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Transportation Nation

Car Sharing, Transit and Bike Access Could Render D.C.'s Parking Minimums Moot

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A parking garage in Georgetown (photo by AlbinoFlea via flickr)

(Washington, D.C. - WAMU) Downsizing parking is necessary to reduce car dependency in D.C., says one real estate expert.

Chris Leinberger, a George Washington University professor and advocate of new urbanism, says D.C. planners’ proposal to eliminate mandatory parking space minimums at new development in transit-rich corridors or downtown D.C. is forward-thinking.

“We don’t want to be in a position where we are still making buggy whips when in fact the market has moved on,” Leinberger said. “Bike lanes and pedestrian activity is a sign of civilization."

Since TN first reported on the proposed zoning change, some motorists have expressed frustration with the possibility it may be more difficult to park in certain neighborhoods. As new development – residential, retail, and office – attracts more residents, shoppers and workers, some motorists believe parking spaces may be tough to find if developers opt not to build underground garages beneath their buildings.

One reason D.C. planners believe new parking structures will not be needed is the growth of car sharing services, like Car2Go, that make car ownership unnecessary.

Car2Go, which charges users $.38 per minute, is marking its first anniversary in Washington this month.  The company says it has 19,000 registered customers in Washington who have taken 350,000 collective trips in the past year.

Leinberger says car sharing services reflect D.C.'s transition to a walkable urban environment that provides options like bike sharing, too.

“If you were to say, certainly ten years ago, but even five years ago that we would have in this city and fifty percent of folks go to work without a car and that forty percent of the households do not have a car, they would have had you committed,” Leinberger said.

Less emphasis on parking spaces also makes fiscal sense, he added.

“We are massively subsidizing the car, massively. All these parking spaces… here in downtown D.C., every one of these parking spaces is worth between $50,000 and $70,000. And we are charging as if they’re worth $10,000,” he said.

What motorists pay to park, either on the street with a residential pass or inside an underground garage, doesn’t come close to the expense of constructing and maintaining the parking spaces.

In his view, motorists will adjust to whatever zoning changes are approved, no matter how unreasonable they may now seem. Alternatives to driving and parking – Metro rail and bus, car sharing, bicycling – are gaining steam.

“If the car drivers are saying, give me everything that I want before you peel my fingers off of the steering wheel, you are not going to get it. You couldn’t build the interstate highway system in a year. It’s going to take time,” Leinberger said.

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Transportation Nation

Post-Sandy Repairs To NYC Subway Will Cause Years Of Disruption

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Tracks coated with the residue of saltwater flooding (photo by Jim O'Grady)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Expect delays. That's the message from the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority as it readies to spend $2 billion in federal relief aid to make repairs to the subway after Sandy.

Flooding from the storm coated thousands of electrical components in parts of the system with corrosive salt water. The MTA says riders can expect more frequent interruptions of service as those switches, signals, and other parts are replaced.

Immediately after Sandy, the MTA scrambled to get the subway up and running, sometimes with components that were damaged by flooding but hastily cleaned and pressed back into service. Much of that equipment is functioning with a shortened life span, and will be replaced.

That means a lot of repair work will be happening in the subways over roughly the next two years. MTA executive director Tom Prendergast says the work will cause more line shutdowns, called "outages."

"The problem we're going to have is how do we do that and keep the system running?" he told members of the transit committee at MTA headquarters in Midtown Manhattan on Monday. "We don't want to foolishly spend money; we want to effectively spend that money in a very short period of time. So there are going to be greater outages."

Except for the still-shuttered South Ferry terminal and severed A train link to The Rockaways, the subway was almost entirely back up and running within a month after the late October storm. But Sandy's invisible fingers, in the form of corrosion, can still play havoc with trains.

MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg said, "The subways have recorded more than 100 signal failures related to Sandy since service was restored after the storm, plus problems with switches, power cables and other infrastructure. Most of those failures happened in yards, but some were on mainline tracks and led to at least short service disruptions."

Twice last week, signals on the R train failed and briefly disrupted rush hour service. The problem was traced to components degraded by salt water caused by flooding in the Montague Avenue tunnel, which connects Brooklyn to Manhattan beneath New York harbor.

The MTA is in line to receive $8.8 billion in federal Sandy relief aid, which is to be split about evenly between repairs and hardening the system against future storms. Projects funded by the first $2 billion must be completed within two years after their start date. That will cause a flurry of repairs in large swaths of the subway--mostly in Lower Manhattan, the East River tubes, and lines serving waterfront areas of Brooklyn.

The MTA already shuts down or diverts train traffic from parts of the system on nights and weekends to upgrade tracks, signals and switches, and otherwise keep the subway in "a state of good repair." Add to that the new Fastrack program that closes sections of lines overnight for several days in a row, allowing work gangs to fix tracks and clean stations without having to frequently step aside for passing trains. And now comes even more disruptions in the form of post-Sandy repair and mitigation.

There's no word yet on when work will commence or on what lines the extra outages will occur, but straphangers would do well to start bracing themselves. Sandy wounded the subway to a greater extent than the eye can see, and it will take years--and extra breaks in service--to return the system to its pre-storm state.

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Transportation Nation

Sequestration Means Less $$$ To Harden Northeast Transit Against Future Storms

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

One of eleven major NY subway tunnels flooded by Sandy. (photo by MTA New York City Transit / Leonard Wiggins)

(New York, NY - WNYC) New York area transit has received a double setback, both having to do with Storm Sandy and what's needed to recover from it: money.

Thanks to the sequester, the U.S. Department of Transportation will be disbursing five percent less in Sandy disaster relief to transit systems damaged by the storm. That means 545 million fewer dollars for the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority; the PATH Train, which connects northern New Jersey to Lower Manhattan; and transit agencies in six northeastern states battered by the storm.

The NY MTA officially learned of the funding reduction in a letter sent Tuesday from the president of the Federal Transit Administration to the authority's acting executive director, Tom Prendergast.

"Dear Tom," the letter began. "I have regrettable news..."

The letter went on to say that "due to inaction by Congress" -- meaning the failed federal budget talks -- there would be less money to recover from Sandy, "the single greatest transit disaster in the history of our nation."

Millions Less For Mitigation

The cut won't be felt right away because the first $2 billion in aid, out of nearly $10.4 billion, is in the pipeline. The NY MTA's first grant was $200 million "for repair and restoration of the East River tunnels; the South Ferry/Whitehall station; the Rockaway line; rail yards, maintenance shops, and other facilities; and heavy rail cars."

The PATH Train, which is operated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, received $142 million "to set up alternative commuter service; repair electric substations and signal infrastructure; replace and repair rolling stock; and repair maintenance facilities."

Future grants were supposed to be used, in part, to protect transportation assets and systems from future disasters. But the letter goes on to say that the cut will curtail those efforts: "FTA will now be required to reduce these investments by the full $545 million mandated by the sequester."

