Friday, February 15, 2013
By Jim O'Grady
(New York, NY - WYNC) Now that post-Sandy repairs to New York's transportation infrastructure are in full swing, attention is shifting toward hardening the city's bridges, tunnels and roads against future storm surges.
U.S Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood came to Manhattan to hand over $250 million to reimburse the city Department of Transportation for repairs it's making to its storm-damaged facilities. LaHood also said $5 billion is on the way to make those same facilities resilient in the face of future storms.
It's unclear how much of that money could come to New York City. But U.S. Senator Charles Schumer gave examples of how it could be spent locally.
"Once they repair the inside of the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, they can put, if they choose, steel gates, to prevent another flood," he said. He also talked about raising coastal roads and building dunes to shelter highways from the ocean.
New York City Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, who joined LaHood and Schumer, said Sandy caused the city "$900 million worth of damage to city roads, bridges, our ferry system, signals, signs--an extraordinary amount of damage."
By way of example, she said The Battery Park Underpass at the tip of Lower Manhattan was filled with 15 million gallons of water (see photo). When it comes to reducing that kind of vulnerability to storm damage, Sadik-Khan said her department "has a long way to go."
Schumer praised LaHood for delivering the $250 million in repair money less than a month after it's authorization by Congress, which he called "a world record" in the realm of post-disaster relief. He explained that the funds will be used in part to reimburse the city for repairs it has already undertaken.
"The mayor couldn't sit there and wait and say, 'We'll fix the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel when the federal money comes,'" he said. "The city had to lay out enormous sums of money."
Some of the money has been spent on repairing the vents and electrical system of the Battery Park Underpass , fixing flood-damaged parts of the Staten Island Ferry terminals, shoring up bridges, and replacing highway lights and guardrails.
Sadik-Khan said the mayor's office will release a report in May about how to harden the city's infrastructure against future storms, including roads and bridges .
Friday, February 15, 2013
Of the many options for political humor served up earlier this week in the State of the Union speech, the Daily Show's Jon Stewart chose infrastructure. Yup, bridges. With his usual exuberant brand of comic outrage he even went so far as suggesting President Obama should have made infrastructure the top issue in the State of the Union speech.
You can start the video two minutes in for the best part.
Stewart: "Shouldn't you have led the speech with that one?" Stewart implores. "I mean, c'mon, shouldn't you have just opened with that one. Or broken into whatever programming was scheduled the night you found that BLEEP out?!?!"
He goes on to suggest what the speech might have been like if Obama had focused entirely on crumbling bridges, and even gives a special, ignoble mention of the Tappan Zee, which we've covered extensively.
According to a TN analysis before the previous SOTU, bridges and infrastructure were pretty common words mentioned by Obama in public speeches.
Investigation: Washington Airport Agency Leadership Targeted Pro-Labor Board Members in Rail Line Fight
Thursday, February 14, 2013
By Martin DiCaro : WAMU
(Washington, D.C, - WAMU) A former board member of the authority in charge of airports in the Washington, D.C. region is accusing the agency's leaders of not telling the whole truth in testimony before Congress, and internal emails suggest three current authority board members worked with officials in Richmond, Va. to remove one of their colleagues, an investigation by WAMU has found.
The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) is trying to rebuild the public's trust after a tumultuous 2012. But key officials who remain in their MWAA posts were involved in the political maneuvering that ended in the resignations of two pro-labor, Democratic board members who, their opponents say, were threatening the completion of the Silver Line: Mame Reiley and Dennis Martire, who supported a controversial pro-union provision for the construction of the rail project's second phase.
Twenty-three pages of emails obtained by WAMU suggest that Republican board members Tom Davis and Todd Stottlemyer, as well as Democrat Rusty Conner, were aware of Gov. Bob McDonnell’s intention to remove Dennis Martire from the MWAA board and communicated with Republican officials in Richmond to secure Martire's removal.
And former MWAA board member Bob Brown, a Democrat, says agency CEO Jack Potter and board vice-chairman Tom Davis did not tell the whole truth when they told members of a House subcommittee last November that the hiring of Mame Reiley to a staff position was only Potter’s idea.
The emails, along with Brown's allegation, suggest that an agency designed to be insulated from political pressures was riven by them. The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is comprised of four jurisdictions: D.C., Maryland, Virginia, and the federal government (three board members are presidential appointees). The board members terms are staggered to prevent any single mayor or governor from exerting excessive influence over the appointment process. Yet it appears the Republican administration of Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell sought to replace members of the board of directors not when their terms expired but through political pressure exerted by its allies.
‘Not illegal, but against the grain’
Reiley resigned from the board in February, citing health concerns, and began a new, $180,000 per year position shortly thereafter.
“Nobody did anything illegal, but it goes against the grain, of the notion of these kinds of non-political regional agencies,” said Brown.
Brown says Davis, who was appointed by McDonnell, orchestrated the hiring of Reiley to a special position created for her. Brown says he knows this because both Reiley and Davis told him so.
“Tom was the one that conceived of the idea of how to persuade Mame Reiley to resign her seat and open up that prior Democratic appointment for McDonnell to fill,” Brown says.
