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Transportation Nation

Lawyer Who Sued to Remove Bike Lane Is De Blasio Backer

Thursday, March 21, 2013

 

The lawyer appealing a lawsuit to remove the Prospect Park West bike lane has held a fundraiser and donated the maximum allowable amount to Bill de Blasio's campaign for New York City mayor -- but a de Blasio campaign spokesman says the candidate for Mayor, if elected, won't remove the lane.

James Walden's name shows up on a list of fundraisers released by the de Blasio campaign "to demonstrate Bill de Blasio's personal commitment to transparency."

Screen shot of Bill de Blasio's website, listing Jim Walden as host or co-host of a fundraising event.

Brooklyn resident Jim Walden, the attorney for Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes, held a January 10 fundraiser for de Blasio. New York City campaign finance rules state the limit for a contribution to a mayoral campaign is $4,950, and Jim Walden has given the maximum allowable contribution to Bill de Blasio's campaign.

Neither the de Blasio campaign nor Walden would comment on the reasons for his support, though Dan Levitan, a de Blasio spokesman, says "Walden has been a long time supporter of Bill's," dating back to de Blasio's days as a city council member.  Levitan says the Public Advocate,  if elected Mayor, won't remove that bike lane.

Walden has also given $1,000 to mayoral candidate William Thompson.

Former Giuliani Deputy Mayor Randy Mastro, Walden's law partner, has also given $2000 to De Blasio and $3000 to Thompson.

De Blasio spokesman Dan Levitan said the campaign doesn't comment on individual donors, and pointed out the candidate has already issued a statement expressing support for bike lanes.

"The need for safer streets for bikers, walkers, and drivers is one I feel in my core,” de Blasio said in his statement last month. “For that reason, I fully support bike lanes and I want to see them continue to expand around the city. They are clearly making many NYC streets safer. But I think we need to take an approach different from the Mayor’s. While more and more communities and riders want bike lanes, the City still hasn’t come around to proactively engaging those who are concerned by them.

But more to the point: Levitan said de Blasio "has no plans to revisit the Prospect Park west bike lane.”

So under a de Blasio mayoralty, a de Blasio-appointed DOT commissioner won't rethink, rework, re-pave the bike lane?

"No."

Jim Walden did not return several phone calls.

The lawsuit against the Prospect Park West bike lane -- dismissed by a Kings County Supreme Court Justice in August 2011 -- is currently under appeal.

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Transportation Nation

Object Lesson: How Sequestration Could Affect Small Airports

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Chocks Away- business jet traffic at Kissimmee Gateway Airport could suffer if the control tower closes (photo by Matthew Peddie)

Budget cuts brought about by sequestration could force the closure of more than 100 air traffic control facilities  -- including control towers at smaller airports across the US.

Kissimmee Gateway Airport, which is just outside of Orlando, is on the list of towers which could be shut down April 7th. City leaders say that would put the brakes on one of the main economic drivers in the area.

“It’s an economic engine, not only necessarily because of what happens on the field, but also what happens adjacent to it," says Mayor Jim Swan. He says the economic impact of the airport is estimated around $100 million a year. Swan says losing the tower will make it  tough to market a $3.2 million dollar business airpark  which is being built with state and local funds.

A large part of the airport’s traffic includes business jets bringing people to functions at nearby Disney World and conventions on Orlando's International Drive.

Last year the airport saw 129,000 departures and landings from a mix of business jets, and propeller planes. Aviation director Terry Lloyd says losing the control tower- which is operated under a contract with the Federal Aviation Administration- could decrease flights to under 100,000 a year.

"I think it's something that we have a lot of dread [about], and there are a lot of unknowns," he says.

He says having a tower to help manage traffic makes Kissimmee a more attractive destination for business jets.

"The corporate traffic- that's kind of on the top of their checklist, if there's an airport with a tower, that's where they go," he says. "And then if there's not a tower they make a decision- is it important enough for us to go in there, and a lot of it's driven by the aircraft insurance companies."

Aircraft operators also have fuel agreements at airports - like Kissimmee- that guarantee the price of aviation fuel if they land there.  Lloyd says those agreements could also be jeopardized by the loss of the tower.

Other airport users say they're concerned about safety. John Calla, vice president of operations for Italico Aviation--  a company that plans to import and assemble light sport aircraft at Kissimmee -- says he's worried about the mix of traffic if there's no tower. "You see the jets that take off here and the speed they operate," says Calla. "You get a smaller aircraft that's used to flying about 60 miles per hour, integrating with something of that size, and you could get some conflicts.

Calla says the tower is important to separate and sequence the arrival and departure of planes. "They know the speed of the aircraft and they know how much to sequence it so traffic flow is not impaired. It also improves the safety as well."

Florida Congressman Alan Grayson has written to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and the FAA urging them to consider the impact of closing the tower.