The feds say that the reduced pile of Sandy recovery money means priority will given to reimbursing transit agencies for "activities like the dewatering of tunnels [see photo above], the re-establishment of rail service ... and the replacement of destroyed buses."

Also Affected: A Troubled Megaproject

A spokesman for the NY MTA said the reduction in funds won't affect progress on mega-projects like the Second Avenue Subway and East Side Access, which will bring the Long Island Rail Road into Grand Central Terminal.

"East Side Access and Second Avenue Subway will keep rolling along," the spokesperson said.

But at what cost? In the case of East Side Access, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli gave a detailed answer on Wednesday, which constitutes transit setback number two. He said in a report that the cost of the project had nearly doubled from an original estimate of $4.3 billion to the current price tag of $8.25 billion. The completion date has also been pushed back ten years to 2019.

These semi-appalling facts are generally known. Less well known is the report's conclusion that the NY MTA's current estimates for the East Side Access timetable and final price tag "do not take into account the impact of Superstorm Sandy."

The storm did little to no damage to the project's eight miles of tunnels. But DiNapoli said it diverted NY MTA resources, which resulted in a construction delay at a key railyard in Queens, costing $20 million. The comptroller added, "Within the next three months, the MTA expects to determine whether the delay will have an impact on the overall project schedule."

In other words, there's a chance that East Side Access could be more than ten years late. A spokesman for the NY MTA declined to comment.

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Transportation Nation

California is Least Improved in Highway Conditions

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

The I-880 freeway in Oakland, Calif. (photo by Julie Caine)

California has the worst track record in improving its highways, while spending twice the national average per mile.

That's according to a new study by the Reason Foundation. The libertarian think tank studied improvements to the nation’s highway infrastructure over a 20-year span, contrasted with money spent per mile. They looked into seven categories that represent the state of the highway system: fatalities, deficient bridges, percent of urban and rural interstate highways in poor pavement condition, percent of urban highways that are congested, percent of rural primary roads in poor pavement condition, and the number of rural primary roads flagged as too narrow. The study noted how much each state improved –or worsened– in each category between 1989 and 2008. It turns out that overall, most of the country has made big improvements in highway conditions over the last 20 years.

Lead author Dave Hartgen says he’s not ignoring the problems with the national highway infrastructure, which he admits are plenty. (In its last report card for the nation’s infrastructure, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the country a “D.”) But he says the results prove the United States highway system isn’t “crumbling.”

“The overall condition of the state-controlled road system is getting better and you can actually make the case that it has never been in better shape,” he said in a press release. “The key going forward is to target spending where it will do the most good.”

While the study shows the country is improving, California noticeably lags behind. California was the only state that improved in just two categories: fatalities and deficient bridges. In contrast, 37 states improved in five out of the seven categories and 11 improved in all seven. California fared particularly badly in urban congestion and urban interstate road conditions. The state has two of the most congested metro areas in the country– the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles. And the condition of its California’s urban Interstate roads, like the Bay Area’s hated I-880, have declined by more than 20 percent since 1989. Only Hawaii is worse. Over the twenty years covered by the study, the state spent $5.84 million per mile of highway– more than twice the national average of $2.85 million per mile.

But there is a silver lining: California has reduced its fatality rate by 1.1 fatalities per 100 million miles of highway. That’s the 13th best improvement in the country.

To learn more, check out the full study here.

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Transportation Nation

D.C. Considering Lifting Mandatory Parking Minimums

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

(photo by vpickering via flickr)

The District of Columbia’s Office of Planning is considering a proposal to potentially squeeze the supply of available parking spaces in some neighborhoods as new development attracts more residents and jobs. If successful, it will mark the first major change to the city's zoning code since it was first adopted in 1958.

It's part of a growing city attempt to reduce congestion by offering its residents alternatives to the automobile – from bikes to buses to making walking more attractive.

Planning officials may submit to the zoning commission this spring a proposal to eliminate the mandatory parking space minimums required in new development in transit-rich corridors and in downtown Washington.  The idea squares with the vision of making the district less car-dependent and would let developers decide how many parking spaces are necessary based on market demand.  However, opponents say the plan denies the reality that roughly 70 percent of Washington-area commuters drive and removing off-street parking requirements in apartment and office buildings would force motorists to circle city blocks looking for scarce spaces.

“This is a very dangerous proposal.  We think it threatens the future of Washington, D.C.,” says Lon Anderson, the chief spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, which represents motorists and advocates road construction as a solution for traffic congestion.

A city where a car isn’t a necessity

Thirty-nine percent of D.C. households are car-free. In some neighborhoods with access to public transit, more than 80 percent of households are car-free.  Some recent developments wound up building too much parking to adhere to the mandatory minimums, including the D.C. USA shopping center in Columbia Heights, which is right next to a Metro station and busy bus corridor.

“The parking garage there is probably as twice as big as it needs to be, and the second level is basically not used so the city has had to scramble to find another use for it,” says Cheryl Cort, the policy director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth and advocate of the zoning change.

“Rather than having the government tell the private sector how many parking spaces to build, we think it’s better for the developer to figure out how it best wants to market those units," Cort added.

Developers favor eliminating the mandatory parking minimums because the construction of parking garages, especially underground, is enormously expensive.  Each underground space adds $40,000 to $70,000 to a project’s cost, according to Harriet Tregoning, the director of D.C.’s Office of Planning, who is working on the overhaul of D.C.’s zoning code. The code was last updated in 1958 when planners assumed the automobile would remain the mainstay of individual transportation.

“No matter how much mandatory parking we require in new buildings, if the landlord is going to charge you $200 per month to park in the building and the city is going to let you park on the street for $35 per year, you may very well decide… to park on the street,” Tregoning says. “Many developers are finding they have parking that they can’t get rid of, that they don’t know what to do with.  That’s really a stranded asset.”

Parking-free building coming to Tenleytown

On the corner of Wisconsin Avenue NW and Brandywine Street NW stands what used to be a billiards hall. The property, just a block from the Tenleytown Metro station, has been an eyesore for years. Douglas Development is expected to redevelop the site this year, turning it into a mixed-use retail and residential space with 40 apartment units and no on-site parking.

“When the Zoning Commission looked at this site and DDOT did some analysis, they found a lot of availability of both on-street parking and off-street parking.  There are actually hundreds of parking spaces around this Metro station that go dark at night,” says Cheryl Cort, whose group contends the construction of parking spaces drives up housing costs an average 12.5 percent per unit. If developers can't find a market for those parking spaces, they pass the costs onto tenants.

Douglas Development, which declined to comment on this story, received an exemption from the zoning commission to avoid the parking minimum at the Tenleytown property. Situated close to Metro and planning to market the apartments to car-free residents, the developers escaped having to build 20 spaces under the current regulations in the zone (C-2-A).

