.

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Transportation Nation

Virginia to Study Traffic over Potomac River

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Woodrow Wilson Bridge, stretching over the Potomac River in Virginia (photo by catface3 via flickr)

The Virginia Department of Transportation will study traffic volume over the Potomac River in an effort to determine where the most people and goods will cross as the region’s population grows, the agency said Tuesday.

The study – scheduled for completion next spring – will not recommend a solution but instead provide a basis for consultations with transportation officials in the District of Columbia and Maryland about how best to improve transportation across the river from Point of Rocks in the west to the Route 301 bridge in the east.

“We want to essentially gauge and develop the data from which we can make some informed decisions regarding the best alternatives to deal with the current traffic conditions and what we expect in the future,” said Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton in an interview with Transportation Nation.

Connaughton downplayed the possibility his office would push for the construction of a new bridge over the Potomac.

“We’re really not prejudging anything. In fact, we’re not really getting into what’s the best alternative,” he said.

The study already has its critics, who say the Republican administration of Governor Bob McDonnell has been pushing for a new Potomac River bridge for years.

“They are pushing for another bridge even though the real fixes we need to make are at the American Legion Bridge,” said Stewart Schwartz, the executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, which supports expanding mass transit instead of road expansions.  To Schwartz, a new bridge connecting Virginia and Maryland would lead to more congestion and sprawl.  He favors implementing transit options on the American Legion Bridge.

“In the near term, that can be buses on dedicated bus lanes with frequent service, connecting the Red Line and the Silver Line, connecting Tysons Corner and Fairfax County job centers with the Montgomery County job centers,” he said.  “Fortunately, Fairfax County and Montgomery County have already met and are pursuing the transit investments that are needed both short term and long term.”

Connaughton disputes the allegation the McDonnell administration is after a new “outer beltway” at the expense of mass transit investments.

“This is one of the things that will be the hallmark of the McDonnell administration, is that we are pursuing increased transit opportunities, as well as dealing with congestion on our roadways, and looking for bike paths and pedestrian paths.  We are doing everything.  This is not a one-solution-fits-all,” he said.

If Virginia officials privately favor building another Potomac River span, they may meet resistance across the river.  In an October letter to Secretary Connaughton, Acting Maryland Secretary of Transportation Darrell Mobley clarified his agency’s position.

“The Maryland Department of Transportation’s (MDOT's) highest priority remains the preservation of our existing infrastructure and the safety of the traveling public. MDOT does not intend to revisit the years of debate regarding new crossings of the Potomac River,” the letter said. “We are interested in the study of potential improvements to existing crossings, including: the Governor Nice Bridge along the US 301 corridor, the American Legion Bridge on the Capital Beltway, and the potential addition of transit across the Wilson Bridge.”

Connaughton said he believes D.C. and Maryland officials are in agreement that a study of future traffic volume is necessary. As far as a possible solution, he said, “we haven’t gotten there yet.”

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Transportation Nation

Poll Captures Storm Surge Of Positive Feelings For NY MTA, Gas Rationing

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

NY MTA chairman Joe Lhota, flanked by NY Governor Andrew Cuomo and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, looking pleased while announcing the re-opening of a flooded tunnel last week.(photo by Jim O'Grady / WNYC)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Poll results show that Superstorm Sandy has remade two kinds of landscapes in New York: physical and psychological. Beachfront is gone, trees are uprooted and whole communities have been forcibly rearranged by a monster tide. No less dramatically, a majority of New Yorkers are expressing love not only for their elected officials but everyone's favorite bureaucratic whipping boy, the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

You read that correctly.

The latest Quinnipiac University poll finds 75 percent of New Yorkers rated the authority's performance during and after Sandy at "excellent" or "good." That's better than the Red Cross's 66 percent approval rating, and the dismal 37 percent approval for the region's utility companies, which struggled at times to bring the power back.

NY MTA chairman Joe Lhota was highly visible in the days and weeks following the storm as his workers methodically pumped out no less than seven under-river tunnels and, one by one, got them back to carrying trains and vehicular traffic.

The NY MTA also showed a fair degree of nimbleness by running shuttle buses over cross-river bridges until the subways were dried out. (Taking a cue, the NY Department of Transportation today announced its plan to run a temporary ferry from the hard-hit South Shore of Staten Island to Manhattan.) And the authority captured the public imagination with an online map that showed the the subway recovering in real time.

