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From Salt Marshes to Sea Barriers, Preparing for the Next Sandy Defense

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

“If Sandy had happened three weeks before when it did,” she said, “we would have lost the Belt Parkway.”

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Transportation Nation

PATH Service Restored Between Hoboken-World Trade Center

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Hoboken's PATH station (photo by Sean Marshall via flickr)

For the first time since Sandy struck the Northeast 13 weeks ago, PATH trains will roll once again between Hoboken and the World Trade Center.

Governors Christie and Cuomo announced service between the two hubs will be restored in time for the Wednesday morning commute.

This marks the first time PATH service will return to its normal weekday schedule since Sandy. The PATH system suffered $700 million worth of damage during the storm (PDF), and the Hoboken station was particularly hard hit. It took seven weeks just to open the station, and partial overnight service was restored on January 9th. Meanwhile, NJ Transit just reopened the Hoboken Terminal waiting room Monday.

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Transportation Nation

A Pay-Per-Mile Road Tax Could Target Transpo Funding -- But It's Years Away

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

(photo by Richard Masoner via flickr)

As federal and state governments struggle to adequately fund their transportation networks, a vehicle miles traveled (VMT) tax has potential to increase revenues -- but the establishment of the tax is probably years away.

To cite one example, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell’s major transportation funding proposal would eliminate the state gas tax and replace it with a higher sales tax. There is no mention of VMT. In fact, no state currently charges drivers a VMT tax, which tracks all miles traveled and charges a fee based on distance.

“The technology is generally there but there are an awful lot of political, institutional, and general public policy concerns that we still have to deal with,” said Rob Puentes, a transportation policy expert at the Brookings Institution.

One big concern may be privacy. A study by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments Transportation Planning Board released last week found that 86 percent of area commuters oppose having a GPS device installed in their vehicles to track all their miles traveled.

“There are lot of measures that can be put in place to insure that personal information is not being used or exploited, but you really have to do a good job of convincing the motoring public that privacy concerns are going to be dealt with in a very clear way,” Puentes said.

At a time when governments are looking for dedicated revenue streams for transportation systems and projects that often run into the hundreds of millions of dollars, VMT offers an opportunity to direct money to the most troublesome roads, said Puentes, who said a VMT tax would mark a fundamental change to transportation funding.

“If you are driving on the Beltway during rush hour consistently adding to the traffic on those highly congested roads, you’d be paying more, and then those revenues would go back to the road you are using,” he said.  Under the current gas tax system, revenues are placed into central transportation funds and allocated more evenly.

Politically, few politicians have shown the willingness to try to convince drivers of the merits of VMT.

"Oregon is generally considered to be the state that's pioneering most of the research and the policy analysis around this. A state law requires them to look at this,” said Puentes, referring to a state pilot program.

A University of Iowa study examined VMT on a pilot basis in Oregon and 12 U.S. cities. In Congress, Oregon Representative Earl Blumenauer is pushing a bill that would mandate that the Treasury Department study VMT.  In 2009 a national commission recommended VMT as one possible solution to the nation's transportation funding crisis.

But pay-as-you-drive is gaining acceptance in other circles. In 2010, California approved it as a method of pricing car insurance, and now State Farm is using it.

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Transportation Nation

Why One San Francisco Bike Lane Design Is Upsetting Drivers and Cyclists (AUDIO)

Friday, January 25, 2013

JFK Boulevard, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. (Photo Courtesy of SFMTA Livable Streets)

A prominent bike lane in San Francisco may be suffering because of its unique design. The ambitious, and expensive, bike lane striping of Golden Gate Park stands out from the other projects of San Francisco's bike plan for the criticism it draws from cyclists and drivers alike, in part for a disorienting placement of line of parked cars.

“I think it’s one of the dumbest things I ever saw that they put these stripes down here,” says driver Jimmy Harris of the lanes, pictured above.

Average speeds of drivers and bike riders have both fallen, a success at what's known as traffic calming. But also a stark test case of transportation psychology as users cite narrow lanes and an unusual arrangement of parked cars as confusing.

Ben Trefny and Rai Sue Sussman took a ride along JFK Blvd, with a measuring tape, to see why these particular stripes are raising hackles of bike riders and drivers. Give the audio version a listen.

Here's more: 

For a bit of background, the streets of San Francisco are changing. There are separated bike lanes on Market Street. There’s green paint all over the much-used bike path called the Wiggle. The city is definitely becoming more bicycle-friendly.

After many delays, the city’s bike plan is taking effect, with streets long-designed for car traffic being reconfigured for other modes of transportation. Four years ago San Francisco had 45 miles of bike lanes. Today there are 65 and with more on the way. Plus, 75 more miles of streets will be stenciled with symbols designating them as bike-friendly routes. It’s all having a big impact.

According to the San Francisco Bike Coalition, bike trips have increased more than 70 percent since 2006. But the planners’ choices for JFK Blvd. havn't been implemented so smoothly – and it’s flat-out rankled many of the bicyclists it’s supposed to serve.

The wide JFK Blvd. used to have almost no stripes whatsoever. Now, it’s full of them, creating several chutes designated for different purposes:  there’s a bike lane at either the edge; then buffer zone; a lane for parking; and then in the center a car lane in each direction.

Last spring, we talked with Leah Shahum, executive director of the San Francisco Bike Coalition, about that project: the striping of Golden Gate Park

“Imagine the parking lanes that are kind of being moved out more into the center of the street, and the bikeway – the dedicated bikeway – will be against the curb, or against the green space, or the sidewalk area,” she said. “So that people biking actually have that physical separation from the moving traffic. JFK we think is a good street to try this because it is a very wide street it's way wider than most streets in San Francisco, so there was room there to try something different.”

It cost at least $425,000 to lay the stripes down – and the MTA estimates more than that to plan it all out.

So, what do the people who travel along JFK think about the new configuration?

“From a drivers’ standpoint, it’s pretty bad,” adds Daly City’s Nick Shurmeyetiv. “Honestly, the first few times I came in – like the first few times it really threw me off. I wasn't sure what was going on. I thought it was a traffic jam, or I don't know what,” he said of the parked cars that appeared to be a lane of traffic.

Frank Jones, from Concord says, “Well, we did pull up and stop behind somebody. And we thought, ‘They're not moving.’ Then we realized – there was nobody in the car! So we went around them.”

A count of cars lined up in the designated parking lane across from the De Young Museum one Friday afternoon showed 11 of 46 vehicles at least partially in the buffer zone. They followed a pattern: typically, each vehicle was aligned with the one in front of it. So if one missed the mark, many more would do the same. And they never missed on the side with car traffic. Only on the side toward the bikes.

“Yeah, you know the roadway, the width is a little narrower, but for the most part, this isn't a place to be going really fast from A to B,” says Peter Brown, who works as an SFMTA project manager.

