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Infrastructure

Transportation Nation

Fewer U.S. Bridges Being Repaired, One in Nine Still "Structurally Deficient"

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

WNYC

There are 66,405 "structurally deficient" bridges in the U.S., about one in every nine, according to a new study from Transportation 4 America. That's down from just shy of 70,000 two years ago, but the pace of repair is slowing and many more bridges are reaching the end of their intended 50-year lifespan. Recent funding changes in Congress are exacerbating maintenance problems, T4A concludes.

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Transportation Nation

Smoother Sailing Coming to Washington's Best-Traveled Bike Lane

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

WAMU

The busiest bike lane in the District of Columbia will be repaved this summer.

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Transportation Nation

D.C.'s DOT Reverses Street Calming Measures After City Councilman Complains

Thursday, June 13, 2013

WAMU

After years of study, D.C.'s transportation department implemented traffic calming measures on one stretch of road. But following complaints by a council member, the city reversed direction and returned the road to its old condition, angering residents who say the city bowed to political pressure.

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WNYC News

Scientist Slams Con Ed Storm Plan

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Con Edison has submitted plans to state regulators to spend $1 billion reinforcing electrical infrastructure. But a noted scientist who studies the effects of climate change on infrastructure says the utility's proposals would leave New York exposed to future storms.

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Transportation Nation

D.C. Makes Progress on Bike Lanes But Advocates See Room For Improvement

Friday, May 17, 2013

WAMU

Bike lanes in Washington, D.C. vary from the simple—narrow lanes marked by thin, white lines squeezed between vehicular travel lanes and parked cars—to the advanced: protected cycle tracks lying between parked cars on one side and the sidewalk on the other.

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Transportation Nation

GOP Opposition to Virginia Highway Plan Continues to Grow

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

WAMU

Another Virginia congressman is adding his voice to Republicans questioning the McDonnell’s administration’s plan to construct a major north-south highway in Northern Virginia, a parkway running west of Dulles International Airport and Manassas Battlefield that critics call an “outer beltway.”

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Transportation Nation

The Trade Offs of New Transit Debated along Maryland's Planned Purple Line

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

WAMU

The bird's eye view offered a vision of progress—modern transit spurring economic development—but Maryland homeowners who studied the path of the $2.2 billion Sliver Line at an open house organized by the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) on Tuesday night saw something different. 

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Transportation Nation

D.C. Cycle Track Construction To Begin In August

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

WAMU

Construction of a westbound bike lane connecting Georgetown with downtown D.C. could begin in August, District transportation planners said Monday during a walking tour of the proposed M Street track.

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WNYC News

11B Gallons of Sewage Dumped Into Waterways After Sandy: Report

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

study from the group Climate Central says northeast waterways were swimming in sewage following Sandy — much of it untreated.

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Transportation Nation

'Outer Beltway' in D.C. Suburbs Meets Opposition From Residents, Lawmakers

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

WAMU

A proposed highway that would skirt a Civil War battlefield is raising hackles in Virginia.

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Transportation Nation

Should Virginia Build Another Highway? Study for "Outer Beltway" Released

Thursday, April 25, 2013

WAMU

Plans for a major highway in Northern Virginia are taking shape. Officials say the billion-dollar road would spur growth, but opponents say that premise is flawed.

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The Brian Lehrer Show

The Bike Share is Coming

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

NYC's bike share program is accepting registrations, and docks are already installed in some locations. WNYC's metro editor, Andrea Bernstein, explains what you need to know to register for the program.

 

Comments [38]

Transportation Nation

Contractors Vying For Silver Line Phase II Have History Of Busting Budgets

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The construction of Phase II of the Silver Line Metrorail to Dulles International Airport, one of the largest public transportation projects in the U.S., will lie in the hands of the contractor team that makes the winning bid to the project’s owner, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA).