 

 

 

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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

Virginia House and Senate Negotiators Strike Transportation Funding Deal

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Virginia capitol building (photo by Thruhike98 via flickr)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow Martin Di Caro on Twitter.

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Transportation Nation

Former MTA Chief Offers Fresh Details on Sandy Prep

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Former MTA chief Joe Lhota, currently a GOP candidate for mayor in New York City, offered fresh details on how the nation's largest transit authority prepared for the state's most destructive storm.

Speaking on the Brian Lehrer Show, Lhota said there were "numerous different planning events, tabletop exercises, including management as well as labor.  That's a very important part of why the system came back as quickly as possible."

Lhota said that as soon as the extent of the storm surge became apparent, the MTA removed electronic relay boxes in the subway tracks.  "By virtue of taking them out they weren't affected by the salt water. It made all the difference in the world."

Lhota resigned as MTA chief December 31 to run in the 2013 mayoral election as a Republican. He said Wednesday that he was in discussions as early as last June about running, but that he didn't make up his mind until after Sandy.

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Transportation Nation

Investigation: Washington Airport Agency Leadership Targeted Pro-Labor Board Members in Rail Line Fight

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Dulles Airport (photo courtesy of Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority)

(Washington, D.C, - WAMU) A former board member of the authority in charge of airports in the Washington, D.C. region is accusing the agency's leaders of not telling the whole truth in testimony before Congress, and internal emails suggest three current authority board members worked with officials in Richmond, Va. to remove one of their colleagues, an investigation by WAMU has found.

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) is trying to rebuild the public's trust after a tumultuous 2012. But key officials who remain in their MWAA posts were involved in the political maneuvering that ended in the resignations of two pro-labor, Democratic board members who, their opponents say, were threatening the completion of the Silver Line: Mame Reiley and Dennis Martire, who supported a controversial pro-union provision for the construction of the rail project's second phase.

Twenty-three pages of emails obtained by WAMU suggest that Republican board members Tom Davis and Todd Stottlemyer, as well as Democrat Rusty Conner, were aware of Gov. Bob McDonnell’s intention to remove Dennis Martire from the MWAA board and communicated with Republican officials in Richmond to secure Martire's removal.

And former MWAA board member Bob Brown, a Democrat, says agency CEO Jack Potter and board vice-chairman Tom Davis did not tell the whole truth when they told members of a House subcommittee last November that the hiring of Mame Reiley to a staff position was only Potter’s idea.

The emails, along with Brown's allegation, suggest that an agency designed to be insulated from political pressures was riven by them.  The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is comprised of four jurisdictions: D.C., Maryland, Virginia, and the federal government (three board members are presidential appointees). The board members terms are staggered to prevent any single mayor or governor from exerting excessive influence over the appointment process.  Yet it appears the Republican administration of Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell sought to replace members of the board of directors not when their terms expired but through political pressure exerted by its allies.

‘Not illegal, but against the grain’

Reiley resigned from the board in February, citing health concerns, and began a new, $180,000 per year position shortly thereafter.

“Nobody did anything illegal, but it goes against the grain, of the notion of these kinds of non-political regional agencies,” said Brown.

Brown says Davis, who was appointed by McDonnell, orchestrated the hiring of Reiley to a special position created for her. Brown says he knows this because both Reiley and Davis told him so.

“Tom was the one that conceived of the idea of how to persuade Mame Reiley to resign her seat and open up that prior Democratic appointment for McDonnell to fill,” Brown says.

By replacing Reiley on the MWAA board of directors with Todd Stottlemyer, the McDonnell administration secured another Republican vote against a pro-labor provision included in the bidding process for Phase 2 of the Silver Line. McDonnell and Republicans in the General Assembly fought against that provision, known as a PLA or project labor agreement, and the all-Republican Loudoun County Board of Supervisors threatened to pull out of the project over it.

MWAA had defended the pro-labor provision against these attacks for months, but bowed to this pressure and voted to kill the PLA on June 6.

Davis denies he orchestrated Reiley’s hiring. Reiley did not return calls and emails seeking comment.

“There are other people, who I am not going to get into, that basically initiated this conversation,” Davis said. “I didn't have a dog in that fight but I thought getting her off the board frankly at that point would be a win-win for everybody.  So I acquiesced and didn't raise an objection to it.”

Potter, the MWAA CEO, finalized Reiley's hiring and continues to take sole responsibility for the decision — a decision that was among questionable dealings highlighted in an audit by the U.S. Department of Transportation last year.

“I stand by what I testified in front of Congress. I made the decision on the hiring and it was my sole decision. I made the decision to hire Mame Reiley, period,” Potter told WAMU 88.5 in an interview this week.

Potter noted in his November testimony, “My judgment was not good in terms of the hiring of that person.”  He added, however, that the position was necessary to develop land to offset rising costs at Dulles International Airport.

Davis testified at the same hearing that he knew the job was being created for Reiley.