If it’s the SFMTA’s goal to slow traffic on JFK, it’s been successful.

For cars, average speed has dropped about two or three miles per hour since the road was striped, according to a preliminary report. It makes sense, as the thoroughfare is much more narrow, now, and cars have to fully stop if anyone in front of them is trying to park.

Average bike speeds have also dropped, from an average of 14-and-a-half miles per hour to less than 13 during the week and a little slower on weekends. The report suggests that’s because bicyclists who used to cruise really fast up or down Golden Gate Park now have to slow down for other cyclists and the people who are trying to get across the bike lanes to their cars. Calming traffic, on paper anyway, arguably makes the route more accessible and safer.

The SFMTA surveyed people who use JFK both before and shortly after the new stripes went in. Almost 90 percent of responders felt like they understood the striping, but only about 60 percent liked it. Some people, like Lita Ward, don’t.

“I've had several incidents where I've nearly collided with people getting out of their cars, that are crossing the bike lane into the sidewalk area,” says Ward. “Obviously, we can't stop quickly enough... I think it's a great concept, but drivers need to be aware of what that change means for bicyclists."

It didn’t take long, wandering around JFK to see that scenario unfold. Just west of the De Young, two teenagers on mountain bikes blew through a stop sign on the downhill slope. A pedestrian crossing the bike lane to get to his car had to jump out of the way as they rapidly approached. The kids obviously hadn’t anticipated his presence, and the pedestrian didn’t notice until it was nearly too late.

Some people think better signage and public awareness campaigning would solve some of the ongoing issues with the newly striped lanes of Golden Gate Park, including longtime bike activist Chris Carlsson, who runs Shaping San Francisco, which looks into ways to improve the city.

“A proper educational campaign, in conjunction with an infrastructural transformation, I think could be really successful,” says Carlsson, who is one of the founders of Critical Mass.

[Related: Listen to an oral history of how Critical Mass was founded]

The people who most advocated for – and implemented – the striping of Golden Gate Park are examining the effects. The SF Bike Coalition has a webpage devoted to the “JFK Separated Bikeway Project.”

The page addresses some of the problems: cars that aren’t parked where they’re supposed to be; people crossing the bikeway without looking. SFMTA has a page called the JFK Cycletrack. It includes a survey in which people can share their thoughts about what they like and don’t like.

Even with the imposed structure, people are making the new configuration work for them. Sporty bicyclists take the car lane (which is allowed) to avoid slower-biking tourists and families; pedestrians walk in the bike path to avoid sprinklers; and cars drive through like they did before – only slightly slower.

But more than six months in, because of ongoing parking issues and -- for San Francisco -- the unusual off-curb parking situation, it appears that the striping of Golden Gate Park is not working quite as it was originally imagined. The removal of more than 80 parking spaces alone will be enough to change usage of the road. And unless a large-scale redesign is implemented, an experiment in shared road design may simply require users to get used to a number of imperfections.

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Transportation Nation

DC Commuters Want Less Traffic, More Transit -- And No Congestion Pricing

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

(photo by NCreedplayer via flickr)

Commuters are skeptical that congestion pricing will reduce traffic in the metropolitan Washington area and raise revenues to fund transportation projects. Instead, they favor alternatives to driving -- commuter rail, express bus service, or bicycling/walking.

report released Wednesday by the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB) weighed the attitudes of 300 area residents who participated in five forums: two in Virginia, two in Maryland, and one in the District of Columbia. The participants were asked to consider three scenarios: 1) placing tolls on all major roadways, including interstate highways; 2) charging a per-mile fee measured by GPS systems installed in cars; and 3) creating priced zones similar to a system in London that would charge motorists to enter a designated area.

These attitudes are being probed at a delicate time for transportation funding in the region: Virginia's governor is proposing the elimination of the state gasoline tax -- while Maryland is looking at increasing theirs. Meanwhile, the area's largest transit project, the Silver Line, has yet to be fully funded.

But the funding scenarios posed to study participants received tepid support.

“This study shows people are cautiously open to concepts of congestion pricing, but they really need to see if it’s going to work, and they have doubts about that,” said John Swanson, a TPB planner.

“They really want to make sure that there are clear benefits, that [congestion pricing] is going to fund new transportation alternatives… particularly transit and high quality bus [service],” he added.

Scenario one – charging tolls on all major roadways – was supported by 60 percent of study participants, who engaged in extended exchanges of ideas and opinions. Scenario two – using GPS to track miles traveled – was opposed by 86 percent, even though drivers’ actual routes would not be tracked, only the number of miles.

“I don’t want to discount privacy concerns,” Swanson said. “I don’t think, however, the concerns were simply the classic ‘big brother’ concerns. There was a lot of code language for broader anxieties.  It was a complicated proposal that was hard to understand.  It seemed to be hard to implement.  A lot of people said it looked like it would be expensive to implement and, frankly, they are right.”

The study participants spoke of congestion in personal terms -- family time robbed, the stress of dealing with incessant traffic. Most commuters said driving is not a choice.

“The availability of other options besides driving—such as transit, walking and biking—increased [the] receptiveness to pricing. Participants also spoke favorably of proposals that would maintain non-tolled lanes or routes for those who cannot or do not want to pay,” the report said.

Transit advocates say the report shows shaping land use strategies to improve access to transit and create walkable, densely built environments is the best way to mitigate the region’s traffic jams.

“Newcomers to the region are very frequently choosing the city or a place near transit rather than a place where they have no option but to drive,” said Stewart Schwartz, the executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth.

“What’s most interesting about this report is that it was an effort to seek public support for congestion pricing, but what it documented was the much stronger support for transit and improvements in how we plan land use in order to give people more choices to get around,” Schwartz added.

The study’s authors – the TPB partnered with the Brookings Institution – found most participants were unaware the federal gas tax (18.4 cents per gallon) hasn’t been raised since 1993.  However, they also favored raising the gas tax as an easier, fairer alternative to implementing a congestion pricing program.

Support for increasing the gas tax increased over the course of the sessions --  from 21 percent when the study convened to 57 percent upon its completion.

The gas tax “is a hidden fee,” said Swanson. “We learned that people actually like that. There is a general sense of the invisibility of the gas tax being a problem and potentially a benefit, something that’s strangely attractive to people.”

Eighty-five percent of study participants identified transportation funding shortfalls as a critical problem, yet expressed doubts the government would make the right choices if additional revenues were made available through congestion pricing.

TPB board member Chris Zimmerman, who's also a member of the Arlington (VA) County Board, took exception to the wording of the study’s questions using the word “government” because he felt it provoked a negative response.

