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Report: New York City Rejects Highway Teardown

Friday, June 08, 2012

Sheridan Expressway (photo: Dougtone via flickr)

Transportation Nation has reported in the past how cities around the country are looking to tear down urban highways as a way to reconnect neighborhoods and stimulate economic development.  Now comes word, via Streetsblog, that New York has rejected a years-long community-led effort to tear down the Sheridan Expressway, which runs through the South Bronx.  From the article:

"The Bloomberg administration has abruptly ruled out the possibility of tearing down the lightly-trafficked Sheridan Expressway and replacing it with mixed-use development, jobs, and parks. Neighborhood advocates and electeds are vowing to fight the decision, which they say fails to follow through on the comprehensive analysis the city promised to conduct as part of a $1.5 million federal grant."

"After receiving a $1.5 million federal grant to comprehensively study the potential to replace the Sheridan Expressway with development and parks, New York City suddenly rejected the teardown option based solely on a traffic analysis. "

At a meeting with South Bronx community groups on May 10, city officials unexpectedly announced that they would no longer consider the teardown option, according to advocates who attended. Led by the Department of City Planning, the Sheridan study promised to produce a comprehensive analysis of how replacing the Sheridan with development, jobs, and parks stacks up against rehabbing the aging highway and letting it stay in place. Instead, say advocates, officials simply showed community members a cursory traffic analysis to justify the rejection of the teardown option.

We asked the City Planning Commission for a response; we were referred to City Hall press office. Spokeswoman Julie Wood send this reponse:
"Analysis for the study showed that complete removal of the Sheridan would result in significant impacts. Namely:

· Trucks would be re-routed onto local streets, where schools and many other activities are occurring, throughout the day;

· New routes for trucks, such as East Tremont, already have significant traffic congestion during the morning rush hour;

· Trucks would need additional time for trips to the Hunts Point Markets; and

· Cars being re-routed to the Bronx River Parkway and other parallel routes, and causing significant backup where the Parkway meets the Bruckner Boulevard, particularly during the morning rush hour.

Taken together, these impacts amount to a fatal flaw for the removal scenario, and it has been removed for further consideration. The two remaining scenarios,to retain and to modify the Expressway, will continue to undergo further analysis.The study will be completed in early 2013."

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Transportation Nation

Report: Transit Fares High and Rising? Blame Bailed-Out Banks

Thursday, June 07, 2012

(New York, NY - WNYC) A transit union says in a report that one cause of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority's recent fare hikes and service cuts has been hiding in plain sight: financial arrangements called interest rate swaps. Those are deals the authority made with banks on 10 percent of its $33 billion of debt —deals that have gone against the authority and in favor of the banks.

The deals were made between 1995 and 2007, when banks agreed to cover the fluctuating interest rates on some of the authority's bonds. In exchange, the NY MTA said it would pay the banks a fixed rate, plus a small premium. That agreement would've protected the authority if rates had jumped up. But the Amalgamated Transit Union says the NY MTA has taken a net loss on the deals since the economy crashed in 2008 and interest rates fell to sustained, historic lows.

The union says the authority is now losing almost $114 million a year ― and could continue to lose money on the deals for the next 20 to 30 years.

NY MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg disputed the union's calculations, saying the swaps brought predictability to the authority's budget, which needs to be balanced each year. "To compare transactions we entered into years ago, compared to what you can get in risky variable rate debt right now is either irresponsible or deliberately misleading," he said. "They are simply wrong."

He contended that the swaps allowed the authority to save $248 million. The report says that was true until 2007, when the arrangement allowed the NY MTA to pay off its debt at nearly a full point below interest rates that were relatively high. But that was before the economy tanked. Since then, the authority has lost money on the deal.

The report looked at 12 transit agencies or local governments that entered into interest rate swaps. The report's authors insisted in a conference call that, though the deals may have made sense when they were struck, these 12 agencies ― which includes the NY MTA and NJ Transit ― are now bleeding at least a half a billion dollars a year from the budgets of governments and transit authorities around the United States.

James Parrott, an economist with the Fiscal Policy Institute, called on agencies like the NY MTA to seek concessions from the banks, many of which received massive taxpayer bailouts.

He said he doesn't understand why the NY MTA isn't treating its bankers like any other business partners. “The MTA went to all of its vendors from 2008 to 2010 and got concessions from them to reduce the price of contracts," he said. "The only business they didn’t go to is the banks. Why?”

Parrott also noted that the NY MTA is about to go to market to sell billions in new bonds to refinance its capital construction program. "They could say to the banks, ‘If you’re unwilling to renegotiate these credit swaps, we’re not so sure you’re going to get a piece of these bonds,'” he said.

Lisberg called the idea unrealistic. "We need these major banks to provide financing for us," he said. "We’re constantly in the debt markets, it’s how we and every other large government organization works. If we’re buying equipment to use over 30 years, it makes sense to pay for it over 30 years."

In 2010, the NY MTA plugged a budget gap by laying off 1,000 workers and eliminating 750 positions. It also enacted some of the deepest subway and bus service cuts in decades. Riders absorbed a 7.5 percent fare increase in 2011, and further 7.5 percent increases are scheduled in 2013 and 2015.

The banks that hold interest rates swaps with the NY MTA are JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, UBS, AIG, Morgan Stanley, BNP Paribas and Ambac.

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Transportation Nation

Political Pressure Kills Labor Provision in Rail-to-Dulles Silver Line

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Listen to the audio version of this story at WAMU

(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority voted 11-1 to drop a pro-labor provision from the rail-to-Dulles project.

The Project Labor Agreement was to be part of the agency's plan for Phase 2 of the Silver Line rail project to build a rail extension connecting the Washington, D.C. subway to Dulles International Airport and beyond into suburban Loudoun County, Viriginia.

The MWAA's board of directors surrendered to political pressure from the Virginia Governor, Republican lawmakers in the state's general assembly and the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors who opposed the PLA.

The PLA preference would have given prime contractors a significant bonus in the bidding process for choosing a union workforce to construct the $2.7 billion rail link. Virginia officials claimed the PLA violated the Commonwealth’s right-to-work laws. The state of Virginia threatened to withdraw $150 million in funding. Loudoun County did the same with its $270 million commitment.

“I think it is important we send a signal to Loudoun County that we really wish to encourage their participation. It’s critical to the success of the project,” said MWAA chairman Michael Curto moments before voting in favor of dropping the PLA.

Board member Robert Brown cast the only no vote, saying he did not trust Virginia to follow through on its funding commitment despite recent assurances from Governor Bob McDonnell himself.