Douglas’s plan may look sensible given the conditions in the neighborhood, but AAA’s Anderson says it will cause problems.

“Are you going to have any visitors who might drive there to visit you?  How about your mom and dad, are they going to be coming in? Do they live locally or are they going to be driving in? If so, where are they going to park?” says Anderson, who says the past three years have seen 16,000 new car registrations in Washington.

Fewer cars in D.C.’s future?

In its fight against the parking policy change, AAA is being joined by community activists who claim their neighborhoods will be clogged by drivers looking for parking. Sue Hemberger, a 28-year district resident who does not own a car, says Tregoning’s proposal is too harsh. In her view, district officials are making car ownership a hassle.

“What I see us doing in the name of transit-oriented development is pushing people who won’t forgo car ownership off the edge of the transit grid,” Hemberger says. “I’m worried about the future of certain neighborhoods and I’m worried about the future of downtown.”

Anderson says D.C. is waging a “war on cars,” but Tregoning says changes to zoning regulations are not designed to make motorists’ lives miserable.  On the contrary, the planning director anticipates the number of drivers in the district will grow but they will have enough options to do away with car ownership, like the car sharing services of Zipcar and Car2Go.

“How does your walking, biking, or taking transit affect his ability to drive, accept to make it easier?” Tregoning says in response to Anderson. “The national average household spends 19 percent of income on transportation. In the district, in areas well-served by transit, our number is more like 9 percent of household income. So we happen to think lots of choices are a good thing.”

In 2012 the city of Portland, Oregon, commissioned a study to look at the relationship between car ownership and new development, after apartment construction with little to no on-site parking in the city’s inner neighborhoods raised concerns about the potential for on-street parking congestion.

The study found “that 64 percent of residents are getting to work via a non-single-occupant vehicle. Almost a third (28 percent) of those surveyed belong to car-free households; however, cars are still the preferred mode of travel for many of the survey respondents.”

About two-thirds of the vehicle owners surveyed in Portland’s inner neighborhoods “park on the street without a permit and have to walk less than two minutes to reach their place of residence, and they spend only five minutes or less searching for a parking spot,” the study found.

To Hemberger, the Portland study’s key finding is that people don't give up car ownership just because they commute to work via public transit.  In a city like Washington, Hemberger says, there will not be enough street spot to accommodate new, car-owning residents.

Decision could come this spring

The Office of Planning will submit the proposed removal of parking minimums to the Zoning Commission later this month or early April, where it will go through the public process again before a final decision is made.

“We are a really unique city because we have an amazing number of transportation choices. Our citizens end up paying a lot less for transportation than the rest of the region,” Tregoning says. “I don’t understand why that would be considered a war on cars to try to give people choices, the very choices that actually take automobiles off the road to make it easier to park, to make it easier to drive with less congestion.”

Follow @MartinDiCaro on Twitter.

 

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Transportation Nation

NY MTA Says Charging $1 For A New Metrocard Is Not, As One Rider Claims, "Ridiculous!"

Monday, March 04, 2013

Replacing a beat-up Metrocard (left) with a new one (right) now costs a dollar.

(New York, NY - WNYC) This weekend, New York subway and bus riders were hit with their fourth fare hike in five years. That money is collected with every swipe of a Metrocard--a piece of technology that was introduced 20 years ago and becomes more obsolete by the day. Despite the card's slow slide into obsolescence, riders must now pay a dollar surcharge if they lose or discard their card.

That has some straphangers, like Rich and Jean Wasicki, grumbling. Every six weeks, the couple come to New York from Buffalo to visit their son, a student at Fordham University. Each time, they buy a Metrocard and, after using it, throw the card away. When Rick Wasicki was informed that the practice will now cost him a dollar per card, he blurted, "Ridiculous! Absolutely ridiculous."

Wasicki said it's a lot to ask a Buffalo guy to keep track of his New York City Metrocard. But the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority says it costs $10 million a year to produce those cards. Plus, there's the extra cost to cleaning up cards that riders toss on the ground.

Jean Wasicki countered that the NY MTA profits from some of those discarded cards. "Half the time we put dollars, as out-of-towners, on that card that we ultimately don't end up using," she said. "And so those are dollars that the MTA has in its pocket."

Riders do leave about 50 million unredeemed dollars on Metrocards each year. But the NY MTA says that's not extra revenue. It costs the authority the same amount of money to run subway trains on a schedule, whether Wasicki uses all the value on her Metrocard or not.

Naomi Rosenberg commutes by the 1 train to her job at a non-profit serving the homeless. She wondered why New York can't get rid of the Metrocard for something more convenient, like the Transit Card used in Chicago, where her mom lives.

"My mom has a plastic credit card. It's basically connected to her credit card, her transit card," Rosenberg said.

Her mom's transit card draws money directly from her bank account, and refills automatically. "You don't have to keep track of old cards. It's not paper, it's plastic," she added.

The New York plan was to swap out its Metrocard last year for a bank card with a computer chip that would let riders pay their fare. But not enough banks signed up, and the program was scrapped.

The NY MTA is now building its own transit card. The new technology must be ready by 2019, which is around the time the Metrocard turnstiles and vending machines are expected to wear out. In the meantime, the authority expects to collect $20 million a year from the new Metrocard replacement fee, a dollar at a time.

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Transportation Nation

NY MTA Raises Fares For Fourth Time In Five Years -- What You Need to Know

Friday, March 01, 2013

New York area transit riders will now pay more.

(New York, NY - WNYC) It happens at the stroke of midnight on Saturday: fares go up for riders of subways, buses and express buses in and around New York City, and for drivers who use the NY Metropolitan Authority's eight bridges and tunnels. Fares also jumped for riders of the authority's commuter trains.

It's the fourth time in five years that the MTA has raised fares. The base fare will rise from $2.25 to $2.50, and the pay-per-ride bonus drops from 7 to 5 percent, but kicks in after five dollars instead of the previous ten dollars.

The weekly unlimited ride card goes from $29 to $30, and a monthly pass jumps from $104 to $112.

Riders will also be charged a dollar fee to replace a Metrocard, except if it's damaged or expired. Metrocards can now be refilled again and again with time, dollar value, or both. That means riders can add days to an unlimited card and use the cash on that card to connect to an express bus, the PATH Train or the AirTrain, something that was not possible before.

Long Island Rail Road and MetroNorth riders are also feeling the pinch. The NY MTA says most ticket prices are going up about 8 or 9 percent.

Carol Kharivala, of New Hyde Park, said she only travels to Manhattan once or twice a month. Her senior round-trip ticket went from $10 to $11. Kharivala, who is retired, said the increase won't effect her travel plans, but that the hikes are likely more difficult for daily commuters.

"It does make it more difficult for people that are working because the money they put in the bank is not earning very high interest, and their salaries are not going up, either," she said.