“If you are trying to interpret what people say, you have to be careful of what question you ask them,” Zimmerman said. “I think people get that there is a lack of funding.  They also get the fact there are a number of other problems.  There aren’t alternatives. For many in this region, they drive not because that’s what they are dying to do, but because they have no choice.”

Zimmerman, who background is in economics, said it should be no surprise people are lukewarm about congestion pricing proposals, given the lack of alternative modes of transportation in some places.  He is also unsure congestion pricing will work.

“The way roads are run is there is basically no pricing of them at all. Even if you are paying a gas tax it’s not related to your use of any particular road.  An economist looks at that and says of course you are going to get inefficiency and congestion,” Zimmerman said.

“You are not talking about going from the current situation to instantly pricing everything perfectly.  You are talking about implementing costs on particular segments of roads and that gets a lot more complicated because there are secondary effects," Zimmerman said. "We price one thing and many people shift to some other place.  Well, where is that some other place?”

“In practice, implementing that is very difficult.”

The Washington region saw two major highways shift to congestion pricing in 2012. Maryland's Inter-County Connector charges variably priced tolls; the 495 Express Lanes charge dynamically priced tolls and offer free rides to HOV-3 vehicles.

In the case of the Express Lanes, the state of Virginia will not receive toll revenues for 75 years as per its contract with its private sector partner, Transurban, and it remains to be seen if the new toll lanes will ultimately reduce congestion in the heavily traveled corridor. The ICC also has its critics, who say the recently constructed highway was a waste of money.

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Transportation Nation

Mica Gets Transportation Subcommittee Posts

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

John Mica (photo by Matthew Peddie)

Representative John Mica (R-FL) will retain some influence in helping set transportation policy, even though Pennsylvania Congressman Bill Shuster has taken over as chair of the powerful House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Mica was appointed to three subcommittees:  Highways and Transit; Railroads Pipelines and Hazardous Materials; and Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management. He was also named chair of the subcommittee on Government Operations under the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

The Winter Park Republican says he's proud of his legacy as chair of the Transportation Committee.

"My replacement is fortunate in that we passed a highway bill, we passed an FAA bill that was stalled for many years under the Democrats, we passed a Coast Guard reauthorization, we passed pipeline safety legislation, so most of the major bills have been passed," he says. "So [Shuster] has time to reassess and then move forward with a highway bill and find a responsible way to go beyond the next two years. "

But Mica says it will be a challenge to try to fix congested and crumbling highways. "Unfortunately it’s almost impossible to increase gas taxes, and that doesn’t really even solve your problem because people are using even less of the traditional gasoline."

"You have alternative fuels, you have plug in cars, and you have cars going much further on one gallon of gas."

 One source of revenue included in the current transportation bill allows for extra toll lanes to be built on existing interstates like I-4.

Mica says Amtrak -- which he labels a "Soviet style passenger rail system" -- also needs reform, and he favors allowing private operators to run the passenger rail system.

Meanwhile, Mica says he’s excited about the prospect of private passenger rail starting in the state - with All Aboard Florida proposing a Miami to Orlando service beginning in 2015. "It'll be a project that actually will make money and pay taxes with the private sector," he says. "That's the way we need to be going with passenger rail service across the country."

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Transportation Nation

An Oral History of San Francisco's Bay Bridge

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Rendition of the new span of the Bay Bridge

After eleven years of construction, the Bay Bridge’s new eastern span is set to open to traffic this fall.

Meanwhile, the Regional Oral History Office (ROHO), part of University of California-Berkeley’s Bancroft Library, is soliciting stories from people who were there when the original Bay Bridge opened in 1936.

Sam Redman, a ROHO historian, recorded a number of interviews with folks who remember that time. He shared excerpts with KALW’s Steven Short.

"The clips that I’m sharing today are from people who happened to be in the Bay Area at the time," said Redman, "people who were working on the bridge—Rosie the Riveters or tow truck drivers and engineers and other people that worked on the Bay Bridge."

Redman played a few soundbites from the World War II generation who actually watched the bridge as it was actually constructed.

Like Ralph Anderson.

“It was going to be wonderful. I didn’t realize that the ferries wouldn’t be there anymore. But to go across the bridge on the Key System trains, the whole lower deck was trucks and trains. And that worked out great, I thought that was a good system. And to go across the bridge for a quarter, I was impressed and pretty soon the bridge was going to be paid for and you wouldn’t have to pay anything.”

(Currently tolls on the Bay Bridge are between $4 and $6 dollars, depending on the time of day).

Yes, you read that right: the lower deck of the Bay Bridge, as it was initially constructed, carried rail. The Key System operated from 1938 to 1958.

(Image from keyrailpix.org)

"One of the interesting thing about this series," said Redman, "is learning about some of the failed proposals that we’ve had for bridges, including a span that would have run similar to the Bay Bridge from Alameda, south of the current Bay Bridge into San Francisco to alleviate some of that traffic congestion that was building up early on on the Bay Bridge.  It exceeded all traffic projections almost right away."

Redman said one of the things that amazed him while conducting the Bay Bridge's oral history project is "the way people have worked have changed on the bridge since time it actually started. Like Bay Bridge painters, for example. New rules and regulations mean that for their actual work it takes longer to paint the Bay Bridge, but that’s to actually keep the Bay that’s beneath them healthy. Before, the paint would just go directly into the Bay."

Here's a remembrance from Berkeley resident Norma Grey:

“In 1936, they just summarily announced that we were going to California. And it was precisely because my dad could not find a job. And so he borrowed $100 from his brother, put his three little girls and what possessions he could put in a Model T Ford and drove across the country. He stopped in Berkeley. Their plan was San Francisco, but it cost 25 cents to go across the new Bay Bridge.”

"Twenty-five cents would have been enough to buy a meal for the evening for the family," said Redman. "I think that puts in context how hard times really were. And it gives us a little insight into the folks who worked on the Bay Bridge. Job openings at the Bay Bridge or the Golden Gate Bridge would have looked pretty appealing at that time, even though they were pretty dangerous jobs."

Redman added that the working conditions at the time helped keep construction costs down -- compared to today.

You can see differences in terms of safety, in terms of pay, in terms of all sorts of workplace conditions changes. In the course of building new bridges, people will look at the old Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge and say, gee, these were completed on budget and on time. But it’s because of a remarkable range of changes in labor that are actually good changes in many respects.

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Transportation Nation

In Second Inaugural Address, President Obama Says Building Infrastructure, Combating Climate Change Part of "Obligation"

Monday, January 21, 2013

In his second inaugural address, President Barack Obama wove in specific policy recommendations for building roads and combating climate change into a speech urging Americans to join in collective action for a better future.

"We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity," President Obama said.  "We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms."

"The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult," the President added.  But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries – we must claim its promise. That is how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure – our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared."

The president also declared road-building a collective responsibility.

