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Transportation Nation

Distracted Driving Awareness Month Begins With Plea to Change Behavior

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

(photo by Jim Legans, Jr.)

(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) Safety advocates are pivoting off Distracted Driving Awareness Month to publicize the issue.

Meanwhile, legislators in Richmond -- and push for legislation making texting while driving a primary offense in Virginia.

"I think we're getting to the point where people are starting to understand and recognize that, but I'm not sure people are quite aware of how dangerous it is,” says Debbie Pickford, chair of the board of Drive Smart Virginia.

Just how dangerous? Texting while driving increases your risk of a crash by 23 times, according to a study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. Eighty percent of all crashes and 65 percent of all near crashes involve driver inattention within three seconds before the accident. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who has been known to honk at drivers he sees talking on cell phones, has called distracted driving "an epidemic on America's roadways."

Despite these findings, Pickford says, it has been difficult convincing teenagers as well as adults to drop their gadgets and keep both eyes on the road. “The problem is getting worse,” she says. Her group is encouraging drivers to sign a pledge in which they publicly commit to eschewing cell phones while driving.

According to a report by the Governors Highway Safety Association, teen driver deaths went up in the first six months of 2012 compared to the same period the prior year, and Pickford says a big reason is driver distractions like smart phones.

“We’re a multitasking society. We’re a busy society,” Pickford says. “I think multitasking has become a way of life, so people are just trying to get things done when they are in their cars and there is a lot more you can do now on a smartphone.”

Distracted Driving Awareness Month was once just one week, and advocates plans to extend their activities well past April into the “dangerous months” for teenagers when proms and graduation parties increase the potential for risky road behaviors.

Ultimately, safety advocates would like society to view distracted driving the same way it now sees drunk driving, but Pickford concedes that will take many years.

“It took a while for society to get to the fact that drinking and driving is really very dangerous, so I think it will take a few years to build this campaign and make people aware,” she says. “It doesn’t happen over night and it’s why we have gone from a week to a month.  We are hosting a distracted driving summit in September in Richmond.”

Advocates are also looking to Richmond lawmakers for help. This week state legislators are expected to approve legislation that would make texting while driving a primary offense.

“Right now a policeman can pull someone over if they see something else going on in the car.  They cannot pull them over if they see you texting while driving,” Pickford says.

Drive Smart Virginia says youth education starts in the car with parents. Children as young as five begin to pick up their parents’ driving behaviors, so she is urging parents to set good examples and refrain from using hand-held cell phones at the wheel.

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Transportation Nation

Bicyclists in D.C. Lobby for Safety

Thursday, March 07, 2013

(image by Katie Harbath via flickr)

(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) In the basement of a Lutheran church a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol bicycling advocates gathered on a rain-soaked Wednesday afternoon to prepare to meet their congressional representatives. On the third day of the National Bike Summit in Washington, bicyclists from across the country took their message to lawmakers: as more bikes share the roads with cars, more bicyclists are being killed or injured.

“In order for people to feel safe they have to have their own space,” said Karen Overton of New York City, who owns two bike shops. She had a face-to-face meeting with her congresswoman, Rep. Nydia Velázquez, to talk about improving street safety through federal investments in bicycling infrastructure.

“It’s getting easier. Ten years ago it was like we were aliens on the hill. So there has been change in the right direction,” Overton said.

Less than 0.5% of federal highway safety funds are spent improving bicyclist and pedestrian safety, say advocates, at a time when the streets are becoming more dangerous for people not in cars. Pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities have increased from 12% of all roadway deaths in 2008 to almost 16% in 2011, according to the federal government's fatality analysis reporting system (FARS).

In addition to increasing federal spending on bicycling and walking infrastructure (traffic calming structures, separated bike lanes, cycle tracks), advocates are asking their representatives to follow through on efforts to require state transportation departments to set statistical goals to reduce biking and pedestrian incidents, part of a “performance measures” initiative of the MAP-21 legislation signed into law by President Obama on July 6, 2012.

“While there may be a broad safety target set for the number of lives that are lost on the roads, there isn’t a specific one for bicyclists, for pedestrians, and we feel it's a big enough issue that there should be a specific target,” said Andy Clarke, the president of the League of American Bicyclists. He is a signatory on a letter urging U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to convince states to use federal funding to make non-motorized transportation safer.