By replacing Reiley on the MWAA board of directors with Todd Stottlemyer, the McDonnell administration secured another Republican vote against a pro-labor provision included in the bidding process for Phase 2 of the Silver Line. McDonnell and Republicans in the General Assembly fought against that provision, known as a PLA or project labor agreement, and the all-Republican Loudoun County Board of Supervisors threatened to pull out of the project over it.
MWAA had defended the pro-labor provision against these attacks for months, but bowed to this pressure and voted to kill the PLA on June 6.
Davis denies he orchestrated Reiley’s hiring. Reiley did not return calls and emails seeking comment.
“There are other people, who I am not going to get into, that basically initiated this conversation,” Davis said. “I didn't have a dog in that fight but I thought getting her off the board frankly at that point would be a win-win for everybody. So I acquiesced and didn't raise an objection to it.”
Potter, the MWAA CEO, finalized Reiley's hiring and continues to take sole responsibility for the decision — a decision that was among questionable dealings highlighted in an audit by the U.S. Department of Transportation last year.
“I stand by what I testified in front of Congress. I made the decision on the hiring and it was my sole decision. I made the decision to hire Mame Reiley, period,” Potter told WAMU 88.5 in an interview this week.
Potter noted in his November testimony, “My judgment was not good in terms of the hiring of that person.” He added, however, that the position was necessary to develop land to offset rising costs at Dulles International Airport.
Davis testified at the same hearing that he knew the job was being created for Reiley.
“I was aware. There were board members it was run by,” Davis testified. “This was a complicated situation.”
Board members emailed about Martire’s ouster
McDonnell on June 14, 2012 attempted to remove Dennis Martire from MWAA's board "for cause." It was just one week after the board voted to remove the pro-labor provision from the Silver Line bid process. Martire supported the PLA but had also been embarrassed by accusations that he abused MWAA’s travel policy.
Emails sent by Davis, Stottlemyer, and board member Rusty Conner suggest they knew of the governor's intention to dump Martire in February — four months earlier, according to emails which were obtained from a Fairfax Circuit Court filing.
In an email sent on Feb. 18, 2012 Davis wrote to David Speck, a former MWAA board member and member of Virginia’s House of Delegates. “I think they will try to remove Denny so that means two more [board] openings,” the email from Davis reads. “ [Virginia Transportation Secretary] Sean Connaughton is the key decision maker. It may be helpful for them to keep this bipartisan.”
A Fairfax Circuit Court judge blocked the governor’s attempt to remove Martire. The board member eventually settled his legal dispute with the commonwealth and agreed to resign his board seat.
Davis admitted he wanted Martire off the board, but insists it was not for political reasons, and that there was nothing improper in him supporting the labor leader’s removal.
“My job was to try to get a rail system built. This board was dysfunctional. It wasn't just the PLA. It was the lack of transparency. There were 20 things going wrong at that point,” Davis told WAMU 88.5 in an interview.
One of those things going wrong was the insertion of the labor agreement into the bidding process for Phase 2 of the Silver Line, which would have awarded contractors a bonus in their bidding scores if they agreed to enter into a voluntarily labor agreement with the workforce building the rail line. As a right-to-work state, Virginia’s General Assembly voted to withhold $150 million in funding if the PLA provision remained.
Project costs would have escalated under the project labor agreement, Davis argues. But Potter sees a value in such agreements; he credits the PLA Phase 1’s construction with keeping the project on time and on budget.
“The project labor agreement included a no-strike clause. It assured that there was an available trained workforce for the project. It produced an outstanding safety record. It provided management flexibility in the form of flexible work schedules that were very much needed given the nature of the type of work that was being done,” Potter said at an MWAA board meeting.
Bids for Phase 2 of the Silver Line construction are due by April 19.
In mid-May, Davis emailed fellow board member Conner, telling him that the PLA would be overturned June 6. "We all need to keep powder dry until then including Richmond," meaning the move to remove Martire should wait until after the PLA vote.
Conner emailed back, "Call Sean [Connaughton] and tell him not to pull the trigger on Martire until the 7th,” referring to the Virginia transportation secretary.
But Connaughton says it wasn’t his call; the Governor had the final say on Martire’s removal.
“The airports authority members are supposed to be representing the interests of the people that they were appointed by,” Connaughton said. “Each one is governed by the laws of the jurisdictions that appointed them. They are not supposed to be off doing things that are contrary to the interest of the jurisdictions in the region.”
In a June 1 email, Davis seems to joke that Martire may "keep his parking if he resigns, not if he is removed."
MWAA provided Martire $855,000 to pay his legal fees. The authority also provided Davis, Stottlemyer, and fellow board member Rusty Conner $196,000 for their legal fees incurred fighting subpoenas for 700 emails requested by Martire’s lawyers. The emails cited in this story were part of that filing. The $196,000 was paid to the law firm DLA Piper, where board member Rusty Conner is a partner.
"A Clean Sweep"?
Despite MWAA’s efforts to turn over a new leaf on ethics and practices, one government watchdog said the continued political infighting will affect the agency’s ability to perform its duties.
