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President Obama Signs Transportation Bill (TRANSCRIPT)

Friday, July 06, 2012

U.S. President Barack Obama participates in a bill signing ceremony July 6, 2012 at the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC. President Obama signed HR 4348, the transportation and student loans bill, into law during the ceremony. (Getty Images)

After a day of campaigning around the midwest, President Barack Obama returned to the East Room of the White House to sign the much-debated highway funding bill flanked by construction workers, college students and lawmakers.

The two-year, $100 billion Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) combines student loan interest rate caps with road transportation funding. The president's signature is the final stroke that ends over 100 days of political wrangling over transportation funding, something that until recently was a bi-partisan legislative cake walk (albeit pork-filled cake).

Here's a summary of what's in the final bill.

And here's President Obama's statement as he signed it:

Hello, everybody.  (Applause.)  Thank you very much.  Thank you.  Everybody, please have a seat.  I apologize for keeping you waiting a little bit, and I hope everybody is staying hydrated -- (laughter) -- because it is hot.

Welcome to the White House.  We wouldn’t normally keep you this late on a Friday afternoon unless we had a good reason -- and the bill that I’m about to sign is a pretty good reason.

I want to very much thank the members of Congress who are here.  We got a number in the front row, but, in particular, I want to recognize Senator Boxer and Congressman Mica, whose leadership made this bill a reality.  And although Barbara couldn’t make it, we want to make sure that everybody acknowledges the hard work that John did on this on bill.  (Applause.)

Now, we’re doing this late on Friday afternoon because I just got back from spending the past two days talking with folks in Ohio and Pennsylvania about how our challenge as a country isn’t just to reclaim all the jobs that were lost to the recession -- although obviously that's job number one.  It’s also to reclaim the economic security that so many Americans have lost over the past decade.

And I believe with every fiber of my being that a strong economy comes not from the top down but from a strong middle class.  That means having a good job that pays a good wage; a home to call your own; health care, retirement savings that are there when you need them; a good education for your kids so that they can do even better than you did.

And that’s why -- for months -- I’ve been calling on Congress to pass several common-sense ideas that will have an immediate impact on the economic security of American families.  I’m pleased that they’ve finally acted.  And the bill I’m about to sign will accomplish two ideas that are very important for the American people.

First of all, this bill will keep thousands of construction workers on the job rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure.  Second, this bill will keep interest rates on federal student loans from doubling this year -- which would have hit nearly 7.5 million students with an average of a thousand dollars more on their loan payments.

These steps will make a real difference in the lives of millions of Americans -- some of whom are standing with us here today.  But make no mistake -- we’ve got a lot more to do.  The construction industry, for example, was hit brutally hard when the housing bubble burst.  So it’s not enough just to keep construction workers on the job doing projects that were already underway.  We've got Mayor Villaraigosa and Governor O'Malley here as representatives of organizations of mayors and governors who know how desperate we need to do some of this work.

And for months, I’ve been calling on Congress to take half the money we’re no longer spending on war and use it to do some nation-building here at home.  There’s work to be done building roads and bridges and wireless networks.  There are hundreds of thousands of construction workers that are ready to do it.

The same thing is true for our students.  The bill I’m about to sign is vital for millions of students and their families.  But it’s not enough just to keep interest rates from doubling.

I've asked Congress to reform and expand the financial aid that’s offered to students.  And I’ve been asking them to help us give 2 million Americans the opportunity to learn the skills that businesses in their areas are looking for right now through partnerships between community colleges and employers.

In today’s economy, a higher education is the surest path to finding a good job and earning a good salary, and making it into the middle class.  So it can't be a luxury reserved for just a privileged few.  It’s an economic necessity that every American family should be able to afford.

So this is an outstanding piece of business.  And I'm very appreciative of the hard work that Congress has done on it.  My hope is, is that this bipartisan spirit spills over into the next phase, that we can start putting more construction workers back to work -- not just those that were already on existing projects who were threatened to be laid off, but also getting some new projects done that are vitally important to communities all across the nation and that will improve our economy, as well as making sure that now that we've prevented a doubling of student loan rates, we actually start doing more to reduce the debt burden that our young people are experiencing.

I want to thank all the Americans -- the young or the young at heart -- who took the time to sit down and write a letter or type out an email or make a phone call or send a tweet, hoping that your voice would be heard on these issues.  I promise you, your voices have been heard.  Any of you who believed your voice could make a difference -- I want to reaffirm your belief.  You made this happen.

So I’m very pleased that Congress got this done.  I’m grateful to members of both parties who came together and put the interests of the American people first.  And my message to Congress is what I've been saying for months now -- let's keep going.  Let's keep moving forward.  Let's keep finding ways to work together to grow the economy and to help put more folks back to work.  There is no excuse for inaction when there are so many Americans still trying to get back on their feet.

With that, let me sign this bill.  And let's make sure that we are keeping folks on the job and we're keeping our students in school.

Thank you very much, everybody.  (Applause.)

 

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Transportation Nation

UPDATE: Calif. High-Speed Rail Barely Survives Do or Die Vote -- A Primer

Friday, July 06, 2012

A rendering of a California bullet train (image courtesy of the California High-Speed Rail Authority)

UPDATE: 7/6/2012 4:05 p.m. PT

By a narrow margin the California State Senate authorizes funding for the nation's biggest high-speed rail plan. The vote was mostly along party lines, with Democrats supporting the plan and Republicans opposing, but several powerful Democrats crossed the aisle, including the chair of the transportation committee, Mark DeSaulinier.