Letter to LaHood on Performance Measures

LaHood is a favorite among bike and pedestrian advocates, and he dropped by the National Bike Summit earlier this week.

Overall roadway fatalities have dropped significantly, according to federal data. The number of people killed has dropped from 37,423 in 2008 to 32,367 in 2011. But roughly 5,000 pedestrians and bicyclists are killed annually.

“The numbers have been going up slightly for those two means of travel,” Clarke said. “They’ve been going down for people who are in cars and are belted and buckled up. We want to see a similar level of attention paid to crashes that are happening involving bicyclists, involving pedestrians, even motorcyclists.”

Anthony Siracusa of Memphis was among the advocates who trekked to the hill on Wednesday. He successfully pushed for a $15 million grant to build a bicycle and pedestrian bridge across the Mississippi River. He says once lawmakers should visit bicycling and walking projects in their home districts to see for themselves how cities are becoming more livable.

“It’s one thing to talk about it across a board room table,” he said. “It’s another thing for them to actually experience it and see the number of stakeholders who come together around these projects, and the relatively small investment it takes to make a profound difference in the community.”

Follow @MartinDiCaro on Twitter.

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Transportation Nation

DOT Head Questioned Over Support of MWAA Leadership

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

After U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood praised the beleaguered Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority at a Congressional hearing last autumn, two Democratic members of Congress did a slow burn and sent separate letters to him, stating they were "troubled" and "disappointed and concerned" by his support for MWAA.

MWAA oversees the D.C. area's airports -- and is in charge of the massive $6 billion Silver Line rail project. In recent months the agency has been trying to repair its image after a federal audit that found the agency had unethical hiring and questionable contracting practices. The agency also battled Virginia's governor, who sought to oust a member of its board, and it's being sued by a former employee. Now, it's hiring an outside public relations firm.

Maryland Rep. Donna Edwards and West Virginia Rep. Nick Rahall, members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, wrote LaHood following his November 16 testimony in which he expressed “a lot of confidence in” MWAA’s CEO Jack Potter and MWAA board chairman Michael Curto.

Potter, Curto, and MWAA board vice-chairman Tom Davis were all called to testify about the findings in an audit by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s inspector general.  The audit revealed a litany of questionable hiring and contracting practices – a “culture of nepotism” – inside MWAA.

“In light to these admissions to serious missteps, and those highlighted in the Inspector General’s (IG) report, I am troubled by the support you expressed in their continued leadership,” Edwards wrote LaHood. “I would appreciate a more complete explanation of your support for the current leadership of MWAA despite their admission and the IG’s report.”

Edwards Letter to LaHood


Congresswoman Edwards declined to comment on this story, but Secretary LaHood’s office provided the following statement:

“Secretary LaHood met with Congresswoman Edwards on January 23, 2013 to respond to her letter.  They had a productive discussion of the steps the Department of Transportation has taken to improve accountability and transparency at MWAA, and the Secretary promised to work with the Congresswoman and other interested Members from the Washington Metropolitan area on this issue moving forward.”

Congressman Rahall’s February 15 letter to Sec. LaHood expressed the same concerns about the federal transportation’s chief stated confidence in Potter and Curto.

“I was disappointed and concerned by your testimony that you ‘have a lot of confidence’ the chairman of MWAA’s board of directors and MWAA’s chief executive officer, particularly in view of the fact that these individuals, by their own acknowledgement, were involved in some of the questionable conduct identified by the Inspector General,” wrote Rahall, the committee’s ranking member.

Rahall Letter to LaHood

In their November testimony, the two MWAA leaders said many of the transgressions outlined in the audit took place before they assumed their current positions. There were, however, notable cases in which they were directly involved: a law firm that employed Curto’s wife was granted a $100,000 no-bid contract to provide legal counsel.

“I was not chairman at the time. I was not on the legal committee at the time. The general counsel for [MWAA] made the decision to retain the law firm. My wife at the time was an employee at that law firm… she had no direct or indirect financial interest in the law firm,” explained Curto. “Although it wasn’t an actual conflict of interest it certainly was an appearance of a conflict of interest.”

Potter was questioned about the hiring of former MWAA board member Mame Reiley to a job created specifically for her at an annual salary of $180,000 without proper vetting or board approval.