“I don’t find that believable,” Brown said.  “I would find believable a grant agreement signed by the Commonwealth and the Airports Authority to provide these funds. I don’t see any reason to believe a man who’s been governor three years is suddenly going to change his mind.”

In an interview with Transportation Nation, Virginia’s Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton confirmed his state will participate in the project.

“We've always been in. The question has always been just how much we can be in due to some of the things that the MWAA board was attempting to put in the contract,” said Connaughton, referring to the PLA.

The death of the Project Labor Agreement preference does not guarantee Loudoun County’s participation in the Silver Line. Local funding battles of the ilk that stymie many an infrastructure project remain contentious. The county Board of Supervisors has until July 4 to opt-in, and board members are still divided over funding options. Supervisors from eastern counties where the rail line would be built have different ideas than representatives from other parts of the county where residents will rarely use the Silver Line.

For instance, the future Dulles Airport stop requires an operating subsidy that will cost Loudoun County $5 million to $7 million per year, even though  Loudoun residents are not expected to heavily use that stop.

Chairman Curto said the MWAA board would be willing to open further talks with Loudoun officials to ensure they opt in.

“There's been outreach by MWAA, by the Commonwealth and by the Department of Transportation. I think all of those stakeholders and funding partners are willing to go out to Loudoun County and answer any questions regarding the project to facilitate their yes vote,” Curto said.

A decision by Loudoun County to withdraw from Phase 2 would delay the project at least 18 months, according to MWAA’s CEO Jack Potter.

Now that the PLA is dead, the Silver Line’s critics are expected to focus on coming toll increases on the Dulles Toll Road that are supposed to finance a significant percentage of the project’s cost.

The Reston Citizens Association, which represents 58,000 residents in Fairfax County, says tolls may have to rise dramatically over the next several decades to pay for the rail line. Virginia’s $150 million commitment “will allow toll rates to edge up to $4.50 full toll over three years rather than double to that level next year,” said the association’s Terry Maynard.

“If Virginia follows through with additional incremental financing as many have promised… the tolls will still reach $18.75 by mid-century, but they would edge up year-to-year rather than in two dollar or larger increments every five years,” Maynard added.

In Loudoun County, the board of supervisors is considering a slew of potential tax increases, including creating a county-wide commercial and industrial tax or special tax districts near two future Metro stops west of Dulles Airport where commercial development is expected.

 

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Transportation Nation

SF Bay Area Transportation Round-Up

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Construction work on MUNI lines in San Francisco. (Photo by Julie Caine)

For some people in the San Francisco Bay Area, the daily commute will get  a little easier this week. On Monday morning, a new ferry service between the Oakland, Alameda, and South San Francisco opened. In San Francisco, regular service resumed on the MUNI’s N Judah and J Church light rail lines, after ten days of repair work at some of the city’s busiest transit junctions.

Statewide, however, things aren’t so bright. A new poll shows that voters are losing faith in plans for a high speed rail system in California. Despite this, Governor Jerry Brown is proposing legislation that would give High Speed Rail a pass from complying with some of the requirements of California’s strict environmental protection laws.

Julie Caine sat down with KALW host Hana Baba to talk about what’s happening in Bay Area transportation news.

Listen:

Here's the transcript.

BABA: Let’s start with high speed rail. Can you remind us where things stand with this project?

CAINE: Sure. Well, the California High Speed Rail Authority--they’re the ones responsible for the planning, financing, and ultimate implementation of getting the bullet trains built in California--just hired former Caltrans director Jeff Morales as their new CEO. Morales has intimate ties to high speed rail--he’s an executive with Parsons Brinckerhoff, the company doing project management for the bullet train.

BABA: Isn’t that a conflict of interest?

CAINE: It might be. State senate transportation committee chairman Mark DeSaulnier said he was “troubled by the relationship.” And state senator Doug LaMalfa, a critic of the project as a whole, was quoted in the LA Times as saying “it's difficult to believe that Mr. Morales can be counted on to drive a hard bargain with the company that has been paying his salary.”

The Rail Authority is standing behind Morales, saying he’s the best choice for the job -- it’s been vacant since January. The plan for building the project, is due to go before the legislature later this month. Lawmakers will be asked to release bond money needed to start initial construction of the train later this year in the Central Valley.

BABA: What’s the political support like?

CAINE: Governor Brown says he still fully supports the project, to the point where he’s proposed legislation that would exempt the bullet train from certain requirements of California’s Environmental Quality Act.  It’s an attempt to block opponents of the bullet train, who could use the environmental law to stop construction altogether.

BABA: What kinds of requirements?

CAINE: Well, more details about Governor Brown’s proposal are expected next week, but basically it looks like it would mean people who want to use environmental law to stop the train would have to prove, in court, that the train would cause major environmental problems--like wiping out habitat or an endangered species. In the past, opponents have used the law to hold up construction plans for much more minor issues.

BABA: Sounds like things are heating up.

CAINE: They are. And, according to an LA Times/USC poll last week, voters are losing faith in the project. Statewide, more than half want another chance to vote on the bond measure that voters approved in 2008 to provide initial funding for the project. The polls shows that if it were up for a vote again, almost 60 percent would vote against it.

BABA: We’ll be interested to find out what happens with this. So, let’s move from high speed trains to light rail. Yesterday marked the end of a MUNI project dubbed the ‘Long Shut Down.” Can you tell us what that was about?

CAINE: Sure. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency—or SFMTA--which runs MUNI, shut down the entire N Judah line and ran limited service on the JChurch and 22 Fillmore for ten days. Service is back up and running now, but it seems like they’re still having a few hiccups. One of our reporters here noticed a long back-up of outbound N trains at Church and Duboce this morning, and yesterday, an N train broke down in the avenues, causing a system wide backup for much of them morning

MUNI was working simultaneously in two locations—at Carl Street, and at the busy Church and Duboce intersection. They were replacing worn tracks, upgrading signals and switches that tell trains where to go and which track they should be on, and working on making it safer for pedestrians in both places. At Church and Duboce, they also did work on the sewers—they were taking advantage of the fact that they’d already closed down and dug up that entire intersection.

Last week, I met up with Greg Dewar, who writes a blog called the N-Judah Chronicles, and he described it like this.

DEWAR: I liken it to someone getting their wisdom teeth pulled, getting braces, and a few other painful dental procedures all at once.

BABA: Ouch.

CAINE: It was pretty extensive work, and required massive re-routing of some of the city’s busiest transit lines, but it was the only way to do the repairs--the last time they did work on this scale at Church and Duboce was 20 years ago. That intersection is pretty complex, and can be hard to navigate—bicyclists, pedestrians, drivers, MUNI trains, and buses all come through, and it’s not always so clear who should cross when. SFMTA spokesman Paul Rose told me they hope the new signals will help make things easier for everybody.