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Transportation Nation

Transport Workers, Needing to Bargain With NY MTA Chair Prendergast, Open With Praise

Friday, April 12, 2013

Now that the NY MTA has a new chairman in Tom Prendergast, and Local Transport Workers Union 100 has a recently re-elected president in John Samuelsen, the two sides can now sit down hammer out a contract.

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Transportation Nation

Quinn's Transit Vision: Long on Buses, Ferries, Short on Bike Share

Thursday, April 11, 2013

New York City Council speaker Christine Quinn gave voters their first detailed glimpse into what her transportation agenda would be if she's elected Mayor. It's like Bloomberg's -- but without the big, bold visions.

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Transportation Nation

NJ Transit: We're Being More Transparent About Sandy Recovery

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

NJ Transit's board meetings will now be videotaped, and the agency is expanding the information on its Sandy recovery website.

It's part of an agency attempt to provide more transparency to the riding public -- many of whom have showed up at NJ Transit board meetings since Sandy to complain about confusing schedule changes, last-minute service outages, and a general lack of effective communication.

Jim Simpson, the state's transportation commissioner and NJ Transit chairman, said Wednesday at a board meeting that the videos of each board meeting will be available on the agency's website within 48 hours "to increase transparency on the board. We think it's really a good thing for everybody."

Executive director Jim Weinstein also said the NJ Transit website will now "include a listing of contracts associated with the Sandy recovery, as well as background on all projects." And the site now offers details on agency efforts to repair and replace trains damaged by Sandy.

NJ Transit has been under scrutiny for its decision to store rail stock in flood-prone areas during the storm, which caused nearly a quarter of its fleet to suffer damage.

The board also approved paying another $28.5 million to Canadian rail company Bombardier, which is repairing train cars damaged by Sandy. NJ Transit says it will reimbursed for storm expenses through a  combination of federal aid and insurance money.

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

Following the meeting, Weinstein less enthusiastic about a different subject: a recent study endorsing a proposal to extend the #7 subway to Secaucus. "It’s not a New Jersey project," he said. "It emanated from the mayor’s office in New York and it clearly has some different points of view in New York, from the MTA." Weinstein sounded lukewarm about the project.  "We'll see where it goes," he said.

One recent bright spot for the agency: Weinstein said NJ Transit got a ridership boost during last week's Wrestlemania, when the agency provided more than 35,000 bus and rail trips to the Meadowlands.  The agency views the event as a dress rehearsal for next year's Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium, where the Jets and Giants play. Weinstein, who was on site for much of the event, described Wrestlemania as "quite an enlightening experience."

 

 

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Transportation Nation

Contractors To Pay For Repairs To Beleaguered Maryland Transit Hub

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Preliminary repair work is underway at Maryland' s Silver Spring Transit Center, but officials still can't say when it will actually open.

The construction and design teams have agreed for now to pay for the necessary repairs to fix the structural problems at the Silver Spring Transit Center that were detailed in a scathing county report.

David Dise, director of general services for Montgomery County, says some repair work is already underway but that the major remediation work won't take place until late summer.

"Foulger Pratt was directed on Friday to begin the replacement of the faulty pour strips on the mid-level of the transit center," Dise says. "Parsons Brinkerhoff, the engineer of record, is beginning the design of the other remediation work that has to be done, the columns, the beams, and the topping slabs on the two levels."

That's just the beginning. Those repairs will take months to complete, so Dise can't say when the facility, already two years behind schedule, will open.

"Much of that will depend upon the final remediation plan being developed by Parsons Brinkerhoff and the subsequent schedule developed by Foulger Pratt after they receive the design," Dise says.

So the county, as of now, will not have to pump any more money into finishing the facility.

"The contractors that have performed the work that is in error must bear the cost of its repair," Dise says.

So it appears the county and the contractors have reached a resolution that will avoid costly, time consuming litigation, at least for the time being. The contractors may fight the county in court after the work is done to recover their expenses.

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Transportation Nation

Pay-By-Phone Parking -- And Real-Time Space Availability -- Being Tested in the Bronx

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

An 18-block stretch in the Bronx will be the first in New York City to test pay-by-phone parking.