“Given all that has gone in the past couple of years with the board, it really seems like the best course of action would be a clean sweep and an entirely new set of board members,” said Melanie Sloan, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
Both the MWAA board chairman Michael Curto and CEO Jack Potter should also resign after being implicated in the Department of Transportation audit, Sloan said.
“It’s impossible for the public to have confidence in board members who engage in conduct like that,” she said.
Follow Martin Di Caro on Twitter @MartinDiCaro
Wednesday, February 13, 2013
By Matthew Schuerman : Editor, WNYC
For people who thought barriers around cities became unfashionable when the Berlin Wall fell two decades ago, consider this: The mayor of Hoboken, N.J., thinks walls may be the best way to protect this compact city of 50,000 from future storms like Sandy.
Wednesday, February 13, 2013
By Kate Hinds
New Jersey Transit says it could be next fall before service is restored to pre-Sandy levels. And the cost of its damage is now pegged at $450 million -- a $50 million increase over previous estimates.
Speaking Wednesday at a board meeting, NJ Transit executive director Jim Weinstein said the agency was still assessing the damage and putting together its request for federal aid. The $450 million figure includes approximately $100 million in damage to rail cars and locomotives, as well as approximately $20 million in lost revenue. Weinstein said insurance will be covering the damage to rail cars and locomotives, and the agency is also submitting a request to the Federal Transit Administration for funding.
But full recovery will take more than money. During the storm surge, replacement parts for rail cars and locomotives were damaged. And these are not off-the-shelf items. So Weinstein says bringing service back to pre-Sandy levels will take some more time. “All of the equipment back? I mean we're talking the better part of a year,” he said.
Right now, service is at about 94% of pre-Sandy levels. Weinstein said that number will increase further in March, when repairs are complete at Hoboken’s electrical substation, allowing the electric trains that ply the Gladstone and Morris & Essex Lines to operate again. Right now those lines must use diesel locomotives, which are slower than electric.
Also on the agency’s agenda: finding a more flood-proof rail yard. During Sandy, trains and equipment were stored in low-lying rail yards. Officials have maintained there was no need to move them because the areas had never flooded before. But now, the agency is looking to expand a rail yard south of New Brunswick to provide a safe harbor for trains and equipment during future storms. When asked if the new storage facility would be in place in time for hurricane season, Weinstein answered tersely.
"No, I don't want it to be in place by the next hurricane season," he said. "It will be in place by the next hurricane season."
Wednesday, February 13, 2013
By Jim O'Grady
(New York, NY - WNYC) Pulses were sent racing today when it was apparently revealed that the World Trade Center transportation hub, already years behind schedule, had suffered another setback because of Sandy.
Cheryl McKissack Daniel, a consultant for the $3.8 billion project, told the New York Times that water damage had significantly pushed back the hub's completion date of 2015.
"And now, after Sandy, that added another year and a half to the whole project," she said. "Everything was flooded — everything was new and flooded. And all of that had to be replaced because it’s all electrical work."
Not so, say spokesmen for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the Tishman Construction Corporation, which has a major hand in building the hub. It was designed by star architect Santiago Calatrava.
"The anticipated completion date for the World Trade Center transportation hub remains 2015," said the Port Authority's Anthony Hayes. Tishman spokesman Brendan Ranson-Walsh echoed the sentiment in an emailed statement:
"Ms. McKissack Daniel incorrectly informed The NY Times about the completion date of the WTC Transportation Hub. Per the Port Authority of NY and NJ, which is overseeing the project, the anticipated completion date of the Hub is 2015. No change in date has been announced by the Port Authority."
Hayes said further that no part of construction at the World Trade Center has been delayed by Sandy, even though the site was inundated with millions of gallons of water. "There has been no impact because of Sandy in terms of completion times at the World Trade Center," he said.
Tuesday, February 12, 2013
By Jim O'Grady
(New York, NY – WNYC) The NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority says it’ll take two to three years and $600 million dollars to completely repair the South Ferry subway station, shuttered since storm Sandy. In the meantime, the authority is looking for ways to partially re-open the station and restore 1 train service to the tip of Manhattan.
“We can’t have the impacts that people are experiencing today” go on much longer, said MTA executive director Tom Prendergast.
He was referring to the thousands of riders who pour off the Staten Island Ferry each weekday and must now walk several blocks to connect to the 1 train. Before Sandy inundated South Ferry, those riders could catch the 1 train quickly and easily by entering the spacious station and walking down a flight of stairs.
The MTA won’t give a timeline for the station's partial re-opening. That led City Councilman David Greenfield to ask whether Prendergast could provide “a timeline on when you would have a firm timeline?”
Prendergast answered, “No.” But he later said the authority could offer a timeline in "two or three months." Prendergast said he’s ruled out shuttle buses to replace the missing train service because the buses can’t carry enough riders, even when "swinging low," which is transit-speak for full-to-bursting.
He added that the NY MYA is thinking about re-activating the old South Ferry station, a landmark that was mothballed when the new station got a top-to-bottom rehab and expansion thanks to $545 million in post-9/11 recovery funds. (The new station opened in 2009.) But the old station, with its tightly curved tracks, would need platform extenders and new entrances.
"There's also some equipment that’s now mounted on the platform," said MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg.