“My judgement was not good in terms of the hiring of that person,” said Potter, who said the creation of the job was necessary to meet the challenges created by rising costs at Dulles International.

Following these admissions Edwards asked Curto if he belonged in his leadership position.

“I would hope so,” Curto responded. “I think the body of the report, most of the findings and conclusions of the inspector general's report occurred prior to my time on the board and certainly prior to my tenure as chair.”

When reached to comment on this story, Curto provided a statement.

MWAA’s "leadership continues to work diligently to address the issues and concerns reported on over the past year. We have made significant progress and believe the organization is moving expeditiously in the right direction."

Rep. Rahall’s office did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Follow @MartinDiCaro on Twitter.

 

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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

Low on Gas and Trains, NJ Struggles to Get to Work

Monday, November 05, 2012

South Orange commuters waiting in line for a bus (photo by Nancy Solomon)

(With reporting from Nancy Solomon) New Jersey commuters, many of whom still don't have power at home, struggled Monday morning to get to work. Gas is still in short supply, and New Jersey Transit's rail lines are only running limited service due to the "devastating damage" inflicted by Hurricane Sandy. The agency has set up emergency park-and-ride service and is using buses to get people into New York. But the wait time can be crushing: in South Orange, along the shuttered Midtown Direct line, train commuters waited two hours for buses.

The Department of Transportation says it's sending 350 buses to the state to fill in where commuter rail service has been disrupted. "The good news for commuters," writes Secretary Ray LaHood, "is that seventy of those buses will arrive ready for service this afternoon in New Jersey and many more will arrive throughout the week." Philadelphia's transit agency (SEPTA) has also sent 31 buses.

A spokeswoman for New Jersey Transit says the agency is trying to cope with multiple challenges and that it is difficult to add express bus service into New York.

For a slideshow of NJ Transit's storm damage, go here.

 

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Transportation Nation

Outgoing MWAA Board Member: Virginia's Funding of Silver Line "A Disgrace"

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Dennis Martire (photo courtesy of LiUNA)

Dennis Martire and the agency he worked for would be paid little attention – if not for the responsibility running one of the largest public transportation projects in the country: the Silver Line Metro rail to Dulles International Airport.

Wednesday morning Martire officially resigned from his position as a member of the board of directors of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) after months of criticism directed from high places at both his professional behavior and the conduct of the airports authority itself.

In his first interview since settling a costly legal dispute with Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell's administration and agreeing to resign, Martire -- a high-ranking official with the labor union LiUNA -- defended the agency’s record and denied any wrongdoing.

‘We have a policy that allows us to go to airport conferences.  It’s not like we pull out a globe, spin it, and say 'we’re going here today,'” Martire said.

A Washington Post editorial in May accused Martire of spending more than “$38,000 attending five conferences in 2010 and 2011,” including a nine-day trip to attend a 36-hour conference in Sardinia.

“It was a three-day trip [the editorial board] made into a nine-day trip.  The conference was only three days.  I flew from there to somewhere else on my dime, not on MWAA’s dime,” he said.

In August, the federal Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood sent MWAA a letter expressing outrage at “ongoing reports describing questionable dealings including the award of numerous lucrative no-bid contracts to former Board members.” MWAA (pronounced "em-wah") has publicized reforms of its spending, travel, and contracting practices, but Martire believes the board of directors and the agency’s leadership allowed their opponents to turn such issues into a distraction from MWAA’s stewardship of the Silver Line.

“The airports authority has handled this project remarkably well,” said Martire, who said a project labor agreement (PLA) -- a pro-union provision voluntarily undertaken by the prime contractor in the Silver Line’s Phase 1 construction -- kept the project on-time, on-budget, and with a strong record of worker safety.

“Compared to other major infrastructure projects in northern Virginia like the Springfield interchange or the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, it’s a model project. Those projects were all hundreds of millions of dollars over budget.  The taxpayer is the one who has to eat that money,” he said.

Martire said “it’s a disgrace” that the state of Virginia has provided only $150 million dollars for Phase 2 of the Silver Line, which has an estimated price tag of $3 billion, and he urged the federal government to provide additional funding to bring down the projected toll increases on the Dulles Toll Road.  Under the current financing arrangement, those tolls will cover 75 percent of Phase 2’s costs.  A full, round-trip toll would rise to $9 in 2015 under current MWAA projections.