The Quinnipiac poll, which surveyed more than 1,000 registered voters in New York, also reported that Mayor Bloomberg's odd-even gas rationing system won favor by 85 to 12 percent. Other winners: President Obama, New York Governor Cuomo and, with the best numbers, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. See the full results here.

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Transportation Nation

MWAA Votes to Raise Fees on Dulles Toll Road

Thursday, November 15, 2012

(photo by bankbryan via flickr)

The agency managing the largest public rail expansion in the nation voted to increase tolls on a Virginia highway in part to help fund construction of the Silver Line.

On Wednesday, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority unanimously approved raising the full, one-way toll on the Dulles Toll Road to $2.75 effective January 1, an increase of $.50.  In January 2014 toll will increase to $3.50.

The toll increases are a major part of the financing plan for the Silver Line extension to Dulles International Airport, a 23-mile, $5.5 billion project whose first phase is scheduled for completion late next year. The MWAA board put off a decision to increase tolls again in 2015 because of the possibility of obtaining additional state and/or federal dollars.

MWAA has two avenues to secure additional funds: Virginia’s General Assembly, which has provided only $150 million to date, and the federal TIFIA (Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act) loan program.

“Our project is, bar none, (one) of the more worthy projects in the country for TIFIA loan financing,” said MWAA Board Chairman Michael Curto in remarks to reporters after the agency’s vote. “We’ve seen the enhanced TIFIA loan program so we’re positioned well, given that the project is shovel ready.  We’re ready to move."

Curto is not the only public official who has expressed optimism a federal loan with come through.  However, MWAA has a lot of competition for TIFIA dollars. Nineteen major transportation projects totaling $27 billion are currently applying for loans, and Congress has authorized $1.75 billion for TIFIA the next two fiscal years.

“The pool is very small compared to what the needs are just for our rail system,” said Terry Maynard, a board member of the Reston Citizens Association, which represents 58,000 residents in a Fairfax County tax district.  “It's going to be very hard to get a significant contribution.”

The association opposes not the Silver Line’s construction but its financing plan, which leaves fifty percent of the entire project’s cost on Dulles Toll Road users (75 percent of Phase II).

“We really want this to get built and succeed,” Maynard said. “We are pressing that all the money [MWAA] receives relieve the burden on toll road users.” Fairfax County residents have relayed their concerns to MWAA that drivers looking to avoid higher tolls will opt for already congested secondary roads, further clogging their communities with traffic.

Curto promised that MWAA will lobby Richmond for additional funding. He declined to criticize the McDonnell administration’s spending priorities, which have seen hundreds of millions of dollars allocated for highway expansions.

“We are going to reach out, work closely and hope to encourage the governor’s administration and the folks in Richmond that Dulles Rail should be the recipient of additional funds.  As Secretary LaHood said, it is a model project,” Curto said.


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Transportation Nation

It's Toll Roads vs. Surface Streets in Race to the Orlando Airport

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

At the starting line, outside Orlando City Hall

Thursday morning, 9am: two law-abiding drivers, two routes to the airport, one winner.

WMFE reporter Matthew Peddie and news director Mark Simpson wanted to figure out the fastest route the airport from downtown Orlando. In a thoroughly unscientific experiment, they put two kinds of roads to the test. The toll road to the airport tacks on distance but promises a speedier ride. Surface roads are free and more direct -- but are studded with traffic lights.

Whose route was victorious?  Listen to the radio story, below.










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Transportation Nation

Crucial East River Tunnel In NYC Now Half-Open

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

NY Governor Cuomo, NY MTA Chief Joe Lhota and US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announce partial opening of Hugh Carey Tunnel in NYC. (photo by Jim O'Grady)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Cars can now use one of the two tubes of the Hugh Carey Tunnel, formerly the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, in New York.

Governor Andrew Cuomo, who held a press conference at the mouth of the tunnel with NY MTA chief Joe Lhota and US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, said crews have worked around the clock to repair Sandy damage.

"When you saw this tunnel just a week ago, it was filled with water floor to ceiling," he recalled. "It defied belief, what was in this tunnel. And now 15 days later, one of the tubes will open."

Cuomo said both tubes of the 1.7 mile tunnel--the longest vehicular under-river crossing in North America--were flooded with 43 million gallons of debris-laden seawater that damaged electrical, lighting, communications, surveillance and ventilation systems.