"For the American people can no more meet the demands of today’s world by acting alone than American soldiers could have met the forces of fascism or communism with muskets and militias. No single person can train all the math and science teachers we’ll need to equip our children for the future, or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores. Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation, and one people."

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Transportation Nation

Sec. LaHood Says Loan for Silver Line "Looking Good"

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Ray LaHood, the caffeinated U.S. transportation secretary, says a TIFIA loan for the Silver Line looks like a go (photo by Martin DiCaro)

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood expressed optimism a federal loan would be approved to help finance the $5.5 billion Silver Line rail project, funding that would help slow down projected toll rate increases on the Dulles Toll Road.

“This is one of the first [projects] under the new TIFIA loan program that was passed by Congress in transportation bill, which gave us an enormous amount of money, almost $2 billion over the next two years,” LaHood said. “I would say right now things look good.”

Tolls on the Dulles Toll Road are currently set to finance roughly half the Silver Line’s cost.

After swearing in two federally appointed members to the board of directors of the agency that oversees the Silver Line’s construction, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, LaHood praised the authority’s work to overhaul its ethics, hiring, and contracting practices. Last year an audit by the Department of Transportation revealed a litany of shady dealings at MWAA.

“Since then MWAA has done everything that we have asked them to do,” LaHood said. “That included passing new travel and ethics policy for its board and staff, terminated contracts with former board members and employees that are not competitively bid, adopt employment and nepotism restrictions, improve board transparency, began to make quarterly acquisition reports and forecasts to the [U.S. DOT], and approve an amendment to the lease with DOT to give us oversight of MWAA policies and procedures permanently.”

This progress is a factor in determining whether MWAA will receive a loan through the TIFIA (Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act) program.

Last year Virginia Congressman Gerry Connolly (D) said he expected the loan could amount to 25 to 30 percent of the project’s cost.  When asked on Wednesday how large a TIFIA loan would be for the Silver Line, LaHood declined to speculate, and he offered no estimate on when the final decision would be made.

“You’re the only one that would really care about that, and I’m not going to get into the details about the loan application,” LaHood said. “We are working with MWAA on this and as soon as we finalize the work we will announce what percent we’re going to give and how much money it involves.”

Drivers who use the Dulles Toll Road also care about how much funding the Silver Line may receive. Additional funding would bring down the projected toll rates, currently scheduled to rise over the next four decades.

Tolls on the road increased on January 1. The full, one-way toll increased by 50 cents to $2.75.  To the commuter who takes the road every day, that will amount to an extra $260 in 2013. The tolls are scheduled to increase again in January 2014 by another 75 cents.

MWAA CEO Jack Potter said he’s also optimistic MWAA would receive the additional funding.

“We are working very closely with the Department of Transportation, Loudoun County, Fairfax County to put our application in and we are very positive of a good outcome,” Potter said. “I’d like to get as much as we possibly can.”

Potter has been lobbying for more state funding.  Virginia lawmakers have approved only $150 million for the Silver Line so far. On Monday Potter met Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton as well as a group of lawmakers who control the purse strings in Richmond.

“I am very much focused on output. The output is dollars coming to the rail project,” Potter said. “How the Commonwealth generates those dollars is strictly Commonwealth business.  I am strictly focused on the output of $300 million dollars or more that could come to the rail project.”

In a major transportation funding plan unveiled earlier this month, Governor Bob McDonnell proposed using sales taxes revenues to provide $300 million for the Silver Line over three years.  That plan, however, is expected to face opposition in the General Assembly among lawmakers who say the rail project should not compete for general fund revenues normally used to pay for education and public safety.

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Transportation Nation

NYS2100 Full Report: Start an Infrastructure Bank, Build BRT, and More Transit

Friday, January 11, 2013

Establish an infrastructure bank, expanded rail access, build a bus rapid transit system, and redesign the electric grid. Those are some of the suggestions in the NYS2100 commission's full report on preparing New York state to withstand the next 100 year storm released Friday afternoon.

The commission was convened to suggest a plan for making New York state more resilient in the face increasingly severe weather and future storms like Sandy, which knocked most of New York City's transportation out of service for days. Several transit routes are still not back to normal two months later.

The full report is below. We've pulled out the bits from the executive summary most related to transportation and infrastructure.

Governor Andrew Cuomo's State of the State agenda also included much of these kinds of proposals. We posted that earlier in the week here, and reported on the bus rapid transit proposal specifically if you want more detail on that.

 

From the NYS2100 official report:


 

Develop a risk assessment of the State’s transportation infrastructure
Identify those assets that are vulnerable to extreme weather events, storm surge, sea level rise and seismic events, and to prioritize future investment through the use of a lifeline network that defines
critical facilities, corridors, systems, or routes that must remain functional during a crisis or be restored most rapidly.
Strengthen existing transportation networks
Improve the State’s existing infrastructure with an emphasis on key bridges, roads, tunnels, transit, rail, airports, marine facilities, and transportation communication infrastructure. Focus on improved repair, as well as protecting against multiple hazards including flooding, seismic impact and extreme weather.
• Protect transit systems and tunnels against severe flooding
• Invest in upgrades to bridges, tunnels, roads, transit and
railroads for all hazards
• Strengthen vulnerable highway and rail bridges
• Protect waterway movements
• Safeguard airport operations
Strategically expand transportation networks in order to create redundancies
Make the system more flexible and adaptive. Encourage alternate modes of transportation.
• Modernize signal and communications systems
• Build a bus rapid transit network
• Expand rail access to/from Manhattan
• Create new trans-Hudson tunnel connection
• Expand rail Access to/from Manhattan with Metro-North Penn Station access
• Expand capacity on the LIRR’s Main Line
• Develop alternative modes of transportation Build for a resilient future with enhanced guidelines,
standards, policies, and procedures
Change the way we plan, design, build, manage, maintain and pay for our transportation network in light of increased occurrences of severe events.
• Review design guidelines
• Improve long-term planning and fund allocation
• Improve interagency and interstate planning
• Seek expedited environmental review and permitting on major mitigation investments

 

 

 

Strengthen critical energy infrastructure

Securing critical infrastructure should be a primary focus. Strategies of protection, include among other things, selective undergrounding of electric lines, elevating susceptible infrastructure such as substations, securing locations of future power plants, hardening key fuel distribution terminals, and reexamination of critical

component locations to identify those most prone to damage by shocks or stresses. Creating a long-term capital stock of critical equipment throughout the region provides an efficient system of distribution to streamline the delivery and recovery processes.

