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Transportation Nation

UPDATED: Palo Alto Says No to High Speed Rail

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) The city of Palo Alto says they don't want a high speed rail station. It would cause too much traffic, cost too much to build parking lots, and would hurt regional airports according to the City Council.  That, and they just don't like the rail project in general according to a report in the Mercury News. The Council voted Monday against building a station in their city. There have also been concerns raised about noise and visual pollution from the trains.

The California High Speed Rail Authority was considering three potential locations for stops in the area along the planned Los Angeles-San Fransisco line including Redwood City and Mountain View as well as Palo Alto.

The Palo Alto City Council has voted no confidence in the entire project in the past, and has joined other local municipalities in a lawsuit opposing the path of the proposed project.

UPDATE: Rachel Wall of the California High Speed Rail Authority tells Transportation Nation that Palo Alto will still be included in the environmental review process currently underway; however, the draft Environmental Impact Report slated for release in a few months will include community input -- for or against -- in its assessment of different station possibilities.

The mid-Peninsula station is an optional one (not required under the 2008 bond measure that is financing the project known as Prop 1A), meaning a station in the Palo Alto area may not get built at all, or it may get built in another community.

That said, any community that does get a station would likely have to foot a large part of the bill for it, so it is unlikely that a station would be imposed on a city that didn't want it.

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Transportation Nation

Obama's $2.5 Billion High Speed Rail Spending for Election Week

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) Less than a week ahead of elections around the country, Congressmen are happily announcing money their states are getting for high speed rail. Official allocations will take place tomorrow.  California is getting nearly a billion dollars, Florida just over $800 million while several smaller projects in the Midwest for "higher speed" rail will also get funding, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Monday we reported on the money going to Florida and New England for intercity connections. Today local officials released more funding details for the Midwest and West Coast in what seems like a pre-election day affirmation of Presidential support for high-speed rail around the nation.

This week's $2.5 billion in grant announcements are not stimulus funds. They are the part of the FY2010 yearly allocations from the DOT and the Federal Railway Administration, (which has quite a handy website with plenty of charts, data, and interactive maps). The bulk of the allocations went to two of the largest states, California and Florida, receiving $900 and $800 million respectively.

The largest share of funding in the Midwest--$230 million-- goes to Iowa and Illinois for enhanced Amtrak service from Chicago to Iowa City. The Amtrak line from Chicago to Detroit received $150 million to increase its current speed to 110 mph--not quite the 220 mph that denotes most HSR, but certainly "higher speed" rail than the existing top speeds under 80 mph.

The Obama administration isn't funding every request though. They declined to give $8 million requested for a study and design of a potential Chicago-to-St. Louis bullet train.

In addition to this $2.5 billion for HSR this year,  there is still a largely unspent pot of $700+ billion in stimulus money dedicated to high speed rail. Of the $8 billion in stimulus money allocated for HSR,  just $871 million has been obligated.

Here's an updated list of all the projects receiving federal money, both stimulus funds as well as yearly allocations.

(Thanks to MidwestHSR for the tip on some of this.)

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Transportation Nation

Florida Republican Gov Candidate: Fed Government Should Pay 100 Percent of High Speed Rail Project

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation)  High speed rail has been a hot topic in Florida--and that state just won even more federal money ($800 million in non-stimulus DOT money added to $1.25 billion in stimulus) for a proposed line to connect Tampa and Orlando -so it's no surprise that it came up in last night's gubernatorial debate between Democratic candidate Alex Sink and Republican nominee Rick Scott. Scott tries to tar Sink with the implication that she'll raise taxes to pay for the project--and that he'll kill the project until he knows how to pay for it in its entirety. (Does this remind you of another governor?)

Sink's comments on the matter were lost to a broadly worded question on government spending in general.    (Does she support raises for government workers (she says no) and expansion of Pre-K?)   And then after Scott gave his answer, the moderators went on to ask Sink and Scott about the BP oil spill without teasing out Sink's views on High Speed Rail (though in the past she's voiced support for the project).

Watch the video --the question comes at about four minutes and 20 seconds in.  The relevant transcript of the exchange is posted below (the full transcript is  here).

Note: the Sarasota Herald-Tribune points out that Florida's Republican-led legislature endorsed the high-speed rail project last year.

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Transportation Nation

TN Moving Stories: DC Metro Blogs Booming, MTA Restores Some Bus Service, and Paladino on the MTA

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A cut too far: the NYC MTA restores some express bus service that it had cut earlier in the summer. (WNYC)

The DC Metro may be struggling, but blogs and twitter feeds about it are booming. (WAMU)

Excerpts from the New York Times' interview with Carl Paladino:  On waste in the MTA, he says: "It’s a very complex function, but we’ve compounded its problems by letting it become so political. It’s the political aspect of it that’s really defeating it."