The eastern tube -- the one usually dedicated to vehicles traveling from Brooklyn to Lower Manhattan -- is now open to Brooklyn-bound cars and buses for the evening commute from 3 pm to 7.  Friday morning, it will be open for Manhattan-bound traffic during the morning rush between 6 and 10. No trucks are allowed for now.

The governor said the western tunnel suffered worse damage and will not be open for another "few weeks." With both tubes in operation, the tunnel normally carries 50,000 vehicles on an average weekday.

Cuomo is asking the federal government for $30 billion in disaster aid, including $3.5 billion to repair the metropolitan area's bridges, tunnels and subway and commuter rail lines. That request is pending. In the meantime, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is pitching in with $10 million from the highway trust fund.

At the press conference, LaHood explained: "I’m here because the president has said to us, 'Get to New York. Do what you can, when you can do it, as often as you can do it. Take your cues form the governor.'" He said the $10 million request was approved in two hours, before implying that President Obama will come bearing many more relief funds when he visits New York on Thursday.

When a reporter asked the governor whether the U.S. Department of Transportation could cover the whole price tag for the state's recovery from Sandy, Cuomo deadpanned to LaHood, "You don’t have $30 billion dollars, do you?" The answer was, no.

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The Brian Lehrer Show

Coastal Development Pre-Sandy

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

John Rudolf, national reporter for Huffington Post, discusses his new piece, which looks at the history of coastal development in NY and NJ, and how developers and officials ignored warnings about storms.

Comments [11]

Transportation Nation

Top Transpo Congressman, John Mica, Mulls Next Move

Friday, November 09, 2012

Shovel Ready: Congressman John Mica talks to reporters at the groundbreaking ceremony for a new intermodal rail terminal in Winter Haven, Florida (Photo by Matthew Peddie)

(Orlando, Fla. -- WMFE) John Mica, the chair of the U.S. House Transportation Committee, joined with Florida Governor Rick Scott and other business leaders and elected officials near Winter Haven Thursday, for the symbolic groundbreaking of a new intermodal rail terminal.

Before grabbing one of the gold painted shovels, Mica, a republican from Winter Park, Fla. praised the governor for his business savvy and leadership in supporting the project, which will serve as a distribution hub for trains and trucks delivering cargo throughout Florida. The project came about after rail company CSX reroute freight traffic from 62 miles of track to accommodate the SunRail commuter train.

"We are very fortunate to have Governor Scott with his business background at this time and his vision for transportation and infrastructure," said Mica.

"You cannot build this state or this community or projects like this without people like Governor Scott."

Florida Governor Rick Scott, CSX Chief Executive Michael Ward and US House Transportation Comittee Chair John Mica (photo by Matthew Peddie)

Mica and Scott have not always seen eye to eye on big transportation projects in Florida, notably on the failed high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando, which the Governor nixed early in 2011 by rejecting $2.4 billion dollars in Federal stimulus money. At the time Mica panned the Governor's decision, labeling it a setback for the state's transportation, economic development and tourism.

While the high-speed rail plans collapsed, there's evidence to suggest Mica may have -indirectly- helped Central Florida's SunRail Commuter train avoid a similar fate during his tenure as chair of the house transportation and infrastructure committee.

Mica lists the two year Highway Transportation bill and the FAA bill as  accomplishments during his chairmanship, but he says those came about in spite of the Obama administration.

Looking ahead to a second Obama administration, Mica said he hopes the president will work better with Congress on transportation issues this time around. "They've been absent without leave," said Mica. "I’m hoping that their second time around they’ll be more cooperative."

Advocates for increased transportation and infrastructure spending have lauded President Obama's stimulus plan and his advocacy of a national rail network.

Mica, who comfortably staved off a Democratic challenger to retain his seat in Florida's U.S. House District 7 Tuesday, is due to be termed out of his role as chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. However he says he'd like to hang onto the position if possible.

“Oh we’ll see," he said. "It depends on whether they grant waivers or not, and that’s yet to be decided.”

"I’ve been honored to chair for the last 2 years, ranking for four years, chaired a sub committee for six years, and I intend to be a leader in whatever capacity my colleagues choose,” said Mica, who's also in line for other potential committee chairmanships.

"But I’m not moving from transportation even if I took another slot,” said Mica, who added he intends to be in a key position to make decisions on transportation policy.