• Facilitate process of securing critical systems
• Protect and selectively underground key electrical transmission and distribution lines
• Strengthen marine terminals and relocate key fuel-related infrastructure to higher elevations
• Reinforce pipelines and electrical supply to critical fuel infrastructure
• Waterproof and improve pump-out ability of steam tunnels
• Create a long-term capital stock of critical utility equipment

Accelerate the modernization of the electrical system and improve flexibility
As utilities replace aging parts of the power system, the State should ensure new technologies are deployed. It is important to immediately invest in new construction, replacement, and upgrades to transition the grid to a flexible system that can respond to future technologies, support clean energy integration, and minimize outages during major storms and events. The grid for the 21st century should seamlessly incorporate distributed generation, microgrids, and plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs).

• Re-design electric grid to be more flexible, dynamic and
responsive
• Increase distributed generation statewide
• Make the grid electric vehicle ready
Design rate structures and create incentives to encourage distributed generation and smart grid investments
The State should implement new technologies and system
improvements to provide effective backup power, flexibility,
distributed generation, and solutions for “islanding” vulnerable
parts of the system. In addition to improving the resilience and
stability of energy, electricity, and fuel supply systems, these
solutions promote energy conservation, efficiency, and consumer
demand response.
Diversify fuel supply, reduce demand for energy, and create redundancies
Lowering GHG emissions in the power sector through the Regional
Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) will contribute to reducing
the impacts of climate change over the very long term. To build
on the success of RGGI, the State should encourage alternative
fuel sources such as biogas, liquefied natural gas (LNG), and
solar heating in transportation and other sectors. PEVs, energy
storage systems, and on-site fuel storage where feasible, should
also be used to provide new energy storage mechanisms. Incentive
programs to promote energy efficiency and renewable energy
deployment should be strengthened to increase the level of private
sector investment in this space.
• Facilitate greater investments in energy efficiency and
renewable energy
• Diversify fuels in the transportation sector
• Support alternative fuels across all sectors
• Lower the greenhouse gas emissions cap through RGGI

Develop long-term career training and a skilled energy workforce

The utility workforce is aging and tremendous expertise will be lost
in the next several years. Workforce development strategies should
ensure the availability of skilled professionals to maintain a state
of good repair, effectively prepare for and respond to emergencies,
and deploy and maintain advanced technologies.
• Create a workforce development center
• Expand career training and placement programs
• Build awareness of the need for skilled workers
• Coordinate workforce development among all stakeholders
within the energy sector

 

 

 

 

Establish an “Infrastructure Bank” to coordinate, allocate, and maximize investment

The Commission recommends the establishment of a new Infrastructure Bank with a broad mandate to coordinate financing
and directly finance the construction, rehabilitation, replacement, and expansion of infrastructure.
• Assist the State in making more efficient and effective use of public infrastructure funding
• Mobilize private sector

 

Full report here.

 

 

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Transportation Nation

Thirty Years Later, is Connecticut Ready to Reinstate Tolls?

Friday, January 11, 2013

Hartford (photo by dougtone via flickr)

(Neena Satija - CT Mirror) It's been almost exactly 30 years since a tractor-trailer plowed into cars waiting at a Stratford toll barrier, triggering an explosion that killed seven people. The January 1983 crash prompted Connecticut legislators to begin phasing out tolls in the state -- and they've been banned ever since.

But if some lawmakers have their way, that could change soon. Rep. Pat Dillon, D-New Haven, will be introducing a bill this legislative session that would re-establish tolls in the state.

"Our infrastructure is crumbling," said Dillon, who has been a legislator since the 1980s when tolls were first banned. "And we don't have the money to pay for it. We're not going to have the funds we need for transportation."

Her proposal comes as Gov.Dannel P. Malloy and the state Department of Transportation have been moving to seriously study the issue of tolls, pointing out that Connecticut's revenue from its gasoline tax is set to decline steeply as cars become more fuel-efficient. The state will begin two studies early this year to consider putting tolls on two major highways - I-84 west in the Hartford area, and I-95 between New Haven and New York.

Highway tolls are gaining more acceptance in other states -- most recently, Los Angeles County, which implemented the first tolls in its history last November.

"It's not just Connecticut where this is becoming an issue," said Tom Maziarz, director of the DOT's Bureau of Policy and Planning. "This is an issue nationwide in terms of the amount of funding available for transportation."

Drivers paid tolls all over the state before the 1980s. There were several toll stations on I-95 and Route 52, on the Merritt and Wilbur Cross Parkways, and on Hartford-area bridges including the Charter Oak. The Connecticut Turnpike alone generated $56 million in revenue in its last year of collections.

Maziarz said he doesn't have an estimate of how much money tolls could bring in today. The DOT studies (which will cost about $2.2 million, mostly paid for by federal funds) will focus more on how the state might reinstate tolls, and for what purpose.

"Congestion pricing," which refers to using tolls meant to reduce traffic at peak hours, has become a popular term in many transportation circles. On I-95, congestion relief is critical, with 16 million hours of delay in the area between Bridgeport and Stamford experienced due to traffic in 2007, the last year for which figures were available. (In 1983, the number was under 5 million). The DOT estimates that delays on I-95 and I-91 cost a total of $670 million in lost productivity that year.

But reducing traffic through tolls on the highway won't be easy. I-95's "peak" period lasts from 6:15 a.m. to well after 10 a.m., and many drivers may not be able or willing to shift their time of travel in order to save money. Other possible routes, like the main roads in towns hugging the highway or the Merritt Parkway, are just as congested.

Another option would be adding new lanes that are toll-only -- a costly proposition in terms of construction and land acquisition. Or, all or some of the lanes on the current highway could be pay lanes -- but that may run afoul of federal requirements that generally do not allow tolls on interstate highways, and therefore deprive the state of needed federal funds.

"The goal is congestion relief," Maziarz said. "What we don't know yet is whether or not electronic tolling can do it, or what combination of electronic tolling and highway improvements and transit improvements are necessary to do it."

When it comes to putting tolls on I-84, the state's focus will be somewhat different. While revenues collected on I-95 could go toward a variety of improvements -- like fixing old roadways and bridges on the interstate, or even beefing up the railway system -- tolls on I-84 are seen as a possible option for financing the reconstruction of the Aetna Viaduct in Hartford.

The elevated roadway through downtown Hartford was built in 1965 and is in desperate need of repair.

"It's reached a point that in order to keep it functioning in a safe manner, it's very expensive and very disruptive," Maziarz said. "We just spent on the order of $25-35 million just within the last year or so with a relatively small repair project out there, where we focused on the bridge joints."

Replacing the whole viaduct, he said, will cost at least $1 billion to $2 billion.

With so many other issues facing the legislature this session, it's not clear whether Dillon's bill to put tolls back on the table will get much attention. Fairfield County legislators are also still very wary of a law that could, many say, disproportionately affect residents in that area.

"I've met so many people, certainly from the Greenwich area, that are opposed to it, that remember what it was like when they had them back in the early '80s and beyond," said Rep. Larry Cafero, a Republican from Norwalk. "So it's a mixed bag."