Republicans began the session with several procedural motions to avoid the vote all together, but even Democrats who eventually voted no, opposed that conclusion so after lengthy floor speeches about fiscal responsibility and investing in our future Democrats got the 21 votes they needed, and not one more. The final tally was 21-16.

The Democrats who voted against the plan are: Mark DeSaulnier, Joe Simitian, Alan Lowenthal and Fran Pavley.

We'll have a full analysis on Monday from KALW's Julie Caine. For now, here's our original post explaining how the west coast bullet train came within one vote of demise.

 

ORIGINAL POST: Today's the day of reckoning for America's most ambitious high-speed rail plan. While we wait for the verdict, here's a recap of the rocky road to laying rails from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

Let's start with the news: Last night the California State Assembly approved Governor Jerry Brown's $8 Billion proposal for a California high-speed rail plan. Today, the State Senate has to approve that plan or the project will almost certainly fade away into failure, if reports from the Sacramento Bee are accurate.

That's more common than success with high-speed rail plans in the U.S.A. Wisconsin and Florida already scrapped their HSR plans at the behest of Republican governors. Ohio too rejected federal money after crafting a plan. California's proposal -- more ambitious and expensive than any other -- has been rescued from declining public support and rising costs by a supportive Democratic governor. But today's vote is out of his hands.

Dan Richard, chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority board, hand picked by Gov. Brown after an embarrassing high-profile resignation of the previous board chair, told The Sacramento Bee and other outlets Thursday, "If the Legislature doesn't move forward with the project this week, then the secretary of transportation has made it very clear that they need to look at withdrawing the money from California and putting it some place else." In other words, if it loses political support, he'd scrap the whole thing.

So here's what the legislature is considering: As KQED reports, "The plan the Assembly passed provides for construction of a 130-mile bullet-train segment in the San Joaquin Valley and devotes about $1.5 billion to passenger-rail improvements in Southern California and the Bay Area." Some money also goes to converting commuter rail lines to be ready to merge with CAHSR. The Assembly vote was a clear sign of support: 51-27, but Democrats have a slimmer majority in the Senate, and as Reuters explains, Republicans are opposing the plan as fiscally irresponsible for these lean times.

KCRA's Mike Laurey is reporting on Twitter that some Democrats in the State Senate are feeling pressured to vote yes, but have decided against releasing state bond money for the project, including the chair of the Transportation Committee, Mark DeSaulnier.

Voters approved over $9 billion in bond money for the project in 2008 by a wide margin, but almost certainly wouldn't do so again according t0 recent polling that shows only the slimmest of majority support remains, and not among likely voters.

And if the funding is approved today, we want to know how it will be dispersed. The original plan has construction starting in the relatively less populous Central Valley and spreading out in both directions to San Francisco and Los Angeles. That means construction jobs start away from the population centers and the first beneficiaries will be on the middle of the state ... probably not that interested in taking a bullet train within their region. That will likely stay the same, but which rail agencies and which parts of the project get first funding for sticking shovels in the dirt may make the difference to legislators on the fence.

Part of the opposition has come from increasing costs. After several budget revisions and much debate, the most recent estimate for the 800 mile rail link is $68.4 billion with completion set for 2028. Initial estimates were around $45 billion. Popularity has been dropping so steadily that  last month, in hopes of drumming up support, the California High Speed Rail Authority released a web video, an attempt to get rail boosterism going viral. Today we find out how well that worked.

 

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Transportation Nation

Key Vote on the Tappan Zee Bridge Delayed

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Tappan Zee Bridge (photo by waywuwei via flickr)


The New York Metropolitan Transportation Council (NYMTC) has postponed a meeting about the status of the Tappan Zee Bridge. But New York State officials are saying it won't slow down the state's ambitious timeline to replace the span.

NYMTC is a regional planning body made up of government officials from New York City, Long Island and the lower Hudson Valley. The group had scheduled a vote next week about whether to move the bridge replacement into its short-term transportation plan.  According to a NYMTC spokesperson, the vote is "part of the federally-required process that will enable the project to move forward to receive a record of decision."

Meaning: if NYMTC doesn't unanimously back the Tappan Zee replacement, the federal government won't okay it -- or designate any funding for the $5 billion project.

But an NYMTC email states the scheduled July 10th meeting won't happen--at the request of the County Executives of Rockland, Putnam, and Westchester Counties. The council said the executives wanted more time "to review the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the Tappan Zee Hudson River Crossing Project."

Officials say the FEIS could be released by the end of July.

Rockland executive Scott Vanderhoef and Westchester executive Rob Astorino have been vocal proponents of putting mass transit over the Tappan Zee Bridge. In an email, Astorino said the decision to postpone the vote was common sense.

"Why would we have a vote before seeing what’s in it?" he said. "Getting as much information up front will pay big dividends in terms of building a bridge that’s affordable and meets the present and future needs of Westchester, the region, our state and our nation.”