Republican Congressman Bill Shuster of Penn. has already expressed an interest in the committee chair position.

Florida Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad was also pondering the implications of the second Obama term. Prasad said it's important that there's leadership at the Federal level and that members of congress can work together to craft a long term highway transportation bill.

"I just hope we can get to a deal," said Prasad.

"The last deal was only two years, and partly because I think folks in congress wanted to get past this election... Now that the election's over, let’s not wait another two years to get another two year bill, let’s work next year and have a long term bill that creates a transportation vision for the country.”

Historically transportation funding bills were non-partisan bills approved for six years at a time to facilitate planning of longer term projects. For more on how that changed this Congress, read our previous coverage.



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Filmmaker Ric Burns: New York Will Find a Way Out of Climate Disaster

Friday, November 09, 2012

Sandy has prompted wide-ranging conversations about how to better protect the city from more frequent and severe storms. Planners have spoken about levees and floodgates, marshlands, and other ways to keep the water from overtaking the region’s low-lying land.


Transportation Nation

Flooded Out Staten Islander Preps for Second Blow From Nor'easter

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Stephen Drimalas surveys his flooded-out home in Ocean Breeze, Staten Island. (Jim O'Grady/WNYC)

Staten Islander Stephen Drimalas is one of thousands of New Yorkers who are still without power. He's digging out from Sandy, showing up sporadically to his city job and, as of Wednesday, riding out a nor'easter.

The 46-year-old Drimalas lives alone in a small house in Ocean Breeze, Staten Island, a neighborhood that the storm submerged under eight feet of water. He works for the city Department of Transportation, installing signs and Muni meters. Seven years ago, he moved from Brooklyn to this modest beachfront neighborhood on Staten Island's east shore because it was cheap, beautiful and near the water.

He knew flooding was a possibility. So a year ago, he built a new foundation and raised his house by four feet. The night Sandy hit, he stepped outside to smoke a cigarette and check on conditions.

"As soon as I opened the door, the water started pouring down," he said. "By the time I got to my car, the water was up to my shin. Another minute or two and I wasn't getting out. That's how fast it came in."

Drimalas fled with the clothes on his back and some papers he managed to grab. Everything else was destroyed, including a set of appliances he'd just loaded into his house at the end of a year-long renovation.

He escaped but his neighbor, 89-year-old Ella Norris, did not. "She lived with her daughter here on Buel," Drimalas said on Monday as he stood outside Ella's house, his neighbors circulating around him as they cleaned and salvaged what they could. "She and her daughter got trapped in the house. Her daughter survived. Ella's in the funeral home right now. They're having a service for her, as we speak."

Drimalas has spent the last ten days piling garbage on the street and digging out from the mud, calling FEMA and trying to contact his insurance company. On nights when a friend can't put him up, he sleeps in his car.

Now comes a nor'easter with snow and slashing rain, high winds and forecasts of flooding. When reached by cell phone, Drimalas described how he was preparing for a second blow.

"I'm getting all the garbage out in case any winds pick up," he said. He added that he was hoping to stay with a friend, before cutting short the call. "I'm working outside," he said. "I gotta go."

To see more photos of Drimalas and his neighborhood, go here.

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Transportation Nation

Was It Worth It? Maryland Says New Highway Meets Expectations; Critics Aren't So Sure

Thursday, November 08, 2012

The Intercounty Connector at down (photo by Jessica Jordan)

As the one-year anniversary of the Inter-County Connector approaches, the Maryland Transportation Authority says the highway is meeting its traffic volume and revenue projections. But critics of the $3 billion road don't trust the state's data.

Greg Smith of Maryland-based advocacy group Community Research is one of those critics. As he looks at the ICC at the New Hampshire Avenue interchange right before rush hour, what he sees is a relatively empty highway.

"Well, it is remarkably light for a six-lane, $3 billion interstate highway," Smith says.

Smith, whose group fought the construction of the ICC, believes the 18-mile highway cutting across Montgomery County to connect I-270 in the west with I-95 in the east was a waste of money and -- that the state's traffic figures are nonsense.

"They are cherry-picking their numbers. The Transportation Authority knows full well that the volumes they are getting on the ICC today are far lower than the volumes they had in their official document of record, the Environmental Impact Statement where they ran the numbers for 2010 and 2030," Smith says. "They were projecting much higher volumes, in the order of 100,000-plus vehicles per day on the western end, in the opening year."