At the same time, Cafero said, things have changed since the 1980s. Back then, following the Stratford crash, thousands of people marched in protest of tolls because of the potential for accidents at toll booths. There were also concerns about the pollution caused by so many cars braking constantly to pay the toll.

Much of that is no longer a concern, as tolls are often paid electronically now. The DOT's studies will only consider reinstating tolls using an electronic method of payment, such as the EZ-Pass system in use throughout the Northeast.

"I think technology has come a long enough way that it's certainly prudent to look into it," Cafero said.

However, he noted, "for every person that has an EZ-Pass, there's many who don't. And I look to the right of me, and I see lines going back with idling cars for quite some distance of people doing it the old-fashioned way."

Follow Neena Satija on Twitter.

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WNYC News

Four Storms in Quick Succession Expose the Flaws in New York City’s Electrical System

Friday, January 11, 2013

One of the less visible affects of Hurricane Sandy was the mostly-below ground electric system that supplies the stock exchange, the subways, and countless businesses with power.

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Transportation Nation

Pulaski Skyway to Close for Two Years; No New Rail Tunnel on Horizon

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Pulaski Skyway (photo by Paul Lowry via flickr)

The Pulaski Skyway -- an 80-year old elevated highway that carries 67,000 cars a day in New Jersey -- will partially close for two years beginning in 2014.

The highway runs between Newark and Jersey City and serves as a major feeder for cars and buses accessing the Holland Tunnel into downtown Manhattan. It will shut down to traffic after the completion of the 2014 Super Bowl, being held in the nearby Meadowlands.

The NJ Department of Transportation says it needs that time to entirely replace the existing deck, upgrade ramps, paint and seismically retrofit the Pulaski, which is in "poor condition." The work will cost $1 billion.

While deck work is ongoing, northbound lanes will be closed entirely for two years. Two southbound travel lanes will remain open.

Speaking Thursday in Newark, the state's transportation commissioner, James Simpson, said the work amounts to "basically a new bridge in place." He acknowledged the disruption closing the roadway would cause, but said "we couldn't leave it in its existing state. The only decision was to reconstruct it in place."

The Pulaski is considered "functionally obsolete" because it no longer conforms to modern design standards, and in 2011 the Texas Transportation Institute rated it the sixth least reliable road in the country. (It also ranked #8 on Jalopnik's less scientific list of "the most terrifying roads in the world.") The state says the work will extend the life of the structure by at least 75 years.

The closure of the roadway will have a ripple effect. Drivers who head north to enter the city via the Lincoln Tunnel will find not only crowds, but delays from another massive rehabilitation project -- the Port Authority's ongoing upgrade of the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel known as the helix. Meanwhile, NJ Transit has reached maximum capacity and can't run additional trains into Penn Station. The PATH system is similarly burdened.

As Jeffrey Zupan, a senior fellow with the Regional Plan Association, puts it: "The automobile options are now worse for two years, and there's no relief in site from point of view of a new rail crossing."

Zupan is referring to the ARC project, an $8.7 billion trans-Hudson tunnel that, when completed, would have boosted rail capacity between New Jersey and New York. Construction on the new tunnel began in 2009 -- only to be cancelled in 2010 by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who said the state couldn't afford it.

Christie is using the money set aside for the ARC tunnel to shore up roads and bridges in the state -- among them, the Pulaski Skyway.

Preliminary work is underway on a study for the next iteration of a new rail tunnel -- this one known as Gateway -- but shovels are nowhere near ready to turn dirt.

"You've really created a perfect storm of transportation chaos -- you haven't created a new transit option and you've made driving options worse," says Zupan.

Another view of the Pulaski, spanning the Passaic & Hackensack Rivers in Jersey City (CC via wikimedia commons)

The Skyway is named for General Casimir Pulaski, a Polish-born hero of the Revolutionary War. It's on the National Register of Historic Places. And it was also referenced in Orson Welles' 1938 radio drama War of the Worlds. "The enemy now turns east," reads a line in the script, "crossing Passaic River into the Jersey marshes. Another straddles the Pulaski Skyway."

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The Brian Lehrer Show

Rebuilding Resilience

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, appointed co-chair of the NYS 2100 commission to improve the resilience of infrastructure, concludes her series of conversations with the NYS 2100 report.

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Transportation Nation

Some 24/7 PATH Train Service To Resume

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

(photo by Kate Hinds)

For the first time in the 70-plus days since Hurricane Sandy, some PATH lines are resuming partial around-the-clock operations.

Governors Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo say starting Wednesday, trains will run 24-7, from Newark to 33rd Street, via Hoboken.

PATH has operated on a 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. schedule – with the exception of New Year’s Eve – since the storm.  The system suffered catastrophic damage from an estimated 10 million gallons of water that flooded the tunnels.

PATH trains will still run from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. during the week on the Hoboken to 33rd Street, Journal Square to 33rd Street and Newark to World Trade Center lines.

Port Authority officials say it could be late February before they receive a shipment of replacement parts necessary to restoring service on the line between Hoboken and the World Trade Center, which is still not operational.

 

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Transportation Nation

NY Gov Plans for Flood-Proof Subways, Open Transpo Data, Coastal Barriers (Full Document)

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

The new Tappan Zee Bridge features prominently in the heroic graphic cover of the New York State 2013 State of the State book. (Click to enlarge)

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo wants to flood-proof the NYC subway system using inflatable bladders, roll down gates and new pumps.

He wants to install a statewide network of electric car charging stations.

Those were some of the ideas advanced in his annual  State of the State speech and accompanying 300 page book detailing his agenda for 2013.

The books cover shows a new Tappan Zee bridge rising over a flood-ravaged home, with the capitol building in New York as the connecting image.   Get it?

We've pulled out some of the parts related to transportation and infrastructure for you. Most of them fall under the heading of Sandy rebuilding and storm resilience.

Here some bullet points (not including the Adirondack Whitewater rafting challenge.)

Page 233: "Take Immediate Steps to Protect Transportation Systems Against Future Storm Events

"New York State’s transportation infrastructure encompasses a vast network of Interstates, state highways, local roads, public transit systems, waterways, bike networks, and walking facilities. Our transportation systems link to airports and marine ports that connect New York to the rest of the country and the world. Downstate, New York City boasts the most comprehensive and complex transportation network in the country that supports a region of national and global significance. Overall, the State’s transportation infrastructure is vital to the health of our economy, environment, and well-being.

"Recent severe events, such as Superstorm Sandy, Tropical Storm Lee, Hurricane Irene and the 2010 snowstorm, have revealed vulnerabilities in our transportation infrastructure. Much of it is aging and susceptible to damage from extreme weather events or seismic threats, and many facilities, such as tunnels and airports, have been built in locations that are increasingly at risk of flooding. Steps must be taken to make the State’s transportation infrastructure more resilient to future severe events. To protect and maintain our economy, mobility and public safety, Governor Cuomo has sought federal support to repair and mitigate our transportation systems to better withstand future threats.