Tuesday, February 12, 2013
By Martin DiCaro : WAMU
(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) For the first time Gov. McDonnell says he is willing to compromise on his plan to eliminate the state's gas tax, an idea Senate Democrats are unhappy with because it would shift transportation funding to general revenues.
"I think we can talk about that," says McDonnell. "I think this is the best solution to be able to eliminate it."
On Tuesday, the Virginia State Senate will take up Gov. Bob McDonnell's transportation funding plan that passed the House of Delegates last week. But what the governor still calls the "best solution" is still dead on arrival in the Senate.
"We will have to compromise. There's no way I'm voting for a total elimination of the gas tax. That's absolutely insane," says Democratic Sen. Chap Petersen, who represents parts of Fairfax and Loudoun Counties. He says Democrats are open to a mix of solutions for paying for transportation, but the gas tax will have to be part of it.
Petersen says his colleagues are now more open to working with the governor since an unrelated but controversial redistricting measure was dumped.
"It can't help but improve things around here," says Peterson. "I think when that redistricting bill happened, it cast a shadow over the session."
If the Senate passes the measure, it will have to be conferenced with the House bill. The legislative session ends in about three weeks.
Follow Martin Di Caro on Twitter @MartinDiCaro
Thursday, February 07, 2013
As a blizzard moves through New York City area, we're keeping our transit tracker updated to help you plan your travel and navigate the alerts issued by several agencies.
The brunt of the storm is expected to hit late Friday and into Saturday, with heavy snow and high winds. Expect extra trains and buses Friday afternoon to help folks who want to get home early, and then fewer later in the day.
Thursday, February 07, 2013
"It's hard to follow the dollars here," Joe McGee, of the Business Council of Fairfield County, said Wednesday afternoon.
"I work with these numbers all the time. I know these budgets. And I'm confused. What am I missing?"
On the one hand, Malloy's budget calls for a $1.26 billion special transportation fund for the coming fiscal year. Transit advocates have also been heartened by the work on the Hartford-to-New-Britain busway and the New Haven-Springfield high-speed rail line.
On the other hand, transportation -- like all other state services -- faces steep cuts as the administration tries to claw its way out of a several-hundred-million-dollar budget hole. And though next year's proposed spending is about $42 million above current levels, it falls $90 million shy of the level needed to maintain current services, according to nonpartisan legislative analysts.
The special fund supporting Connecticut's highways, bridges and railways would be raided for non-transportation programs under Malloy's proposed budget, continuing a trend that began roughly a decade ago.
Two days earlier, Republican state Rep. Gail Lavielle of Wilton had suggested changing state law to convert the roughly $1.3 billion fund into a "lock box" that could not be used for other purposes.
"If you don't do something to make some structural changes to the budget to leave money to spend on transportation, I fear for the consequences," Lavielle said. "We have trains that are unsafe, we have bridges that are unsafe."
While campaigning for governor in 2009, Malloy promised to preserve the Special Transportation Fund. In 2011, he tried, shifting $30 million away from the general fund and into transportation.
But as state finances have fallen into deficit, things have swung the other way. About $70 million was taken from transportation and put into the general fund this year, and Malloy wants to take another $75 million next fiscal year.
"He has broken his promise regarding the transportation fund for the second budget in a row," one of Malloy's chief critics, Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said Wednesday.
Car, bus commuters asked to give more
Malloy's budget also assumes a major increase in the wholesale tax on gasoline and other fuels signed into law in 2005 by Gov. M. Jodi Rell. As far as motorists are concerned, about 3.8 cents per gallon will be added to the price of gasoline starting July 1, and the state expects to collect an extra $32 million next fiscal year.
Malloy spokesman Andrew Doba responded to McKinney's charge Wednesday, saying, "Governor Malloy has proposed a robust investment agenda for our state's infrastructure projects, as inconvenient as that may be for the senator."
The transportation fund expects to close this year with a $159 million reserve that is projected to grow to $164 million next year.
"Most residents, at least those not running for governor, would think taking surplus funds and using them to address what would be painful cuts that would affect our most vulnerable, is just common sense," Doba said.
But those reserves apparently will not be used to offset other cuts that many say will hurt the state's poorest residents, as well as worsen its already crumbling infrastructure. Bus fares will jump under the proposal, and many commuters with disabilities will also be asked to pay more. The state's rail budget will be cut by $2 million, and expenditures on road maintenance for towns will be shifted to the state's credit card.
"Those have consequences," said Steve Higashide, of the advocacy group Tri-State Transportation Campaign. "It feels like few areas were spared in this budget, and transportation wasn't spared either."
Lavielle was also concerned that the rise in fares for bus riders and riders with disabilities were going toward filling in the state deficit, rather than improving the transportation system. She has proposed separate legislation that would prevent this.
"If you are collecting money off rail and bus fares, that money should be used for rail and for buses," she said. In recent years, the legislature has also raised fares for Metro-North riders, with the increase in revenue going toward the state's general fund rather than the rail system.
Ben Barnes, secretary of the state's Office of Policy and Management, said it was incorrect to assume that increases in bus fare would go toward services other than transportation. But nowhere in the proposed budget is that made clear.