The pilot program will allow people to use phone, internet or smartphone app to pay for 264 metered parking spaces along or adjacent to Arthur Avenue  -- as well as spots in the city's Belmont Municipal Parking Field. To participate, motorists must sign up in advance on the Pay-By-Phone website. Each Muni-Meter in the pilot program has a QR code and a seven-digit number; the motorist must use either to confirm payment.

Users will receive a text or email when their meter is about to expire, and they will have the option of extending their time without having to return to their cars. According to the mayor's press release, traffic enforcement agents will use new hand-held scanners to cross-check the PayByPhone's data to ensure compliance.

"New York City parking has come a long way since we had to put a roll of quarters in our pocket," said city transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, making the announcement Tuesday in the Bronx with Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

A side view of the Muni-Meter in the Bronx. Note QR code and 7-digit ID. (Photo by Christine Streich)

Related: Good Bye, Parking Meter; Hello, Muni-Meter

The pay-by-phone pilot will be tested for three months; it could then expand citywide.

Potentially more interesting than the ability to feed the meter remotely is the second half of Tuesday's announcement: a real-time parking availability map, seeded by information transmitted from roadbed sensors.

A sensor embedded in the roadway detects whether a parking space is free or not. (Photo by Christine Streich)

"Green indicates the greatest likelihood of a spot; yellow, the chances aren't so good, and red, well, you get the idea--" said Sadik-Khan. "Forget about it, as Marty [Markowitz] would say," interjected Bloomberg, referring to Brooklyn's Borough President.

Sadik-Khan added the map would cut down on the pollution created by cruising around and looking for a spot. "Knowing where to go, and to concentrate your search on where it's going to have the biggest value and the biggest payoff, is half the battle," she said.

In addition to being available online, the map is also available as a smartphone app. Bloomberg batted away suggestions that the app could encourage distracted driving.  Bloomberg reasoned passengers could check the map -- or drivers could check it before they leave "or pull over. I mean, a lot of things are meant for you, you can't do it while you're --" here the mayor paused -- "in the shower, for example."

This cracked up the crowd. "I'm just trying to think of some other place you shouldn't," Bloomberg said, moving along to the next question.

Real-time parking conditions in the Belmont section of the Bronx (click for interactive map)

Other cities around the world -- San Francisco, London, Vancouver, Miami -- use similar technology. Monica Hernandez, a spokesperson for the District Department of Transportation, said all 17,500 meters in Washington D.C. can be paid for via phone, and that the program had been in place for almost two years. "It's serving its purpose," she said. "It provides one more option for people looking to park."

With reporting from Christine Streich/WNYC.


 

 

 

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Transportation Nation

Why Tolls Will Be Waived On One Virginia Highway This Weekend

Friday, April 05, 2013

A dynamic tolling system is set to open on a new section of the Beltway later this year.

495, shown last year while under construction

Nearly five months after opening, the operators of the 495 Express Lanes are struggling to attract motorists to their congestion-free toll road in a region mired in some of the worst traffic congestion in the country.

Transurban, the construction conglomerate that put up $1.5 billion to build the 14-mile, EZ Pass-only corridor on the Beltway between the I-95 interchange and Dulles Toll Road, will let motorists use the highway free this weekend in a bid to win more converts.

“It takes a lot of time for drivers in the area to adapt to new driving behaviors. A lot of us are kind of stuck on autopilot on our commutes. That trend might continue for a while, too,” said Transurban spokesman Michael McGurk.

Light use of HOT lanes raises questions

McGurk says some drivers are confused about the new highway’s many entry and exit points. Opening the Express Lanes for free rides this weekend will let motorists familiarize themselves with the road, he said.

After opening in mid-November, the 495 Express Lanes lost money during its first six weeks in business. Operating costs exceeded toll revenues, but Transurban was not expecting to turn an immediate profit. In the long term, however, company officials have conceded they are not guaranteed to make money on their investment. Transurban’s next quarterly report is due at the end of April.