“I was aware. There were board members it was run by,” Davis testified. “This was a complicated situation.”

Board members emailed about Martire’s ouster

McDonnell on June 14, 2012 attempted to remove Dennis Martire from MWAA's board "for cause."  It was just one week after the board voted to remove the pro-labor provision from the Silver Line bid process. Martire supported the PLA but had also been embarrassed by accusations that he abused MWAA’s travel policy.

Emails sent by Davis, Stottlemyer, and board member Rusty Conner suggest they knew of the governor's intention to dump Martire in February — four months earlier, according to emails which were obtained from a Fairfax Circuit Court filing.

In an email sent on Feb. 18, 2012 Davis wrote to David Speck, a former MWAA board member and member of Virginia’s House of Delegates. “I think they will try to remove Denny so that means two more [board] openings,” the email from Davis reads. “ [Virginia Transportation Secretary] Sean Connaughton is the key decision maker. It may be helpful for them to keep this bipartisan.”

A Fairfax Circuit Court judge blocked the governor’s attempt to remove Martire. The board member eventually settled his legal dispute with the commonwealth and agreed to resign his board seat.

Davis admitted he wanted Martire off the board, but insists it was not for political reasons, and that there was nothing improper in him supporting the labor leader’s removal.

“My job was to try to get a rail system built. This board was dysfunctional. It wasn't just the PLA. It was the lack of transparency. There were 20 things going wrong at that point,” Davis told WAMU 88.5 in an interview.

One of those things going wrong was the insertion of the labor agreement into the bidding process for Phase 2 of the Silver Line, which would have awarded contractors a bonus in their bidding scores if they agreed to enter into a voluntarily labor agreement with the workforce building the rail line. As a right-to-work state, Virginia’s General Assembly voted to withhold $150 million in funding if the PLA provision remained.

Project costs would have escalated under the project labor agreement, Davis argues. But Potter sees a value in such agreements; he credits the PLA Phase 1’s construction with keeping the project on time and on budget.

“The project labor agreement included a no-strike clause.  It assured that there was an available trained workforce for the project.  It produced an outstanding safety record. It provided management flexibility in the form of flexible work schedules that were very much needed given the nature of the type of work that was being done,” Potter said at an MWAA board meeting.

Bids for Phase 2 of the Silver Line construction are due by April 19.

In mid-May, Davis emailed fellow board member Conner, telling him that the PLA would be overturned June 6. "We all need to keep powder dry until then including Richmond," meaning the move to remove Martire should wait until after the PLA vote.

Conner emailed back,  "Call Sean [Connaughton] and tell him not to pull the trigger on Martire until the 7th,” referring to the Virginia transportation secretary.

But Connaughton says it wasn’t his call; the Governor had the final say on Martire’s removal.

“The airports authority members are supposed to be representing the interests of the people that they were appointed by,” Connaughton said. “Each one is governed by the laws of the jurisdictions that appointed them.  They are not supposed to be off doing things that are contrary to the interest of the jurisdictions in the region.”

In a June 1 email, Davis seems to joke that Martire may "keep his parking if he resigns, not if he is removed."

MWAA provided Martire $855,000 to pay his legal fees.  The authority also provided Davis, Stottlemyer, and fellow board member Rusty Conner $196,000 for their legal fees incurred fighting subpoenas for 700 emails requested by Martire’s lawyers. The emails cited in this story were part of that filing. The $196,000 was paid to the law firm DLA Piper, where board member Rusty Conner is a partner.

"A Clean Sweep"?

Despite MWAA’s efforts to turn over a new leaf on ethics and practices, one government watchdog said the continued political infighting will affect the agency’s ability to perform its duties.

“Given all that has gone in the past couple of years with the board, it really seems like the best course of action would be a clean sweep and an entirely new set of board members,” said Melanie Sloan, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Both the MWAA board chairman Michael Curto and CEO Jack Potter should also resign after being implicated in the Department of Transportation audit, Sloan said.

“It’s impossible for the public to have confidence in board members who engage in conduct like that,” she said.

Follow Martin Di Caro on Twitter @MartinDiCaro

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Transportation Nation

Among NYC Candidates, Bike Lanes Stir Anxiety

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Photo: Kate Hinds

For New York mayoral candidates, bike lanes are complex. That's why City Council Speaker Christine Quinn proclaimed them off-limits for dinner party conversation.  It's why Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who's criticized the way the city approves bike lanes, leapt Wednesday to issue a statement proclaiming "bike lanes make NYC streets safer."

On the one hand, some of the Democrats running for mayor use bike lanes as a signifier for what they see as Mayor Michael Bloomberg's high-handed, top-down approach to decision-making.

On the other hand, polls show New Yorkers like bike lanes--particularly environmentalists, Latinos, young people, and techies, all of whom may play unpredictable roles in the 2013 vote. Independent polls show pretty consistent majorities in almost all categories approving of bike lanes, and an even bigger majority approving of bike share.