ROSE: That’s one of the things we’re looking at in this intersection is how do bikes and pedestrians and transit riders all coexist on one street.  Some of the new traffic signals will help with pedestrians and transit right of way.

BABA: So, how much did this particular project cost?

CAINE: About $40 million dollars—that’s for repairs at Church and Duboce and at Carl Street.  Rose said that’s only a fraction of what it would cost to replace the entire system.

ROSE: At this point, to replace everything in our system would cost about $500 million dollars. We carry about 700,000 trips a day, so we have to do this work as we go.

BABA: So, what’s next on MUNI’s repair list?

CAINE: The MTA just received around $675,000 dollars in state bond money to do repair work in what’s called the Persia Triangle—intersections at Persia, Ocean, and Mission Street on MUNI’s 29 route. But the big project on MUNI’s list is the Central Subway, which just got about $48 million dollars in state bond money. The Central Subway is due to open in 2019.

BABA: And we’ve got a new way to get between the East Bay and the Peninsula, right?

CAINE: Right. A new ferry service between Oakland, Alameda and South San Francisco just opened yesterday. It’s the first new ferry route to be opened since 1992. The idea is to give workers an easier way to get to companies like Genentech.

BABA: Are there any other routes in the works?

CAINE: The Water Emergency Transportation Authority--the agency that operates many of the Bay Area’s ferries--says the next route would bring ferries to Berkeley and Richmond.

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Transportation Nation

A Latina Journalist, a Former Clinton Official, and a Big Political Donor Join Port Authority Board

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

The George Washington Bridge is one of six bridges and tunnels operated by the NY-NJ Port Authority. (Photo by Phil Davis NY / Flickr)

(New York, NY - WNYC)   NY Governor Cuomo lets no appointment go unmined for good political effect.  This round of appointments to the Port Authority Board is no exception: Cuomo has named a prominent Latina journalist, a  real estate developer (and big political fundraiser), and a former top Clinton administration official to the Port Authority board.

The three appointees are El Diario/La Prensa Publisher Rossana Rosado, former state department spokesman and Bloomberg View editor James Rubin and real estate mogul -- and big-time political donor -- Scott Rechler.

Rechler has been serving on the board for the past year as vice chairman; his term will expire July 2018. Rosado and Rubin will take their seats immediately. Rosado's term ends July 2014, Rubin's term ends July 2017.

Rechler is the CEO and Chairman of RXR Realty, which owns and operates office buildings in the New York area, including some fancy addresses in Manhattan, and is worth about $4.5 billion.  NYPIRG named him one of the biggest political donors in the state. He gave $55,000 to Cuomo's campaign, the group said. In 2008, he raised some $140,000 for the Obama campaign, according to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics.

The NY-NJ Port Authority's facilities include America's busiest airport system, marine terminals and ports, the PATH rail transit system, six tunnels and bridges between New York and New Jersey, the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan, and the World Trade Center. Last year, the authority moved 104 million airport customers, 74 million PATH train riders and saw 121 million vehicles cross its bridges and tunnels. The port handled 5.2 million cargo container units.

The commissioners vote on how to allocate billions in public funds to major transportation projects.

In the past Cuomo has appointed former Bronx Borough President (and current lobbyist)  Fernando Ferrer to the MTA Board, and big developer/donor Howard Milstein to head the New York State Thruway.

 

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Transportation Nation

Airport Authority Vote Clears Way for Dulles Rail Project to Move Forward

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Protest Over Dulles Rail Dispute (photo by Martin Di Caro/WAMU)

(Washington, DC -- WAMU) The next phase of the Dulles Rail project will not give preference to construction contractors who promise to hire union workers. The 11-1 vote by the Washington Metropolitan Airports Authority means that the imperiled project will go forward, and Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell will release $150 million for the project's next phase.

"Today's vote is a major turning point for the Dulles rail project," said Airports Authority Chairman Michael A. Curto in a statement. "This project is vital to the economic growth of this region and the Board is determined to do whatever is necessary to finish the project as quickly and cost effectively as possible."

Although the MWAA Board previously included a project labor agreement (PLA) as part of the construction plan, board members voted this morning to remove the PLA from the project in order to ensure continued state funding for the rail line. Only one board member, Robert Brown, voted to keep the agreement.

State funding is instrumental to determining whether Phase 2 of the Dulles rail project will be delayed. Today's vote came amid threats of the Commonwealth of Virginia and Loudoun County pulling hundreds of millions of dollars in funding out of the project. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) and Republicans in the General Assembly have said the project labor agreement (PLA) violates the state's right-to-work law by giving a preference to contractors who would choose union labor.

Most Virginia construction workers are non-union. MWAA officials have publicly defended the PLA, saying that if Virginia withdraws its money, tolls on the Dulles Toll Road could double, and the project could be delayed. Also key for the project's future will be tonight's Loudoun County Board meeting. Board members heard from residents both for and against continuing funding for the project Monday night, and the board is expected to discuss the $270 million that represents Loudoun's share for Phase 2.

Loudoun has until July 4 to make a decision.

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Transportation Nation

Senate Moves to Shake up Transportation Conference Amid Hill Sniping

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) (photo by Todd Zwillich)

Senate negotiators tried to break an impasse with House Republicans over a surface transportation bill Tuesday, thought the proffer did little to quell a cross-Capitol war of words.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chair of the Senate-House conference committee trying to reach a transportation bill deal, told reporters she and Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) sent the deal toward the house earlier in the day. Boxer said the offer was "very warmly received" but also acknowledged it skirted contentious political issues including building the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline and gutting new coal ash regs from the EPA.

Boxer dismissed reports from earlier in the day suggesting the conference was near collapse, and that another temporary extension would be needed to keep highway funding going past a June 30 deadline.

A spokesman for conference vice-chair Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) said, "we will take a look at the proposal and discuss it with our conferees." It was a noncommittal response skirting the obvious: Time is running short to get a deal by the end of the month, and House conservatives are dead against agreeing to a transportation deal that doesn't go over President Barack Obama's head and force approval of the Keystone pipeline.

"We're going back and forth on all that stuff. I think in the final analysis it all has to be in there," said Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), a Republican negotiator. On Boxer and Inhofe's offer, Hoeven said, "Let's just say we're still working on it."

Those issues could still be worked out. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid appeared to be helping quiet talk of a faltering conference Tuesday afternoon. Asked it negotiations were falling apart, Reid said, "I don't have any dire statement to give."

But then things got heated. "There's a battle going on between (House Speaker John) Boehner and (House GOP Leader Eric) Cantor as to whether or not there should be a bill," Reid told reporters. "Cantor, of course, I'm told by others that he wants to not do a bill to make the economy worse, because he feels that's better for them. I hope that that's not true," Reid continued.