MaryEllen Odell, the Putnam County executive, called the decision to postpone the vote until the FEIS was released "good government." "You can't make a decision on a project until you've seen everything that you can possibly see," she said, adding that she wasn't looking for anything in specific -- nor did she have any serious concerns about replacing the bridge. "It's not really making any more of a statement other than 'we want to see the final document'...it's really important that this project happen. But what's more important is that it happen the right way. This is really just about making sure that whatever we're signing our names on to, where we're spending taxpayer money, is a project that works fiscally (and) is environmentally responsible and sensitive to our area."

New York State Thruway executive Thomas Madison put a positive face on the deferred vote. "The New York Metropolitan Transportation Council’s decision to wait for a full review of the Final Environmental Impact Statement [FEIS] before voting on the new Tappan Zee Bridge will give us time to make sure community stakeholders are fully informed and will in no way delay the project," he said in a statement.

But the FEIS won't be light reading. (You can see a photo of the draft EIS here.) There are some 3,000 comments from members of the public, and the county executives will likely have questions about financing -- and tolls.

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Transportation Nation

Loudoun County Votes Yes On Silver Line To Dulles Airport

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

(UPDATED 7:56PM) The final political obstacle to completing the Silver Line rail project to Dulles International Airport and west into the suburbs was removed on Tuesday when the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors voted 5-4 to “opt in” to the Phase 2 of the 23-mile, $6 billion commuter rail line.

The affirmative vote was greeted with a degree of relief.  Had Loudoun County opted out, the project would have been delayed by at least 18 months.  The remaining stakeholders would have been left to redesign the proposed route in order to eventually connect the Silver Line to the airport but no further into the county, where two Metro stops were planned.

“I’m relieved. It’s a big day for Loudoun. It’s a big day for my constituents,” said Supervisor Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn), whose district will be the location of the last of 11 stops once the Silver Line is completed in 2018.

Buona can thank Supervisor Ken Reid (R-Leesburg) for providing the decisive swing vote.  Reid had been leaning toward voting to opt out for weeks, but late last week moved to supporting the project once the board decided to create special tax districts around the future Metro stops to finance the county’s $270 million commitment to the Silver Line.

“I didn’t change my mind,” Reid said.  “What happened was that we did a motion for the tax district, so I didn’t change my mind. The tax district takes the risk off the county’s taxpayers.”

In the special districts, commercial properties will be taxed at a high rate, sparing residential properties, because they stand to benefit the most from the presence of Metro.  But supervisors who opposed “opting in” argued the tax revenue projections are flimsy.

“Everything I have looked at… really turns my stomach.  There are so many aspects of [this project] that are not going to help the county.  In fact, if you list the pros and list the cons, the cons far outweigh the pros at this time,” said Supervisor Janet Clarke (R-Blue Ridge), who joined Supervisors Geary Higgins (R-Catoctin), Suzanne Volpe (R-Algonkian), and Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling) in voting against the county’s participation.

The months of contentious political debate did not reflect public opinion.  While the county supervisors battled (and a vocal minority pressured elected officials to opt out), public opinion polls showed overwhelming support for bringing Metro to Loudoun.

The agency running the project, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, may now proceed with seeking bids from contractors.

“We’ve worked very closely with Loudoun to give them the information they needed to make this important decision and we are very happy that they are going to be a partner with us and Fairfax to move this important project forward,” said Patrick Nowakowski, who runs the rail project for MWAA. “In the next few weeks we will initiate the procurement process to hire a firm to design and build this project for us.”

MWAA will also begin setting the higher toll rates on the Dulles Toll Road, which are expected to finance 75 percent of Phase 2’s costs.  Starting next year tolls are projected to increase to $9 round trip for a full toll.

“This is the way the [funding partners] came up with up to make this project and we are just trying to be good stewards of the public money and deliver the project as inexpensively as we can,” said Nowakowski.

There is no federal money involved in Phase 2 of the Silver Line (Phase 1 had $900 million federal dollars).  The plan did not meet federal criteria for ridership and population density, so the financing burden fell further on users of the Dulles Toll Road, who will be faced with significantly higher tolls without access to Metro until 2018, when the Silver Line is supposed to be finished.

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Transportation Nation

Silver Line Vote Tuesday Could Stunt Rail-to-Dulles Plan

Monday, July 02, 2012

(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) The Silver Line project is a 23-mile, $5.5 billion rail link to connect Washington, D.C to Dulles International Airport and beyond into the Loudoun County, Virginia suburbs.  When completed there will be 11 rail stops between the capital and the final stop in Ashburn. (See full specs here as a PDF.) It's an ambitious transit extension, one of the largest in the nation currently underway, and a critical vote Tuesday at 9 a.m. ET may shrink the plan significantly.

Phase I of the project is nearing completion.  Phase 2 is scheduled to start next year.  However, there is one more obstacle to overcome before construction may begin on time.

The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote Tuesday on whether to participate in the project.  The county’s commitment to Phase 2 is $270 million.  If the county decides to opt out, the project will be delayed by at least 18 months and will likely never extend beyond the airport.

Fairfax County and the state of Virginia are also committing funds to the Silver Line, but the bulk of the project run by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) will be financed by increased tolls on the Dulles Toll Road. Those tolls are projected to cover 75 percent of the $2.7 billion cost.

