Streams

 

Politics Elections

Transportation Nation

Atlanta Tax for Transit Plan Loses by Big Margin

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Atlanta (photo by J.C. Burns via Flickr)

 

A measure that would have hiked Atlanta's sales tax by a penny per dollar to fund $7 billion in roads and transit failed badly Tuesday, by a margin of 63 to 37, WABE in Atlanta is reporting.

From Jonathan Shapiro's  story:

The returns soon showed a big defeat for the one percent sales tax increase, a plan that would have raised more than $7 billion for road and transit projects across the metro region over 10 years.

Mike Lowry, a Roswell resident and volunteer with the Transportation Leadership Coalition, said the margin of defeat exceeded his expectations.

“It’s better than I ever could have hoped for. We’re ecstatic.”

The Sierra Club, the Atlanta Tea Party, and the NAACP are among the groups that came out strongly against the plan, saying it was full of unnecessary projects and didn’t do enough to relieve traffic.

Our Back of the Bus documentary looked, in part, at Atlanta's transit needs.

 

Read More

Comments [2]

Transportation Nation

U.S.Senators: Port Authority Exec Was "Argumentative," Lacked "Civility and Decorum"

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The George Washington Bridge (photo by Kate Hinds)

The conflict between New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is escalating -- and now another U.S. Senator has added his signature to a letter formally complaining about the behavior of a Port Authority executive at a hearing in April.

The letter charges that Bill Baroni, deputy executive director of the Port Authority, "failed to meet the basic standards of civility and decorum" during his testimony at the hearing. It is addressed to senior executives at the Port Authority and co-signed by Lautenberg and John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV).

The bruising hearing, ostensibly about toll hikes, quickly devolved into a barbed back-and-forth between Lautenberg and Baroni. Lautenberg wanted Baroni to answer questions about the fairness of the agency's 2011 toll hikes. Baroni replied that "it is impossible to argue fairness in tolls if you don’t pay them" -- a reference to the senator's use of an agency-funded EZPass. Many listeners perceived the remark as an attempt to embarrass the senator. (Listen to some audio from the hearing here.)

The comment rattled Lautenberg and Baroni avoided answering a key question: what did New Jersey Governor Christie know about the toll hikes and when did he know it?

The Senate's Commerce Committee, which is chaired by Rockefeller, later followed up by sending questions in writing to Baroni. But the Port Authority said releasing any communications between the agency and the governors' offices would be "inappropriate."

In the letter, the two U.S. senators do a slow burn. "This repeated failure to respond to the Committee's questions not only shows a lack of respect for legitimate congressional oversight; it also directly contradicts repeated assertions by Port Authority officials that the agency is increasing its transparency." The last line of the letter reads: "Please provide this information to the Committee no later than August 14, 2012."

A Port Authority spokesman would not comment.

Read More

Comments [1]

Transportation Nation

Explainer: What Happens Now With California's Bullet Train

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The bullet train may be back on track. Earlier this month the California legislature narrowly approved $8 billion dollars in bond money to start construction of the high-speed rail system connecting Los Angeles to the Bay Area. Governor Jerry Brown signed off at ceremonies in LA and San Francisco.

The project is now expected to cost close to $69 billion dollars to complete. The bulk of the money the legislature just approved will go to start building a 130-mile stretch of track in the Central Valley; about a quarter will go to local transportation projects in LA and San Francisco.

The bullet train project is controversial. The scope -- and the price tag -- has changed many times since voters first approved the plan back in 2008, and the project now faces multiple lawsuits designed to stop construction before it starts. KALW’s Julie Caine sat down with Mike Rosenberg, a reporter who covers high-speed rail for the San Jose Mercury News, to talk about what happens next. Below is the full transcript of the interview, which was edited for broadcast.

Listen to the radio version:

JULIE CAINE: I wondered if we could start with giving people a sense of what high-speed rail is right now in California? It's been through so many changes—different price tags, different plans. Can you give us a brief overview about what the Legislature just approved and Jerry Brown signed into law?

MIKE ROSENBERG: Sure. The legislature approved a bill worth $8 billion dollars. It's the starting point for high-speed rail. So there’s going to be a $6 billion dollar stretch of track in the Central Valley, around Fresno. And there's also going to be about $2 billion dollars worth of upgrades to projects in the Bay Area and Southern California. For us, that means electrifying the Caltrain line that runs between San Francisco and San Jose. The reason they're doing that is these are projects that will help now in the Bay Area and LA area, but they'll also lay the groundwork for high-speed rail later. The entire high-speed rail project that runs between San Francisco and LA is slated to cost about $69 billion dollars.

CAINE: So there's $8 billion dollars of that money now. Are there any plans for how to get the $61 billion that are needed?

ROSENBERG: Not really. There's a little bit of bond money left over from when voters approved the project in 2008. There's a few billion dollars left from that, but as far as the rest of the money, it's all sort of on paper. They're hoping the federal government kicks in about $40-50 billion dollars. But they've zeroed out all funding for the last three years, and Republicans have sort of made a mockery of the project in the House. The only way that they'll really be able to get the money is if something changes in the political climate in Washington. The other back-up plan is to use new greenhouse gas fees that are coming down at the state level.  Big polluters would have to pay because of their greenhouse gases and that would have to go to environmentally friendly projects. High-speed rail is going to try to tap into that, but that's also a questionable source of funding.

CAINE: So right now all that the money will pay for is a stretch of track in the Central Valley and improvements to rail systems in LA and San Francisco. Why start in the Central Valley? Why is construction starting there?