And yet every single one of the major Democrats has at some point criticized the mayor for not fully consulting communities about where to install new bike lanes, even though the plans for such lanes must be approved by community boards.

So while today's New York Times article--headlined, "Anxiety Over Future of Bike Lanes"--captures a real fear among bike advocates that the next mayor may not be as friendly towards biking as Mayor Bloomberg, this dance isn't over yet.

"The need for safer streets for bikers, walkers, and drivers is one I feel in my core," de Blasio said in his statement. "For that reason, I fully support bike lanes and I want to see them continue to expand around the city. They are clearly making many NYC streets safer."

Okay, now wait for it:

"But I think we need to take an approach different from the Mayor’s. While more and more communities and riders want bike lanes, the City still hasn’t come around to proactively engaging those who are concerned by them. We need to increase our outreach and bring more residents and small businesses into the discussion early so we can fine-tune designs and parking rules from the get-go. Just going to community boards is not enough. Proactive outreach seems to be the Bloomberg Administration’s last resort. I think we need to make it uniform practice, and put it at the front end of every project.”

Watch this space. This is going to get interesting.

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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

D.C.'s Pennsylvania Avenue Bike Lane Gets Presidential

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Inauguration Day 2013 (image courtesy of the First Lady's twitter account)

Monday's inauguration went off without any serious hitches. Sure, there's some Tuesday morning quarterbacking. It turned out that Beyoncé lip-synched the national anthem. Michelle Obama might have directed a sarcastic look at John Boehner during the post-inauguration luncheon. That could be a Supreme Court justice nodding off during the proceedings.

But the District's Department of Transportation (DDOT) couldn't have been happier.

"See that?! See that?! NO, not that great coat, the bike lanes!!!" the agency tweeted, referring to a photo of the First Couple walking on the Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes.

The photo, which was circulated by the First Lady's Twitter account, quickly made waves among bike advocates.

"Obama Becomes First Prez to Walk Down a Bike Lane on Inauguration Day," read a Streetsfilms headline. One wishful bike blog took it a step further:

"One of the things that we were most proud about was that the inaugural parade was the chance to show off our bike lanes on Pennsylvania Avenue," said DDOT spokesman John Lisle. The lane, which was installed in 2010, did not exist during the last inauguration.

Lisle added that about 600 bikes were parked in the DDOT's bike corrals and bike parking lots as well -- a lower number than the 1,000 bikes parked during the 2009 presidential inauguration -- but then again, Capital Bikeshare didn't yet exist.

A DDOT bike corral on 17th and K (photo by Eric Gilliland via flickr)

As it turned out, fewer people rode Capital Bikeshare than expected. According to Lisle, there were 4,572 total trips on Inauguration Day -- but 5,772 the day before.

Meanwhile: D.C.'s Metrorail recorded 779,787 trips during the 2013 inauguration. That's about 70% of the ridership reached during the 2009 inauguration.

The transit agency chalked up the lower crowds to Monday's federal holiday, which cut down on work commuters.

Cowds outside of L'Enfant Plaza Monday afternoon after the temporary closure of the gates (photo by Jonathan Wilson/WAMU)

(with reporting from Martin DiCaro)

 

 

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Transportation Nation

Your Guide to Biking to the Inauguration

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

(photo by Martin DiCaro)

No matter your mode of transportation to the second inauguration of President Barack Obama you will have to do a lot of walking, as D.C.'s police force will establish a large “hard perimeter” around the parade route closed to vehicular travel and bicycles. (A map of the restricted area is here.)

Before you begin to hoof it, however, the easiest way to get close to the National Mall may be on a bicycle.  Bicycling advocates expect thousands of people to pedal into downtown D.C. on Monday morning, and DDOT is taking steps to accommodate them.

For starters, there will be a large bicycle parking area established at 16th Street and I Street NW starting at 7 a.m.

“That’s going to hold about 700 bikes but you are going to want to bring your own lock.  It’s not valet parking but it will be supervised all day,” said DDOT planner Jim Sebastian.

As for Capital Bikeshare, there will be two special docking areas – corrals – that will accept an unlimited number of bikes: at Farragut Square in Northwest and at the USDA building at 12th Street and Independence Avenue Southwest.

“It’s essentially a bottomless station where you can come down and not have to worry about there being an empty space,” Sebastian said.

Starting today six bike share stations along the inaugural parade route will be temporarily dismantled. To make up for the closed stations, CaBi will open a temporary corral to accept bikes. You can see the list here.

For bicycling advocates, Monday presents an opportunity to show how much progress D.C. has made in becoming a bike-friendly city.

"This is going to be the first year that we have bike lanes on Pennsylvania Avenue during an inauguration, so President Obama is going to be riding down Pennsylvania Ave. and those bike lanes are going to be in all those photos,” said Greg Billing at the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. “This is a great time for us to show off to the nation that D.C. is a bike city and that we are setting an example that other cities around the country can follow.”