Daily commuter Anthony Fama, also from New Hyde Park, agreed. His monthly fare jumped about $20. "I saw the rate went, if I remember the numbers correctly, from $223 to $242, which is, I guess a little bit more than 8 percent," he said. "Last time I checked, cost of living increase was a lot less than that."

Fama also thinks the hikes are unfair for commuters who don't have any other options. "To take multiple subways or buses, express buses, wouldn't make sense for somebody who puts in more than an eight hour day," he said.

The fare hikes have some commuters thinking about other options.

Chris Barbaria commutes from Atlantic Terminal, Brooklyn, to a carpentry job in Babylon, on Long Island, once a week. He said he's now considering biking the distance, even though the ride would take more than two hours.

"I carry tools and stuff, so it's a long haul, it's about 40 miles out there," he said. "I would certainly ride out, it's just going to add to my commute." Barbaria also said he's surprised by the cost of monthly tickets.

"When I was a kid I used to go to school in the city, and my round-trip monthly was $74 from Lynbrook," he said. "I understand now it's over $250 from Lynbrook, which is insane to me."

--with Annmarie Fertoli

 

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Transportation Nation

Christie Gets to Whiz Thru the Lincoln Tunnel. And He Wants You to Know It.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Governor Christie gets to speed through traffic, and he wants you to know.  Earlier this week, Christie's press office sent out a clip of the Governor, joking with second graders.  Kind of the warm and accessible and funny image Christie's team likes to project.

Speaking Wednesday at a meeting in Montville,  an 8-year old named Audrey asked the Governor what his favorite thing to do is.  There's a "fun" answer to that, Christie said, and it's "going to New York City."  (There's a serious answer to, having to do with making people's lives better.  But back to our story.)

How do you get to NYC? the Governor asked Audrey.

The reply: "Usually I drive to the train station and then we use the train to get to the city."  But not Christie.  "Some people," he said, "in fact a lot of people -- don't take the train. When you're governor, they close the Lincoln Tunnel for you. And you get to drive right through! No traffic! It's the best!"

Wait a minute. The Lincoln Tunnel gets closed when the governor drives through it?

We at TN wondered about that practice, so we asked around.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns and operates the tunnel, would not answer questions about whether this is common practice for the governor -- or anyone else. Neither would they say how often they close the tunnels for this reason. "For the record," said a spokesman, "the Port Authority does not comment on security issues."

Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for Governor Christie, said his office wouldn’t discuss security protocols that are determined by the Port Authority and the governor's executive protection unit.

But two sources familiar with the Port Authority cast doubt on that. "It would take an hour, at least, to close the tunnel," said one source.  "They probably just create some room for him to whisk through. "I’ve never heard of the Port Authority closing the Lincoln Tunnel for a governor before,” said another source.

This was echoed by Veronica Vanterpool, the head of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. “I’ve never heard of the Lincoln Tunnel being closed for a governor," she said. "In fact, I can’t remember it being closed for anything other than a calamity.”

Vanterpool's group, and others, are still steaming about Christie's decision a few years back to halt construction of the ARC transit tunnel under the Hudson River.    That would have mean, planners have said, less traffic for everyone in the Lincoln Tunnel.

 

Transcript:

Christie:  Here's my favorite thing about being governor, on the fun side. Going to New York City. Let me tell you. Have you ever gone to New York City?

Audrey:  Yeah.

Governor: Okay. How did you get there?

Audrey:  Usually I drive to the train station and then we use the train to get to the city.

Governor:  Okay. Some people -- in fact a lot of people -- don't take the train. And a lot of people drive. And maybe when you're on the train and you see the people in all the traffic, trying to get to the Lincoln Tunnel? When you're governor, they close the Lincoln Tunnel for you. And you get to drive right through! No traffic! It's the best! I love going to New York now! I used to hate it because I'd sit in the traffic! Now, no traffic! I love it! That's the most fun thing, on the fun side, about being governor, is going to New York City. In fact, Mary Pat, who -- you know there's lots of things about this job that she doesn't like -- we were going into New York about three weeks ago, and they stopped the traffic. And you go all these odd ways and you go the wrong way on a one-way, it's just great. And all of a sudden there it is, there's the tube and it's completely open and you're flying through. She looked at me and she goes "this never gets old." It might be the major reason she wants me to get re-elected. I'm not sure.

 

 

 

 

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Transportation Nation

City of Alexandria Joins Homeowner Battle Against Location of I-95 Ramp

Friday, March 01, 2013

Outside the Overlook community in Alexandria (photo by Martin Di Caro)

(Washington, D.C. - WAMU) For the first time since they began fighting the construction of a highway ramp near their homes, a coalition of eight homeowners’ groups in Fairfax County and Alexandria are getting some official help in their battle with the Virginia Department of Transportation.

Alexandria city leaders are pledging to lobby state transportation officials to reconsider the placement next to the homeowners’ properties of the planned northern terminus of the future I-95 Express Lanes, 30 miles of high-occupancy toll lanes extending from the Edsall Road area in Fairfax County to Garrisonville Road in Stafford County. The $1 billion public-private project is scheduled for completion in December 2014.

Before winning the public support of Alexandria city hall, the group Concerned Residents of Landmark had been rebuffed by public officials in their bid to convince VDOT to stop construction.

One of the group’s leaders, Mary Hasty, whose home in Alexandria’s Overlook community will stand just 75 feet from the completed exit ramp, says time is running out.

“We’re racing against the clock, yes. And my understanding is that VDOT has accelerated the building project of the ramp because they want it to be done so the opposition will stop,” Hasty said.

VDOT will begin pile driving at the site next week, a significant step in the building process, but Hasty remains steadfast.

“Even if they’ve driven the piles, when the public health issue comes to light, they can stop,” she said.

Alexandria Vice Mayor Allison Silberberg says the city has a responsibility to represent its constituents.

“Science is convincing, and they had an outside firm that’s very prestigious do this research and it is very convincing,” Silberberg said. “We are certainly going to make the case from an environmental and health perspective.”

Concerned Residents of Landmark spent more than $70,000 to hire the national law firm of Shrader & Associates to perform a traffic and environmental analysis of the project. Their study found backed up traffic on the exit ramp will spew a cloud of pollution in excess of federal safety standards, the group said.

“My biggest concern with VDOT is that they failed to fulfill their requirements under NEPA, the National Environmental Policy Act,” said Hasty, who said VDOT did not perform localized studies of pollution impacts on her community.

VDOT officials dispute the homeowners’ accusations.

“Our studies were approved back in the end of 2011 which met all federal and regulatory requirements and that is why we are proceeding with construction today,” said John Lynch, VDOT’s Northern Virginia megaprojects director.  “Their study used a different modeling technique and so we are trying to see why there is a big difference in the outcome of the two models.”