ROSENBERG: The consensus view is that, putting aside backroom deals with Central Valley politicians, it was something that was decided on by the federal government. The Obama Administration is desperate to see some sort of high-speed rail built because California is the only state left that actually has plans for a high-speed train that's anywhere near reality. The Central Valley portion is the biggest stretch of land where they can build the biggest stretch of track. They can build about 130 miles down there, whereas if they were to do it here or in LA, it would be a much smaller amount. The theory is that once you have a bunch of tracks sitting there doing nothing, it's going to be much harder to abandon, so that puts the pressure on politicians to give more money. Whereas if you were doing something that had use, like electrifying the Caltrain line, they'd say, well, you know we succeeded at that and let's abandon it. Whereas the entire Central Valley stretch of track is going to be tough to let sit out there as a sign of failure.

CAINE: It would be a source of embarrassment to the federal government if nothing else happened but that stretch of track?

ROSENBERG: Right.

CAINE: I'm curious about the support in California for high-speed rail. The legislature just voted on whether they were going to approve releasing the bond that voters passed in 2008, and that was an incredibly close vote. In the state senate it needed 21 votes to pass, and it got exactly 21 votes. No Republicans voted in favor, and some of the major Democratic supporters of high-speed rail voted against it. One of those was Senator Joe Simitian from Palo Alto, who changed his vote to no at the last minute. I'm wondering what it meant for someone like Joe Simitian to vote against the high-speed rail plan?

ROSENBERG: It's actually really significant. I mean on one hand he's just one guy, but him and also a Democrat from Concord named Mark DeSaulnier and another one from Long Beach called Alan Lowenthal, they were the three guys who were tasked with overseeing the bullet train for the Democratic Party. And they were the three who came out and said, you know, the more we look into this, the more we don't like it. The other Democrats were supposed to rely on their expertise, but once they said that they didn't want to go forward with the project, they had to weigh that with the leadership, like the president of the Senate, Darrell Steinberg, and of course the governor, who are die-hard supporters. And they all ended up just going with the program and approving it, even though as far as I can tell, they didn't necessarily know that much about what they were voting on. But the ones who had been following it decided ultimately to vote against it.

CAINE: Can you tell me a little bit about some of the reasons Joe Simitian gave for voting against something that he has really championed, even since before 2008.

ROSENBERG: The biggest reasons for him, and really anyone who doesn't like the project, is the cost and the uncertain funding. I mean $69 billion dollars is more money than any state has ever spent on any public works project. It's an unprecedented amount of money, and finding that much money is just going to be a really big chore. Following that, there are a lot of questions about whether this is actually worthwhile in the first place. The rider estimates keep going down, and they're questionable. And people are wondering what exactly will happen to the property along the way. There's a 520-mile route that this is going to take, and that's going to take over a lot of businesses and homes along the way. So that's going to cause a lot of economic damages as well, not to mention people's livelihoods. If it was just about whether or not we had the money and we were trying to decide whether it was worthwhile, it would sort of put a lot of people on fence. Those who are wobbling on it get pushed over the edge by the fact that there really isn't that clear of a plan to actually get this done. They're scared that they're going to be only left with that one stretch of tracks.

CAINE: It's interesting that building is starting in the Central Valley where there is a lot of opposition, very vocal opposition to the project, and in fact a lot of litigation. I'm wondering if you can talk about some of the real obstacles, particularly legal obstacles, that are in the way of the bullet train now.

ROSENBERG: Yeah, it’s funny. The Central Valley was supposed to be the easy part. Because the opposition was really in the Bay Area, and there were just so many people in LA that they would have to displace. But the Central Valley, they were supposed to just say yeah, this is great, come on down. It turns out they were the ones who rose up against the fiercest. And now they're really only faced with one option, which is to sue. Because no one has any control over the project, outside of the state and federal governments. So if you're a local county, or a city, or a farmer, or a business owner, the only thing you can do is to try to sue. There are about half a dozen suits going on right now, and there’s going to be more coming. The general idea is to have a judge issue an injunction to stop them from being able to start construction. That’s something that will be playing out over the past six months or so.

CAINE: I know there are also some questions about whether the plan that the legislature and Jerry Brown just approved is actually legal in terms of what the voters voted on in 2008 because the high-speed rail plan has changed so much since that time. Can you talk a little bit about that? What are the major points of contention between what voters approved in 2008, and what was just approved?

ROSENBERG: It’s an ethical argument saying that we voted on a certain plan. It was supposed to be $33 billion, now it's twice that. It was supposed to open by 2020, now it's 2030. The ticket to get from SF to LA was supposed to be 55 bucks, now it's like 85 bucks. The rider estimates have gone in half. Everything has changed pretty dramatically. Some of the opponents are trying to go beyond an ethical argument and saying it's just flat out illegal. You can't use this money—it's a legal statue that was created when voters passed the bond measure to approve the project in 2008, so if you're going to use that money you have to adhere by what you said you were going to spend the money on. That's probably not an argument that's going to win in a legal sense cause they usually give them leeway to spend money on those sorts of things, when the details have changed. But just from an ethical standpoint, that's the main argument that opponents cite, when you talk about people who once supported it and are now against it.

CAINE: I know a lot of the opposition to the plan is very political, and a lot Republicans when they were giving their statements about why they didn't support high-speed rail were starting to invoke huge budget cuts that the state is facing, particularly for education, and really using this as a kind of focal point to turn voter sentiment against Jerry Brown's November tax initiative, which is the centerpiece of how he's going to finance some of the social programs and education in the state. Is the bond money that just got approved actually money that could be used for education for example?

ROSENBERG: It depends on who you ask. The voters approved $10 billion dollars in bonds, and that money can only be spend on high-speed rail. Now, the bond money itself gets paid back through the General Fund, which is used on everything--education, social services, prisons. So the money right now is only available for high-speed rail, but when they start paying it back over the next three decades, that will cut into all the other programs.