The Ford posts 6th straight profitable quarter--"the highest in the automaker’s 107- year history." (Bloomberg)

New bus transit center unveiled in Las Vegas amid much Vegas-style ceremony. "I've done a number of these things, never with pythons and roller girls," said Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)

San Francisco Examiner op-ed says that "the Bay Area is reeling from a continuing series of really bad transportation decisions. The region tends to evolve through single-purpose 'fixes' that fail to address the Bay Area’s real transportation needs."

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Transportation Nation

ARC's Second D-Day Arrives... Late?

Friday, October 22, 2010

(New York -- Matthew Schuerman, WNYC)  New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was expected to make his final decision on the Access to the Region's Core train tunnel under the Hudson River today, but it's increasingly unclear whether that will happen.

The Associated Press and WNBC are reporting that Christie has extended the deadline, but do not attribute the information to any source. (WNBC says the governor will deliberate over the weekend.) They state that the governor is not meeting with US Secretary Ray LaHood.

An official close to LaHood told me there never was a meeting planned (even though LaHood said Monday, while at a ceremonial groundbreaking at New York's Moynihan train station Monday, of Governor Christie:  "He and I agreed that over a two week period we would put together a plan for a path forward and we will be meeting with him at the end of that two weeks and presenting that information."

Another official involved in the deliberations said that a meeting was never formally scheduled but was in the works for today. The official said the meeting fell through after the Associated Press reported last night that the true estimate of the tunnel's cost was $9.77 billion--much less than the $13.7 billion that Christie said it might cost. The official said the revised estimate comes from the federal government--as opposed to NJ Transit, which is in charge of the project--and that LaHood gave that estimate to Christie when the two met two weeks ago.

No comment from Christie's office so far. He's scheduled to campaign for Republicans in New Jersey later today.

Stay tuned.

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Transportation Nation

In Maryland Governor's Race, Purple Reigns

Friday, October 22, 2010

(Washington, DC — David Schultz, WAMU) Some cities use letters or numbers to name their train lines; here in D.C., we use colors. Depending on where you're going, you take the Red Line, Blue Line, Green Line, Orange Line or Yellow Line. The iconic D.C. Metro map is an artful study in the use of these five primary colors.

But for years, there's been talk of a new color - the Purple Line. Until recently, the Purple Line has been more myth than reality - in part due to the light rail project's nearly $1.7 billion price tag. In the past four years, however, Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley (D) made it a priority and has begun seeking federal funds for the Purple Line.

O'Malley is up for election this year and Bob Ehrlich, his Republican opponent and his predecessor as Governor, is not a Purple Line supporter. And that may end up costing him the election.

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Transportation Nation

NY Candidate Cuomo: Congestion Pricing "Moot"

Thursday, October 21, 2010

(New York -- Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)  Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo has been a bit of a cipher when it comes to transportation and transit.  He's bemoaned MTA inefficiencies, called into question an employer-tax imposed last year to help bail out the MTA, and said fares shouldn't go up. But he's said little about financing the authority over the long term.

Today, in his most extensive remarks to date on transit, he didn't add much.

The occasion was the release of his 273-page urban agenda, which by the way, did NOT include transit.  It was the kind of "urban agenda" you'd hear in the 1990's: anti-poverty, affordable housing, minority jobs. (By contrast, Shaun Donovan, the current HUD Secretary -- Cuomo's former job -- has made sustainable, walking, transit-rich communities a major plank in his agenda.)

But all the journalists there, pretty much, wanted to talk transit.  In fact, I didn't raise the subject.  A Daily News reporter did.

"There's going to be a need for more efficiency," Cuomo said of the MTA.  "More effectiveness, better management.  You can't have over $500 million in overtime. You can't have thousands of people making over $100,000 a year .  I believe the Governor should be accountable for the MTA."

My turn.  But what about funding for the MTA?  Does he support congestion pricing?  [As Mayor Bloomberg does?]  Bridge tolls? [As Lt. Governor Richard Ravitch does?]

"Congestion pricing was proposed," Cuomo parried.  "It was discussed.  It was basically rejected by the legislature.   I don't know that there's been any change in opinion.  I think it's moot.  I understand the concept.  I understand that it was rejected.  I don't think it would pass if it came up again, unless something changed."

Without offering specifics, he added. "There's going to be a number of revenue raisers. The instinct is going to be to say 'more money more money more money.'   I understand that.  Part of the discipline I want to bring is a fiscal discipline to the state and the MTA.  The answer can't always be more money."