"Is the money raised for transportation staying with transportation, or is it being used to cover part of the deficit? It's unclear to me," said McGee of the Business Council of Fairfield County.
A ride on the public bus costs $1.25 right now. Under Malloy's plan, it'll go up to $1.50 in 2014 and raise $4 million next year. For riders with disabilities that prevent them from riding regular public transit, they'll have to pay 4 percent more to ride what are known as paratransit vans provided for them under federal law.
Advocates say the fare increases will impact commuters who are already suffering.
McGee credited Malloy for continuing to focus some investment in transportation, but he questioned whether Connecticut has an overall comprehensive plan.
"We know he's committed to transportation. But it's confusing," McGee said. "[W]e are not clear exactly on what his intentions are."
Thursday, February 07, 2013
(San Francisco -- KALW) Last week, the Golden Gate Bridge began testing a new all-electronic toll collection system. In the past, there’s always been the option to hand cash to a human being.
But in sixty days, if all goes according to plan, human toll collectors will be completely phased out. Mary Currie, the spokesperson for Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District, said it’s mostly about the budget.
“We have a $66 million, five-year shortfall, and with the movement from manual collection to electronic collection we can save approximately $16 million over an eight-year period,” Currie said.
Currie expects the change will be fairly easy, because more than two-thirds of the people who cross the Golden Gate Bridge today already have a FasTrak--an opt-in program that lets drivers pay their tolls electronically. But Currie says drivers can also pay using credit cards or cash, use smart phones or kiosks to pre-pay.
People who blow through the toll plaza without pre-paying will get a bill for six dollars mailed to their house.
The all-electronic toll system is scheduled to go into effect at the end of March.
But if this Q&A in the San Jose Mercury is any indication of how Bay Area residents feel about the switch, the Golden Gate Bridge transit district has their P.R. work cut out for them. People are asking about everything from what to do when driving a rental cars to how to this will work for those who only take rare trips across the bridge. While the transit district has answers for most of the questions, drivers will need to know them before the big shift.
Of the 28 toll Golden Gate Bridge toll workers, 14 have either retired or have found other jobs within the transit district. In the event the district can’t place the remaining workers, they will get a severance package, the details of which are still being negotiated with the toll takers’ union. The union has not made any toll workers available for comment.
Though many highways use all electronic tolling, by Currie's count, the Golden Gate is the largest bridge to attempt such a system in the United States. Two smaller bridges that have eschewed cash tolls are the SR 520 "floating bridge" in Seattle and the Leeville Bridge in Louisiana. Currie said that while Golden Gate Bridge is among the first bridges to try this new tolling system, it certainly won’t be the last.
“We will see all-electronic tolling across the United States in the next 10 years,” she said.
Wednesday, February 06, 2013
By Jim O'Grady
(New York, NY - WNYC) A Port Authority of New York and New Jersey official says a built-out World Trade Center site will be less vulnerable to future storms like Sandy once construction is done by 2020. But the authority hasn't decided what to do in the meantime to protect the site from rising tides.
Construction sites that include open pits, as does the 16-acre World Trade Center site, are vulnerable to flooding. And much of the site is built on landfill where the Hudson River once flowed--and would flow again if not for retaining walls.
But Port Authority executive director Pat Foye wouldn't elaborate on what steps could be taken to protect the site from flooding while under construction, and harden the site once construction is done in an age of climate change and rising sea levels.
"Port Authority people and outside experts are looking at how to make the site more resilient," Foye said. He wouldn't give details about possible mitigation efforts beyond saying, "The review continues."
Foye estimated it will cost $2 billion to repair storm damage to the World Trade Center, along with the rest of the authority's facilities, including airports, bridges and tunnels. Foye said $800 million alone is needed to fix the PATH train system, which only recently returned some of its lines to a pre-Sandy schedule.
Foye said insurance reimbursements and FEMA payments should cover those costs."There will be no material impact on the budget," he said.
Still under construction in Lower Manhattan is One World Trade Center, which carries a price tag of $3.8 billion, making it the world's most expensive new office tower. To offset the costs of the 1,776-foot skyscraper, the authority last year levied higher bridge and tunnel tolls and reduced spending on transportation infrastructure.
One World Trade Center is scheduled to be done by early next year. But some part of the larger World Trade Center site will be under construction, and vulnerable to flooding, for at least the next eight years.
Wednesday, February 06, 2013
By Martin DiCaro : WAMU
Governor Bob McDonnell’s five-year, $3.1 billion transportation funding package died on the floor of the Virginia State Senate on Tuesday night, as divided lawmakers decided to sent the proposal back to committee after defeating two Republican floor amendments.
After more than an hour of debate it became apparent there were not enough votes to support the governor’s plan to eliminate the state’s gas tax (17.5 cents per gallon) and replace it with a higher sales tax to fund road and rail construction and maintenance.
The bill was largely blocked by Senate Democrats from northern Virginia who were unhappy with McDonnell’s plan to use general fund revenue that also pays for schools, public safety, and other programs.
At least one senator’s frustration bubbled to the surface. Republican Senator Frank Wagner, whose amendment to establish an eight percent gas tax was defeated as an alternative to the governor’s proposal, implored his colleagues to get behind some plan to create new revenues for the state’s immense transportation needs.