CAINE: I'm just curious, in light of all of that, why is Jerry Brown still such a champion of high-speed rail? Why is he still so behind it?

ROSENBERG: There’s a couple of schools of thought on that. I mean what he says is that he dreams of doing big things and he doesn't believe that bad times are the time to shy away.   He had this press conference where he called all the skeptics fearful men and NIMBYs and declinists. He tends to take his point of view and he doesn't necessarily care so much about what the polls say. Especially when it comes to a long-term project. To be frank, by the time the project's finished, even (by) the most optimistic standards, Jerry Brown will probably (have) passed away. So it's something that's so long term, he'll never really have to deal with the repercussions of it. From a skeptic's standpoint what people point to is that the main driver of this project in terms of the funding to get the ballot measure passed and to keep it going and to lobby politicians has come from the construction unions. Because that $69 billion dollars, that's going into their pockets. And Democrats—Brown and some of the others—are funded mostly by the unions so if they turn down a project that the unions support, then they risk losing the support of their major funding backers and then they might not get elected back to office.

Read More

Comments [1]

Transportation Nation

Truckers Start Campaign Against I-95 Tolls

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

(Matt McCleskey, Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) The trucking industry is urging Virginia to abandon its plan to charge tolls on Interstate 95, launching a campaign called "Say NO to I-95 Tolls."

The goal of the anti-toll initiative, according to the Associated Press, is to get the Virginia Department of Transportation to drop a proposed plan to put tollbooths on I-95 in Sussex County. The toll would be $4 for passenger vehicles and $12 for tractor-trailers.

The effort includes a website, an online petition and a Facebook page and is organized by the National Association of Truck Stop Operators, the American Trucking Association, and the Virginia Trucking Association.

The Federal Highway Administration gave its preliminary approval last fall to let VDOT start a pilot toll program on I-95 to raise money for expanding highway capacity and for transportation improvements.

The only toll facility proposed so far is the Sussex County site.

Listen to the audio of this story at WAMU, or follow @WAMU885 for Washington, D.C. updates.

Read More

Comments [6]

Transportation Nation

UPDATE: Calif. High-Speed Rail Barely Survives Do or Die Vote -- A Primer

Friday, July 06, 2012

A rendering of a California bullet train (image courtesy of the California High-Speed Rail Authority)

UPDATE: 7/6/2012 4:05 p.m. PT

By a narrow margin the California State Senate authorizes funding for the nation's biggest high-speed rail plan. The vote was mostly along party lines, with Democrats supporting the plan and Republicans opposing, but several powerful Democrats crossed the aisle, including the chair of the transportation committee, Mark DeSaulinier.

Republicans began the session with several procedural motions to avoid the vote all together, but even Democrats who eventually voted no, opposed that conclusion so after lengthy floor speeches about fiscal responsibility and investing in our future Democrats got the 21 votes they needed, and not one more. The final tally was 21-16.

The Democrats who voted against the plan are: Mark DeSaulnier, Joe Simitian, Alan Lowenthal and Fran Pavley.

We'll have a full analysis on Monday from KALW's Julie Caine. For now, here's our original post explaining how the west coast bullet train came within one vote of demise.

 

ORIGINAL POST: Today's the day of reckoning for America's most ambitious high-speed rail plan. While we wait for the verdict, here's a recap of the rocky road to laying rails from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

Let's start with the news: Last night the California State Assembly approved Governor Jerry Brown's $8 Billion proposal for a California high-speed rail plan. Today, the State Senate has to approve that plan or the project will almost certainly fade away into failure, if reports from the Sacramento Bee are accurate.

That's more common than success with high-speed rail plans in the U.S.A. Wisconsin and Florida already scrapped their HSR plans at the behest of Republican governors. Ohio too rejected federal money after crafting a plan. California's proposal -- more ambitious and expensive than any other -- has been rescued from declining public support and rising costs by a supportive Democratic governor. But today's vote is out of his hands.

Dan Richard, chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority board, hand picked by Gov. Brown after an embarrassing high-profile resignation of the previous board chair, told The Sacramento Bee and other outlets Thursday, "If the Legislature doesn't move forward with the project this week, then the secretary of transportation has made it very clear that they need to look at withdrawing the money from California and putting it some place else." In other words, if it loses political support, he'd scrap the whole thing.

So here's what the legislature is considering: As KQED reports, "The plan the Assembly passed provides for construction of a 130-mile bullet-train segment in the San Joaquin Valley and devotes about $1.5 billion to passenger-rail improvements in Southern California and the Bay Area." Some money also goes to converting commuter rail lines to be ready to merge with CAHSR. The Assembly vote was a clear sign of support: 51-27, but Democrats have a slimmer majority in the Senate, and as Reuters explains, Republicans are opposing the plan as fiscally irresponsible for these lean times.

KCRA's Mike Laurey is reporting on Twitter that some Democrats in the State Senate are feeling pressured to vote yes, but have decided against releasing state bond money for the project, including the chair of the Transportation Committee, Mark DeSaulnier.

Voters approved over $9 billion in bond money for the project in 2008 by a wide margin, but almost certainly wouldn't do so again according t0 recent polling that shows only the slimmest of majority support remains, and not among likely voters.

And if the funding is approved today, we want to know how it will be dispersed. The original plan has construction starting in the relatively less populous Central Valley and spreading out in both directions to San Francisco and Los Angeles. That means construction jobs start away from the population centers and the first beneficiaries will be on the middle of the state ... probably not that interested in taking a bullet train within their region. That will likely stay the same, but which rail agencies and which parts of the project get first funding for sticking shovels in the dirt may make the difference to legislators on the fence.