But then Melissa Russo of WNBC Channel 4 asked (I'm paraphrasing): how could he say, if it didn't happen, it won't happen?  What about all the other things he wants to happen -- like government reform?  Isn't the problem that the legislature hasn't made them happen?

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Transportation Nation

Pro-Transit Groups say Cuomo Proposal to Abolish MTA "Empty Rhetoric"

Thursday, October 21, 2010

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)  You might think pro-transit groups would be allies with New York Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo (he's not the guy who wants to "take a baseball bat" to Albany).  But Transportation Alternatives and the left-leaning Drum Major Institute have released a 5-step plan for stabilizing the NYC MTA's finance.  And they don't seem too happy with the Democrat, and what he's said (and not said) about how he'd finance the MTA.   (He hasn't said.)

From their press release:

"Empty rhetoric about abolishing or restructuring the MTA fails to address the heart of the matter: how the gubernatorial candidates would hold state lawmakers accountable for decisions that caused the severe service cuts and painful fare hikes now disproportionately affecting lower and moderate income working families,” said John Petro, urban policy analyst at the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy. “To be a true Albany reformer, our next governor must have a real vision and plan for how to tame the MTA’s runaway debt and establish more sustainable revenue so that the public transit system serves all New Yorkers.”

Cuomo's presenting an "urban agenda" today.  We'll have more later.

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Transportation Nation

ARC Transit Tunnel Deadline Approaches ...Again; Christie Says There's No "Money Tree"

Thursday, October 21, 2010

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)  Tomorrow is the second manufactured deadline for life or death of an $8.7 billion rail tunnel from New Jersey to New York, but there's little that's happened in the last two weeks to suggest NJ Governor Chris Christie, a fiscal conservative whose star in on the rise in the GOP, will change his mind.

(Two weeks ago today, Christie announced he was pulling the plug on NJ's financing and shutting down the project. Next day, in an unusual move, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, a project advocate, flew to Trenton and convinced a reluctant Christie to "review options.")

Advocates are fighting back hard -- the hardest and loudest they've been since the tunnel first slipped into jeopardy this fall -- but behind the scenes there's not much optimism that Christie can or will be turned around.

Ideas have been presented to Christie, ranging from innovative financing to rolling out the project in phases, but a viewing of Star-Ledger video certainly doesn't make it sound like he's changing his mind.

Christie on ARC tunnel: It's not a bad idea, but it's way over budget

While campaigning in Pennsylvania this week Christie talked about his middle-class roots: "In our house, when I used to go my mother and say 'I'd like something new, I'd like to buy something ' my mother would look at me and say 'well, of course Christopher, you can have that just go in the back yard and take the money off the money tree. You know where that is, right?'...to me it is a moral imperative to say no to these things."

Meantime, NJ Democrats received late yesterday a packet of documents on ARC they'd requested under NJ's open records law. They say they're reviewing them now...we'll have more later.

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Transportation Nation

Election Report: Obama bails out GM, Dems tanking in Michigan.....

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Luz Guardarrama voted Obama in 2008, but says shes "tired" of politics and will stay home this year. Nothing particularly impresses her about the Obama tenure, not even the bailout of the auto industry.

(Jackson, Michigan - Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) None of the bailouts have made Americans particularly happy. TARP was a Bush initiative -- supported by Obama, but not of his making. The stimulus was a series of internal compromises which gave a huge part of the spending control to Congress. But the GM bailout was an Obama plan, and one the White House considers an almost unqualified success. "The contrast between where these companies" -- Chrysler and GM -- " and the auto industry are today, and the situation President Obama faced when he took office are stark," the White House wrote in a report of April of this year.

In careful language, the analysis says some 1.1 million jobs had been at risk, but that the bailout had enabled the car companies to stay afloat, restructure, and, in GM's case, repay their loan 5 years ahead of schedule. Obama called the bailout a "success," and analysts agreed.

Writing in Bloomberg Business Week, David Welch noted:

"So far, it is tough to argue that the bailout hasn’t worked. GM is in the black, having reported an $865 million profit in the first quarter with black ink looking likely for the rest of the year.... Chrysler is at least making an operating profit, which puts the company in much better shape than most analysts thought it would be a year ago."

So, you'd think this would be a big selling point for the White House, right? A political plus? Dems should be cruising in Michigan -- if nowhere else? You'd be wrong.