To opponents of the project, five months of relatively light traffic on Virginia’s new $2 billion road is enough to draw judgments. Vehicle miles traveled (VMT) has not recovered since the recession knocked millions out of work and more commuters are seeking alternatives to the automobile, according to Stewart Schwartz, the executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth.

“They miscalculated peoples' time value of money. They overestimated the potential demand for this road,” said Schwartz, who said the light use of the 495 Express Lanes should serve as a warning.

“We should not have rushed into signing a deal for hot lanes for the 95 corridor, and we certainly shouldn’t rush into any deal on I-66,” he said.

Transurban is counseling patience.

“We’re still in a ramp-up period. You’ve probably heard us say that since the beginning, too, but with a facility like this it’s a minimum six months to two years until the region falls into a regular pattern on how they’re going to use this facility,” McGurk said.

In its first six weeks of operations toll revenues climbed on the 495 Express Lanes from daily averages of $12,000 in the first week to $24,000 in the week prior to Christmas. Traffic in the same period increased from an average of 15,000 daily trips to 24,000, according to company records. Despite the increases, operating expenses still outstripped revenues.

It is possible that traffic is not bad enough outside of the morning and afternoon rush hours to push motorists over to the EZ Pass lanes on 495.

“It may also show that it takes only a minor intervention to remove enough cars from the main lanes to let them flow better,” said Schwartz, who said the 14-mile corridor is simply pushing the bottleneck further up the road.

Even Transurban’s McGurk says many customers who have been surveyed complain that once they reach the Express Lanes’ northern terminus at Rt. 267 (Dulles Toll Road), the same terrible traffic awaits them approaching the American Legion Bridge.

Express Lanes a litmus test for larger issues

The success or failure of the 495 Express Lanes will raise one of the region’s most pressing questions as it looks to a future of job and population growth: how best to move people and goods efficiently. Skeptics of highway expansions, even new facilities that charge tolls as a form of congestion pricing, say expanding transit is cheaper and more effective.

“An approach that gives people more options and reduces driving demand through transit and transit-oriented development may be the better long-term solution. But we’ve never had these DOTs give us a fair comparison between a transit-oriented investment future for our region and one where they create this massive network of HOT lanes,” said Schartz, who said a 2010 study by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments pegged the cost of a tolled network of 1,650-lane miles of regional highways at $50 billion.

Transportation experts say a form of congestion pricing, either tolled lanes or a vehicle miles traveled tax, may be part of a regional solution to congestion. The public, however, needs to be explained why.

“As long as the majority of system remains non-tolled and congested then you are not going to solve the problem,” said Joshua Schank, the president of the Eno Center for Transportation, a D.C.-based think tank.

“Highways in this region are drastically underpriced. People are not paying enough to maintain them and they certainly are not paying enough to pay for the cost of congestion. The American people have been sold a bill of goods because they have been told that roads are free. Roads cost money,” he added.

The 495 Express Lanes are dynamically-priced, meaning the tolls increase with demand for the lanes. The average toll per trip in the highway’s first six weeks of operations was $1.07, according to Transurban records. As motorists enter the lanes they see signs displaying how much it will cost to travel to certain exits, but no travel time estimates are displayed. “It is important to be very clear to drivers about the benefit of taking those new lanes, and I am not sure that has happened so far,” said Schank, who said it is too early to conclude if the Express Lanes are working as designed.

“It’s hard to know if it works by looking whether the lanes are making money. I don’t know if that is the right metric. It’s the right metric for Transurban, but it’s not necessarily the right metric from a public sector perspective,” he said. “The real metric is to what extent does it improve economic development and regional accessibility, and that’s a much harder analysis that takes some real research and time.”

Follow @MartinDiCaro on Twitter.