“You know, I told myself in 22 years I'd never get emotional over a bill. And I'm sorry I broke my own damn word. I'm emotional. We've been fighting this for ten years. Ten years now!” Wagner shouted. “I'm here tonight to get a transportation bill passed!”
The Senate is now left to consider a bill passed by the House of Delegates that maintains most of the key provisions of Governor McDonnell’s package, including the elimination of the gas tax. But the administration sounded pessimistic the House bill would fare any better.
“It was quite clear from the floor debate and from the fact they voted against every single transportation funding mechanism before them, and that they didn't even offer any solutions of their own, they have no intention of addressing transportation funding,” said Virginia Secretary of Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton, who made it clear the administration blamed Democrats for the bill’s demise.
“We’re incredulous,” Connaughton said. “On a day that the Texas Transportation Institute comes out with its nationally known study that says the Washington region has the worst traffic congestion in the entire country, the Senate Democratic caucus voted against every Senate version of transportation funding to date.”
Without some form of compromise, the General Assembly will close its session in three weeks without approving any new transportation revenues.
“Unless the Democrats in the Senate work with us… things do not look very favorable right now,” Connaughton added.
“The governor can send down a bill at any time. That's his prerogative. I would encourage him to find common ground among all the proposals that are out there and there are a lot of them,” said Delegate David Toscano, the leader of the Democratic minority in the House. “It looks like if the governor is not willing to compromise on very much, nothing is going to get done,” he said.
Toscano chided the governor's plan for relying on revenue from future Internet sales -- a marketplace equity bill --that Congress "probably won't pass." He added: "It was deficient in the first place."
Tuesday, February 05, 2013
By Kate Hinds
Urban automobile traffic is better than it was at its peak in 2005 -- but the cost of traffic congestion is on the rise.
The 2012 Urban Mobility Report -- a ranking of traffic congestion from Texas A&M's Transportation Institute (TTI) -- says the total financial cost of congestion in 2011 was $121 billion, or about $818 per car commuter. A big piece of that is wasted fuel, which the report says reached a total of 2.9 billion gallons.
But worse still than mulling that over is a new addition to the report: the tally of annual carbon dioxide emissions attributed to traffic. The TTI estimates it at 56 billion pounds – or about 380 pounds per auto commuter.
The E.P.A. considers carbon dioxide a major factor in climate change, and estimates that transportation accounts for about one-third of the country's CO2 emissions, second only to the generation of electricity.
Harder to quantify financially is wasted time: the TTI says the average car commuter spent an extra 38 hours traveling in 2011, two-and-a-half times worse than the 16 hours in 1982.
The report also measures a "planning time index," which show how much time drivers need to be sure they'll arrive at their destination.
(Example: according to Google Maps, a trip from TN's offices in lower Manhattan to JFK Airport should take 30 minutes. But New York's PTI is 4.44 -- meaning drivers should allow 133 minutes to cover the worst-case traffic scenario. Meanwhile, the transit combo of the subway to the Air Train should take a little over an hour, says Google Maps.)
The report comes at a time when many states are struggling with how to replenish transportation funding coffers strained by aging infrastructure and increasingly diminished returns on the gas tax. Virginia is eying a new sales tax, Connecticut is debating new tolls, and some of Los Angeles's freeways are no longer free. Meanwhile, New York's MTA -- the nation's largest transit system -- estimates it sustained $5 billion in damage from Sandy.
Unsurprisingly, the TTI says the nation's largest urban areas see the worst traffic. DC tops the list for the fourth year in a row, followed by Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Boston. Although car traffic overall is down from a 2005 peak, as the economy recovers, the numbers of cars on the road is increasing.
The report offers up some suggestions. It cautions that there's no one-size-fits-all approach, but offers up a range of solutions from increasing capacity to developing land more densely. "Improving transportation systems is about more than just adding road lanes, transit routes, sidewalks and bike lanes," says the TTI. "It is also about operating those systems efficiently."
That last sentence probably will cause tension headaches for local transportation officials who have been trying to wring every last dollar out of their budgets. Funding was flat in the latest surface transportation bill.
But Slate contributor Matthew Yglesias offers up another solution, albeit one that has yet to be passed in an American city: congestion pricing. "Naturally an underpriced valuable commodity leads to over consumption," he writes. "Charge people enough money to eliminate routine congestion and you'll find yourself with fewer traffic jams and an enormous pool of revenue that can be used to maintain your basic infrastructure and upgrade your bus service."
Read the full report here.
Tuesday, February 05, 2013
By Martin DiCaro : WAMU
As both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly prepare to work to find common ground after passing different versions of Governor Bob McDonnell’s major transportation funding plan, critics say the governor’s proposal to eliminate the state gas tax and replace it with a higher sales tax would not provide enough revenue to satisfy the state’s transportation needs.
On Monday the House gave preliminary approval to a measure that keeps most of McDonnell’s proposals intact, including eliminating the state’s 17.5 cents-per-gallon gasoline tax. In the Senate, a key Republican lawmaker is proposing a different solution: a 5.5 percent sales tax on the wholesale price of gasoline tied to inflation.