But the MTA disputes Smith's claim. Traffic volume is higher than projected on the western-most segment, and slightly lower on the eastern-most portion of the ICC, according to MTA numbers. Weekday traffic averages more than 35,000 vehicles per day between Interstate-370 and Georgia Avenue in the west; 26,000 vehicles per weekday between Route 29 and Interstate-95 in the east.

"Daily traffic volumes are consistent with our projections and are growing at a rate of about three percent on average per month," says MTA spokesman John Sales.

When the ICC first opened to traffic last year, tolls weren't charged until December -- at which point traffic volumes dropped. And it still hasn't exceeded the volume from the last day of toll-free traffic that month.

"Nobody looking at this road and seeing how virtually empty it is would say this was worth $3 billion and taking 60 families' homes," Smith says.

But the ICC was not designed to be at full capacity immediately after opening, Sales says, adding it takes about three years for traffic volume to ramp up on a new toll road. In addition, he says E-ZPass toll revenues have actually exceeded projections.

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Transportation Nation

Amtrak, NJ Transit Tunnels Are Dry, More Penn Station Trains Can Roll on Friday

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Amtrak's has six tunnels under the East and Hudson Rivers. They are 102-years-old. This was the first time any of them flooded, and Sandy left four of them filled with water.

Amtrak pumped one dry two days later. It has taken another week for Amtrak to finish drying out the other three tunnels that were flooded by Sandy, but by Friday, Amtrak expects to add train service to New York's Penn Station nearly doubling capacity since the storm. Strained New Jersey Transit will also be able to add service.

One of the newly dried tunnels crosses the Hudson River and will allow extra Amtrak and NJ Transit service to New Jersey and to the south. With both trans-Hudson tunnels open, Amtrak expects trains to run 24 trains per hour across the river, 63 percent of normal capacity.

That may sound low, but it is double Wednesday's rate, offering desperately craved relief from long lines and strains on a commuter bus system trying to accommodate rail riders stripped of their normal commuting options. Lines for buses Tuesday afternoon snaked throughout the Port Authority bus terminal and added an hour or more of delay to many people's commutes home.

A project to build an additional trans-Hudson tunnel was begun, mostly funded, and then scrapped by NJ Governor Chris Christie who cited fears of cost overruns in the billions of dollars.

The other two tunnels coming back on line cross the East River and support Amtrak's Northeast Corridor Service, Empire Service and trains from the North and West of New York, including to Albany, NY. Those tunnels will open at 80 percent capacity, about 32 trains per hour, as repairs continue, Amtrak said in a statement.

"The return of all tunnel access to New York City will be a major milestone in the continued restoration of Amtrak and commuter rail service and for the larger recovery efforts of the Northeast region," said Amtrak President Joe Boardman in an emailed statement.

Full operational capacity may still be a ways away for Amtrak as it is for other area transit agencies battered by Sandy's storm surge. As a sample of the myriad puzzles involved in recovery, Amtrak offered this example: Some stretches of Northeast Corridor track retain the 1930's era equipment inherited by the Pennsylvania Railroad. Those use 25 hz current to power trains. The new standard is 60 hz. So the rail company can't just swap in replacement parts from other stretches of track, or easily identify alternate power sources.

Temporary bypass signaling must be rigged up in places, slowing capacity as well.

Amtrak's two other East River tunnels did not flood and have been running at capacity. Nine NY MTA subway tunnels flooded in Hurricane Sandy, all but one had been drained as of Wednesday afternoon.

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Transportation Nation

Holland Tunnel to Reopen to All Car Traffic Wednesday; LIRR Restores Montauk Service

Tuesday, November 06, 2012


The shuttered Holland Tunnel on 10/30/12 (photo by Kate Hinds)

The Holland Tunnel will open to all traffic Wednesday morning at 5am.

This marks the first time the tunnel will be fully open since Hurricane Sandy struck the region. The tunnel, which runs under the Hudson River between New Jersey and lower Manhattan, was flooded and remained closed to traffic until last Friday, when a bus lane opened in one tube.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie announced the opening via Twitter and a press release; it was also confirmed by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns and operates the tunnel.

The Brooklyn Battery Tunnel (now known as the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel) remains closed due to flooding.

The MTA also announced Tuesday that it's restoring service on the Long Island Rail Road's Montauk Branch between Speonk and Montauk, and will establish bus service between Island Park and Lynbrook.