The Shrader study says 80,000 people in Fairfax County and Alexandria will be affected by pollution from vehicles exiting I-95, especially from particulate matter equivalent to what was spewed by the coal-fired GenOn electric plant that was closed down last year after a long battle with Alexandria.

“This is a health issue.  It’s incumbent on our elected officials to carry this message to Richmond,” said Herb Treger, the vice president of the board of directors of Watergate at Landmark, a community of 4,000 residents that joined Hasty’s coalition. “It’s a government project. Government projects can always be stopped. I worked for the government for 40 years.  I know they can be halted until the proper studies are done,” he added.

In order to determine if the project’s environmental impacts met federal safety standards, VDOT studied the location with the most traffic volume in the project corridor, the Springfield interchange, Lynch said.  That “worst case scenario” conformed to federal standards clearing the way for construction throughout the corridor, Lynch said.

“For the localized ‘hotspot’ analysis there are guidelines from the EPA to choose different locations for your project and typically you choose the worst place,” Lynch said. “It’s a qualitative analysis.  If you do it at the worst case scenario then you assume that it is fine everywhere else.”

VDOT has no plans to stop construction.

“We have no intention of going away,” Treger said.

Follow @MartinDiCaro on Twitter.

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The Brian Lehrer Show

Telecom Outages After Sandy

Friday, March 01, 2013

Ilya Marritz, WNYC reporter, talks about his reporting on why some New Yorkers are still grappling with reduced telecom service after Sandy. Is your phone or internet line still down after Sandy knocked it out? Share your story with us (email newsroom@wnyc.org and put "outage" in the subject line) and post your location on the map below.

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Transportation Nation

Anatomy of a Water Main Break

Thursday, February 28, 2013

A water main break rages under the South Millvale Bridge in Bloomfield in January. (Photo courtesy of PWSA)

(Larkin Page-Jacobs, Pittsburgh, WESA) You know it's winter in Pittsburgh when your car is getting beat up by pot-holes, the streets are chalky with salt, and water main breaks proliferate. But what exactly is going on below the pavement?

Clogged pipes, flooded basements and sheets of ice on roadways are some of the visible signs of water main breaks. But many leaks and breaks go undetected -- including sewer line breaks which filter through the soil and along side the pipes for months or years.

At least a quarter of Pittsburgh’s water is lost annually -- much of it to cracked pipes -- but it is the big breaks, the show stoppers, that make it into the news. Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority spokeswoman Melissa Rubin said there are times you can see the water shooting into the air.

“Unfortunately people aren’t typically aware of their infrastructure, they go in, turn on the faucet and there’s water...flush the toilet and that’s great. [But no] thoughts [are] ever put into it until you see water shooting in the air. And oh my gosh you can’t take a shower,” said Rubin.

Miles of Pipes, Countless Breaks

Pittsburgh has 1,200 miles of pipes, many of them around a century old. When they are replaced, the moldering cast iron pipes are changed out for ductile iron pipes for water and PVC for sewers. But Rubin says it is rare that they replace an entire street’s worth of infrastructure because pipes and paving are expensive and the work is disruptive. Instead the process is often piecemeal with pipes being patched or repaired with clamps multiple times before they are finally replaced.

Rubin explained there are two types of breaks: “splits where there’ s a hairline fracture on the side of the pipe, and there’s complete blow outs where it cracks in half.”

Breaks have many culprits. The freezing and thawing cycle of the ground shifts the soil which pushes against the pipes. The make-up of the soil plays a part too – whether it is clay, rocky, or acidic - they all pose problems for long buried pipes. Then there is the engineering standard by which the pipes were placed in their earthen bedding in the first place. Additionally, many of the pipes are tenuously thin from decades of degradation as water wears down the metal. Carnegie Mellon University Professor of Civil Engineering Dave Dzombak said this is common problem in city’s with old infrastructure.

“All metals except for gold and silver corrode when in contact with water," he said, "and that’s a process we call oxidation – long-term contact with water.”

Complicating Factors

Dzombak explained humans also have a hand in certain water main breaks. He points out that breaks frequently occur in clusters which are caused by the very people who are trying to fix the original break.

“There’s a pressure distribution and it’s variable across the system. And if we are fixing one pipe, and we have to close off part of the system, it changes the pressure in other parts of the system and weak spots will fail when we do that. Parts of the system will see somewhat higher pressures, and just enough to take a weak-walled pipe and have it fail. So it’s frustrating – we get one break and fix that and boom, boom, boom around that we start getting other breaks,” said Dzombak.

Yet another complicating factor to repairing water main breaks is the maze of subterranean lines that keep the city humming. The PWSA's Melissa Rubin says the presence of other utilities sharing trenches with the water and sewer pipes is some times indicated by industrial graffiti marking the pavement.

“You see the green arrows and the red, the yellow and the blue. The blue is the water line, green is sewer, red is cable, and yellow is gas – so they all come out and mark so that you’re not damaging other infrastructure in the process of your repair.”

In January a major water main break under Ft. Pitt Boulevard could not be repaired until a nearby gas leak was fixed first.

But short of water pouring onto streets and sudden drops in water pressure, it can be tough for utilities to know when and where a break has occurred. Professor Dzombak technology will meet that need eventually.

“Better monitoring out in the distribution network, better monitoring for pressure, for flows, for quality of water. New technologies are being developed for monitoring that are less expensive. And we’re going to see more and more of that in the years ahead.”

Until then, the city will continue to be on guard for winter’s inevitable disruptions both from the sky and from under the ground.

Follow Larkin on Twitter at @wesalarkin

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Transportation Nation

Washington State Admits Bridge Problems Result Of Design Flaw

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The first new bridge pontoon on its way to Lake Washington in 2012. (Flickr photo/WSDOT)

(Derek Wang - Seattle, KUOW) Washington Secretary of Transportation Paula Hammond said Tuesday that cracks in the pontoons for the state Route 520 floating bridge project were largely the result of a flawed design by the state.

The pontoons are the floating part of the 520 bridge across Lake Washington, the longest floating bridge in the world. They’re huge concrete structures that support the roadway; the larger pontoons are about the length of a football field and weigh the same as 23 Boeing 747 jetliners.

Last year, cracks were discovered in the pontoons for the new bridge, which prompted then-Governor Chris Gregoire to convene an expert panel to review the situation.

The panel released their findings on Tuesday, and found two reasons for the cracks: the contractor didn’t follow the state’s engineering guidelines as it was building the pontoons, and the state had a faulty design.

WSDOT never ran models that tested the pontoon design.

Specifically, the cracks occurred when the steel bands were used to compress the concrete pontoons, a process called post-tensioning. Originally, those bands were inserted through the lengths of the pontoons.

The fix involves using the same technique but in a different direction. WSDOT said it would insert the steel bands across the width of the pontoons and compress the concrete, which should eliminate the major cracks.

Washington Secretary of Transportation Paula Hammond said her department did not follow standards of good practice. She said WSDOT never ran models that tested the pontoon design.