Part of the opposition has come from increasing costs. After several budget revisions and much debate, the most recent estimate for the 800 mile rail link is $68.4 billion with completion set for 2028. Initial estimates were around $45 billion. Popularity has been dropping so steadily that  last month, in hopes of drumming up support, the California High Speed Rail Authority released a web video, an attempt to get rail boosterism going viral. Today we find out how well that worked.

 

Read More

Comments [2]

Transportation Nation

Silver Line Vote Tuesday Could Stunt Rail-to-Dulles Plan

Monday, July 02, 2012

(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) The Silver Line project is a 23-mile, $5.5 billion rail link to connect Washington, D.C to Dulles International Airport and beyond into the Loudoun County, Virginia suburbs.  When completed there will be 11 rail stops between the capital and the final stop in Ashburn. (See full specs here as a PDF.) It's an ambitious transit extension, one of the largest in the nation currently underway, and a critical vote Tuesday at 9 a.m. ET may shrink the plan significantly.

Phase I of the project is nearing completion.  Phase 2 is scheduled to start next year.  However, there is one more obstacle to overcome before construction may begin on time.

The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote Tuesday on whether to participate in the project.  The county’s commitment to Phase 2 is $270 million.  If the county decides to opt out, the project will be delayed by at least 18 months and will likely never extend beyond the airport.

Fairfax County and the state of Virginia are also committing funds to the Silver Line, but the bulk of the project run by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) will be financed by increased tolls on the Dulles Toll Road. Those tolls are projected to cover 75 percent of the $2.7 billion cost.

If Loudoun opts in, the project will start on time.  MWAA will begin setting higher toll rates this fall and begin soliciting bids from contractors.

Loudoun County’s board asked for an extension to decide if it will “opt out” of Phase 2 because of concerns over how financing the project would impact the county’s taxes. Last week, the board gave tentative approval to creating special tax districts around the future Metro stops west of the airport.

Check back to TN for updates after the vote.

Follow Martin Di Caro on Twitter for live updates.

Read More

Comment

Transportation Nation

Council on Foreign Relations Also Doesn't Like US Infrastructure

Friday, June 15, 2012

It's not news that U.S. infrastructure is falling behind -- we've reported on this many times before.  But it kind of caught our eye that the Council on Foreign Relations -- a New York-based think tank that tends to host talks by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and the like -- is issuing its own scathing report on the state of U.S.'s transportation infrastructure.

From the report:

Just a generation ago, the United States invested heavily to create one of the world's best transportation infrastructure networks. But now, with real investment stagnating even as much of the infrastructure is reaching the end of its useful life, global economic competitors are leaving the United States behind. Along with a description of major policy initiatives, the report analyzes what's needed to get U.S. transportation infrastructure back on track.

You can read the full report here.

 

Read More

Comments [2]

Transportation Nation

Political Pressure Kills Labor Provision in Rail-to-Dulles Silver Line

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Listen to the audio version of this story at WAMU

(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority voted 11-1 to drop a pro-labor provision from the rail-to-Dulles project.

The Project Labor Agreement was to be part of the agency's plan for Phase 2 of the Silver Line rail project to build a rail extension connecting the Washington, D.C. subway to Dulles International Airport and beyond into suburban Loudoun County, Viriginia.

The MWAA's board of directors surrendered to political pressure from the Virginia Governor, Republican lawmakers in the state's general assembly and the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors who opposed the PLA.

The PLA preference would have given prime contractors a significant bonus in the bidding process for choosing a union workforce to construct the $2.7 billion rail link. Virginia officials claimed the PLA violated the Commonwealth’s right-to-work laws. The state of Virginia threatened to withdraw $150 million in funding. Loudoun County did the same with its $270 million commitment.

“I think it is important we send a signal to Loudoun County that we really wish to encourage their participation. It’s critical to the success of the project,” said MWAA chairman Michael Curto moments before voting in favor of dropping the PLA.

Board member Robert Brown cast the only no vote, saying he did not trust Virginia to follow through on its funding commitment despite recent assurances from Governor Bob McDonnell himself.

“I don’t find that believable,” Brown said.  “I would find believable a grant agreement signed by the Commonwealth and the Airports Authority to provide these funds. I don’t see any reason to believe a man who’s been governor three years is suddenly going to change his mind.”

In an interview with Transportation Nation, Virginia’s Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton confirmed his state will participate in the project.

“We've always been in. The question has always been just how much we can be in due to some of the things that the MWAA board was attempting to put in the contract,” said Connaughton, referring to the PLA.

The death of the Project Labor Agreement preference does not guarantee Loudoun County’s participation in the Silver Line. Local funding battles of the ilk that stymie many an infrastructure project remain contentious. The county Board of Supervisors has until July 4 to opt-in, and board members are still divided over funding options. Supervisors from eastern counties where the rail line would be built have different ideas than representatives from other parts of the county where residents will rarely use the Silver Line.

For instance, the future Dulles Airport stop requires an operating subsidy that will cost Loudoun County $5 million to $7 million per year, even though  Loudoun residents are not expected to heavily use that stop.

Chairman Curto said the MWAA board would be willing to open further talks with Loudoun officials to ensure they opt in.

“There's been outreach by MWAA, by the Commonwealth and by the Department of Transportation. I think all of those stakeholders and funding partners are willing to go out to Loudoun County and answer any questions regarding the project to facilitate their yes vote,” Curto said.

A decision by Loudoun County to withdraw from Phase 2 would delay the project at least 18 months, according to MWAA’s CEO Jack Potter.

Now that the PLA is dead, the Silver Line’s critics are expected to focus on coming toll increases on the Dulles Toll Road that are supposed to finance a significant percentage of the project’s cost.