"The following measures should be taken to make our transportation systems stronger in the face of future storms. With federal assistance, these measures can and will be taken by the MTA and other State agencies and authorities to harden our transportation systems against future threats:

  • Flood-proof subways and bus depots with vertical roll-down doors, vent closures, inflatable bladders, and upsized fixed pumps (with back-up power sources);
  • Mitigate scour on road and rail bridges with strategically placed riprap and other steps;
  • Replace metal culverts with concrete on roads in flood-prone areas;
  • Providing elevated or submersible pump control panels, pump feeders, and tide gates to address flooding at vulnerable airports;
  • Install reverse flow tide gates to prevent flooding of docks, berths, terminal facilities, and connecting road and rail freight systems, and harden or elevate communication and electrical power infrastructure that services port facilities; and
  • Upgrade aged locks and movable dams to allow for reliable management of water levels and maintain embankments to protect surrounding communities from flooding.

 

We reported earlier in the week base on a draft report, the NYS2100 commission to harden NY against future storms recommended among other things, a new bus rapid transit system. Here is how results of the NYS 2100 commission are summarized officially in Cuomo's book.

Page 225: "The NYS2100 Commission reviewed the vulnerabilities faced by the State’s infrastructure systems and have worked to develop specific recommendations that can be implemented to increase New York’s resilience in five main areas: transportation, energy, land use, insurance, and infrastructure finance. The Commission seeks to:

• Identify immediate actions that should be taken to mitigate or strengthen existing infrastructure systems—some of which suffered damage in the recent storms—to improve normal functioning and to withstand extreme weather more effectively in the future;
• Identify infrastructure projects that would, if realized over a longer term, help to bring not only greater climate resilience but also other significant economic and quality of life benefits to New York State’s communities;
• Assess long-term options for the use of “hard” barriers and natural systems to protect coastal communities;
• Create opportunities to integrate resilience planning, protection and development approaches into New York’s economic development decisions and strategies; and
• Shape reforms in the area of investment, insurance and risk management related to natural disasters and other emergencies."

 

Cuomo also promises more open data, which would include quicker access to transportation data held in State Agencies -- several other states including New Jersey and Illinois already do this.

Page 203: "Open New York will provide easy, single-stop access to statewide and agency-level data, reports, statistics, compilations and information. Data will be presented in a common, downloadable, easy-to-access format, and will be searchable and mappable. The Open New York web portal will allow researchers, citizens, business and the media direct access to high-value data, which will be continually added to and expanded, so these groups can use the data to innovate for the benefit of all New Yorkers."

 

And here's the lofty language used around the new Tappan Zee Bridge, which we have covered extensively.

Page ix: "We set out to bridge the divide between yesterday and tomorrow, what was and what can be, dysfunction and performance, cynicism and trust, gridlock and cooperation to make government work.
And we are.

Look at our progress on replacing the Tappan Zee Bridge. We did in one year what was only talked about for the past ten years. The new Tappan Zee Bridge is BIG, BOLD and BEAUTIFUL. [Emphasis original]

My friends, I would like to say that our job is done. But, we have much more to do."

 

And in more detail on page 4: "Governor Cuomo, working with the State Legislature, enacted a new law allowing the use of design-build techniques on New York Works projects.1 This streamlines the contracting process by holding a single contractor accountable for both the design of the project and its actual construction, with the potential to save 9 to 12 months on the project timeline for bridge repair and construction.

"The centerpiece of the New York Works infrastructure program is the replacement of the Governor Malcolm Wilson Tappan Zee Bridge in the Hudson Valley, which has been needed for years. Plans for a new bridge were announced more than ten years ago. The State held 430 public meetings and explored 150 different bridge concepts. But New Yorkers still had not seen any results. Governor Cuomo put forward a plan for a new bridge that considered the future transit needs of the region; the plan increases lanes for drivers, creates emergency lanes and shoulders to handle accidents, includes a pedestrian and bike lane for the benefit of local communities, and will boost the economy of the region by creating and sustaining 45,000 jobs. And about one year later, on December 17, 2012, the Thruway Authority awarded a contract for the new bridge at a cost $800 million less than the next lowest bidder and approximately $2 billion less than the original estimate. Work on construction will begin in 2013.
New York’s typically high energy costs have long been a barrier to growth of the state economy. The Energy Highway initiative, introduced in the 2012 State of the State address, is a centerpiece of the Governor’s Power NY agenda, which was put in place to ensure that New York’s energy grid is the most advanced in the nation and to promote increased business investment in the state. In October 2012, the Energy Highway Blueprint was launched, identifying specific actions to modernize and expand the state’s electric infrastructure. The comprehensive plan, supported by up to $5.7 billion in public and private investments, will add up to 3,200 megawatts of additional electric generation and transmission capacity and clean power generation."

 

Full document here:

NY State of the State Book by

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Transportation Nation

Virginia Governor Proposes Eliminating State Gasoline Tax

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell (photo via flickr)

Virginia would become the first state in the country to eliminate its gasoline tax if a major transportation funding plan proposed by Governor Bob McDonnell (R) is approved by the General Assembly.

Revenue from the state gas tax of 17.5 cents per gallon, last raised by lawmakers in 1986, would be replaced by an increase in the state sales tax. That rate is currently 5 percent; the governor wants to raise it to 5.8 percent.

McDonnell’s proposal would also increase by half the portion of the sales tax already dedicated to road maintenance and operations. However, during the first three years, that tax would provide $300 million for the Silver Line rail project to Dulles International Airport -- a $5.5 billion project that Virginia has funded only $150 million to date.

“Transportation is a core function of government.  Children can’t get to school; parents waste too much time in traffic; and businesses can’t move their goods without an adequate and efficient transportation system,” said McDonnell at an afternoon news conference, flanked by members of the General Assembly who will dissect his sweeping proposals during the 45-day legislative session.

If lawmakers pass the governor’s entire plan, which also includes higher vehicles registration fees and a $100 charge on electric and natural gas vehicles, Virginia would receive more than $3 billion over five years to fund road construction and transit development, including intercity passenger rail.

A primary aim of the funding package is to stop the yearly transfer of construction dollars from the Commonwealth Transportation Fund to required maintenance projects, a process that will leave the fund empty by the end of the decade.

“My transportation funding and reform package is intended to address the short and long-term transportation funding needs of the Commonwealth. Declining funds for infrastructure maintenance, stagnant motor fuels tax revenues, increased demand for transit and passenger rail, and the growing cost of major infrastructure projects necessitate enhancing and restructuring the Commonwealth’s transportation program,” McDonnell said.