If Loudoun opts in, the project will start on time.  MWAA will begin setting higher toll rates this fall and begin soliciting bids from contractors.

Loudoun County’s board asked for an extension to decide if it will “opt out” of Phase 2 because of concerns over how financing the project would impact the county’s taxes. Last week, the board gave tentative approval to creating special tax districts around the future Metro stops west of the airport.

Check back to TN for updates after the vote.

Follow Martin Di Caro on Twitter for live updates.

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Transportation Nation

US DOT To Spend $29 Million On Improving Transportation Options For Vets

Monday, July 02, 2012

Wounded veterans ride bicycles and hand bikes on the South lawn of the White House during the kicking off the 2010 Wounded Warrior Soldier Ride. (Flckr / William D. Moss)

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood announced 64 grants to help vets get around once they're back in the United States. Most of the money will go toward making it easier for veterans and their families to get transportation information by using smartphones and computers.

A typical grant was the $50,000 going to the Jacksonville Transportation Authority to help vets "connect to transit services through a single call or a single visit to a web page. Services include support organizations, social service agencies, car and van pools, volunteer driver programs, bicycles, walking, and taxis."

In all, 33 states and the Northern Mariana Islands will receive the awards. One of the largest went to the San Diego Association of Governments, which will receive $2 million to create a free mobile transportation app and 20 interactive transportation kiosks at military facilities and other veterans sites.

LaHood said vets need the assistance because of injuries suffered during service and because "the unemployment rate for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is more than 12 percent, more than four percentage points above the national average."

He gave the example of The Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority in Dayton, Ohio, which is home to the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and more than 80,000 veterans. "The $450,000 grant announced today will make it easier for returning and retired veterans and those who have disabilities to arrange for rides by phone, smart phone or on the web," LaHood said.

Peter Rogoff, Administrator of the Federal Transportation Authority, which will administer the grants, said, “America’s war heroes deserve a chance to support their families, participate in their communities, receive job training and get to work. It’s vitally important that we remove barriers to success by making transportation available wherever our veterans choose to live, work and receive care.”

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Transportation Nation

After Long Fight, Congress Passes 2-Yr Surface Transportation Bill

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Tappan Zee Bridge (photo by Joseph A. via Flickr)

Congress approved a two-year, $100 billion transportation and infrastructure bill just days before the federal highway trust fund was set to expire.

The legislation comes after more than 1,000 days of wrangling by Republicans and Democrats over issues like Keystone oil pipeline approval allowing transit agencies to use federal capital funds for operating expenses during periods of high unemployment. (Neither provision made it into the final bill.)

Senator Barbara Boxer praised the legislation, after leading the Democratic side of negotiations in the Senate. She said it would save about 1.8 million jobs by keeping aid for highway and transit construction flowing to states and create another 1 million jobs by using federal loan guarantees to leverage private sector investment in infrastructure projects.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called it “a good, bipartisan bill that will create jobs, strengthen our transportation system and grow our economy."

But Advocacy group Transportation for America said the bill "disappointing." In a statement, the group said: "We are pleased Congress has averted a shutdown, and the associated loss of jobs -- but this is literally no way to run a railroad...Despite never passing their own bill, House leaders were able to eliminate dedicated funding for repair of bridges and highways; cut vital transportation dollars for cities and local governments; slash funding available to prevent pedestrian deaths; and erode public input and local control in the planning of major transportation projects.

 

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Transportation Nation

Heath Care Architect Baucus: I Was Focused on Transpo Bill

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Senator Max Baucus, left, touring Mark Rite Lines Equipment Company, a Billings, MT-based highway striping equipment manufacturing facility with company president Jim Spielman, R.

(Billings, MT – YPR)  - The chief  architect of the Affordable Care Act says he wasn’t sitting in the U-S Supreme Court to hear the justices uphold the law. Instead Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) was working on passing a federal transportation bill.

“I was thinking of going over (to the Supreme Court) but frankly I have so much to do,” Baucus says. “I gotta work to get this highway bill passed.” He says sitting at the Court would be “very interesting. Historical. But not the best use of my time.”

Baucus is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and chairman of the Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure. He’s also a member of the subcommittee Conference Committee the current transportation bill which expires Saturday.

Baucus says he's pleased a deal could be reached even if it covers only about 2 1/2 years.

“That’s half a loaf.  Usually highway bills are 5 or 6 years. That would be a whole loaf,” he says. A full re authorization would give better certainty to highway departments, contractors, and others to plan ahead, he says.

In reaching the compromise, Republicans on the conference committee gave up on two key points, including putting on a fast track a permit for the proposed Keystone X-L pipeline. Baucus also strongly supports that project.

“Am I disappointed? Yes. I am disappointed,” he says. “But look we got a highway bill. A highway bill absent Keystone is better than no highway bill at all.”

Baucus says the Keystone X-L pipeline project comes down to job creation for Montana and elsewhere and energy independence, “I think it’s a no brainer. It should be in there but it’s not. I’ll keep fighting for it.”

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Transportation Nation

BREAKING: Transportation Bill Conference Report Released

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The details of what's in the transportation bill compromise are now available.

The conference report was released Thursday morning. (Read a pdf of the entire report here; a more condensed statement on it can be found here.)