The Reston Citizens Association, which represents 58,000 residents in Fairfax County, says tolls may have to rise dramatically over the next several decades to pay for the rail line. Virginia’s $150 million commitment “will allow toll rates to edge up to $4.50 full toll over three years rather than double to that level next year,” said the association’s Terry Maynard.

“If Virginia follows through with additional incremental financing as many have promised… the tolls will still reach $18.75 by mid-century, but they would edge up year-to-year rather than in two dollar or larger increments every five years,” Maynard added.

In Loudoun County, the board of supervisors is considering a slew of potential tax increases, including creating a county-wide commercial and industrial tax or special tax districts near two future Metro stops west of Dulles Airport where commercial development is expected.

 

Read More

Comment

Transportation Nation

Airport Authority Vote Clears Way for Dulles Rail Project to Move Forward

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Protest Over Dulles Rail Dispute (photo by Martin Di Caro/WAMU)

(Washington, DC -- WAMU) The next phase of the Dulles Rail project will not give preference to construction contractors who promise to hire union workers. The 11-1 vote by the Washington Metropolitan Airports Authority means that the imperiled project will go forward, and Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell will release $150 million for the project's next phase.

"Today's vote is a major turning point for the Dulles rail project," said Airports Authority Chairman Michael A. Curto in a statement. "This project is vital to the economic growth of this region and the Board is determined to do whatever is necessary to finish the project as quickly and cost effectively as possible."

Although the MWAA Board previously included a project labor agreement (PLA) as part of the construction plan, board members voted this morning to remove the PLA from the project in order to ensure continued state funding for the rail line. Only one board member, Robert Brown, voted to keep the agreement.

State funding is instrumental to determining whether Phase 2 of the Dulles rail project will be delayed. Today's vote came amid threats of the Commonwealth of Virginia and Loudoun County pulling hundreds of millions of dollars in funding out of the project. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) and Republicans in the General Assembly have said the project labor agreement (PLA) violates the state's right-to-work law by giving a preference to contractors who would choose union labor.

Most Virginia construction workers are non-union. MWAA officials have publicly defended the PLA, saying that if Virginia withdraws its money, tolls on the Dulles Toll Road could double, and the project could be delayed. Also key for the project's future will be tonight's Loudoun County Board meeting. Board members heard from residents both for and against continuing funding for the project Monday night, and the board is expected to discuss the $270 million that represents Loudoun's share for Phase 2.

Loudoun has until July 4 to make a decision.

Read More

Comments [1]

Transportation Nation

Senate Moves to Shake up Transportation Conference Amid Hill Sniping

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) (photo by Todd Zwillich)

Senate negotiators tried to break an impasse with House Republicans over a surface transportation bill Tuesday, thought the proffer did little to quell a cross-Capitol war of words.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chair of the Senate-House conference committee trying to reach a transportation bill deal, told reporters she and Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) sent the deal toward the house earlier in the day. Boxer said the offer was "very warmly received" but also acknowledged it skirted contentious political issues including building the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline and gutting new coal ash regs from the EPA.

Boxer dismissed reports from earlier in the day suggesting the conference was near collapse, and that another temporary extension would be needed to keep highway funding going past a June 30 deadline.

A spokesman for conference vice-chair Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) said, "we will take a look at the proposal and discuss it with our conferees." It was a noncommittal response skirting the obvious: Time is running short to get a deal by the end of the month, and House conservatives are dead against agreeing to a transportation deal that doesn't go over President Barack Obama's head and force approval of the Keystone pipeline.

"We're going back and forth on all that stuff. I think in the final analysis it all has to be in there," said Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), a Republican negotiator. On Boxer and Inhofe's offer, Hoeven said, "Let's just say we're still working on it."

Those issues could still be worked out. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid appeared to be helping quiet talk of a faltering conference Tuesday afternoon. Asked it negotiations were falling apart, Reid said, "I don't have any dire statement to give."

But then things got heated. "There's a battle going on between (House Speaker John) Boehner and (House GOP Leader Eric) Cantor as to whether or not there should be a bill," Reid told reporters. "Cantor, of course, I'm told by others that he wants to not do a bill to make the economy worse, because he feels that's better for them. I hope that that's not true," Reid continued.

The statement elicited swift and sharp reactions from House GOP leaders.

“Leader Reid’s claims are ridiculous and patently false.  Rather than making up stories that have no basis in reality, Leader Reid should follow the House’s example and focus on pro-growth measures that will get the economy going and get people back to work,” read a statement from a Cantor spokesperson.

Boehner spokesperson Michael Steel was less diplomatic about Reid's comments. “That’s bullshit.  House Republicans are united in our desire to get a sensible, reform-minded transportation bill done, including job-creating energy initiatives like Keystone.”

Aides to Reid did not clarify his statement. But one aide described Senate Democrats as "not pessimistic" about the chances of an agreement by June 30.

Earlier, Boxer said that issues outside the Senate offer, including Keystone, coal ash regulations, and financing changes, would have to be "worked out later."

Follow Todd Zwillich on Twitter @toddzwillich

 

Read More

Comment

Transportation Nation

Buoyed by Auto Industry, Swing State Employment Relatively Bright

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

President Obama at an Auto Plant Earlier this year (photo: Barack Obama.com)

The layers of irony could scarcely be denser.  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, etcetera. 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.

Take Michigan and Ohio.   According to April data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, both of those key states have "statistically significant unemployment rate changes" over April of last year. (May data won't be out until the end of next week.)  Ohio's rate is down 1.4 percent from last year, Michigan's is down 2.2 percent.