The governor has indicated in recent weeks that the state gasoline tax’s diminishing returns minimizes its effectiveness in raising new revenues.  Higher vehicle fuel efficiency standards, among other factors, have eaten into the tax’s buying power. The 17.5 cents per gallon tax currently accounts for about one-third of the state’s transportation funding, although the tax has lost 55 percent of its purchasing power when adjusted for inflation since 1986, the last time it was raised.

Instead of raising the tax or pegging it to annual inflation adjustments, the governor wants to eliminate it, although the state diesel tax would remain in place. Virginia would then abandon a fundamental premise of transportation funding: motorists who use the roads pay for the roads in the form of taxes.

“If this were adopted it would mean there would be no relationship to the extent to which people use the transportation network and what they actually pay for it," said Bob Chase, the president of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, which favors road construction as a solution to traffic congestion.

"It's a dramatic proposal to shift funding from the gas tax to the sales tax, and we're going to have to look at what it means when you disconnect the tax from the actual use of the roadways,” said Stewart Schwartz, the executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth and frequent critic of the McDonnell administration’s funding priorities.

The General Assembly has for years evaded the responsiblity of injecting significant new tax revenue into transportation. While all observers agree the state’s needs total in the billions, there is no consensus on the best way forward. To Schwartz, prioritizing road construction amounts to squandering precious funds that could be used to develop public transit systems.

"Instead of addressing metropolitan area needs, the administration is spending $1.2 billion on Rt. 460, $200 to $400 million on the Charlottesville Bypass, and proposing to spend billions on the Coalfields Expressway and an estimated $2 billion on a Northern Virginia outer beltway,” he said.

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WNYC News

Since Last State of the State, A Mixed Bag for Cuomo

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

WNYC

A year ago, in his State of the State address, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo dramatically proposed the world's largest convention center near JFK airport, $15 billion in infrastructure investments, restructuring the state's pension program, and public financing of elections.  As we head into the 2013 state of the state, here's a tally of where those promises ended up.

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Transportation Nation

Fairfax Board To Vote On Tysons Tax Hike

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Metro Rail construction from Tyson's Corner to East Falls Church station on Route 267 in Northern Virginia. (Photo by Trevor Wrayton, VDOT)

(Washington, D.C. - WAMU) More than two years after adopting a plan to modernize Tysons Corner, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors will decide Tuesday night whether to raise real estate taxes to help pay for the area's new transportation grid.

Both businesses and residential properties in Tysons Corner would be taxed to raise $250 million over 40 years to help pay for road improvements to accommodate expected population and job growth. Although commercial real estate developers are not objecting to the creation of this special tax district — they will benefit most from Tysons' growth — residential property owners are very unhappy.

While the board had contemplated making residential property owners exempt from the new taxes, that may not actually be possible, says Fairfax County Board Chairman Sharon Bulova.

"We were all a little bit surprised when we discovered that wasn't a possibility because of recent legislation at the state level," Bulova says.

At least one Virginia state lawmaker says he will introduce legislation to exempt residential properties or allow them to pay a lower tax rate. Bulova believes that would make it fair for apartment dwellers who don't stand to financially gain from future economic growth around the four planned Silver Line Metro stops in Tysons.

"If you are an existing residential homeowner, you are not going to be able to redevelop your property and you are not going to see the same kind of benefit as a developer," Bulova says.

The $250 million in new taxes is part of a total $2.3 billion needed to build a multi-modal transportation grid at Tysons Corner, county lawmakers say. Planners expect 100,000 people to live and 200,000 to work in Tysons Corner by 2050.

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Transportation Nation

Draft Report: To Withstand Storms, Build a Bigger Bus System

Monday, January 07, 2013

MTA "Bus Bridge" After Sandy replaced some subway service (NY MTA photo)

To better survive the economic impact of big storms like Sandy, New York needs a "world class" bus rapid transit system.   That's one of the major recommendations in a draft report commissioned by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on how to rebuild New York infrastructure post-Sandy.

Bus Rapid Transit -- basically, fast buses which run on segregated lanes where users pay off board -- mimics a subway system by planning bus routes that can run almost as quickly through streets as trains can underground.

Such a system could be less vulnerable to floods and more able to restart service after big storms.  It would also be able to connect neighborhoods that would otherwise be stranded by subway service disruptions.

"A world class BRT network would enhance the resilience and redundancy of the overall transit system," according to a draft copy of the report which was leaked to the New York Times.  The report contained no specific recommendations for funding the system.

It also doesn't address the thorny political question which frequently accompanies BRT proposals -- that of of turning over road space traditionally used by cars to buses only.

The recommendation is part of a set of proposals drawn up by the NYS2100 Commission, one of three large commissions set up by Governor Cuomo to address rebuilding New York in the wake of storm Sandy, which caused over $30 billion in damage.   The two other commissions, on emergency response and preparedness, delivered their findings directly to the governor last week.  No word on when the final 2100 report will be presented to the Governor, or whether or how he'll adopt its recommendations.

BRT advocates, like the Institute for Transportation Development Policy, argue that BRT can be built far more quickly and cheaply than subways. The Second Avenue subway has been under development for half a century, by contrast.

"Financial support from the State would be welcome in helping to bring New York City’s ongoing bus system improvement efforts closer to world class ‘gold standard’ BRT," said ITDP CEO Walter Hook in a statement.  "A world-class BRT system would not only have fully dedicated lanes that keep the buses separate from traffic, and off-board fare collection, but also beautiful iconic stations with platforms that allow people to step directly onto the bus."

The NYS2100 commission is co-chaired by Rockefeller Foundation Chairwoman Judith Rodin and financier Felix Rohatyn. (Rockefeller also funds Transportation Nation.)

The Governor's office didn't comment on the draft report, and an MTA spokesman, Adam Lisberg, said the report's recommendations had not been shared with the MTA.

During storm Sandy, the MTA's temporary "bus bridge," which replaced subway service during the period when all the East River tunnels were flooded, came as close to New York has seen of having a true BRT.   Though there were long lines to board the buses, the buses, aided by police officers stationed at every corner, zipped through city streets.  The ride from the East Village to Barclay's Center in Brooklyn took about 12 minutes.

The city has also installed several "select bus service" lines, which adopt some features of BRT, including off-board payment.

"BRT corridors that serve as connectors to the subway system would provide riders with muliple options for connections and access to the core," the report said.

The draft report suggests creating a bus line that would run the length of southern Brooklyn, connecting the D, F, B and Q lines,  and a east-west corridor connecting  neigborhoods like Bedford Stuyvesant to lines that run through Brownstone Brooklyn, Midwood, and Coney Island.

The draft report notes that transit ridership has increased 60 percent since 1990, but bus line speeds overall have decreased by 11 percent.

 

 

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