The bill approved by the House killed the governor’s plan to impose a $100 registration fee on alternative fuel vehicles. The proposals are scheduled for a final vote today.
The McDonnell administration argues higher fuel efficiencies continue to eat into gas tax revenues so the tax should be replaced, especially as the adoption of hybrid and electric cars is expected to reduce gas consumption.
The latest hybrid and electric models are currently on display at the Washington Auto Show, where proponents say they have become much more practical for everyday use since the first generation models.
Mahi Reddy, the founder of SemaConnect, a manufacturer of electric vehicle charging stations based in Bowie, Maryland, says EVs are indeed becoming more popular, although they only represent less than one percent of all vehicles on the road today.
“Previous generations of electric cars struggled because they used lead-acid batteries. They used nickel-metal hydride batteries,” Reddy said. “The new generation all use lithium batteries, the same lithium technology that is in your cell phone. So that means these batteries are much lighter, they have much more range, and these cars are much better engineered so they are practical cars you can use to commute to the office.”
In his view, the biggest obstacle facing EVs is the lack of charging stations.
A report by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments found our region has strong potential for EV growth, but an "underdeveloped charging network" is one of several problems.
But while the governor views improving fuel efficiency as a reason to dump the gas tax altogether, the Council of Governments executive director Chuck Bean takes the opposite position.
“In terms of transportation funding all of the options need to be on the table; gas tax, sales tax. We are really in a crisis of transportation funding and need to be very creative,” Bean said. “I would hesitate to reverse or eliminate any taxes because there is simply a great need for more funding.”
The potential of these vehicles does raise another potential challenge to funding transportation: as the U.S. vehicle fleet is comprised of more EVs and regular vehicle fuel standards improve, the gas tax will lose even more of its purchasing power. That would leave states looking for other revenue streams like higher tolls, more borrowing, higher vehicle fees, or higher sales or property taxes to pay for roads and rails.
The smart growth community says there is no way for Virginia to build its way out of its infamous traffic congestion and taht the solution lies in changing land use policies and urban planning strategies to maximize the potential for transit, walking, and bicycling.
Tuesday, February 05, 2013
(Alec Hamilton-WNYC News) U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood says area transit agencies should be able to be ready to withstand future storms.
"Nobody's sitting around,” LaHood told WNYC's Soterios Johnson. "There's a sense of urgency about getting this done, getting it done the right way, making sure that it's done correctly -- and making sure that it's done in a way that will withhold the kind of storm that hit the region during Sandy."
On Monday the Federal Transit Administration said it would start releasing $2 billion of the $10.9 billion in transit aid voted into law last week.
New Jersey has requested $1.2 billion of that aid, New York close to $5 billion. Neither agency has released a complete breakdown of how those funds would be spent.
Monday, February 04, 2013
By Martin DiCaro : WAMU
The speed limit on Maryland's new, $3 billion highway will be raised to 60 m.p.h. by March 31, according to the Maryland Transportation Authority. The current limit on the Intercounty Connector is 55.
The higher limit may satisfy some drivers but won't speed up their commutes significantly.
"Going from 55 to 60 really only represents a time savings of about a minute and a half," said MDTA Executive Secretary Harold M. Bartlett.
The agency studied the highway's geometry and performed a crash analysis for the ICC's first year of operations before deciding to bump the speed limit.
“We are confident that a 60 m.p.h speed limit is safe and justifiable based on the design speed and geometry of the roadway, as well as on the speed most motorists are comfortable traveling the ICC," Bartlett said.
There is no national speed limit. States are free to set their own limits guided by safety considerations. Texas recently posted the highest speed limit in the U.S. at 85 m.p.h. also for a new toll road, and did so in part for financial reasons.
Thursday, January 31, 2013
By Jim O'Grady
(New York, NY - WNYC) Michael Horodniceanu, the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority's master builder, was sweating as he stood in a cavern blasted from the layers of schist below Grand Central Terminal, which marks its 100th year on Friday. He was considering the question of which, in the end, would be thought of as the bigger job: building the original terminal or the the tunnels that the authority is bringing into a new $8.24 billion station it is constructing beneath the existing one.
"This one," he said. "Because people have been building above ground for a long time. We've been digging for a long time--we have about 6 miles of tunnels just in Manhattan. We've been digging under the most expensive real estate you can find in New York."
What's he and hundreds of sandhogs are creating is a project called East Side Access: 350,000 square feet of track, platforms, escalators and concourses that will, for the first time, connect Long Island Railroad to the East Side of Manhattan. It will double the size of Grand Central Terminal without enlarging its footprint, and it is expected to shave 40 minutes off the commutes of about 160,000 passengers per weekday. Currently, Long Islanders who work on the East Side of Manhattan must travel to Penn Station, on the West Side, and double back.
The project is $2 billion over-budget and its 2019 completion date puts it six years behind schedule--another reason Horodniceanu is sweating.
This is people-intensive work," he said. "We use the best technology but, in the end, it takes people." As he spoke, a worker operated a backhoe that clawed rock from a watery pit. The pit was lit by a high-intensity kleig light, which barely held back the subterranean gloom.