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Transportation Nation

Cuomo: The MTA Shouldn't be an Authority and other Transit Ideas

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) Candidates in last night’s New York State Gubernatorial debate had 60 seconds to describe how they would to fix the MTA. (The exact question came from a Parkchester resident who was interviewed by News 12 on the street. She asked: "I just want to know what the next governor is going to do to possibly audit the MTA's books, open up those books, see why they're always in such a deficit. What about the salaries of some of these executives? How come they're not cutting their salaries to give us better service?")

While this question gave Anti-Prohibition Party candidate Kristin Davis the opportunity to deliver the zinger of the evening (when asked what she would do to reform the MTA, she said: "The key difference between the MTA and my former escort agency is I operated one set of books, and I offered on-time and reliable service”), both major party candidates described their plans to put the MTA under control of the governor's office. Their full responses are below.

Unfortunately, the question did not address the MTA's biggest problem right now -- its continuing budget problems and how the authority should be financed.  And no one volunteered a plan.  (Andrew Cuomo's only hint to date is that he might eliminate the tax voted in in 2009 as part of the MTA's bailout plan, but he hasn't say what he'd replace that with.)

Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic candidate: “In some ways, the MTA is just a gross symbol of the problem that a lot of these state agencies and authorities have. Number one:

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Transportation Nation

NYT Poll Finds 22% Would Cut Transportation to Balance Budget

Monday, October 18, 2010

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) Buried deep within an excellent New York Times poll about the governor's race is a striking finding: 22% of New Yorkers would cut transportation to balance the budget. Given the choice of what to cut, transportation was the runaway choice over health care, and education.

This is the first time this question has been asked and there's a little unpacking to do here, so we called Marjorie Connelly, an Editor in the Survey Department of the New York Times.

"If you had to choose, which of the state funded services do you think should be cut, local education, higher education, health care, or transportation?"

There were no follow up  questions, or specific definitions about what constitutes "transportation." So, Connelly posits that for this survey, of which this was just one tiny part, when respondents hear transportation they aren't thinking roads and bridges so much as commuter trains. "I think people are hearing public transit. They are probably thinking subways, and perhaps Metro-North type trains."

A few extra correlations run by the NYT support this.  Connelly tells us they found that "the further you got away from New York City the more likely people were to pick transportation" as the area to cut. The less you use public transit the more you are likely to say cut it. That's logical.

Even in New York City, transportation was the plurality, but there's a gaping hole between New York City and upstate Downstate 38 percent chose transportation to cut, but upstate, far more people chose transportation to cut—58 percent of respondents.

No other factor seemed to predict who wants to cut transportation, not age, not race, not income, just location, a proxy for likelihood to use transit.

The answer might have changed if some sense of what the relative expenditures are for health care, education compared transportation. That would give a sense of which service is eating up most of the budget. If you are curious, New York State spends $4.3 billion on transportation compared to $14.2 billion on health, and $23.1 billion on local education not counting an additional $5.6 billion on higher education.  That doesn't Medicaid spending.

In the same poll, 51 percent of respondents support reducing pension benefits for future state employees, and 35% think its a good idea to lay off 5% of state employees to balance the budget.

Other budget categories that were not asked about are human/social services, mental hygiene, public safety,and environment, categories with spending levels closer to transportation. It would be interesting to see how transportation stacks up against an expanded list.

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Transportation Nation

Congressional Disruption: Senior House Transportation Leader, DeFazio, Now FacesTight Race

Monday, October 18, 2010

(Washington, D.C. — Todd Zwillich, Transportation Nation) One of the House's most powerful voices on transportation all of the sudden finds himself in a tough re-election race.

Even in an anti-incumbent year, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), was considered one of the most invulnerable. The 11-term congressman won reelection in 2008 with 82% of the vote in his sprawling coastal Oregon district and was once heavily courted by Democrats to run for Senate. But now a recent GOP poll has DeFazio just 6 percentage points ahead of Republican Art Robinson. All the important caveats about the validity of one single poll — and a GOP internal one at that — of course apply here. But DeFazio chairs the House Highways and Transit subcommittee, so any prospect of his ouster does raise questions, especially about the prospects for the next national highway bill.

DeFazio has told constituents on the campaign trail that passing the $500 billion national highway authorization bill will be one of his top priorities should he be re-elected. The bill is in limbo now as lawmakers struggle to make up a $150 billion funding shortfall for the bill without taking the dreaded and politically suicidal step of raising the federal gas tax. DeFazio, who enjoys heavy support from transit unions, has made beefing up infrastructure and transit programs, including high-speed rail, a priority during his time at the head of the committee.