“You’re going to have rail to Dulles and beyond, but the tolls are still my major concern. This could be a boondoggle if it’s built out there with $10 tolls,” Martire said.

Martire also shrugged off criticism for supporting the use of a non-voluntary PLA in planning process for Phase 2, accusing its critics of opposing organized labor.

“I do work for a labor union,” Martire said. “There’s no doubt that the governor of Virginia and Congressman [Frank] Wolf, both Republicans, do not like labor.  They don’t like what labor stands for.”

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Transportation Nation

BREAKING: Federal Money Could Stave Off Dulles Toll Road Toll Hike -- If the Loan Comes Through

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Construction crews work on the Silver Line to Dulles International Airport in Virginia. (Photo CC by Flickr user Wayan Vota)

The federal government may provide a substantial loan to the agency running the Silver Line rail project to Dulles International Airport, enabling the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) to lower projected toll rate increases on the Dulles Toll Road that are expected to cover 75 percent of the rail project’s estimated Phase 2 cost of $2.7 billion, a Virginia congressman said.

MWAA, along with Fairfax and Loudoun Counties, plans to submit a letter of interest by September 30 to the federal government for a loan under the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation (TIFIA) Act, which established a program that lends money for major transportation projects throughout the country.

Based on recent discussions with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Representative Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said he expects a loan to come through soon

“I’m very confident we’re going to be able to lock down a TIFIA loan for a fairly substantial percentage of the cost of the construction of Phase 2 by the end of this year,” Connolly said. “We know that [the loan] can’t exceed 33 percent of the cost of the project. It is my hope that it will be somewhere between 25 and 30 percent, but we have to see. We are in competition with other projects around the country as well.”

Effective January, the cost of a one-way, full toll is projected to rise to $2.75. In 2015, it increases to $4.50, with scheduled increases of $2 every five years.

“One of my goals is to move us from zero federal assistance to a substantial federal assistance so we can get the pressure of the toll users and the toll rates,” Connolly said.

There is currently no federal funding for Phase 2 of the Silver Line, which is expected to begin construction next year. The state of Virginia is providing $150 million.  Fairfax and Loudoun Counties have allocated substantial sums, but three-quarters of the cost is expected to come from Dulles Toll Road users.

Because the project, which will extend to the airport and beyond into Loudoun County by the end of the decade, did not meet Federal Transit Administration criteria for expected ridership, the federal government was reluctant to provide any funding at all. After the project was split into two phases the government allocated $900 million for Phase 1, which will end at Wiehle Avenue in Reston, Va.

“One of the flaws in the financing of this project is that the Commonwealth of Virginia really hasn’t put up its own money. It has used our money in the form of toll revenue to finance its share and airports' [authority’s] share of this project, and that puts real upward pressure on toll rates,” Connolly said.

The Reston Citizens Association, which says it represents 58,000 Fairfax County residents, sent a letter on Monday to the MWAA’s chief executive officer, calling the recent public hearings the agency held “inadequate” considering the anticipated impact of higher tolls. The association is asking the MWAA to reduce the toll burden to 25 percent of the Silver Line’s Phase 2 cost.

The letter “details the harm the proposed toll hikes will do to the well being of toll road users, to the already serious congestion on local roads, and to the potential economic and tax revenue growth in the Dulles Corridor.” Opponents of the current financing structure say drivers attempting to avoid the higher tolls will seek alternate routes to work, further congesting already jammed secondary roads.

“[The] MWAA has a responsibility to address the variety of community concerns we enumerate and more.  It is a far broader responsibility than building a 16-mile railroad. We are anxious to help you find new funding sources,” the RCA writes.

“The public needs to be heard. I think the Reston [Citizens] Association is absolutely correct,” Connolly says.  “I share the Reston Association’s concern about the lack of accountability at MWAA.”

The MWAA's proposed toll hike is also the subject of a recent class action lawsuit, which argues that the agency does not have the legal right to raise tolls on drivers to pay for trains.

In recent months the embattled MWAA has publicized measures it has taken to improve transparency after reports of profligate spending and unethical practices by some members of its board of directors.