The statement elicited swift and sharp reactions from House GOP leaders.

“Leader Reid’s claims are ridiculous and patently false.  Rather than making up stories that have no basis in reality, Leader Reid should follow the House’s example and focus on pro-growth measures that will get the economy going and get people back to work,” read a statement from a Cantor spokesperson.

Boehner spokesperson Michael Steel was less diplomatic about Reid's comments. “That’s bullshit.  House Republicans are united in our desire to get a sensible, reform-minded transportation bill done, including job-creating energy initiatives like Keystone.”

Aides to Reid did not clarify his statement. But one aide described Senate Democrats as "not pessimistic" about the chances of an agreement by June 30.

Earlier, Boxer said that issues outside the Senate offer, including Keystone, coal ash regulations, and financing changes, would have to be "worked out later."

Follow Todd Zwillich on Twitter @toddzwillich

 

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Transportation Nation

Dulles Rail Supporters, Opponents Plead With Loudoun Board

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Phase 2 of the Metro Dulles rail project, known as the Silver Line, is either a boondoggle or the key to Loudoun County’s economic future, depending upon whom you ask.

Nearly 200 people packed a public hearing before the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Monday night to weigh in on whether the county should remain part of the $2.7 billion plan to connect Metro rail to Dulles International Airport and further into the county.

Loudoun County's financial commitment to Phase 2 will cost it $270 million. The Board of Supervisors has until July 4 to decide whether the municipality is in or out.

Vehement support — and opposition — for Silver line

In kelly green t-shirts printed with the words "Loudoun Rail Now," supporters outnumbered opponents at the public hearing. While fewer in number, anti-rail residents were nonetheless determined to convince the board to pull out of Phase 2.  Bob Constantino even wore a prop inside the Loudoun government center: a Viking helmet.

"During their time they were known for pillage, they were known for plunder and they were known for thievery," Constantino said of the Vikings. "It's my contention that the Metro Silver Line Phase 2 in the context of Loudoun County is virtual railway robbery."

Opponents do not support a project they fear might raise their taxes to benefit those who would ride the Metro beyond Dulles Airport. The county's long-term funding commitment is also a point of contention. Loudoun's operating budget for the future Metro stop at the airport itself would be $5 million-$7 million per year, even though county residents are not expected to heavily use it.

Supporters of the plan, including businesses, urged the board to keep its commitment to the project.

"…The long term benefits of the Dulles Rail project offer a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to Loudoun County," said Tony Howard, the president of the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce.

Another pro-rail speaker, Mindy Williams, urged the board to see the Silver line as an opportunity. "The opportunity to increase the commercial tax base, the economic opportunity, and the ability to leverage the tremendous asset we have in Dulles airport…" she said.

Loudoun residents not the only ones divided

The nine-member board, composed entirely of Republicans, is split. Board chairman Scott York supports the project, but his colleagues on the board remain divided. The supervisors will weigh a variety of funding options, including the creating of new taxes, at another meeting Wednesday night.

Also on Wednesday, the board of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is expected to decide whether to drop a controversial pro-labor provision -- a project labor agreement or PLA -- for the entire project that would favor bidders that choose a union workforce to build Phase 2.

The PLA is a sticking point for the Loudoun County Board, but even if MWAA drops it, the county's support is not a sure thing.

Supporters worry about missed opportunity

"The worst thing about saying, 'no' is you don't want the project to end at Dulles Airport," said Carol Wilte, a 20-year employee at the airport and rail supporter. "You don't want to add all that commuter traffic on top of all the travelers going to and from an airport that already has $25 million passengers."

Phase 1, which is nearing completion, will terminate at the new Wiehle Avenue Metro station in Reston, requiring passengers to take another form of transportation to the airport.

If Loudoun opts out of Phase 2, the project will most likely be delayed significantly while MWAA and the state of Virginia seek funding options, including charging significantly higher tolls on the Dulles Toll Road.

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Transportation Nation

VIDEO: Atop NYC Bridges, Baby Falcons Thrive in Homes with Great Views

Monday, June 04, 2012

(New York, NY - WNYC) Peregrines prefer peaks. In New York City, that means the flat tops of tall  bridges. Once again, it's time to cinch up the safety harness, scale a few feats of infrastructure and count hatchlings.

The NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority, always casting about for ways to improve its perennially embattled image, has in recent years embraced and promoted its role as Haven of Hatcheries. The authority has allowed the city Department of Protection to build shelters for raptors atop its bridges, and to let city conservationists go into them once a year and band the newborn birds they find. The shelters are no-frills affairs with guano-speckled roofs. And the banding, according to Chris Nadareski, the conservationist in the video, doesn't hurt the birds--though it must be said, those chicks don't seem pleased.

This year's total of newborn falcons on three bridges operated by the MTA: seven. Their wide-eyed adorableness on a scale of 1 to 10: 10. Interesting stat: when diving for prey, peregrines can exceed 200 miles per hour, making them the fastest birds in the world. It also puts them in sync with the city's unofficial motto: "Move swiftly or starve. "

New York City is home to more than 20 pairs of peregrine falcons. Two of the newest ones are called Lief and Skye, which are names you can soon expect to be attached to Brooklyn tots. The birds were nearly wiped out in the 1960s because of pesticides and remain on the New York State endangered list. But, thanks in part to the MTA's hospitality, it is increasingly common to see a raptor in search of a fish wheeling in the sky above the harbor. Hence the video's closing invitation+ warning:

"Look for the peregrine falcons...but not while you're driving."

Video:

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Transportation Nation

Vote On Pro-Labor Clause For Silver Line Scheduled For This Week

Monday, June 04, 2012

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority Board of Directors is expected to vote Wednesday on whether to keep a controversial pro-labor provision in its plans for Phase 2 of the Silver Line.

Publicly, the airports authority leadership has defended the project labor agreement, or PLA, that caused the Republican-led Loudoun County Board of Supervisors and the Virginia General Assembly to threaten to pull out of the project. Privately, MWAA leadership is conceding the $2.7 billion rail link will not go ahead as planned if they insist on keeping the PLA.

The PLA would provide bidding contractors a 10 percent bonus on their technical evaluation scores if they choose a union workforce to build Phase 2 to Dulles International Airport and beyond into Loudoun County. Opponents have argued the PLA violates Virginia's right-to-work law and would lead to out-of-state union workers dominating a Virginia project.

"If the project labor agreement is part of this, then I am absolutely certain that Loudoun County would not be part of the project," says Loudoun Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles). "Phase 2 would not move past Wiehle Avenue in Reston if there is a PLA for the foreseeable future."