Remember the kerfuffle over bike share stations on the National Mall? Take a trip to March 2012 here.

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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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Chris Quinn: Don't Talk About Bike Lanes at Dinner Parties

Friday, January 11, 2013

Bike lanes are now not good dinner party conversation.  So says New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.  "Bike lanes, I put that now in the category of things you shouldn't discuss at dinner parties, right? It used to be money and politics and religion.  Now in New York you should add bike lanes," the 2013 candidate for Mayor said, chuckling, as a luncheon audience of Broadway and tourism officials chuckled with her.

(For a famous dinner party conversation about bike lanes, read here.)

"Start wherever you want," urged WNYC's Brian Lehrer, who was hosting the event.  "But talk about bike lanes, and pedestrian malls, and all things Bloomberg and Sadik-Khan."

More chuckling.

"Bike lanes are clearly controversial," Quinn said. "And one of the problems with bike lanes -- and I'm generally a supporter of bike lanes --  but one of the problems with bike lanes has been not the concept of them, which I support, but the way the Department of Transportation has implemented them without consultation with communities and community boards. "

The City DOT disputes that, and has provided reams of evidence over the years of community board interest in bike lanes.

In her remarks, Quinn kind of acknowledged that, but still maintained there wasn't enough community notification.

"So, for example in Chelsea, the Ninth Avenue bike lane south of 23rd street was put in place -- and the Community Board Four loves the bike lane, LOVES the bike lane, been asking for bike lanes for years and years and years.  It was put in on Ninth Avenue without notification to my office, and I was speaker at the time.

"That's a problem, right?," Quinn went on. "That's a problem particularly in a community like Chelsea, where there is such interest in bike lanes but then you just create tension. It's also a problem for example in Lew Fidler's district in Brooklyn, where I'd say the jury's mixed about bike lanes.  They were okay with the idea of the bike lane, they just wanted it moved one block over. "

Quinn's remarks -- a variation of which have been uttered by many of the Democratic candidates running for Mayor -- came despite polls showing bike lanes are favored by a majority of New Yorkers.

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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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NY MTA Chief To Step Down And Run For Mayor

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Joe Lhota (Photo: Stephen Nessen, WNYC)

UPDATED Joe Lhota, the head of the largest transit agency in the U.S., is stepping down to run for New York City Mayor, less than a year after he was officially confirmed for his current job.

"I will be submitting my resignation to Governor Cuomo today," Lhota said Wednesday after an MTA board meeting where fare hikes were approved.  Lhota said the resignation will take effect December 31 and he will "explore"  a run for Mayor.   Lhota descried the decision as "bittersweet."

The move roils both the Mayor's race and the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority as it struggles to recover from storm Sandy, described by the Republican Lhota as "the worst devastation in our 108-year history." The NY MTA is estimating its damage at $5.2 billion, not including ways to fortify the system against future storms.

It also leaves New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in the uncomfortable position of choosing a new transit chief as he begs Congress for $60 billion in recovery aid. Lhota was selected after a large committee interviewed several candidates, then sent its top recommendations to the Governor.

Former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer,  who was elected Wednesday to serve as the Vice Chair of the MTA board, will now serve as its acting chair.  Ferrer was the Democratic candidate for Mayor himself in 2005.

Lhota, an ex-deputy Mayor under Rudy Giuliani, has also worked for Madison Square Garden, a subsidiary of Cablevision.

Word comes, literally, on the eve of the MTA's vote to hike fares and tolls.

You can read the full story on the WNYC website.

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VIDEO: Transportation Nation's Mug. It Can Be Yours.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Action shot from "Multi-Modal Mug" shot film by Amy Pearl / WNYC

At Transportation Nation, we serve up serious news, with flair, style, and a flash of java.

Rejoice. (And get a tax deduction, too.) You can own a Transportation Nation coffee mug.

'What's so exciting about a coffee mug?' you might ask. 'It doesn't run on a smart grid or move at the speed of a bullet train." But, friends, it is a reminder to you of all the value this site has brought you in 2012. And your donation shows our reporters here at TN that you care.

Plus, the video is hilarious. We present to you the multi-modal mug. Yours as a thank-you gift for a donation of $5 / month to our ad-free, nonprofit public media project.

If you won't donate, consider sending this around to your friends who might.

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D.C. Airports Board Spent $1.5 Million Defending Former Board Member

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The agency managing the construction of the $5.5 billion Silver Line rail project in Northern Virginia spent more than a million dollars in legal fees in two lawsuits defending one of its board members in a battle with Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell.

In a confidential memo obtained by WAMU 88.5, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) board details the $1.5 million in legal fees spent defending Dennis Martire, a labor union official who agreed to resign from the MWAA board of directors in September.