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Transportation Nation

DOT Doles Out $363 Million in Highway Funding

Thursday, August 02, 2012

This just in from the U.S. Department of Transportation. View a list of recipients here. And read the DOT's announcement below.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood Announces More Than $363 Million in Grants for State Highway Projects

Funds will create jobs by expanding highway repairs and roadway safety

WASHINGTON – U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today announced more than $363 million in grants to fund a wide variety of highway improvements, from interstate rehabilitation and reconstruction to technologies that result in improved safety and reduced construction congestion.

“Investments in transportation projects like these create jobs right away in communities across the country, and lay a foundation for future economic growth,” said Secretary LaHood. “Thanks to these grants, states, cities and local communities can move forward with the transportation projects Americans need to reach their destinations more safely, quickly and efficiently.”

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) invited states, cities, tribal governments and local planning organizations to apply for federal funding from 12 grant programs. Nearly 1,500 requests poured in from every state, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C. totaling approximately $2.5 billion. Grant funding was made available through enactment of the Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2012, Part II.

The 12 programs are:

Public Lands Highway
Interstate Maintenance
Transportation, Community and System Preservation
Ferry Boat
National Scenic Byways
Value Pricing Pilot
Highways for LIFE
National Historic Covered Bridge Preservation
Railway-Highway Crossing Hazard Elimination in High Speed Rail Corridor
Delta Region Transportation Development
Innovative Bridge Research and Deployment
Truck Parking Border Infrastructure
All 50 states, District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico were awarded grants. Some examples of selected projects:

Louisiana received more than $3 million to improve I-10 from the Lafayette Parish Line to the Atchafalaya Floodway Bridge. In addition to new pavement, the project will upgrade the guardrail and add new roadway striping to the route. The road is a high-volume truck corridor and is one of the state’s major hurricane evacuation routes.

Ohio received $3.34 million to improve I-75 in downtown Dayton from Fifth Street to Riverview Avenue. This two-mile stretch of interstate is Ohio’s second-most congested area. The project will improve driver safety and reduce traffic congestion for the 104,000 drivers who use it each day.

Missouri received $2 million for engineering work needed to replace the two bridges on I-44 over the Meramec River and to add an eastbound lane to reduce congestion and improve safety for drivers in St. Louis County.

Descriptions of each program and grant awards can be found here.

“The demand for these funds demonstrates a clear need for increased infrastructure investment,” said Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez. “The President asked us to rebuild America - we have work to be done and Americans ready to do the work.”

These programs were authorized by Congress to support projects that improve roadway safety, maintain the nation's roads and bridges and make communities more livable.

 

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Transportation Nation

Ray LaHood: If You Want Federal Transportation Money to Go to Biking and Walking, Start Agitating Locally

Monday, July 23, 2012

By Ray LaHood, Secretary, U.S. Department of Transportation

Last week Transportation Nation readers sent me a number of great questions to answer in my latest "On the Go" video. Today, I'd like to return the favor by answering one or two more questions right here on Transportation Nation.

Greg asked: "How can DOT give Americans more transit, walking, and biking options when the vast majority of the money will just be passed to state DOTs to buy more highways?"

Well, Greg, as I acknowledged in "On the Go," some readers of Transportation Nation may not be happy with every part of the new transportation bill, MAP-21. But at DOT, we aren't about to stop moving American transportation forward.

The new bill actually increases the portion of funding going to transit. It broadens the New Starts program to include projects that expand capacity on existing transit lines, and that's a great opportunity for cities with legacy systems. It also provides a big bump to our transit State Of Good Repair program.

And, although highway formula funding is passed to the states, states can still use some of those funds for bicycle and pedestrian projects and other activities that improve air quality and relieve congestion. It's true that MAP-21 permits the states to redirect transportation enhancement funding for purposes other than active transportation, but that doesn't necessarily mean they will.

If accessibility advocates and biking and walking advocates make their voices heard in their state capitols and in their county and city councils, there's no reason to believe that the tremendous progress we've made in the last three years can't continue.

(video of Secretary LaHood from "On The Go")

Tanya asked, "What's your favorite transit line? What city works the best?"

I don't know if Tanya is testing me here or not, but I've already been asked to pick my favorite Olympic sport, and I am not about to pick a favorite transit line or city and arouse the disappointment of every other community in America.