More details later.

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Transportation Nation

Ask the US DOT Secretary Your Transpo Questions!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

US Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is inviting questions from TN readers. Want to know how the nation's transportation priorities are shifting? Wondering about the future of high-speed rail? Or how he decides where to spend the DOT's $70 billion budget? Or do you just want to know if he really does honk at drivers he sees texting behind the wheel?

For the next episode of his Q&A video series called “On the Go," Secretary LaHood is inviting questions from Transportation Nation readers. To ask him a question, you can:

Post questions on the Secretary’s Facebook page

Tweet using the #q4ray hashtag

Leave a comment on the Secretary’s blog, or

Leave a comment on this page

He will choose three or four to respond to. Let him know we sent you – write ‘TN’ at the end of your question.  We’ll post his video when it’s available.

Want to see what "On the Go" is like? Watch Secretary LaHood field questions from TN readers in 2011!

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Transportation Nation

California High Speed Rail Aiming to Take Its Message Viral

Thursday, June 21, 2012

California High Speed Rail, under fire from some GOP members of Congress, is jumping into the communications game. The organization today released a video highlighting all the benefits CASHR says it will bring to California.  Not much news in it -- just a repetition of the themes that California high speed rail will help out other modes, and won't be quite as expensive as the nearly $100 billion that was on the table for a bit.

"It's just another to communicate our message with the people of California," spokeswoman Lisa Murie Burcar told TN. "We thought we'd have it go viral."

You can watch the video here:

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Transportation Nation

MWAA to Loudoun County: No Extension on Silver Line Deadline

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority’s CEO says the agency will not grant a request by three members of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors to extend a deadline for a critical decision affecting Phase 2 of the Silver Line rail project to Dulles Airport.

In an interview with Transportation Nation, CEO Jack Potter said MWAA will not extend Loudoun County’s deadline to December to decide whether to opt out of the $2.7 billion rail link. The current deadline is July 4; the board of supervisors is expected to vote the day before.

On Monday the three board members issued a list of 21 “considerations” upon which their support may ride and requested a six-month deadline extension. If the nine-member board votes to opt out, the start of Phase 2 would be delayed at least 18 months.

“We are looking forward to a decision on July 3,” said Potter, who said Loudoun officials were already granted a 30-day extension that pushed the final decision into next month.

Although only four of nine county supervisors currently support Phase 2, Potter said he was optimistic Loudoun will opt in.

“They are starting to address some of the more challenging issues with Phase 2. One of the biggest issues they have is how to finance Phase 2. The fact that they are actively engaged in discussions about tax districts and finding other means of dealing with the funding, I find that encouraging.” Potter said.

The extension request had little chance of being realized.  There may not even be enough support on the Loudoun Board to make a formal request to MWAA even if the agency were willing to grant it.  The request for more time to weigh the Silver Line does illustrate, however, that just two weeks from the big vote there remain serious questions among enough board members to place the project in peril."

A proposal to create a special tax district around the planned Metro stops west of the airport was one of three ideas the Loudoun board agreed to consider to pay for the county’s $270 million Phase 2 commitment. The board has scheduled a work session on June 29 to decide on a financing framework before the final vote. The tax district would levy taxes on commercial properties that stand to benefit from the presence of a Metro stop nearby.

In response to Potter's remarks, Supervisor Ken Reid (R-Leesburg) said he would support Metro rail-to-Loudoun if the board approves the proposal for the special tax district. Reid has been on the fence, saying he would not support the project unless the board demonstrates it can be paid for.  He was among the three Supervisors who signed the "opt in consideration."

“Looking at the numbers it looks to me that it will help pay for the cost of Dulles rail without burdening the rest of the county,” said Reid, who maintains that the Silver Line would not solve the county’s transportation problems.

“I still think that some of our conditions… are things the Airports Authority and WMATA should be discussing with us,” said Reid, who said he never intended to make the 21 considerations a list of ultimatums.

“I think that many of the issues there are beyond anyone’s control,” said Potter. “It’s great for someone to have a wish list for what they would like to have in a perfect world, but much of what they wrote down is unattainable.”

In an email, supervisor Geary Higgins, who also asked for an extension of the July 3 deadline, said Potter's remarks were "unfortunate." Currently only four supervisors on the nine-member board support the Silver Line. One more supporter is necessary for a majority to prevent the county from opting out of the project.

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Transportation Nation

State Money Will Widen, Improve One Of Houston's Most Crowded Freeways

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

U.S. Highway 290 in Houston near the I-610 loop (photo courtesy Houston-Galveston Area Council)

(Houston, TX — Gail Delaughter, KUHF)  As more people move to the suburbs northwest of Houston, officials hope extra money from the state will help speed up improvement projects on U.S. Highway 290, one of the most congested roadways in Texas.  Highway 290 begins in the scenic Hill Country west of Austin, but once it approaches its eastern terminus at Houston's I-610 Loop, the drive is anything but peaceful as commuters face hours of bumper-to-bumper traffic.

Alan Clark heads up transportation and air quality programs for the Houston-Galveston Area Council, an association that helps local governments with planning issues in a 13-county region along the Texas Gulf Coast. Clark says the population of Houston's northwestern suburbs is expected to grow to close to a million people over the next couple of decades, but the congestion problems on 290 are already there.  Another reason for the urgency is that 290 is also a major hurricane evacuation route,  as it hooks up with State Highway 6 from the coastal city of Galveston.