In June the McDonnell administration tried to oust Martire from the board.  He sued to keep his seat, and the airports authority agreed to reimburse his legal expenses. He was reimbursed $855,000, according to the memo.

In an interview with WAMU, Martire said he was entitled to legal assistance under MWAA policy.

“We have an indemnification policy that every board member has the right to due process and every board member has the right to face their accusers if you are accused of anything,” said Martire, who drew intense criticism after it was revealed he had spent $38,000 traveling to five conferences while MWAA director.

In his view, however, Martire was targeted for political reasons: the McDonnell administration wanted greater control of the MWAA board.

“The governor was removing me for booking a plane ticket two weeks before a trip, and we spent $1.5 million dollars of MWAA money to defend that case. It's ludicrous,” Martire said. “There is a movement afoot to make it an all-Virginia board. There is a movement afoot to create a Republican-dominated board.”

The confidential memo says the airports authority also spent $360,000 to defend itself and one of its top officials, and nearly $200,000 was spent defending three other board members – Rusty Conner, Todd Stottlemyer, and former Va. Congressman Tom Davis – who were subpoenaed during the litigation.

MWAA chief counsel Phil Sunderland did not return multiple calls seeking comment.
MWAA Legal Fees

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How Sandy Might Tweak Today's High-Speed Rail Privatization Hearing

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Rendering of an Amtrak NextGen high-speed rail train

On Capitol Hill today, high-speed rail in the Northeast will get dissected and debated.  This time though, Amtrak head Joe Boardman will sit at the witness table with some support from record ridership numbers. And also Sandy.

You can watch the House Transportation sub-committee hearings here at 10 a.m. ET and see the full list of-top level witnesses here

The hearing continues a series of grillings GOP lawmakers have been giving to Amtrak in a push to reduce the subsidies the national rail network relies on each year. Other witnesses on the docket include a DOT rep, an American Enterprise Institute Scholar and a Morgan Stanley managing director.

The 15 word hearing title obscures the topic, so it's pasted way down below in this post, but rest assured the conversation will cover privatization of high-speed rail along the Northeast Corridor.

Outgoing House Transportation Committee Chair John Mica who will chair today's hearing has long supported the idea of building high-speed rail in the Northeast because that route is the only one profitable for Amtrak, but he has argued that funding, and even operations, could be provided by the private sector. Big spending on big projects need not come entirely from the government, Mica has argued.

Robert Puentes of the Brookings Institution says, "Superstorm Sandy did change the conversation around infrastructure, particularly in the Northeast."

The storm, which caused $60 million in losses to Amtrak and billions in damages to other transit agencies, showed the need for expensive upgrades, and a scale of risk involved that demands more active government investment. "The enormous bills we have from Sandy are not going to be born by the private sector. It's ridiculous to think so."

He says, "there is a role for the private sector to play" and he hopes the hearings hone in on it because finding the right role is crucial.

Puentes also says, states are likely to play an increasingly large role in Amtrak funding in the future. As the national government becomes more reticent to pay for unprofitable rail routes, states that want to keep their service will have to start chipping in.

One test case to watch for this model could be the Sunset Limited line along the Gulf Coast that was washed away in 2005 by Katrina. Local officials are lobbying to get it back. The cash-strapped states of Alabama and Mississippi would need to pony up though, and so far it's stalled.

Today's hearing though, is on the Northeast Corridor, where megaprojects are on the table and profits are a reasonable lure for business involvement. The "vision" for high-speed rail still carries a price tag of $151 billion and a minimum construction time of several decades. There is no plan for how to find that huge sum.

Amtrak is likely to try to draw the focus to a more immediate project that is incremental to the "vision," the Gateway program, which would add two new tunnels under the Hudson River into New York's Penn Station from New Jersey. There are two existing Hudson tunnels at capacity now. They both flooded during Sandy along with two of  the four tunnels under the East River.

Petra Messick, a planner with Amtrak  says the tunnels are needed for projected ridership growth but, Sandy also showed the value that new infrastructure could bring.

"When the Gateway Tunnels are built, they will be built in the 21st century and include a host of features that will make them more resilient ... like floodgates," Messick says.

The existing tunnels are more than a century old.

And in case you were still curious, that full 15 word title is: “Northeast Corridor Future: Options for High-Speed Rail Development and Opportunities for Private Sector Participation.”

 

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Top Transpo Congressman, John Mica, Mulls Next Move

Friday, November 09, 2012

Shovel Ready: Congressman John Mica talks to reporters at the groundbreaking ceremony for a new intermodal rail terminal in Winter Haven, Florida (Photo by Matthew Peddie)

(Orlando, Fla. -- WMFE) John Mica, the chair of the U.S. House Transportation Committee, joined with Florida Governor Rick Scott and other business leaders and elected officials near Winter Haven Thursday, for the symbolic groundbreaking of a new intermodal rail terminal.