I will say that our nation's transit agencies are doing a great job of moving people where they need to go as safely and reliably as they can. Whether it's by bus, light rail, commuter rail, subway, paratransit, or streetcar, Americans are taking more than 10 billion transit rides each year. And the American Public Transportation Association recently reported that the first quarter of 2012 was the fifth consecutive quarter of ridership growth. As our economy continues to recover, those numbers are only going to increase even more. So my favorite transit line is any one that helps people get where they need to go.

I'm also pleased that MAP-21 gives the Federal Transit Administration a safety oversight role for the first time. We worked with Congress for more than two years to secure that authority, and I know the folks at FTA will hit the ground running in their new mission.

Okay, that's it from here. Thanks again to Transportation Nation and its readers. I appreciate your interest, and I encourage you to stay engaged.

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Transportation Nation

US DOT Head Ray LaHood to Transportation Nation Readers: Transpo Bill is "Highway Centric"

Thursday, July 19, 2012

For his latest "On the Go" video Q&A, the U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary fielded questions from Transportation Nation readers, who grilled him about the new transportation bill (MAP 21) and high-speed rail.

"We think that the MAP 21...is probably a little highway centric," says LaHood, but "I think we're on the right track" when it comes to bike and pedestrian improvements.

In response to a question about the prospects of high-speed rail in the Northeast, LaHood said that the federal government is investing $3 billion in rail upgrades along the corridor. "Amtrak is doing well," he said, pointing out that ridership is  booming. While not talking specific timing for fast trains along the Boston-to-DC route, he said "the future is very bright" for rail in the Northeast.

Enough of transportation. What will the secretary be watching at the summer Olympics? It turns out he's a swimming aficionado ("people have to train very, very hard") as well as a basketball fan -- but he deftly sidestepped the current debate over whether the 2012 U.S. basketball team is the equal of the "dream team."

 

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Transportation Nation

Ask the US DOT Secretary Your Transpo Questions!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

US Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is inviting questions from TN readers. Want to know how the nation's transportation priorities are shifting? Wondering about the future of high-speed rail? Or how he decides where to spend the DOT's $70 billion budget? Or do you just want to know if he really does honk at drivers he sees texting behind the wheel?

For the next episode of his Q&A video series called “On the Go," Secretary LaHood is inviting questions from Transportation Nation readers. To ask him a question, you can:

Post questions on the Secretary’s Facebook page

Tweet using the #q4ray hashtag

Leave a comment on the Secretary’s blog, or

Leave a comment on this page

He will choose three or four to respond to. Let him know we sent you – write ‘TN’ at the end of your question.  We’ll post his video when it’s available.

Want to see what "On the Go" is like? Watch Secretary LaHood field questions from TN readers in 2011!

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Transportation Nation

LaHood: Cellphone Use While Driving A "National Epidemic"

Thursday, June 07, 2012

 

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood (US DOT Photo)

US Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has stepped up federal efforts to combat distracted driving, which he says are responsible for ten percent of all traffic fatalities.

The Blueprint for Ending Distracted Driving, released Thursday, builds on efforts first piloted in Syracuse and Hartford. It calls for more public awareness, police enforcement, and driver education about the dangers of texting while driving. It also encourages the 11 remaining states that lack anti-texting laws to pass them.

While a recent government survey found that teen seatbelt use is up and drunk driving is down, over half of all high school seniors admitted to texting or emailing while driving.

On his blog, LaHood wrote that deaths from distracted driving are entirely preventable.  "In 2010, at least 3,092 people were killed on our nation's roads in distraction-affected crashes. That's approximately one in every ten fatalities, and we can put an end to it."

The DOT is also funding a $2.4 million pilot program in California and Delaware that will examine whether increased police enforcement coupled with advertising and news coverage can significantly reduce distracted driving.

The blueprint can be downloaded here (pdf).

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Transportation Nation

Trans-Hudson Tunnel Awarded Another $20 Million -- If Congress Okays It

Thursday, April 19, 2012

(photo courtesy of Senator Lautenberg)

A new trans-Hudson tunnel got a $20 million vote of confidence Thursday -- but it remains to be seen whether it will win approval in political environment riven by dissent over transportation funding.