So what needs to be done? Clark says along with widening the roadway, they also need to  improve the ramps at  Beltway 8, one of the two loops that currently encircle the city. Another trouble spot is near the 610 Loop, where frontage roads don't go all the way through.

"We don't want all the traffic to have to be on the freeway to get anywhere in the corridor," Clark says. "So being able to go along those frontage roads keeps some of that traffic off the freeway itself."

Texas recently identified $2 billion in transportation funds to be used for improvements to congested corridors around the state. Clark says the 290 project will now get an extra $350 million, and that means work that was supposed to be done over 15 to 20 years can now be compressed into five or six years.  One of the projects they're looking at is managed lanes.

"We're going to develop three managed lanes that can be reversed. So it's like getting six lanes for the price of three. They'll operate a bit like we see some of the HOV lanes operate. Only these will be tolled."

But as the population grows, Clark says they'll eventually have to look at ways to help people get to work without getting on the freeway. He says officials are also looking at the possibility of commuter rail along a nearby railroad right-of-way, but that project is still a few years away.

You can hear the KUHF story  here.

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Transportation Nation

40% of Traffic in Williston is Semi-Truck

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

An intersection in Williston, North Dakota. Photo by Jackie Yamanaka.

(Sidney, MT and Williston, ND – YPR) – The amount of semi-truck traffic in the Bakken oil field communities is stunning.

“It isn’t uncommon that you will come through here (intersection in Williston) and see that the trucks will be backed up for a mile,” says Williston Economic Development Executive Director Tom Rolfstad. “They all have to take a left hand turn here, so it gets to be a real bottleneck.”

Williston officials want to create a truck route to divert semi traffic around the community.

“You can see the ration of trucks here,” Rolfstad says. “We are approaching 40% truck traffic on our roads. The highway engineers say 12% truck traffic is considered to be high.”

The volume of the semi traffic is undermining the road beds under paved and gravel roads.  The roads designed to handle just moderate truck and farm traffic, since both Sidney, Montana and Williston, North Dakota are agriculture-based communities.

Richland Economic Development Executive Director Leslie Messer in Sidney says in the Spring when gravel roads are slick and muddy, the farmers most likely will idle their tractors.

“This industry (oil) doesn’t stop,” she says. “They’re dragging. They’re pushing. They are pulling. They are thrashing the (road) beds if they can’t get in there.”

Messer says it will take about 2,200 semi loads to service 1 oil well over that well’s lifetime. Most of the activity is in the drilling phase when loads of water, sand, pipe, and other materials are delivered to the site.

She says some of the oil companies are repairing the damage they cause to the roads otherwise its up to local government as part of its road maintenance program.

“We’ve built lots of roads for Richland County. Glad to do so,” says Russell Atkins, area production manager of the Bakken Operations for Continental Resources. “We needed the road to that (oil) well.”

He says in instances where there is no road but Richland County had the right-of-way, Continental would build a road and leave the maintenance to the counties in Montana and North Dakota.  The affected counties are looking to their respective state Capitols and the federal Transportation Rea-authorization bill to help pay for the costs of building and maintaining affected oil patch roads.

“All that we ask is once it is built up and the drilling activity has subsided please maintain it. We’re glad to build it,” he says. “We get a few that think, ‘well, you are just going to build it, maintain it, and do everything from now on.’ It doesn’t work quite like that,” Atkins says.

Atkins says the oil companies are working at a furious pace to lock up leases with production wells. He says 90% of the work remains.  Atkins calls the Bakken oil play world class. He places this portion of the Williston Basin right up with reserves in Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

“Our estimates of recoverable oil is 24 billion barrels. That’s 20 of oil and 4 of barrels of oil equivalent of natural gas. To do this is going to take 48,000 wells,” he says.

Besides all of the semi-truck activity needed to carry out that work, there’s also an increase of pick-up truck traffic, notes Williston Economic Development’s Tom Rolfstad.

“This is kinda a big ass pickup with a welding unit on the back,” says Rolfstad. “You kinda look like a wimp if you come here driving a Kia or a Subaru.”

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Transportation Nation

Loudoun Leaders Leaning "No" on Silver Line to Dulles Airport

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

After four hours of debate Monday night,  the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors only inched closer to deciding how to fund its $270 million commitment to Phase 2 of the Silver Line rail project to Dulles Airport and west into the county, leaving some Metro-to-Loudoun supporters on the board visibly frustrated and raising the probability that a majority of supervisors will decide to opt out of the project when a final vote is held in two weeks.

“I’ve been saying all along it’s 50/50. I still think it’s 50/50,” said Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles), a Phase 2 supporter, after Monday night’s marathon work session.

If the county opts out of the $2.7 billion dollar project, construction of the rail link to connect Washington DC with the international airport would be delayed by at least 18 months.

The supervisors met to determine how the county would finance the project but only settled on submitting three options to the board staff for further consideration: creating 1) a county-wide commercial and industrial tax, 2) special tax districts around the two future Metro stops that
would levy taxes on commercial properties, 3) tax districts based on the borders of the county’s planning sub-areas.