Before grabbing one of the gold painted shovels, Mica, a republican from Winter Park, Fla. praised the governor for his business savvy and leadership in supporting the project, which will serve as a distribution hub for trains and trucks delivering cargo throughout Florida. The project came about after rail company CSX reroute freight traffic from 62 miles of track to accommodate the SunRail commuter train.

"We are very fortunate to have Governor Scott with his business background at this time and his vision for transportation and infrastructure," said Mica.

"You cannot build this state or this community or projects like this without people like Governor Scott."

Florida Governor Rick Scott, CSX Chief Executive Michael Ward and US House Transportation Comittee Chair John Mica (photo by Matthew Peddie)

Mica and Scott have not always seen eye to eye on big transportation projects in Florida, notably on the failed high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando, which the Governor nixed early in 2011 by rejecting $2.4 billion dollars in Federal stimulus money. At the time Mica panned the Governor's decision, labeling it a setback for the state's transportation, economic development and tourism.

While the high-speed rail plans collapsed, there's evidence to suggest Mica may have -indirectly- helped Central Florida's SunRail Commuter train avoid a similar fate during his tenure as chair of the house transportation and infrastructure committee.

Mica lists the two year Highway Transportation bill and the FAA bill as  accomplishments during his chairmanship, but he says those came about in spite of the Obama administration.

Looking ahead to a second Obama administration, Mica said he hopes the president will work better with Congress on transportation issues this time around. "They've been absent without leave," said Mica. "I’m hoping that their second time around they’ll be more cooperative."

Advocates for increased transportation and infrastructure spending have lauded President Obama's stimulus plan and his advocacy of a national rail network.

Mica, who comfortably staved off a Democratic challenger to retain his seat in Florida's U.S. House District 7 Tuesday, is due to be termed out of his role as chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. However he says he'd like to hang onto the position if possible.

“Oh we’ll see," he said. "It depends on whether they grant waivers or not, and that’s yet to be decided.”

"I’ve been honored to chair for the last 2 years, ranking for four years, chaired a sub committee for six years, and I intend to be a leader in whatever capacity my colleagues choose,” said Mica, who's also in line for other potential committee chairmanships.

"But I’m not moving from transportation even if I took another slot,” said Mica, who added he intends to be in a key position to make decisions on transportation policy.

Republican Congressman Bill Shuster of Penn. has already expressed an interest in the committee chair position.

Florida Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad was also pondering the implications of the second Obama term. Prasad said it's important that there's leadership at the Federal level and that members of congress can work together to craft a long term highway transportation bill.

"I just hope we can get to a deal," said Prasad.

"The last deal was only two years, and partly because I think folks in congress wanted to get past this election... Now that the election's over, let’s not wait another two years to get another two year bill, let’s work next year and have a long term bill that creates a transportation vision for the country.”

Historically transportation funding bills were non-partisan bills approved for six years at a time to facilitate planning of longer term projects. For more on how that changed this Congress, read our previous coverage.

 

 

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Analysis: Did Cars Save President Obama?

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

There's been a ton of talk since last night about how much the relatively low unemployment rate in Ohio and the descending rates in Michigan and Wisconsin helped President Obama with his so-called "Mid-Western firewall."

The ironies couldn't be thicker:

The President's bailout of major car companies soon after he took office offended many Democratic voters.

“I feel they should’ve gave the people the money to spend to keep the companies going,” retail clerk Linda Webb told me in 2010, while pushing her grocery cart out of the Walmart in Jackson, Michigan. “But they did the opposite. They gave it to all the big people that didn’t need the money. If they handed me money like they handed them, I could’ve went and bought a car — it would have kept them in production.”

In 2010, the hiring spurred by the bailout wasn't quite so easy to see, but since then, it's set in.

Then there's the industry itself -- not exactly a natural Obama ally.

The auto industry has had its own reasons to resist the Obama presidency, including implementation of regulations requiring cars to get a minimum of 55 miles per gallon by next decade.

But at the end of the day, a prediction that a top Democratic official made to Transportation Nation back in June proved true: swing states jobs numbers, he said, would be "determinative" in the fall.  Here's what we wrote then:

Buoyed in part by automobile hiring, employment in swing states looks far better than the nation as a whole, providing a possible path to victory for President Barack Obama, who bailed out the big three auto manufacturers with a clothespin on his nose.

In Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Missouri, the auto industry has been adding jobs at rapid clip,  according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. So that even though things were really bad in those states, they’re now less bad. Which is good news for the President.

“We know that this thing is going to be super tight,” said a senior Democratic official. “But we are absolutely of the belief that the swing states jobs numbers will be determinative in the fall.”

By now, the national narrative is well known. May’s employment numbers were meh, signalling a heap of trouble for the President. “He is the underdog,” opined NPR’s Mara Liasson, who then ticked off things that could only make the electoral picture worse for the Democrats: the Euro crisis, the Chinese economy, etc. That pretty much sums up the conventional wisdom.