Loudoun County has until July 4 to decide if it will confirm its funding commitment of $270 million to the Silver Line. Virginia lawmakers are threatening to withdraw $150 million over the PLA. Loss of those funds would send Phase 2 stakeholders back to the table, likely delay the project, and almost certainly lead to higher tolls on the Dulles Toll Road to make up the difference.

Today, there's a public hearing in Loudon County where residents will have the opportunity to weigh in on Dulles Phase 2. The Board of Supervisors is considering creating new taxes or tax districts to fulfill its funding obligation.

Construction on Phase 2 is scheduled to start next year.

 

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Transportation Nation

BREAKING: Report: Big NY Gambling Casino Plan Scrapped

Friday, June 01, 2012

The Associated Press is reporting that NY Governor Andrew Cuomo's big plan to build a huge casino and convention center near Kennedy Airport has been scrapped after talks with the developer broke down.

The plan had caused lots of head-scratching among transit advocates, since the area is not now well-served by efficient public transportation to Manhattan -- presumably a destination of many prospective convention goers.

According to the AP Gov. Andrew Cuomo says his grand plan for the nation's largest convention center at Aqueduct race track has been scrapped.

He says the proposal unveiled as a centerpiece of his State of the State speech isn't going forward, but he hopes to have developers compete next year for a project that could include a casino.

Cuomo made the announcement in a late Friday afternoon appearance on WOR Radio.

He says he's talking to other developers after talks broke down with the Genting Organization, which was to provide the funding.

Cuomo said in January the $4 billion convention center would help boost the economy and allow a new use for the Javits Center in Manhattan.

Aqueduct is a possible site for a casino if an amendment to the constitution is passed.

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Transportation Nation

Big Decisions Approach for Big Dulles Rail Project

Friday, June 01, 2012

A month before Loudoun County, Va. officials must decide whether they will withdraw from one of the the largest public transportation projects currently under construction in the country, they have big decisions to weigh about how they might fund the county’s $200 million dollar commitment to the $2.7 billion Phase 2 of the Dulles Metro Rail project, if they fund it at all.

All nine members of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors are Republicans, but the board is divided over funding options.  Supervisors who represent eastern districts are opposed by lawmakers in other parts of the county.

“Those of us who represent districts in the east, we understand the clear transportation benefit to having Metro or to having some other path out of the county.  My constituents are sitting in traffic.  I sit in traffic every day,” says Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles).

On Monday the board will hold a public hearing where taxpayers can speak out about the funding options under consideration, among other issues: creating a countywide commercial and industrial transportation tax, or creating special tax districts near the future Metro stops.

Letourneau says it is possible to fund the project without raising taxes, but it is possible the average homeowner in Loudoun County could see an annual property tax increase of $98 per year.

On Wednesday supervisors will meet to discuss their options.  No final decision is expected before July 4, the deadline for the county to decide whether it will pull out of the project altogether.  Letourneau, who is serving his first term on the board, says the changes are 50/50 for Loudoun to contribute to Phase 2, which would complete the 23-mile rail link to Dulles International Airport and beyond into the county.

Also on Wednesday the board of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is expected to decide whether it will drop a controversial pro-labor provision – a project labor agreement or PLA – that would provide bidding contractors a ten percent bonus on their technical evaluation scores if they choose a union workforce to build Phase 2.  Even if the PLA is dropped, Letourneau says the county’s commitment to the project will still be a 50/50 proposition because of other outstanding issues.

“For instance, the Dulles Airport stop has an operating subsidy associated with it that Loudoun County is going to have to pay every year.  I don’t think that’s especially logical.  Our residents aren’t going to be using that stop, but it’s going to cost us between $5 million and $7 million per year to pay for that stop,” he says.

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Streetcar Tracks on DC Streets Restored -- Evoking a Bygone Era of Urban Transit

Friday, June 01, 2012

(Washington, DC -- WAMU) Older D.C. residents may remember their city's streetcar era. The trolleys stopped operating in 1962, a full half-century ago. In Georgetown, where streetcars started running in the late 19th century, the tracks remained in place on O and P Streets. The roads, however, became an obstacle course for cars as the underground conduit that used to contain electric cables eroded, sinking the streets into uneven, tire-tearing, pothole-filled paths. Now, after more than a year of work and much public support, a project to restore the streets is nearing completion.

Since last March, O and P Streets have produced a cacophony of construction. Men wielding shovels, back hoes, circular saws, and a very loud machine called a plate tamper, have reconstructed the roadways made of granite stones and trolley tracks to preserve the historic character of the neighborhood. Construction is slated to finish this fall.

"We're reusing as much of the old material as absolutely possible," says project spokeswoman Dara Ward.

The work has been painstaking. All the granite pavers (their actual name is setts) were excavated and inspected for reuse. About 90 percent were deemed good enough to be power washed and then, one by one, hammered into place. Sand and gravel were swept over the setts to fill the cracks and crevices. The last step is handled by the operator of a plate tamper, a loud machine that can be heard a couple of blocks away. The tamper levels out the roadway so it can accommodate vehicular traffic.

Before the $11.8 million project began, the trolley tracks rose above the grade of the road, forcing drivers to "surf" the narrow railings to keep their tires from tearing.

"There were pieces of jagged metal sticking up," says Georgetown resident Stephen Martin. "I'd say I was replacing the tires on one of my cars every year. They never made it through the tread life."

"We have actually been getting one complaint in particular from the residents who live on these blocks that are newly done, and it's that the cars are driving too fast," says Ward. "They don't have to go so slowly because the road has been evened out now."

Residents are looking forward to the end of construction and their new "old" roads.

"I like the fact that it is so quaint looking," says resident Rebecca Clay. "That's why we live in a historic neighborhood. It would be sad to make it plain old asphalt again."

The P and O Streets of another era

While real streetcars are making a comeback in other parts of D.C., the restored trolley tracks on O and P Streets only evoke memories of a bygone era. The streetcar system reached Georgetown in 1872 and lasted until 1960, says Jerry McCoy, the special collections librarian and historic preservationist at the Peabody Room of the D.C. Public Library.

"The community was already over 100 years old before the streetcar system was authorized by Congress," says McCoy, who says the Metropolitan Railroad Company, chartered in 1864, operated the first trolleys in Georgetown.

The first streetcars were pulled by horses. In 1892, Congress decided to eliminate horse-drawn trolleys from the District.

"Congress deemed that all horse-powered vehicles had to cease and some other form of power had to be found," says McCoy. "That was the period when cable cars were introduced into history, just like those in San Francisco."

Georgetown's electric cables were run underground in the conduit that remained long after the trolleys stopped running. That empty, rotting conduit was what led to O and P Streets collapsing over the past 50 years.