The Gateway tunnel project-- deemed "absolutely critical" by U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in a hearing last month -- was proposed last year as an alternative to the ARC tunnel, a similar project cancelled by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in 2010.

According to Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), who 's trying to bring a new rail tunnel to fruition, Gateway is expected to increase Amtrak and NJ Transit's capacity into New York by 65 percent.

Both New Jersey senators have thrown their support behind the project. “The Gateway Tunnel is critical to addressing our state's transportation crisis,” said Lautenberg in an emailed statement. Senator Robert Menendez, also quoted in the email, added: “We are at capacity on all Hudson River crossings, so the Gateway Project is simply essential to New Jersey’s economic growth and for our commuters."

Lautenberg is smarting over the ARC tunnel. At a Senate hearing yesterday, he testily asked a Port Authority executive: "Why did the administration that we have in office now cancel $6 billion worth of money that we raised through this place to build a tunnel and get 22,000 cars off the road?"

If the $20 million wins full Senate approval, Amtrak will have a total of $35 million to begin design and engineering work on Gateway. In November 2011, the Senate approved $15 million for the project. Amtrak had initially requested $50 million for a design and engineering study.

 

 

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Transportation Nation

LaHood: Gateway Tunnel "Absolutely Critical" To NY/NJ Region

Thursday, March 15, 2012

DOT head Ray LaHood threw in a plug for a trans-Hudson rail crossing known as the Gateway Tunnel.

Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) -- a longtime booster of a new trans-Hudson rail crossing between New Jersey and New York City -- was questioning the secretary at Thursday's Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing on the Department of Transportation's budget. Lautenberg asked LaHood:  "You've looked at this proposal many times. What impact might the Gateway Tunnel project have on mobility and the economy of the Northeast Corridor?"

LaHood's response:  “We are working with both New Jersey and New York. We know this tunnel is absolutely critical and we will continue our work. Look, if this is the priority for the region, then it becomes a priority for us.”

The Gateway Tunnel, which would boost capacity for both Amtrak and NJ Transit, was proposed last year as an alternative to the ARC tunnel -- which NJ Governor Christie cancelled in October 2010.  In November 2011, the Senate approved $15 million for Amtrak to begin design and engineering work on the Gateway project.

You can watch the video of Thursday''s exchange below.

 

 

 

 

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: Transpo Bill Differences Heat Up, Gridlock Reigns Over NYC Skies, LeBron James Bikes To Work

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Top stories on TN: a California lawmaker wants to put high-speed rail back on that state's ballot. For the first time ever, NYC gets a subway map that actually shows what trains are running late at night when three lines shut down. And: Why do some cities get car share while others don't?

(photo by Theo La Photo via flickr)

Amtrak funding, ANWR drilling, and the Keystone XL pipeline are shaping up to be the major differences between the House and Senate versions of the transportation bills. (Politico)

And: the House Republican version would spend about $260 billion over the next four and a half years -- and substantially increase the size of trucks permitted on highways. (AP)

NJ Governor Chris Christie defended recommending 50 people — including dozens with ties to his administration — for Port Authority jobs. (The Record)

Gridlock reigns in the skies over New York City. (USA Today)

Sam LaHood -- son of U.S. DOT head Ray LaHood -- is being sheltered in the U.S. embassy in Cairo after Egypt barred him from leaving the country. (Los Angeles Times)

The auto industry is taking a second look at diesel engines. (NPR)

A recent New York law designed to speed infrastructure projects will be put to the test on the Tappan Zee Bridge. (Bloomberg/BusinessWeek)

A 2010 federal audit of Atlanta's transit system raised safety concerns that included the death of a passenger, faulty third rail indicator lights, and a near miss between a train and a work vehicle in a rail yard. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

The NYC intersection where a 12-year-old was recently struck and killed by a minivan has a shorter crossing time than 20 major intersections across the city. (DNA Info)

Why are Chinatown buses so popular? Riders liken it more to an "attractive cultural experience than to an objective travel choice." (Atlantic Cities)

A NY State Senator -- who has made the city's rodent problem one of his biggest issues -- wants to ban eating on subways. (WABC)

Olympic organizers want Londoners to change their travel patterns during the games to ease the strain on public transit. One recommendation: stop and have a beer on your way home from work. (Washington Post)