And even though Michigan's unemployment rate, at 8.3. percent, is a tick over the national average, that doesn't much matter, according to Howard Wial, a Brookings Institution Fellow who focuses on regional economic development. "Look at the direction, not the level," Wial admonishes.  "That's as well established as any fact on jobs and the elections."

Ohio is also helped along by natural gas drilling, as is Pennsylvania.  In Iowa and New Hampshire, the unemployment rate sounds like the 1990's -- 5.1 percent in Iowa, 5.0 in New Hampshire.

Even in states like North Carolina, Nevada and Florida, unemployment is trending downwards, though it's still higher than the national average. Unemployment is also dropping in Arizona and Wisconsin.  In Virginia it's just 5.6 percent.

"There have been three industry sources of growth over the last year or so," Wial says.  "The auto industry, information technology, and energy."

All located disproportionately, in swing states.

 

 

 

 

 

Read More

Comment

Transportation Nation

Dulles Rail Supporters, Opponents Plead With Loudoun Board

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Phase 2 of the Metro Dulles rail project, known as the Silver Line, is either a boondoggle or the key to Loudoun County’s economic future, depending upon whom you ask.

Nearly 200 people packed a public hearing before the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Monday night to weigh in on whether the county should remain part of the $2.7 billion plan to connect Metro rail to Dulles International Airport and further into the county.

Loudoun County's financial commitment to Phase 2 will cost it $270 million. The Board of Supervisors has until July 4 to decide whether the municipality is in or out.

Vehement support — and opposition — for Silver line

In kelly green t-shirts printed with the words "Loudoun Rail Now," supporters outnumbered opponents at the public hearing. While fewer in number, anti-rail residents were nonetheless determined to convince the board to pull out of Phase 2.  Bob Constantino even wore a prop inside the Loudoun government center: a Viking helmet.

"During their time they were known for pillage, they were known for plunder and they were known for thievery," Constantino said of the Vikings. "It's my contention that the Metro Silver Line Phase 2 in the context of Loudoun County is virtual railway robbery."

Opponents do not support a project they fear might raise their taxes to benefit those who would ride the Metro beyond Dulles Airport. The county's long-term funding commitment is also a point of contention. Loudoun's operating budget for the future Metro stop at the airport itself would be $5 million-$7 million per year, even though county residents are not expected to heavily use it.

Supporters of the plan, including businesses, urged the board to keep its commitment to the project.

"…The long term benefits of the Dulles Rail project offer a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to Loudoun County," said Tony Howard, the president of the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce.

Another pro-rail speaker, Mindy Williams, urged the board to see the Silver line as an opportunity. "The opportunity to increase the commercial tax base, the economic opportunity, and the ability to leverage the tremendous asset we have in Dulles airport…" she said.

Loudoun residents not the only ones divided

The nine-member board, composed entirely of Republicans, is split. Board chairman Scott York supports the project, but his colleagues on the board remain divided. The supervisors will weigh a variety of funding options, including the creating of new taxes, at another meeting Wednesday night.

Also on Wednesday, the board of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is expected to decide whether to drop a controversial pro-labor provision -- a project labor agreement or PLA -- for the entire project that would favor bidders that choose a union workforce to build Phase 2.

The PLA is a sticking point for the Loudoun County Board, but even if MWAA drops it, the county's support is not a sure thing.

Supporters worry about missed opportunity

"The worst thing about saying, 'no' is you don't want the project to end at Dulles Airport," said Carol Wilte, a 20-year employee at the airport and rail supporter. "You don't want to add all that commuter traffic on top of all the travelers going to and from an airport that already has $25 million passengers."

Phase 1, which is nearing completion, will terminate at the new Wiehle Avenue Metro station in Reston, requiring passengers to take another form of transportation to the airport.

If Loudoun opts out of Phase 2, the project will most likely be delayed significantly while MWAA and the state of Virginia seek funding options, including charging significantly higher tolls on the Dulles Toll Road.

Read More

Comments [2]

Transportation Nation

Will Walker Walk, or Get Railroaded Out of Madison?

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker ran against trains, and won. Will it work again? Photo by WisPolitics.com

Next Tuesday’s gubernatorial recall election in Wisconsin means everything to the prospect of improved train service in that state. But local rail advocates are still unsure whether the passenger rail issue will hurt or help embattled Republican Governor Scott Walker, who is in a tight race against challenger Tom Barrett, the Democratic mayor of Milwaukee.

“I think we’ve taken it from a big negative for us to about a break-even,” said Brett Hulsey, a Democratic state assemblyman from the west side of Madison who is an outspoken supporter of both Barrett and better trains. “That’s progress. But Walker has TV ads now beating up Barrett for a $100 million dollar streetcar project in Milwaukee. Apparently this is still polling well for Walker.”

In the fall of 2010, when Walker ran for the statehouse, he made an issue of the Madison-to-Milwaukee high-speed rail project, which had received $810 million in federal funding, saying “I’d rather take that money and fix Wisconsin’s crumbling roads and bridges.” Walker also set up a website, NoTrain.Com.

The money wasn’t, in fact, fungible, and soon after he was elected, Walker returned it to the federal government, which redistributed it to other states, including California and Illinois.  Other Republican governors,  Rick Scott of Florida and John Kasich of Ohio, followed suit.

As it turned out, stopping the “Boondoggle train to Madison” was a political winner.

“Transportation choice advocates and Democrats, didn’t do a good job leading up to the last election, in explaining the benefits,” Hulsey admits. “We thought we had a done deal. And we should have done a better job making it part of the political discourse.”

Barrett, for his part, is trying to do just that, drawing a straight line between transportation improvements and the state’s hunger for jobs with visits to the. He recently visited a Talgo factory that has been making new train cars for the existing Hiawatha line. Funding for that too is in jeopardy, even though the cars are 99 percent complete.