“In my view we eliminated too many options from the table. The board took off the table any use of the general fund whatsoever, which I think is a mistake. We could fund the entire project our of general fund revenue with an impact of $98 a year for the average homeowner,” Letourneau said.

On the nine-member board four supervisors are considered “opt in” votes, but it’s not clear if they will be able to sway any of their colleagues to reach the five-vote majority necessary to support Metro rail-to-Loudoun. Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling) made a show of voting against every financing option, declaring “Metro is evil.” When asked to clarify his remarks by a reporter Delgaudio declined to comment, saying he was “very busy.”

Of the four remaining supervisors leaning toward “opting out,” three signed and submitted just hours before the work session began a list of 21 demands they would like satisfied in order to support the project.

Supervisor Geary Higgins (R-Catoctin) initiated the “opt-in consideration” which included proposals outside the Loudoun board’s power. For instance, Higgins is asking the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority to seat two additional Virginia board members. When asked how the proposal relates to Phase 2’s financing, Higgins responded, “The [MWAA] board doesn’t have the greatest reputation for openness and the way they have approached things. If it’s no big deal why have they refused to seat those people?”

The board’s three Phase 2 supporters who were present (Chairman Scott York was absent) touted the findings of a new survey conducted by the University of Virginia. Using a sample of 1,000 county residents in mostly suburban zip codes, the survey found that 77 percent want access to Metro rail. In rural areas support is 57 percent; in non-rural areas support rises to 81 percent. However, supervisors who are leaning toward opting out questioned the survey’s methodology, implying that the questions were designed to prompt favorable answers.

"There were no specifics with respect to [supporting rail]… if it means raising your taxes,” said Board Vice-Chair Janet Clarke (R-Blue Ridge). “That’s what this board is grappling with."

The supervisors plan to hold one final work session to determine if they can provide a financing framework before deciding the county’s ultimate participation in a public meeting scheduled July 3. Letourneau said opting out would hurt the county for decades, let alone delay construction by
at least 18 months.

“It is possible the project would get completed to Dulles Airport, but it will stop at Dulles Airport. There will be a rail line behind it which would make it impossible for it to ever be continued into Loudoun County. That’s the worse case scenario for us, where we are paying very high tolls, we are getting no economic benefit, our commuters have no access to the airport station, and they will have very limited access to the station’s in Fairfax County,” he said.

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Transportation Nation

Council on Foreign Relations Also Doesn't Like US Infrastructure

Friday, June 15, 2012

It's not news that U.S. infrastructure is falling behind -- we've reported on this many times before.  But it kind of caught our eye that the Council on Foreign Relations -- a New York-based think tank that tends to host talks by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and the like -- is issuing its own scathing report on the state of U.S.'s transportation infrastructure.

From the report:

Just a generation ago, the United States invested heavily to create one of the world's best transportation infrastructure networks. But now, with real investment stagnating even as much of the infrastructure is reaching the end of its useful life, global economic competitors are leaving the United States behind. Along with a description of major policy initiatives, the report analyzes what's needed to get U.S. transportation infrastructure back on track.

You can read the full report here.

 

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Transportation Nation

Let it Zip: NYC's Summer Streets Gets Airborne

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Test-driving the zip line (photo by Guia Marie Del Prado/WNYC)

(Guia Marie Del Prado -- New York, NY, WNYC) In case you missed the news earlier this week, New York City's fifth annual Summer Streets will have something new this year: a 30-foot zip line, which will give locals a new way to appreciate car-free streets.

During Summer Streets, a seven mile stretch of Manhattan roads — from the Brooklyn Bridge to Central Park — are closed to cars on three Saturdays in August. It allows New Yorkers to walk, bike and play in public spaces they usually don’t have sole access to.

The New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) unveiled the free zip line at Union Square Park on Tuesday.

NYC DOT commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan (photo by Guia Marie Del Prado/WNYC)

DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan said she rode the zip line, twice. “I highly recommend it," she said; "you don’t need a cup of coffee, just start the day with a zip line."

Fahim Saleh took a break from work as an app developer to test out the zip line with his co-workers.

“We thought we’d just take a break from work and why not?” he said. “Just zip line in the middle of work. Sounds like a good idea to me.”

Sophia Taylor, 47, waited in line to face her fears with her 6-year-old daughter Neveah.

“I want to try it because I'm afraid of heights,” Taylor said. “So I'm going to test my fears today and I'm going to get on there.”

Aside from the zip line, Summer Streets will also host a 25-foot climbing wall, yoga and other activities at different locations along the road on August 4, 11, and 18 from 7:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

According to Sadik-Khan, as many as 60,000 New Yorkers make use of Summer Streets every year.

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Transportation Nation

NY MTA Chief Says Railroads Need To Work Together To Overcome Maxed-Out Hudson River Crossings

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Amtrak concourse at Penn Station in New York. (Scott Beale / flickr)

(New York, NY -- WNYC) New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Joe Lhota told a conference of transportation professionals that the only hope for moving more people under the Hudson River between Manhattan and New Jersey is for the area’s commuter railroads to set aside their traditional enmity and work better together.

His remarks came after a presentation showing rapid growth in New Jersey’s commuter population has maxed out rush hour crossings — both transit and vehicular — and that relief in the form of a proposed Gateway Rail Tunnel won’t arrive until 2025. If it arrives.