"You're talking about almost 150 years of rainwater and salt and people losing their coins and purses and everything down here. The time really took a toll on this underground chamber between the tracks," says McCoy.

The streetcar operators briefly experimented with another type of propulsion: batteries.

"They were storage batteries," says McCoy. "Like when we complain about our smartphones not lasting very long on batteries, it was the same problem back then in the 19th century. These power storage batteries were not capable of holding charges long enough."

There were three main reasons why streetcar service ended in Georgetown in 1960 and across the District in 1962: Congress wanted to open the roads to car traffic, create a city-wide bus system to replace the trolleys, and follow the example of other cities attempting to modernize their transit systems.

"Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York were all ripping up their streetcar tracks at the time," says McCoy.

The tracks on O and P Streets are only for show, but McCoy says they are still important to Georgetown nonetheless.

"I think it is really important that this small piece of time be preserved in Georgetown," he says. "Georgetown isn't only about 18th century colonial America. There is really some important 20th and 19th century history embodied here."

As for motorists who may not be aware of the streets' rich history, they will be grateful for the smooth ride.

Listen to the story here.

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Transportation Nation

Baucus: Full 5-Year Transportation Re-Authorization Unlikely, For Now

Thursday, May 31, 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) – A leading member of the Congressional conference committee working on a transportation reauthorization bill doubts the panel will craft a full reauthorization bill by the June 30th deadline.

“Not this time,” says Senator Max Baucus (D-MT). “I don’t think there’s enough time in Congress. Believe it or not there’s not that many legislative days before Congress adjourns in October. But we’ve set it up so we have more than enough time next year to do a full reauthorization as a full 5 year bill.”

The current legislation expired in 2009.

Baucus (D-MT) chairs the Senate Finance Committee and the Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure. He’s a ranking member of the conference committee tasked with finding common ground on a transportation bill before the current extension runs out at the end of June.

“I think everyone realizes that we’ve got to pass a highway bill and we’ll get it done,” says Baucus.

Baucus invited ambassadors from 5 foreign countries to visit several Montana communities this week to talk about trade opportunities.

He says the transportation conference committee is still working on issues, like the Keystone X-L pipeline. Some members of Congress want this and other projects inserted into the transportation bill. The original Keystone X-L project sought to build a 1,179 mile pipeline from the Tar Sand Fields in Alberta, Canada to refineries along the U-S Gulf Coast.

“Having said that,  the main point is that we are close to figuring out how to pay for the highway bill so we can extend it until next September,” Baucus says. “Hopefully for a little bit longer than that but at least to next September.” (September 2013)

Baucus says Congress knows businessmen, highway contractors and states are looking for more certainty when it comes to transportation funding.

 

Sen. Baucus driving one of MRL's highway striping trucks.

 

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Transportation Nation

Will Walker Walk, or Get Railroaded Out of Madison?

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker ran against trains, and won. Will it work again? Photo by WisPolitics.com

Next Tuesday’s gubernatorial recall election in Wisconsin means everything to the prospect of improved train service in that state. But local rail advocates are still unsure whether the passenger rail issue will hurt or help embattled Republican Governor Scott Walker, who is in a tight race against challenger Tom Barrett, the Democratic mayor of Milwaukee.

“I think we’ve taken it from a big negative for us to about a break-even,” said Brett Hulsey, a Democratic state assemblyman from the west side of Madison who is an outspoken supporter of both Barrett and better trains. “That’s progress. But Walker has TV ads now beating up Barrett for a $100 million dollar streetcar project in Milwaukee. Apparently this is still polling well for Walker.”

In the fall of 2010, when Walker ran for the statehouse, he made an issue of the Madison-to-Milwaukee high-speed rail project, which had received $810 million in federal funding, saying “I’d rather take that money and fix Wisconsin’s crumbling roads and bridges.” Walker also set up a website, NoTrain.Com.

The money wasn’t, in fact, fungible, and soon after he was elected, Walker returned it to the federal government, which redistributed it to other states, including California and Illinois.  Other Republican governors,  Rick Scott of Florida and John Kasich of Ohio, followed suit.

As it turned out, stopping the “Boondoggle train to Madison” was a political winner.

“Transportation choice advocates and Democrats, didn’t do a good job leading up to the last election, in explaining the benefits,” Hulsey admits. “We thought we had a done deal. And we should have done a better job making it part of the political discourse.”

Barrett, for his part, is trying to do just that, drawing a straight line between transportation improvements and the state’s hunger for jobs with visits to the. He recently visited a Talgo factory that has been making new train cars for the existing Hiawatha line. Funding for that too is in jeopardy, even though the cars are 99 percent complete.

Talgo is no passive prop. The company hasn’t been at all shy about their feelings for Walker’s leadership. Their Twitter feed has been quite sharp, and the company’s Vice President of Public Affairs and Business Development, Nora Friend, recently complained bluntly to Milwaukee’s WUWM radio. that the Walker Administration’s apparent intention to breach a maintenance contract would mean Talgo would have to close its current facility and lay off skilled workers.

“We find ourselves in this situation,” she said, “because of the blunder of returning $810 million dollars. The cost of that permanent maintenance facility was included in those finds that Wisconsin competed to get. We don’t want to have to litigate our contract. What we want is very simple. we want the state of wisconsin to do what it preaches, that it is open for business.”

Hulsey points to a report that Walker has actually given away $1.3 Billion in federal money, and thinks the public is starting to understand the Democrat’s view of the matter. “We have educated the public that of the 35,000 jobs that we lost last year, 5,500 of those jobs would have been people upgrading our train tracks, direct and indirect jobs.”

Hulsey likes to encourage train supporters in states such as Illinois to send letters to Walker thanking him for the re-appropriated funds and resulting jobs.

“Those jobs and the benefits of those jobs would have far exceeded any operating costs to maintain rail service to Madison," said Nora Friend.

Walker’s straightforward position, like that of Florida Governor Rick Scott, is that, given the economic climate and mounting deficits, federal and state governments cannot afford to risk millions and billions of dollars on rail systems they see as speculative and likely to require years of subsidy. Whether voters agree with this, or the argument that government is in a unique position to create desperately needed jobs and new infrastructure critical to economic development, won’t be clear until election day, if then.

But Hulsey counters Walkers claims with a classic Democratic argument. “The fact that this is happening in battleground states like Wisconsin, Ohio, and Florida is not an accident,” he told me. “This is part of the Republican do-nothing strategy to try to make President Obama look as bad as possible. Hurting workers to hurt Obama is the overall strategy.”

Matt Dellinger is the author of the book Interstate 69: The Unfinished History of the Last Great American Highway. You can follow him on Twitter.