Talgo is no passive prop. The company hasn’t been at all shy about their feelings for Walker’s leadership. Their Twitter feed has been quite sharp, and the company’s Vice President of Public Affairs and Business Development, Nora Friend, recently complained bluntly to Milwaukee’s WUWM radio. that the Walker Administration’s apparent intention to breach a maintenance contract would mean Talgo would have to close its current facility and lay off skilled workers.

“We find ourselves in this situation,” she said, “because of the blunder of returning $810 million dollars. The cost of that permanent maintenance facility was included in those finds that Wisconsin competed to get. We don’t want to have to litigate our contract. What we want is very simple. we want the state of wisconsin to do what it preaches, that it is open for business.”

Hulsey points to a report that Walker has actually given away $1.3 Billion in federal money, and thinks the public is starting to understand the Democrat’s view of the matter. “We have educated the public that of the 35,000 jobs that we lost last year, 5,500 of those jobs would have been people upgrading our train tracks, direct and indirect jobs.”

Hulsey likes to encourage train supporters in states such as Illinois to send letters to Walker thanking him for the re-appropriated funds and resulting jobs.

“Those jobs and the benefits of those jobs would have far exceeded any operating costs to maintain rail service to Madison," said Nora Friend.

Walker’s straightforward position, like that of Florida Governor Rick Scott, is that, given the economic climate and mounting deficits, federal and state governments cannot afford to risk millions and billions of dollars on rail systems they see as speculative and likely to require years of subsidy. Whether voters agree with this, or the argument that government is in a unique position to create desperately needed jobs and new infrastructure critical to economic development, won’t be clear until election day, if then.

But Hulsey counters Walkers claims with a classic Democratic argument. “The fact that this is happening in battleground states like Wisconsin, Ohio, and Florida is not an accident,” he told me. “This is part of the Republican do-nothing strategy to try to make President Obama look as bad as possible. Hurting workers to hurt Obama is the overall strategy.”

Matt Dellinger is the author of the book Interstate 69: The Unfinished History of the Last Great American Highway. You can follow him on Twitter.

Read More

Comment

Transportation Nation

Sen. Boxer Shines Sun on Transportation Bill Talks

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) (photo by Todd Zwillich)

(Washington, D.C.) Striking a decidedly feel-good tone on transportation legislation Wednesday, Democrats' chief negotiator painted herself optimistic about the chances of a House - Senate agreement before July 4th.

"I'm feeling good," Senate Environment and Public Works Chair Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), told reporters on Capitol Hill.

Boxer praised talks with Republicans--and even the Republicans themselves--for steady progress. She's leading final House-Senate conference negotiations over surface transportation legislation that expires June 30th.

"I welcome a change of heart on behalf of Republicans that I feel we have now," Boxer said. She was referring to the basics of a 2-year, $109 billion Senate bill that passed with 74 bipartisan votes in March.

Boxer said both she and chief GOP negotiator Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) agree on the desirability of a bill of even longer duration than the Senate bill. But therein lies the difficulty.While Boxer says that 80% of her EPW bill is already agreed to, that bill does not include some of the most contentious issues.

"I don't have any sicking points to share with you today," Boxer said. Even if the senator isn't sharing, that doesn't mean that sticking points aren't present.

How to pay for spending in the bill is a key issue with House conservatives, and one that aides say is not yet solved. So are the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline, a GOP demand to roll back EPA coal ash regulations, spending on bike lanes, parks and other so-called transportation "enhancements," and other issues.

Boxer said she spoke to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) by phone Tuesday about the conference and that she was encouraged by the chat. Boehner released a statement saying he was “hopeful that the negotiators can complete work on a conference agreement that includes Keystone and other energy measures to address high gas prices and create jobs."

The statement went on to say Boehner expects "meaningful infrastructure reforms that ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent effectively and efficiently on roads and bridges across this country.”

"I there's a lot more than three or four or two hard issues," Boxer said. Last week House Republicans voted to demand the conference return and approve the Keystone pipeline. Boxer dismissed the importance of the vote as routine but added that discussions had begun on contentious areas like Keystone.


 

Read More

Comment

Transportation Nation

Parties Jostle for Bragging Rights on Oil Drilling

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

(Oil Rigs near Huntington Beach/Aaron Logan)

(New York, NY -- Stephen Reader, It'sAFreeCountry.Org) The Obama administration will auction off more than 38 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico to oil companies next month, touting the sale as a boon for the president’s energy résumé — which, while boasting increased domestic production, remains haunted by high gas prices, offshore drilling bans and one big oil spill.

The lease sale, scheduled to take place in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans on June 20th, will allow companies to secure more available acres off the coast of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. The sale won’t, however, open up any new waters for drilling that weren’t previously approved by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s current five-year lease plan, which expires at the end of 2012.

Currently, the Department of the Interior only leases acres in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Alaska. Oil companies, Republicans on Capitol Hill, and the man running to beat Obama all wish that list were longer.

Read the rest of the story here.

Read More

Comment

Transportation Nation

Historian David McCullough on What the Brooklyn Bridge Says About Politics Today

Monday, May 21, 2012

Photo: Anna Sale/WNYC

(New York, NY -- Anna Sale, It's a Free Country.Org) “Don’t you think this is a wonderful thing to walk across this bridge!”

Historian David McCullough has had a lot of honors in his career – two Pulitzers, a Presidential Medal of Freedom, and just this week a gold medal for biography from the American Academy of Arts and Letters – but he still gets that thrill crossing the Brooklyn Bridge.

(To hear David McCullough speak on the bridge, click here.)