The Republican most likely to take over the Highways and Transit subcommittee in the event of a GOP House takeover is Rep. John "Jimmy" Duncan (R-Tenn.), an 11-term veteran who is nearly guaranteed re-election. Still, even in this fractious Congress, Duncan, a conservative, and DeFazio, a staunch progressive, are not as far apart as one would think on transportation policy.

Duncan has repeatedly called for a long-term reauthorization of the traditionally bi-artisan highway bill, which he helped craft along with DeFazio and other senior members of the House Transportation Committee. But Duncan has also joined calls for a ban on lawmakers' pet spending projects known as earmarks, which make up about one percent of total funding in any given highway bill. While that may not seem like much, it can easily decide the fate of that extra new lane on your local commercial road or the highway overpass your county council is trying to get built.

A broader question, beyond simply who heads up the Highways and Transit subcommittee, might be what a House GOP takeover means for big-picture federal spending. One of Republicans' biggest planks is reducing the government expenditure, especially on the domestic discretionary side. That could put GOP priorities and a well-funded highways bill at direct odds.

Republicans have already spent time attacking President Barack Obama's call for a $50 billion infrastructure spending package aimed at highways, rail lines, runways and air traffic control. The White House says it wants to try and pass the funding in the Lame Duck congressional session scheduled for the weeks after the midterm elections.

One poll isn't enough to suggest that DeFazio is really in danger of losing his seat. As surprising as those latest numbers are, poll aggregators like FiveThirtyEight still give DeFazio more than a 99% chance of reelection.

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Transportation Nation

NY Minor Party Candidates have Transportation Plans

Monday, October 18, 2010

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) There was a fascinating segment on The Brian Lehrer Show this morning, where he spoke with each of the five non-major party candidates for NY Governor. Well worth a listen, particularly because three of the candidates: Charles Barron, the Freedom Party candidate, Howie Hawkins of the Green Party and Warren Redlich of the Libertarian Party made transit or transportation part of their plans. We've already written about Barron's proposals on free transit (here and here), and he expanded on it today. Hawkins also spoke at some length about transit being part of what would make the state more sustainable. And Libertarian Party candidate Redlich put forth a proposal to combine the State DOT and the Thruway Authority. This is not such a fringe idea -- Massachusetts Governor Duval Patrick did something similar last year, and that state's DOT has been something of a hotbed of innovation.

In his policy "book," Democratic candidate Andrew Cuomo does wax at length about the need to streamline New York's government, and reduce the number of authorities. It's one of his main animating principles. But there are no specifics about how he'd reorganize transportation agencies, and while his economic development proposal offers a bit more, the details are still maddeningly few. We'll be trying to find out more in the next two weeks -- meantime, send us what you know.

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Transportation Nation

In Florida Rail Turns into Political Issue

Thursday, October 14, 2010

(Washington, DC — Todd Zwillch, Transportation Nation) They say Social Security is the "third rail" of American politics. Nowhere is the metaphor more apt than in Florida.

But in the state's hotly-contested Senate race, actual rails are helping drive the debate as well.

Florida is on the receiving end of $1.25 billion in federal stimulus money targeted toward construction of high-speed rail service between Orlando and Tampa. But, now that government spending—and in particular the stimulus—are election issues, the fate of the project could hang in the balance.

During a three-way Senate debate last week, Republican candidate Marco Rubio said he opposes the project. Citing mounting deficits, he suggested he'd favor canceling the project, even though it would force Florida to forfeit the money already sent from Washington. If this sounds familiar, it should. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie shocked officials in his state, in New York, and in Washington, DC last week when he announced he'd kill his state's role in the ARC transit tunnel planned to run underneath the Hudson River to New York City.

In the Florida Senate race, Rubio is alone in his opposition to the high-speed rail project. Democratic candidate Rep. Kendrick Meek said he favors moving ahead with the rail plan. Independent Charlie Crist echoed a popular refrain, "jobs, jobs, jobs" when he said every $1 billion spent on the rail project would put 28,000 people to work.

Meek attacked Rubio, saying he was "willing to make sure people from Tampa to Orlando to Daytona to South Florida sit in traffic for the next 20 years," according to The Ledger of Lakeland, Fl.

Rubio now leads Christ by an average of at least 11 percentage points, with Meek trailing far in third place. Rubio is now considered the runaway favorite in the race, though that could change if rumors that Meek could pull out of the race turn out to be true. Such a move would surely give Crist a huge boost in the polls.

Rick Scott, the GOP candidate for governor in Florida, has also quesitoned the rail project. And Florida isn't alone. The New York Times reports that conservative candidates around the country are vowing to oppose continuing with rail projects stemming from an $8 billion slice of the Recovery Act.

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