Which raised the question: what to do in the meantime?

Lhota tossed out three ideas, each aimed at boosting capacity at Penn Station in Manhattan, the hemisphere’s busiest railroad station and a terminal for New Jersey Transit trains.

He said the station’s 21 platforms should all be made to accommodate 10-car trains, which would mean lengthening some of them. He also said that the railroads using the station—Amtrak, New Jersey Transit and Long Island Rail Road—should do a better job of sharing platform and tunnel space.

Each railroad currently controls a third of the platforms, which sometimes leads to one railroad having too many trains and not enough platforms at the same time another railroad has empty platforms. The railroads also vie with each other for access to tunnels during peak periods. Lhota said capacity would be boosted if dispatchers in the station’s control room could send any train to any platform, and through any tunnel, as they saw fit.

Lhota’s third suggestion was the most ambitious. He said the three railroads—plus the MTA’s Metro-North line, which connects Manhattan to Connecticut and several downstate New York counties—should use each other’s tracks. In other words, trains should flow throughout the region in a way that sends them beyond their historic territory. For example, a train from Long Island could arrive in Penn Station and, instead of sitting idly until its scheduled return trip, move on to New Jersey. That way, trains would spend less time tying up platforms, boosting the station’s capacity.

The practice is called “through-running.” It happens already when NJ Transit trains carry football fans on game day from New Haven, Connecticut, through Penn Station to Secaucus, where passengers transfer to a shuttle that takes them to MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands.

Lhota says more trains crossing borders would make for a truly regional and efficient system. But first the railroads must cooperate. "Right now, we're as Balkanized as you can possibly imagine,” he said. “We need to find a way to coordinate that."

MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg said running the football train is complicated but shows that cooperation is possible. “Doing just this experiment required agreements among four railroads to coordinate schedules, crews, track, ticketing, revenue and some minor hardware issues,” he said. “So expanding it to full-fledged through-running will take much more.”

Lisberg said the four railroads are conducting a $1.5 million study to look at improving Penn Station’s capacity. “The study is trying to quantify the benefits and the costs of through-running,” he said. One of those costs would be overcoming the railroads’ disparate technologies: Amtrak, Metro-North and NJ Transit use overhead catenary power, while Long Island Rail Road is powered by a third rail.

In an email, Lisberg further weighted the costs and benefits of through-putting. He said a big advantage would be that trains wouldn’t have to stop and turn around in Penn Station, “or use precious tunnel slots to move empty trains into storage yards.”

And he said the existing tracks and platforms under the station “could be reorganized into simple eastbound and westbound tracks and platforms, regardless of which railroad uses them.” Then he added a caveat: “However, it would require lots of capital investment and changes to existing procedures – and we want to know it can be done without affecting on-time performance.”

The Regional Plan Association, which held the conference at which Lhota spoke, and other advocacy groups have expressed support for through-running—at least until Gateway Tunnel gets built. If it gets built.

 

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WNYC News

City's Refusal to Tear Down Sheridan Expressway Irks Activists, Locals

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Bronx Congressman Jose Serrano is fuming over the city’s decision last month not to tear down the aging Sheridan Expressway and replace it with mixed-use development.

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Transportation Nation

Manhattan On Track To Get Its First Slow Zone

Monday, June 11, 2012

Proposed Slow Zone for the Inwood section of Manhattan (NYC DOT)

(New York, NY - WNYC) - Manhattan, where the standard rate of movement is an all-out manic sprint, is about to be told by the NY Department of Transportation to slow down. At least in part: a couple of dozen blocks at the island's northern tip in the neighborhood of Inwood are on track to become the borough's first traffic Slow Zone.

NYC DOT unveiled Slow Zones last year. The program calms traffic by lowering a neighborhood's speed limit to 20 miles per hour--the lowest in the city--and fitting it out with safety measures such as speed bumps, signs and street markings that either force or urge drivers to slow down. The city would also remove more than 20 parking spots in the neighborhood to open up sight lines at intersections.

Inwood's community board passed a resolution in February that unanimously supported the Slow Zone, which would cover the blocks west of Broadway from West 218th down to Riverside Drive near Dyckman Street. A vote by the full board will be held on June 26. Should the Slow Zone be approved, as expected, the NYC DOT is set to install it this summer.

Inwood is frequently used as a short-cut by northbound drivers who cut through it, especially during the evening rush hour, to avoid paying the toll on the Henry Hudson Bridge, which spans Manhattan and the Bronx. Drivers have also learned to avoid the traffic lights on Broadway by traveling on Seaman Avenue, a parallel street that is heavily residential.

In general, Inwood's streets are hilly, narrow and almost wholly disconnected from the street grid. For those reasons, the NYC DOT not only approved the neighborhood's Slow Zone application but doubled the size of the proposed area.

Resident Dave Thom, for one, is pleased. "Our neighborhood is packed with schools, churches and young children," he said. "I have a two year-old and three year-old myself and it can be nerve-wracking to see a car racing down our streets."

The city's first and only Slow Zone was installed in the Claremont section of the Bronx last year. NYC DOT is considering adding another 13 Slow Zones, including the one in Inwood, by the end of 2013.

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