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The New York City Council Praises Sadik-Khan, Instead of Burying Her

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

NY City Council Member James Vacca during a 2011 hearing (photo by William Alatriste via flickr)

Let's go back in time to December 2010. The city's tabloid editorial pages are just beginning to sink their teeth into the transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan, for -- among other things -- her avid support of bike lanes and pedestrian plazas. In Brooklyn, well-connected residents are preparing to sue to remove a bike lane.

On December 9, New York's City Council holds a standing-room-only, overflow-room-inducing, five hour-plus hearing on bikes and bike lanes in New York City. Bronx councilman James Vacca, who chairs the council's Transportation Committee, kicks things off first by warning the crowd to be polite, then sets the stage by pointing out "few issues today prompt more heated discussion than bike policy in New York City."

In the hours that followed, he was proven correct: Sadik-Khan was grilled, interrupted, and accused of ignoring the will of the public, prevaricating, and acting by fiat.

And she was put on the defensive, repeatedly exclaiming "That's what we do!" when yet another council member excoriated her for not soliciting sufficient community input.

At one point, Lewis Fidler, a council member from Brooklyn, told Sadik-Khan her answer was "kind of half true. I don't say that to be snooty. I say it because I think maybe you're not aware."

And then he reeled himself him. "This is not like you've got to be for the cars or you've got to be for the bikes or you've got to be for the buses. It's really not...the cowmen and the farmers can be friends."

The mood at this week's Transportation Committee hearing, held in the same hearing room as the 2010 hearing -- and with many of the same players in attendance -- was markedly different.

Now more New Yorkers are biking. More than two-thirds give the city's bike share program, which is launching in July, a thumbs-up. Traffic fatalities are at record lows.

"I want to first off say thank you to the agency," Fidler started, before launching into an encomium. "Quite frankly I don't always get the answer I like from DOT, but we get a lot of answers from DOT. And they're very responsive, your agency, your Brooklyn office continues to be a very responsive one."

He then waxed on about major construction work going on on the Belt Parkway -- a roadway almost entirely in his council district. "I will say for a project of that size to have gone on, without my getting repeated complaints from constituents -- that says something all by itself, and the work that's been completed looks really good."

Back in 2010, Fidler's questioning of Sadik-Khan was one of that hearing's most contentious exchanges, with the two of them repeatedly interrupting each other. Fidler at that time told Sadik-Khan that her answers were "half true;" he later accused the DOT of failing to solicit community input on bike lanes -- a charge Sadik-Khan repeatedly denied.

On Tuesday, Fidler asked Sadik-Khan to look into repairing a bike lane in his district (a lane under the Parks Department jurisdiction since it's on their land. Sadik-Khan said she'd make sure her office reached out to the Parks Commissioner, Adrian Benepe.)

So maybe the cowmen and the farmers might be friends after all.

(You can listen to the audio from the 12/2010 hearing -- and read the transcript -- here. A video of the 5/29/12 hearing can be found here; the transcript isn't available yet.)

To be fair, Tuesday's hearing was not one in which members of the public could comment (public hearings on the budget will be held next week), and biking wasn't the only topic on the agenda.

But still:

Peter Koo is the Queens councilman who represents Flushing (a neighborhood so heavily trafficked by pedestrians that the DOT said Tuesday that it's slated for a sidewalk expansion project.) At the 2010 hearing, Koo complained that bikes lanes had been implemented at the expense of motorists and pedestrians, and that they were empty. "I hardly see any people using the bike lanes," he said at the time. (Transcript here; Koo's remarks begin on page 39.)

At Tuesday's hearing, Koo had a different complaint. "I find a lot of bicycles chained to the fence, to the trees, light poles, meter poles, everywhere." He wants the NYPD to cut the chains of bikes that are illegally parked. But before that happens, he said, "we have to find a place for them to park."

Letitia James   -- long a bike lane supporter, put the cherry on the Charlotte Russe. "Commissioner, I want to thank you for all the docking stations in my district. I want to thank you for the bike share program. I want to thank you for using my picture, my image, on your website, on the bike -- it's absolutely fabulous. Thank you for the plazas in my district...thank you for all the street renovations...thank you for the bike lanes, thank you for recognizing that we all have to share the space and no one is entitled to a city street."

A few minutes after James spoke, the May 29th hearing ended.

"I do think since that hearing in 2010, many actions my committee has taken, and the legislation that we have passed, has brought New York City DOT to a realization that they could do a better job when it comes to community consultation," Council transportation chair Jimmy Vacca said in a phone interview.  "I think there's been more outreach, there's been more involvement, so I think that the strongly held views that existed in 2010 have somewhat been mitigated by DOT realizing that it's better to work with local neighborhoods where possible and to try to seek areas of consensus."

And is he happy with bike lanes? Yes -- even though he said the ones in his Bronx district weren't heavily used. "I do think in time, though, people will be bicycling more in neighborhoods where they are not bicycling now. And I think the groundwork that we've laid legislatively will make that reality more positive, have a more positive impact on neighborhoods throughout the city."

Vacca said the Bronx bike lanes have been successful in reducing speeding.  "They've had an impact in slowing down vehicular traffic, and that's always a positive thing," he said, adding that that's a persistent issue for his constituents. "In my neighborhood there's not a block party I go to, there's not a civic association I go to, where people are not demanding speed bumps, where they're not demanding police enforcement for ticketing of people who speed in their cars."

Next up for the City Council: reigning in rogue delivery people -- a project they're collaborating with the DOT on. "We cannot have commercial bicyclists driving the wrong way on one-way streets, we cannot have them ignoring red lights, we cannot have them on sidewalks," Vacca said, adding that he's working on legislation to address this. "I think within the next several weeks we should have a consensus bill that will reflect my views as well as the views of the Department of Transportation. We're working together to come up with type of bill, and I think we're making good progress."

 

 

 

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Transportation Nation

Big Plans for Public Transportation in Virginia. It's called Super NoVa.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Bus rapid transit, light rail, car and van pooling, and bicycling and pedestrian infrastructure are all in the works for Northern Virginia, under the so-called "Super NoVa" transportation plan for the next three decades, to be released in September.

Planners envision the construction of cross-jurisdictional networks to connect people to their jobs in the metropolitan Washington area, and to employment and tourist locations within northern Virginia and neighboring states. The goal is to help commuters avoid the region's notorious traffic congestion.

"It's really looking at the major travel patterns of people throughout this region and trying to understand where they are and where they want to go," says Amy Inman, the manager of public transportation planning at the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, a post she has held for four years. Inman is the head planner for Super NoVa.