A program that uses police pace cars to reduce traffic congestion on Colorado's Interstate 70 in the mountains this winter was suspended after too many skiers and other mountain visitors jammed the highway, creating a bottleneck. (The Republic)

LeBron James: basketball player, bike commuter. '"You guys drove here?" James said to reporters after the game. "You guys are crazy."' (Wall Street Journal)

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Transportation Nation

LaHood to Announce Bus Safety Measures

Thursday, May 05, 2011

From the AP.  We'll have more later:

WASHINGTON (AP) - It would be harder for tour bus companies to win permission to operate and easier for the government to put rogue operators out of business under a series of bus safety steps announced Thursday by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

Other proposals announced by LaHood would make it easier for the government to take away bus drivers' commercial licenses if they violate drug and alcohol laws while operating a vehicle other than a bus or if they fail to pay fines.

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Transportation Nation

TN Moving Stories: Bin Laden's Death Drops Oil Prices, Boston Prepares for Bike Share

Monday, May 02, 2011

Oil prices fall on news of Osama bin Laden's death. (Marketplace)

Washington's Metro transit system is stepping up security as a precaution. (AP)

More coverage of the NYC DOT's "Sustainable Streets Index" report in the Wall Street Journal.

A Boston Globe editorial lauds the city's biking efforts, but says "the city must also work to cultivate the good habits, among bicyclists as well as motorists, that will allow both types of vehicles to coexist." The Globe also looks at DC's Capital Bikeshare program -- and wonders if its success can be replicated in Boston.

Chrysler posts its first profit since going through bankruptcy two years ago. (New York Times)

Ray LaHood kicks off Bike Safety Month and urges people to be "Roll Models."

New York City's Five Boro Bike Tour took place yesterday. (WNYC)

Five Boro Bike Tour (photo by Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

Follow Transportation Nation on Twitter.

In case you missed it on Transportation Nation:

--NYC DOT says biking is up, streets are safer (link)

--The increase in gas prices drove bus ridership up as well (link)

--you can now take the train to the track in NY again (link)

--the federal government told NJ it absolutely positively had to repay ARC tunnel money (link)


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Transportation Nation

BREAKING LaHood: Give Us A Week on Florida High Speed Rail

Thursday, February 17, 2011

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) After a meeting with Democratic Senator Bill Nelson of Florida and a group of Florida Congress members, the U.S. DOT wants a deal put together in a week  in which a third party assumes all the financial risk of building a high speed rail line.

More soon.

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Transportation Nation

TN Moving Stories: Emergency ARC Meeting in Trenton, and BRT Begins in NYC This Weekend

Friday, October 08, 2010

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff head to Trenton to meet with Governor Christie about the ARC tunnel. (WNYC)

Paul Krugman gets into the ARC fray with an op-ed calling Christie's decision "destructive and incredibly foolish." He continues: "We have become...a nation whose politicians seem to compete over who can show the least vision, the least concern about the future and the greatest willingness to pander to short-term, narrow-minded selfishness." (New York Times)

Bus Rapid Transit to begin Sunday on New York's East Side.

The upcoming election will likely decide whether passengers on DC's future Purple Line will ride trains or buses (Washington Post). Meanwhile, Virginia governor fails in latest bid to put his representatives on Metro board. (WAMU)

From the Economist: electric vehicles are neither useful nor green. But here in the U.S., purchasers of EVs get bombarded with incentives. "It just keeps getting better and better," says one buyer. (New York Times)

San Francisco, Oakland, climb list of bicycle commuting cities, with Oakland posting a whopping 18% increase. (Streetsblog)

President Obama’s Transportation Department has collected nearly twice as much in aviation industry fines as in the final two years of George W. Bush’s presidency. (Boston Globe)

European high-speed rail network to expand: in 2014, Eurostar will offer trains from London to Amsterdam and Geneva. (Telegraph)

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Transportation Nation

Christie says the ARC Tunnel is Dead. But Does the DOT Agree?

Thursday, October 07, 2010

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) We reached out to the Department of Transportation for comment and received this response:

"Secretary LaHood and Governor Christie plan to meet tomorrow afternoon to discuss a path forward on the ARC tunnel project.”

Senator Frank Lautenberg will also be speaking in about half an hour about the ARC tunnel.  We'll keep you updated.

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