“Engineering is all about analyzing and testing, and checking, whether it’s a pontoon or bridge or highway off ramp. And so I think a step was missed,”she said.

Hammond said she didn’t know why that step was missed, but she said she requested an internal review and heads might roll. “What are the accountabilities for those employees?” she said.

The development comes at a time when there will be a change in leadership at WSDOT. Last week, Governor Jay Inslee announced a new transportation secretary, effective next month.

Hammond said the pontoon problems have been frustrating for her. “I know I’ve taken a very strident approach to lessons learned, what exactly happened, how do we go after making sure this never happens again. And as I leave, if that’s what I can leave the agency, an awareness of what we did wrong and how we can improve ourselves for the future, then I would say that at least that’s a positive note,” she said.

Hammond said the contractor, Kiewit-General Joint Venture, will work to fix the pontoons. The state has about $200 million in its contingency fund to cover the costs. WSDOT will have to negotiate with the contractor to determine which party pays for the repairs of the different cracks, because both WSDOT and Kiewit-General are responsible for the problem.

The work means that the floating section of the bridge will probably open in the fall of 2015, Hammond said. The contract for the floating bridge calls for the project to be open by July 2015, although officials had publicly said they hoped it would be open by the end of 2014.
Follow @DerekJWang on Twitter.

 

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Transportation Nation

VIDEO: Light Sculpture to Brighten the Bay Bridge

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

(Cy Musiker - San Francisco, KQED) The San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge is having its moment.

The new eastern span opens in the fall. And on March 5, artist Leo Villareal will unveil the Bay Lights, a massive light sculpture he's designed for the suspension section connecting Treasure Island to San Francisco.

Working with CalTrans crews, Villareal has hung 25,000 LED lights on the cables on the north side of the bridge.

The project will cost about $8 million, all of it raised by private donations. And Villareal said it will pay off by attracting $97 million in economic activity to San Francisco.

"Really?" I asked. "People are going to fly here to see it?"

"Yes," he said. "Public art is a powerful magnet. Many people are drawn to this."

We were sitting on the Embarcadero, just north of the Bay Bridge. Bells were sounding behind us in the clock tower of the Ferry Building. But Villareal was focused on the sweeping view he had to the south, of the suspension span and the patterns forming in the lights he’s hung.

"For me its all about discovery," he said. "Figuring out what it can do. I don’t know in advance. There’s a lot of chance and randomness in my process, so I’m here to make discoveries."

In his lap Villareal held a remote desktop connected to a computer in the bridge's central anchorage, with which he was orchestrating the lights as he practiced for the show's opening night.

"This is a program that we wrote," he said. "It's called Particle Universe. And we can change their mass, the velocity, gravity. All these things we find in nature. As an artist, I use all these equations and rules as material, really just play with them. I'm just sitting here waiting for something exciting or compelling to happen. When it does I capture that moment, and that becomes part of the mix."

Artist Leo Villareal controls the Bay Lights with his laptop. (Cy Musiker/KQED)

Artist Leo Villareal controls the Bay Lights with his laptop. (Cy Musiker/KQED)

As Villareal spoke, he made the lights seem to fall from the tops of the cables to the bottom. Then a shadow moved across the lights from Treasure Island toward the city, and back again, and then the lights rippled, as though reflecting the waves on the bay below.

"You would think you wouldn't be able to improvise with software," said Villareal. "But I've found ways on involving chance and working intuitively with software. You can spend more time with this that a sign in Las Vegas or Time Square that does one thing for one minute and then repeats over and over again. The other thing that's important for viewers is that they don't feel anxiety that they missed something. At any point that you're ready to jump in, there it is."

I asked Villareal now that he’s spent so much time with the Bay Bridge, the commuter workhorse of the Bay Area, what he makes of its personality. It’s a question he struggled to answer.

"You don’t want to mess with it," he said. "You know I feel a lot of respect for it. I want to add something and augment what's here. These are the icons of the Bay Area, the bridges. I think there's also an honesty and integrity to the piece. That's very similar to what the bridge is like. I've done a couple of cable walks and gone to the top of the bridge and was amazed at how efficient it all is."

Villareal is a regular at the annual Burning Man festival in Nevada, and he says he wants people to gather on the Embarcadero to see the lights, the same way people gather around campfires out on the desert.

It seemed to be working that night as passersby gathered nearby, pointing up to the bridge.

"It looks kind of like some kind of star constellation to me," said Amy Gallie, one of the onlookers. "It becomes ethereal instead of something which is so prosaic that we're used to looking at."

 

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Transportation Nation

Florida's SunRail Is On Pace to Launch in 2014, Gets Another $87 Million in Fed Funds

Friday, February 22, 2013

Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff at Friday's SunRail announcement (photo by Matthew Peddie)

Another infusion of federal cash is keeping central Florida's SunRail project on track to open in 2014.

Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff, speaking on behalf of transportation secretary Ray LaHood, paid a visit to a Florida Hospital in Orlando, where one of the stops for the 61 mile long SunRail line  is being built.  Rogoff was joined by local leaders, state department of transportation officials and Florida lawmakers including U.S. Senator Bill Nelson and U.S. Rep. Corinne Brown.

Rogoff announced the federal government would make $87.3  million available in funding for SunRail, bringing the FTA's investment to date in the Central Florida commuter rail line to $148 million. The Federal government has agreed to pay $178.6 million overall in New Start funds towards construction of the 32-mile long first phase of the line, about half the capital cost.

"We make incremental payments based on the progress of the project," Rogoff said. "They're making great progress, they're ready to spend that money, they're ready to keep these people on the job."

Rogoff highlighted the rail line as a jobs engine, which has already employed 800 people to work in construction.

"But what we're really excited about is all the additional jobs that are coming in from the economic development along the line," he added.

The Florida hospital station is at the heart of a 176 acre "health village" where the hospital is developing medical research offices, apartments and shops.

SunRail officials say there are more than two dozen retail, office, government and residential development projects associated with stations along the rail line, representing $1.6 billion in investment.

"We are here to celebrate the continuing completion of a transportation system for the metro Orlando area that is putting us into the 21st Century," said Senator Bill Nelson (left) "The only thing lacking is the high speed rail which we had $2.5 billion dollars on the table of the federal share," he added. (photo by Matthew Peddie)

Rogoff also talked about the need for additional spending on roads and other infrastructure in Florida-- particularly to fix up hundreds of bridges, highlighting president Obama's call for a $50 Billion infrastructure plan. "If that $50 billion dollars goes through, you're going to see more investment around here, not just on this type of  rail project but on highway and sea port projects that will keep the economy of Florida going."

Asked whether sunshine state might see federal funds in the future for high speed rail, Rogoff said "that is going to depend a lot I believe on the leadership of Florida."