With the growing realization that only paving more highways would not satisfy the demands of region's population and job growth projections, Inman says localities 50 or 75 miles away from Washington need more public transportation options. The study will evaluate the needs of future population and employment centers.

The unofficial border of northern Virginia as outlined on a map today contains several counties including Fairfax, Alexandria, Arlington, and Loudoun, among others. Under Super NoVa, northern Virginia would extend as far south as Caroline County and as far west as Culpeper and Frederick counties.

"We are envisioning mobility beyond boundaries," Inman  says. "As we all know, there isn't just one mode of transportation that's going to be the solution, but we want to be able to provide people with travel options."

Inman says planners are focusing on maximizing the capacity of existing infrastructure in current corridors; for instance, transforming part of a major roadway into a bus rapid transit corridor instead of building a new road.

Super NoVa is gathering information from people traveling to Virginia from Maryland, West Virginia and Washington. A second round of public hearings has been held this month; officials held their first round of hearings in February. The public will get another chance to weigh in after September when the first recommendations are released. The study is expected to be completed by the end of the year. Inman says the public feedback has been useful.

"We have learned that the growth of this region is very great," she says. "In the future, the areas of Fauquier, Culpeper, and Winchester will have a developing demand for different types of public transportation, so we're learning from the localities what kinds of solutions will be necessary to address their particular transportation issues."

In some places, bus rapid transit may work. In others, light rail or increased car-pooling may be the answer. Super NoVa is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Planners are trying to ascertain which modes of transport are supportable in a given location.

"Even beyond Culpeper County there are folks who are traveling 100 miles or greater into D.C.," she says. "It's phenomenal the distance people will travel to get to their employment. We also know that we're reaching or exceeding the capacity of many of our transportation transit systems today."

Inman says Virginia's political leaders, including Gov. Bob McDonnell, have been supportive of the plan.

"Everyone understands we have to think of multiple solutions to address the transportation issues, especially in the Super Nova region, an economic engine for the commonwealth and neighboring states," she says.

Although Super NoVa is not planning new highways, Inman says the group's recommendations will square with the plans of the Virginia Department of Transportation for new roadways.

"VDOT has plans in place that we are building upon," she says, referring to VDOT's proposal to increase roadway capacity along the I-95 corridor.


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Sen. Boxer Shines Sun on Transportation Bill Talks

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) (photo by Todd Zwillich)

(Washington, D.C.) Striking a decidedly feel-good tone on transportation legislation Wednesday, Democrats' chief negotiator painted herself optimistic about the chances of a House - Senate agreement before July 4th.

"I'm feeling good," Senate Environment and Public Works Chair Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), told reporters on Capitol Hill.

Boxer praised talks with Republicans--and even the Republicans themselves--for steady progress. She's leading final House-Senate conference negotiations over surface transportation legislation that expires June 30th.

"I welcome a change of heart on behalf of Republicans that I feel we have now," Boxer said. She was referring to the basics of a 2-year, $109 billion Senate bill that passed with 74 bipartisan votes in March.

Boxer said both she and chief GOP negotiator Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) agree on the desirability of a bill of even longer duration than the Senate bill. But therein lies the difficulty.While Boxer says that 80% of her EPW bill is already agreed to, that bill does not include some of the most contentious issues.

"I don't have any sicking points to share with you today," Boxer said. Even if the senator isn't sharing, that doesn't mean that sticking points aren't present.

How to pay for spending in the bill is a key issue with House conservatives, and one that aides say is not yet solved. So are the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline, a GOP demand to roll back EPA coal ash regulations, spending on bike lanes, parks and other so-called transportation "enhancements," and other issues.

Boxer said she spoke to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) by phone Tuesday about the conference and that she was encouraged by the chat. Boehner released a statement saying he was “hopeful that the negotiators can complete work on a conference agreement that includes Keystone and other energy measures to address high gas prices and create jobs."

The statement went on to say Boehner expects "meaningful infrastructure reforms that ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent effectively and efficiently on roads and bridges across this country.”

"I there's a lot more than three or four or two hard issues," Boxer said. Last week House Republicans voted to demand the conference return and approve the Keystone pipeline. Boxer dismissed the importance of the vote as routine but added that discussions had begun on contentious areas like Keystone.


 

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Washington Hits Top-Ten Bicycling Ranking -- Big Cities Climb on List

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Bikeshare users in Washington, DC (Photo: Tara Bahrampour)

A report in Bicycling Magazine ranking the top 50 most bike-friendly cities places Washington fourth. In the magazine's last ranking, in 2010, Washington didn't break the top ten.

See the entire list 2012 here.

Then, as now, the list was dominated with more predictable cities like Portland, Minneapolis, Boulder, Madison, and Eugene. Seattle and San Francisco also made both lists.

But the big story of  this year's  list is the prominence of big cities --like Chicago and New York, which, like Washington,  both climbed in ranking.

Most of the changes that the magazine credits in Washington, DC -- including bike share and more bike lanes -- began under DC's former transportation commissioner, Gabe Klein, who now has that job in Chicago (up to #5 from #10 on the last Bicycling Magazine list.)

The magazine examined cities with populations of at least 95,000 for "a robust cycling infrastructure and a vibrant bike culture."

The magazine reports that bicycle ridership increased in Washington "80 percent from 2007 to 2010."  The capital city's bike share program is growing in popularity and recently clocked its two millionth ride.

 

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Staten Island To Get Faster Bus Service

Monday, May 21, 2012

Staten Island's "Select Bus Service" won't have off-board payment (photo by Kate Hinds)

Staten Island will be the third borough in New York City to get so-called "Select Bus Service."  The service, the S79,  will connect the Staten Island Mall and the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn.  The MTA expects the service to reduce travel times by 20%.

Some 8,900 passengers travel that route daily, according to the MTA, compared to 52,000 along First and Second Avenues in Manhattan and 45,000 along the route of the Bx 12 in the Bronx, New York's first SBS, which has been running since 2008.

SBS is a BRT-like service, though without some of the features that characterize BRT systems around the globe, like physically-segregated lanes and subway-like stations.

However it does incorporate designated lanes, signal priority, and fewer stops.  The Staten Island buses will not have off-board payment, a feature that has irked some Manhattanites unaccustomed to paying before they get on the bus.

Along the busier routes, paying off-board is a big time-saver, the city DOT has said.  But in Staten Island, the route is so lightly traveled -- or "highly dispersed," as the MTA calls it, that the authority has concluded it wouldn't make much of a difference.  Walker Hook, the CEO of the Innstitute for Transportation Development Policy, which sets up and provides technical advice for  BRT systems worldwide, called that assumption "reasonable."

The S79 will only run as a select bus, with local passengers being served by the S78 and S59.

The service will start in September.

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