Except.

In the swing states, things are markedly better than they were two years ago, and in many of them, the employment picture is a whole lot brighter than the nation as a whole.

Here's the rest of that post.

 

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More NYC Subway Service Restored, Voter Shuttle Routes and Updates on A, B, G, L Trains

Tuesday, November 06, 2012


MTA employees using a pump train are working around the clock to pump seawater out of the L train's tunnel under the East River. This photo shows activity on the afternoon of Monday, November 5. After the tunnel is pumped dry of water, work will begin to inspect tracks, signals, switches, electrical components, and third rail. (Photo: Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Patrick Cashin.)

The New York MTA is restoring  more subway service.

The A train is now reaching the Northern end of the line at 207th street. B trains are running again from the Bronx to Brooklyn.

The L, Z and G trains are still largely out of service but could return as early as tomorrow now that the L tunnel under the East River is dry.

Stations at the very southern end of Manhattan where flooding was ceiling high in some cases remain closed. Rockaway train service on the S and A is also out of service.

Voter bus shuttles are running for election day to various polling places around the city in places hit by Sandy. To find you shuttle, scroll to the chart at the bottom of this post.

Here's the full update on service restoration direct from the MTA:

MTA Service Advisory: More Subway Service Restored

Queens Midtown Tunnel is Open for Buses Only

Voter Shuttle Buses Carrying Voters to Polls in Staten Island, Coney Island & Rockaways

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) restored additional subway and, bus and services in time for this morning’s rush hour.

Service on the A has been restored in upper Manhattan to 207th Street which has allowed service on the C train to be extended to the 168th Street station.  The restoration of A service to 207th Street will alleviate overcrowding on the 123. The B train is now running between Bedford Park Boulevard in the Bronx and Brighton Beach in Brooklyn. The Q train is now operating from 57th Street – 7th Avenue in Manhattan to Brighton Beach.  Customers are reminded that some lines are still running with extended headways.

Work continues on restoring service on the G and L lines through northwest Brooklyn, where alternate service on the J and M trains remains crowded. The G’s Greenpoint tube under Newtown Creek has been pumped out but extensive work remains to repair the signal system. The L’s 14th Street tube under the East River is now dry and damage is currently being assessed.  NYCT is running extra buses on the B62 route to offer additional service through the area.  The Z and Rockaway Park S remain suspended.

The following stations remain closed:

Manhattan

·        Rector St 1, South Ferry 1 (South Ferry closed indefinitely)

·        Fulton St J, Broad Street J

·        City Hall R, Cortlandt St R, Rector St R, Whitehall St R

·         All L stations from 8th Avenue to 1st Avenue.

Brooklyn

·        All G stations from Greenpoint Avenue to Church Avenue.  However, Hoyt-Schermerhorn is serviced by the AC and stations from Bergen Street to Church Avenue are serviced by the F

·        All L stations between Bedford Avenue and Bushwick Ave-Aberdeen Street.

·         All N stations along the Sea Beach line between 8th Avenue and Coney Island.

·         25th Avenue D, Bay 50th Street D, Coney Island D

·         Neptune Avenue F, West 8th St-NY Aquarium F, Coney Island F

·         Ocean Parkway Q, West 8th St-NY Aquarium Q, Coney Island Q

 

Queens

·         Court Square G, 21st Street G

·         All A stations between Howard Beach and Far Rockaway-Mott Ave and Rockaway Park-Beach 116th Street

Queens Midtown Tunnel Opens for Rush Hour Buses

MTA Bridges and Tunnels opened one lane of the Queens Midtown Tunnel for buses only this morning. One lane of the south tube opened for Manhattan-bound buses from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m., and for Queens-bound buses from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. The tunnel will be closed to traffic at all other times.

The Queens Midtown Tunnel was flooded with storm surge and sustained significant damage to its mechanical systems that must be repaired. No timetable has been established to reopen the tunnel to general traffic.

The Hugh L. Carey Tunnel, formerly known as the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, was also flooded by storm surge. Pumping operations continue at the tunnel and there is no timetable for reopening it.

Voter Shuttle Buses

The MTA is also operating special “MTA Voter Shuttles” today to carry voters from damaged polling places to alternate sites established by the Board of Elections on Staten Island, in Coney Island and in the Rockaways.

The free Election Day shuttle buses will run every 15 to 20 minutes, in addition to other scheduled bus service in those areas.

The buses will be marked by “MTA Voter Shuttle” destination signs and will run from 5:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. to help voters, particularly those displaced by Hurricane Sandy, reach polling places.  MTA buses will also be dispatched to carry Board of Elections polling station workers from their Queens headquarters in Kew Gardens to their newly assigned polling stations in the three areas.  Routes for the “MTA Voter Shuttle” buses are described in the attached document.

 

 

Shuttle Bus Chart

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