Florida's Governor Rick Scott famously turned down federal money for a high-speed rail line from Orlando to Tampa in 2011.

Meanwhile, SunRail officials say the first phase of the commuter rail line, a 32 mile long stretch from DeBary to Sand Lake Road, will open in 2014.

 

 

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The Takeaway

President Obama Sets Out to Fix a Broken Country

Friday, February 22, 2013

President Obama proposed more infrastructure spending and repair in this year's State of the Union address. But it's a bigger problem than just one speech, or one new initiative, or even the latest $40 billion the president wants to throw at the repair bill we already have around the country.

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Transportation Nation

Virginia House and Senate Negotiators Strike Transportation Funding Deal

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Virginia capitol building (photo by Thruhike98 via flickr)

In a final attempt to reach a compromise on measures to raise substantial new revenues for transportation before the scheduled adjournment of the legislative session, Virginia House and Senate negotiators struck a deal that replaces the state’s gas tax with a lower tax on the wholesale price of gasoline, but raises the sales tax.

The deal eliminates the state’s seventeen-and-a-half cents per gallon gas tax, replacing it with a three-and-a-half percent wholesale tax. It also raises the state sales tax to pay for roads, but not by as much as the governor wanted.  The sales tax would increase from 5 to 5.3 percent under the deal reached by a conference of ten legislators. A $100 registration fee for hybrid and electronic vehicles is also included.

The deal, which would raise approximately $869 million a year when fully implemented, now heads to the House and Senate for floor votes by the end of the week.  While passage in the Republican-led House seems certain, the deal may run into trouble in the Senate, where Democrats and Republicans each hold 20 seats.  Some Democrats remain unhappy with the plan to use general fund (sales tax) revenue to pay for transportation.

“The reduction in the gas tax makes no sense to me,” said Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax). “Obviously I want to raise money for transportation… but it’s a little bit of a shell game, quite frankly. Historically we’ve used sales tax for education and this is a major step in the other direction.”

Petersen calls the $100 registration fee for alternative fuel vehicles “asinine.”

“We want people to drive fuel efficient vehicles.  Why would we penalize them?” he said.

To appease Northern Virginia lawmakers, the negotiators included Governor McDonnell’s proposal to use $300 million in increased sales tax revenue to finance the Silver Line rail extension to Dulles Airport.

The $5.5 billion Silver Line project is managed by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which has lobbied Richmond for funding in order to offset projected toll rate increases on the Dulles Toll Road.  Those tolls are supposed to pay for 75 percent of Phase II of the Silver Line’s construction cost under the current financing arrangement.

‘When it comes to the Silver Line the $300 million is vital to future toll mitigation.  I would hate to think this opportunity would be lost,” said MWAA chief executive Jack Potter.

The negotiators’ deal created an unexpected potential difficulty for the Silver Line extension. The agreement requires that Loudoun County approve a countywide commercial and industrial tax (C&I) in order to be eligible for state transportation dollars for local projects. However, in 2012 the county created two special tax districts around its future Silver Line station stops.  Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles District) says an additional C&I tax would make the county uncompetitive with surrounding jurisdictions in attracting businesses.

“If the Legislature moves forward with this proposal it would force us to reexamine our funding mechanism for Metro [Silver Line] and create a great deal of doubt,” Letourneau said in an interview with WAMU 88.5.

Loudoun's participation in the Silver Line project is vital to eventually extending rail to Dulles International Airport.

In addition to the special tax districts for the coming commuter rail, Loudoun’s Board of Supervisors has in place a special tax district for businesses along its busy Rt. 28 corridor. A C&I tax of 12.5 cents per $100 assessed property value would render the county at a steep disadvantage to neighboring Fairfax, Letourneau said.

Follow Martin Di Caro on Twitter.

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Transportation Nation

White House Infrastructure Plan Shifts Focus from New Building to Repair

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

President Barack Obama's new $50 billion infrastructure plan -- a remarkably consistent number he's pushed several times before -- has a twist.  This time, the President wants to prioritize fixing roads and bridges over building new ones, which has been the previous focus of most U.S. government transportation spending.

"The new plan focuses on 'fix-it-first,'  according to a U.S. DOT spokesman, "prioritizing the most crucial repair projects that we can fix right away to keep our economy moving. "

In his state of the union speech, the President raised the specter of 70,000 structurally deficient bridges.  That's not a new number--nor does it mean those bridges are in danger of imminent collapse--but it's an alarming one.

President Obama has long argued for infusions of infrastructure spending to jump-start the economy, and to, um, pave the way for a more economically secure future.

But Congress hasn't passed any of them, and now Washington is deeply mired in strategies to avoid the cuts brought on by the so-called "sequester," a provision of the 2011 debt deal.

"The more the President talks about 'fix-it-first,' the better," said Phinneas Baxandall of U.S. PIRG.

Fifty billion dollars, by the way, is just about the same amount Congress just approved to fix damage caused by storm Sandy.

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Transportation Nation

D.C. Metro Employees Will Soon Be Able to Anonymously Report Safety Hazards

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

(photo by Susan Sermoneta via flickr)

Metro employees will soon be able to anonymously report "close calls" and other safety hazards.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) is working with the federal government to set up  a hotline. It's one of the recommendations made by the National Transportation Safety Board after a deadly 2009 Red Line crash that killed nine people and injured 80 others. That crash was the deadliest episode in Metro history, and ensuing investigation uncovered rampant safety problems at the transit agency.

WMATA is working with the rail worker's union to establish the confidential “close call” reporting system. The goal is to catch potential safety hazards that would otherwise go undetected by Metro’s usual safety reporting systems. Metro employees would be able to report problems without fear of retribution.

“This is a partnership with our union, Local 689 Amalgamated Transit Union, and we are working out a memorandum of understanding with the union to determine the parameters of the program,” said Andrea Burnside, Metro’s chief performance officer. “It is very important to have it confidential because employees will not be willing to participate in the program.”

Exactly what would constitute a “close call” is being hammered out in negotiations with the union, Burnside said.

Improving safety -- and convincing the public their safety on the rail lines is being taken seriously -- ranks as a Metro priority since the Red Line crash. WMATA approached the U.S. Department of Transportation's Bureau of Transportation Statistics for help in creating the reporting program.

"Systems that allow confidential reporting of safety violations are an important part of creating a safety culture in an organization," said DOT spokesman Justin Nisly in an email to Transportation Nation. "The Bureau of Transportation Statistics currently operates a similar safety reporting system for rail that analyzes safety issues to identify trends, new sources of risk, and helps develop preventive safety actions to address them.  Because of that expertise, WMATA approached the BTS to help set up their close call reporting program."

New Jersey Transit was the first passenger rail system in the country to establish a confidential reporting system, back in 2009.