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Transportation Nation

Feds Set Uniform Standards For Sandy Rebuilding

Thursday, April 04, 2013

U.S. Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood came to the Meadowlands of NJ to announce new post-Sandy rebuilding regulations. (photo by Jim O'Grady)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Build higher. That's what the federal government is saying to the owners of structures badly damaged by Sandy. Northeast flood zones now have tougher re-building requirements that apply across the board: to houses, businesses and government infrastructure.

Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood stood in front of an Amtrak electrical station in a New Jersey swamp to make their point: any structure more than half destroyed by Sandy that is being rebuilt with federal funds, must be lifted higher than before. The new standards require a building owner to consult an updated FEMA flood map, find the new recommended height for his structure and then lift it a foot above that.

LaHood explained why: "So that people don't have to go through the same heartache and headache and backache that it's taken to rebuild."

LaHood says the Amtrak electrical plant, which was knocked out by Sandy, will be lifted several feet at a cost of $25 million. A statement from the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force has details on the new standards:

WASHINGTON – Today, the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force announced that all Sandy-related rebuilding projects funded by the supplemental spending bill must meet a single uniform flood risk reduction standard. The standard, which is informed by the best science and best practices including assessments taken following Hurricane Sandy and brings the federal standard into alignment with many state and local standards already in place, takes into account the increased risk the region is facing from extreme weather events, sea level rise and other impacts of climate change and applies to the rebuilding of structures that were substantially damaged and will be repaired or rebuilt with federal funding. As a result, the new standard will require residential, commercial, or infrastructure projects that are applying for federal dollars to account for increased flood risk resulting from a variety of factors by elevating or otherwise flood-proofing to one foot above the elevation recommended by the most recent available federal flood guidance.

 This is the same standard that many communities in the region, including the entire state of New Jersey, have already adopted – meaning federally funded rebuilding projects in the impacted region often already must comply with this standard.  In fact, some communities require rebuilding higher than this minimum standard and if they do so, that stricter standard would supersede this standard as the minimum requirement.

 “Communities across the region are taking steps to address the risks posed by climate change and the Federal Government needs to be a partner in that effort by setting a single clear standard for how federal funds will be used in rebuilding,” said Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, who also chairs the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force. “Providing this guaranteed minimum level of protection will help us safeguard our investment and, more importantly, will help communities ensure they are better able to withstand future storms.”

 “President Obama has called on us to invest in our nation’s infrastructure—and that includes ensuring that our transit systems, roads, rails and bridges are built to last,” said Transportation Secretary LaHood, who joined Secretary Donovan in making the announcement in New Jersey today. “The flood risk reduction standard is a common sense guideline that will save money over the long-term and ensure that our transportation systems are more resilient for the future.”

 Today’s announcement does not retroactively affect federal aid that has previously been given to property owners and communities in the Sandy-impacted areas.  It also does not impact insurance rates under the National Flood Insurance Program, which is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Moving forward the federal standard applies to substantial rebuilding projects (i.e. when damage exceeds 50 percent of the value of the structure) that will rely on federal funding.

 The specific steps that these types of structures will need to take include:

  • Elevating – the standard would require structures to elevate their bottom floor one foot higher than the most recent flood risk guidance provided by FEMA; and/or
  • Flood-proofing – in situations where elevation is not possible, the standard will require structures to prepare for flooding a foot higher than the most recent flood risk guidance provided by FEMA – for example, by relocating or sealing boilers or other utilities located below the standard elevation

These additional steps are intended to protect communities from future risk and to protect taxpayer investments over the long term. 

The programs which received funding in the supplemental bill and will be impacted by this standard include:

-          HUD: Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery program

-          HHS: Construction and reconstruction projects funded by Social Services Block Grants and Head Start

-          FEMA: Hazard Mitigation Grant Program and the Public Assistance Program

-          EPA: The State Revolving Fund (SRF) programs

-          DOT: Federal Transit Administration's Emergency Relief Program, as well as some Federal Railroad Administration and Federal Highway Administration projects

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