The LIRR will provide bus service to operate between Island Park and Lynbrook from 6 AM until 9 PM starting Wednesday, November 7. A press release issued by the MTA says buses will make a loop between the LIRR’s Island Park and Lynbrook stations – making stops at Oceanside, East Rockaway, and Centre Avenue stations along the way. Train connections to and from the bus loop can be made at Lynbrook Station.

For more information, visit our Transit Tracker.


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Transportation Nation

Virginia Homeowners Fight 95 Express Lanes Ramp

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

A homeowners’ group in Alexandria is fighting a proposal by Virginia transportation planners to build a highway ramp near their homes.

Concerned Residents of Overlook, an upscale community adjacent to I-395, wants the Virginia Department of Transportation to relocate a ramp that will serve as the northern terminus of the 95 Express Lanes, 30 miles of high-occupancy toll 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.

“The ramp is going to be about 75 feet from my house,” said Mary Hasty, who has lived in Overlook for ten years. Hasty says she's learned to live with the constant din of highway traffic but did not expect VDOT would ever build an exit ramp so close to her residence.

“You get used to the hum of traffic, but I certainly never anticipated that I’d have cars 75 feet from my house and my patio and garden,” she said.

The 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 biggest issue is that they moved the end point, called the terminus, of the HOT lanes from Crystal City, Arlington County to our backyard and they did not do any studies specifically to determine the impact on our communities,” Hasty said.

Hasty’s friend and neighbor, Sue Okubo, said the ramp will ruin property values, too.

“Already a number of neighbors are putting their houses on the market,” Okubo said.

“Maybe there won’t be an impact.  I don’t believe that.  That’s why we are having independent studies to determine what the impact is. We are late in the game and it is a David vs. Goliath scenario, but we are pushing really hard.” Hasty added.

Construction of the ramp is already underway.  Relocating it is unlikely, according to state officials.

“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. Lynch refuted the homeowners’ claims that the state failed to study traffic and pollution scenarios.

“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.”

Lynch said VDOT responded to residents’ concerns by extending auxiliary lanes to mitigate traffic congestion at the future interchange, adding that all the pertinent documents have been shared with the Overlook community.

“We have been very transparent in providing all of the information that they requested,” Lynch said.  “We’ve met with the community multiple times both in 2011 and 2012 during project development.”

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Transportation Nation

Monday's Commute in NY: Subways Run, New Yorkers Patient

Monday, November 05, 2012

The subway map as of 11/15/12

Eight days ago, the subway system shut down.  Seven days ago, it suffered the worst devastation in its history.  All seven tunnels under the East River were flooded.

By Monday morning's commute, most of the subways were running under the East River. The R and the L were not (more on that in a minute).

By Sunday night, the MTA had restored all of the numbered lines across the East River (2, 3, 4, 5 & 7), as well as many lettered lines. This morning, at the last minute, the A, C and E were also connected.  The #1 train ran all the way downtown to Chambers Street.

The rapid restoration of the system caused MTA chairman Joe Lhota to tweet: Who says government doesn't work? Really? Check this out.

The link was to the restored subway map.

(Lhota, by the way, is a Republican -- a former Deputy Mayor under Rudy Giuliani.)

MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg says MTA workers have been working "around the clock" to replace signals corroded by salt water.  Lisberg said increased headways -- or time between trains -- was due to reduced power and signalling issues caused by damaged signals.

Commuters, for the most part, were patient as they crowded onto train cars that were running about a third as frequently as usual. In two-and-a-half hours of riding the rails, I didn't hear any sighing, moaning, or cursing at the MTA, or at fellow passengers, a frequent accompaniment to the squeal of the trains on a morning commute.

WNYC's Jim O'Grady reports a similar amount of patience -- for now -- at the J train in Williamsburg, now the backstop for both the L and G. Jim describes the lines as "immense," but says straphangers were so relieved to be able to get into Manhattan that frustration was far from the boiling point.

But at least one straphanger was deterred. "Holy God," he said, seeing the subway line.  "Looks like I'm working from home today.

On Sunday, rider Rachel Tillman applauded outright when the F train re-connected under the East River.  "Good!' she exclaimed, giddily, "It's going all the way.  When I heard the announcement I thought it was a mistake.  Once we reached Jay Street-Metrotech I realized it was going all the way.  It makes me very happy."


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