“We are getting a positive response,” said New Jersey Transit spokeswoman Nancy Snyder, who said their program is creating a culture where employees are more apt to report problems from the serious to the more routine. “When they see some infrastructure issues they report it to us. They don t have to worry about any type of reprimand,” Snyder said. “Rail yard efficiencies have improved. We‘re getting improved safety in and around our yards as well as operational efficiencies during our morning rush hours and afternoon rush hours.”

Based on New Jersey Transit's program, the U.S. DOT estimates it may receive 400 close call reports each year in D.C. But Burnside cautions that Metro's system is different than New Jersey's, and the definition of what would constitute a "close call" on Metro rail has yet to be determined.

A potential start date for Metro's program has not been established.  The "close call" program is part of Metro's long-range strategic plan.

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Transportation Nation

NJ Gov Christie: "Chewed Away" Shore Road Will Be Rebuilt

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A coastal Jersey roadway ravaged by Sandy will take two years and over $215 million to repair.

Aerial photographs of the Mantoloking Bridge and Route 35, before and after Sandy (image by NASA Goddard Photo and Video via flickr)

Speaking Tuesday in the shore town of Lavalette, Governor Chris Christie said the state has received federal funding to rehabilitate a 12.5 mile stretch of Route 35 running from Point Pleasant Beach to Island Beach State Park.  The road, which is a block from the Atlantic Ocean, "sustained some of the most severe damage in the state," said Christie. "Thousands of truckloads of debris and sand" were removed in the days after the storm, he said, and the road was "chewed away" in places. In Mantoloking (see above), the storm cut a new inlet between the ocean and the bay.

Christie said the scope of the damage left him with a decision: "Build back to where we were, or rebuild better and stronger." He added: "our decision is to rebuild better and rebuild now."

The new roadbed will be 24 inches thick instead of the current eight -- incorporating both an asphalt pavement top and sub-base materials to act as drainage and stabilization. There will also be a new drainage system and pump stations. "The new system will be built to handle 25-year storms, which is the maximum attainable given the peninsula's geology," reads the press release.

That's reasonable, says Dr. Tom Bennert, pavement expert at Rutgers' Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation. He said  the force of the water generated by Sandy was tremendous.

"It would be very difficult for any structure, even pavement, to withstand that," he said. "A 25-year flood, based on the geology, based on the fact that there is quite a high water table in that area, you’re only going to be able to drain so much, is a very realistic target."

Bennert said he was glad to see the state pay attention to the drainage system, which he said is critical. "It’s kind of hard to visualize," Bennert says, "because when we’re driving on the road we just see the top. But really there’s six to 12 inches of asphalt below that, then granular material used as a foundation to support the asphalt."  That granular material provides drainage to make sure if water gets in, it doesn’t stay there.

Bennert also said Route 35 needed work even before Sandy hit. "A lot of our pavements in this state have lived past their design life," he said, and that includes Route 35.  "It was a pavement that was built quite a while ago and honestly...really needed to be reconstructed to begin with."

The project is being divided into three phases. The first section of the road to be repaired will be the northernmost stretch, which currently has just one travel lane open in each direction. Work will begin this summer.

According to New Jersey Department of Transportation spokesman Tim Greeley, "the Complete Streets model has been incorporated into our design for all three contracts." He says the state will be installing new sidewalks, as well as upgrading many existing intersections with ADA-compliant curb ramps, high visibility crosswalks and some pedestrian signal heads at certain locations.

Greeley adds: "While there are no dedicated bike lanes planned, the reconstructed roadway shoulders will be built to the same strength as the travel-lanes and will therefore provide a safer and smoother ride for cyclists."

The New Jersey Department of Transportation says that while it tries to limit summer construction along shore highways, work on Route 35 will be ongoing throughout 2013. At least one lane of traffic will be open in each direction at all times.

To watch Governor Christie make the funding announcement, see the video below.

For more, check out the WNYC series Life After Sandy.

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Transportation Nation

SF Mayor Pledges to Fix Muni

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A crowded Muni bus (photo CC by Flickr user Art Siegel)

When he came into office last year, San Francisco mayor Ed Lee said fixing Muni wasn’t a priority for him.

But in his 2013 State of the City address, Mayor Lee devoted almost ten minutes of his speech to the often-reviled public transit system.

Muni’s cars and buses are often overcrowded, sometimes to the point where they can’t stop to take on new passengers. And about 40 percent of Muni vehicles run late, according to an independent analysis by the Bay Citizen published last June. It’s a system so hated by some riders, it even provokes poetry (read “Ode to (Not Muni) Transit" from Muni Diaries). Lee said he sympathized with a ridership plagued by overcrowded chronically late buses, and he promised that changes to Muni are coming soon.

“I know it’s frustrating to push your way onto an overcrowded train or watch an overloaded bus go by,” said Lee. “And I understand the anxiety that comes with being late to work, late to pick up your kids or late to school because you were on time, but your bus wasn’t. I am very pleased to report that positive changes are underway, and with the full support and leadership of the MTA Board of Directors, the nation’s seventh largest public transit agency is once again focused on operations and investing in infrastructure, in maintenance and in safety.”

He concluded by unveiling the “San Francisco Transportation 2030 Task Force,” a group designed to tackle the city’s transportation problems.

But San Franciscans won’t have to wait for the task force to report back to learn what some of these changes are going to be. In 2008, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) started a project called the Transit Effective Program. Known as the TEP, the project began a as a comprehensive effort to overhaul the Muni system. It’s focused on two major issues: making changes that minimize delays on the Rapid Service lines and restructuring regular bus routes to reduce crowding and tardiness.

So far, the TEP has proposed some major changes to Muni. Of Muni’s 79 lines, 32 will have changes to their routes and 40 will have changes to their stop frequency. Six lines will have entirely new routes and three will be eliminated. Designed around the city’s changing commute patterns and congested areas, the SFMTA hopes that these changes will streamline the system and increase Muni’s reliability.

The TEP also proposes some changes to Muni’s Rapid Network corridors. The Rapid Network is a group of 12 exceptionally busy lines that officials have identified as routes they’d like to make faster and more frequent. These are so-called “engineering changes,” or improvements that physically change the structure of certain intersections and transit stops. Think adding “Muni-only” traffic lanes, building new boarding islands, and replacing stop signs with traffic lights.

There are already a couple of TEP pilot projects going on right now. One is taking place along a three-block stretch of Church Street, a busy road in the city’s center. SFMTA has made one of the lanes “transit-only,” meaning only  buses and taxis can use it. It lets Muni bypass the usual traffic and should reduce delays, according to the SFMTA engineers.

Currently, the SFMTA’s Planning Department is busy making sure the rest of the TEP proposals meet California’s environmental standards. The final draft of the Environmental Impact Report is expected in about a year. After that, the SFMTA will implement as many proposals as they can get funding for.

Now riders will just have to wait and see whether these changes are really going to be effective.

Follow Isabell Angell on Twitter: @IsabeltheAngell

 

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