Every day 750,000 visitors pass through Grand Central Terminal, making it the largest hub for train traffic in the world. Of East Side Access's impact on Grand Central Station, Horodniceanu said, "What we are doing now is we are basically preparing it for the next 100 years. "
Thursday, January 31, 2013
By Jim O'Grady
(New York, NY - WNYC) Soon after Grand Central Terminal opened in 1913, it was viewed as an one of the great public spaces in America, an icon of modern travel. By the 1940s, a popular radio drama bearing its name would open with a blast from a locomotive whistle and an announcer crying, "Grand Central Station! As a bullet seeks its target, shining rails in every part of our great country are aimed at Grand Central Station, part of the nation's greatest city."
Thirty years later, developers wanted to take a wrecking ball to Grand Central and replace it with an office tower.
In truth, the place was seedy. That's according to Kent Barwick, a former head of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission and a key player in the effort to prevent the destruction of the terminal to make way for an office tower. "It was pretty dusty and the windows were broken," he recalled of Grand Central back then. "It was dark and and littered with advertising everywhere. And there wasn't any retail except for a couple of newsstands that had near-poisonous sandwiches and undrinkable coffee."
(We've done some terrific coverage of Grand Central in the past year: a tour of the Grand Central clock tour with The Invention of Hugo Cabret author Brian O. Selznick here and a cool behind-the-scenes video of Grand Central's secrets here.)
The Fight Is On
The terminal was owned by the Penn Central Railroad, a company in decline because of America's move to the suburbs and car-dependent travel. The much vaunted Interstate Highway Bill also spelled death for long-distance rail travel. In 1975, Penn Central was careering into bankruptcy and desperate to squeeze a windfall from its prime Manhattan real estate. So it proposed to do to Grand Central what it had done to Penn Station: sell the development rights to a company that would tear down the Beaux-Arts masterpiece and erect a steel and glass tower.
But Grand Central, unlike Penn Station, was landmarked.
The owners sued in state supreme court, claiming the new landmark law was unconstitutional. The railroad won, and moved to demolish Grand Central. The preservationists scrambled.
Barwick and his colleagues at The Municipal Arts Society called a hasty press conference in the terminal at Oyster Bar. Barwick's boss, Brendan Gill spoke first. "If we can't save a building like this, what can we do?" he asked.
The preservationists knew they were fighting to save not only the building but the landmarks law itself. And they knew from press descriptions of them as "a troop of well-known New Yorkers" that some of their opponents were painting them as elitists who wished to suspend New York in amber. Former consumer affairs commissioner Bess Meyerson spoke next, and addressed the issue.
"It's not really a question of change," she said. "If any city understands change, it's our city. But I think it's high time that we ask that very important question, 'Change for what?'"
The next speaker was Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, whose presence transformed preservation from a stuffy to a glamorous pursuit. "I think if there is a great effort, even if it's at the eleventh hour, you can succeed and I know that's what we'll do," she said.
The New York Times prominently featured her in its coverage the following day, noting her "eleoquence," as well as her "two-piece tan dress adorned with heavy long gold chain." The effort to save Grand Central was, from that moment, a national issue.
Barwick recalled that Onassis also wrote a letter to Mayor Abe Beame, and that the letter began, "'Dear Abe, How President Kennedy loved Grand Central Terminal.'" Barwick laughingly added that, "I don't know, and I don't need to know, whether President Kennedy had ever expressed himself on that subject."
Not long after, Beame told the city's lawyers to appeal the state supreme court's decision, an appeal the city won. The case then moved, in 1978, to the U.S. Supreme Court.Penn Central again argued it should be able to do what it wanted with its property. New York's lawyers said the city had the right to regulate land use through the landmarks law.
The justices sided with the city. Grand Central Terminal was saved and, in the early 90s, underwent a restoration that brought back its luster. Penn Central Railroad eventually became Metro-North, which last year saw near-record ridership of 83 million passengers.
Barwick said that today, the city can't imagine being without Grand Central Terminal. "You see New Yorkers all the time, staking a claim in that building, pointing up to that cerulean sky and saying, 'Hey. this belongs to us,'" he said.
Grand Central Terminal turns 100 years old tomorrow.
Wednesday, January 30, 2013
By Kate Hinds
New York's Grand Central Terminal turns 100 this year. But when it opened, "it was neither grand nor central," said writer Sam Roberts, the author of Grand Central: How a Train Station Transformed America. He talked about the origins of the iconic transit hub on Wednesday's Leonard Lopate Show -- and how it wound up transforming Midtown, spurring the growth of the suburbs, and even contributing to westward expansion.
But its origins were rooted in Cornelius Vanderbilt's competitive streak, said Roberts. The man known as "The Commodore" had taken control of the New York Central Railroad ("ruthlessly," said Roberts, "in the way robber-barons did in that day"). Meanwhile, Penn Station was being built on the other side of town by the rival Pennsylvania Railroad company, and the Vanderbilts "wanted to say 'we have the best and biggest railroad terminal in the world,'" said Roberts.
"They didn't own the land, but they did own the New York State Legislature," he added, "which made it a lot easier."