On a bustling, bright morning this week, the 78 year-old and I started walking over from Manhattan. He is re-releasing a 40th anniversary edition of his 600-page history, The Great Bridge: the Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Every few minutes, he pauses to command “Look at this!” with a sweeping gesture of his hand.

“I can never get over it,” he said. “How did they do it? I still ask myself, how did they do it?”

Work began on the bridge in 1869, four years after the end of the Civil War, “in a day when every piece of steel, every stone had to be brought to the site by horse and wagon,” McCullough notes. When the bridge opened years later, in 1883. The towers were then the highest structures in New York City. It was the world’s longest suspension bridge, and the first time steel cables were used.

Also new were the underwater caissons – wooden boxes filled with air – that allowed workers to anchor the stone towers deep into the uneven riverbed.

“All new technology, innovating, improvising as they went along.” The sense of awe hasn’t faded. “Who are those guys, in other words, they’re really good!”

McCullough’s book, tells the history of these really good guys. There were the legions of workers from all over the world who built it.

Designer John Roebling, “the suspension bridge genius,” had proven a bridge could hang on steel cables by building a smaller version in Cincinnati. “He wanted this to be two great gateways to two great cities,” McCullough exclaimed at the foot of the first tower.

Roebling died unexpectedly before construction started, leaving his son, Washington Roebling, to take over. But he had a debilitating injury, so his wife Emily supervised day-to-day operations.

The federal government didn’t decide to build the bridge. New York City and Brooklyn did. Manhattan was bursting, and needed to grow across the river. Lining up in support were businesspeople, the press, and politicians — including Boss Tweed, the political boss who was at all the height of his power.

“I’m sure there were doubters, I’m sure there were cheapskates – but no, it was a chance to do it, and the benefits, the profit was so enormous. And it would’ve been sheer ignorance not to have done it.”

When McCullough’s book came out in 1972, just as Nixon’s New Federalism was scaling back the ambitious federal infrastructure programs of the Johnson era.

Forty years ago, McCullough said he viewed the book as history, without any particular  resonance to the politics of the day. Now, it’s different.

“The gilded age is about as rotten and greedy and corrupt as conscience-less as one can imagine – does that sound familiar?"

McCullough admits that today, he’d like to go to Washington and “knock their heads together” and tell them to stop being “selfish and stupid.”

Putting off regular infrastructure maintenance particularly sticks in his craw. The massive Transportation Bill which pays for bridges, road and transit, expired three years ago. The Senate and House haven't been able to agree, and instead, have passed short-term extensions nine times.

“It’s a form of indebtedness and we have to stop it because it’s dangerous as can be, he said, adding with an incredulous laugh. “And it’s how we get around. It’s how we function. It’s not theoretical!”

But McCullough stressed, neither novel nor really what endures. Studying history, he said, creates an cynic in the short-term and an optimist in the long-term.

"Even in the most dark or rotten of eras, great things can be done by exceptional people of integrity. That's really the story of this bridge." McCullough said as we reached the the other side in Brooklyn. "What we build, will very often stand down the ages as testimony to who we were, far more clearly and far more powerfully, than the politicians that come and go.”

 

Read More

Comment

Transportation Nation

Another White House Press Release Pushing Oil Drilling

Thursday, May 17, 2012

President Obama at Daimler Trucks in Mt. Holly, North Carolina (photo: John Adkisson/Getty Images News)

More from the White House encouraging domestic oil drilling. Earlier this week the White House sent out a report showing 70% of U.S. oilfields are inactive. Now, a press release touting a lease sale to expand oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. Does President Obama see a vulnerability on domestic oil production?

"Today the Obama Administration provided final details for the Central Gulf of Mexico lease sale announced by President Obama in January 2012, as part of his administration’s ongoing focus on expanding safe and responsible production of our domestic energy sources. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) Director Tommy P. Beaudreau today announced the Final Notice of Sale for a June 20, 2012 lease sale that will make available all unleased areas in the Central Gulf of Mexico Planning Area, offshore Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, including 7,276 blocks on about 38.6 million acres.

"The sale will take place at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans. BOEM estimates the sale could result in the production of over 1 billion barrels of oil and more than 4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

“As part of the Obama administration’s all of the above energy strategy, we continue to make millions of acres of federal waters and public lands available for safe and responsible domestic energy exploration and development,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. “Holding this lease sale is one of the many administrative steps  we are taking, at the President’s direction, to increase U.S. production, reduce dependence on foreign oil, and incentivize early production on leases that industry holds.”

“The Gulf of Mexico is the crown jewel of the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf, and home to a number of world-class producing basins – including many in deepwater areas that are becoming increasingly accessible with new technology,” said Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Director Tommy P. Beaudreau.  “There have been a number of significant discoveries in the past two years alone, and this sale will continue making significant and promising areas available while encouraging diligent development and providing the taxpayer a fair return.”

The blocks are located from three to about 230 miles offshore, in water depths ranging from nine to more than 11,115 feet (three to 3,400 meters) in the Central Gulf of Mexico, a region that BOEM estimates contains close to 31 billion barrels of oil and 134 trillion cubic feet of natural gas that are currently undiscovered and technically recoverable.  The Final Notice of Sale package describes all terms and conditions for Central Gulf Lease Sale 216-222.  These include a range of incentives that encourage prompt development and ensure a fair return to taxpayers, as described in a recent report by the Department of the Interior on the status of Oil and Gas Lease Utilization. These measures include escalating rental rates and tiered durational terms with relatively short base periods followed by additional time under the same lease if the operator drills a well during the initial period.

BOEM has also increased the minimum bid in deepwater to $100 per acre, up from only $37.50, to ensure that taxpayers receive fair market value for offshore resources and to provide leaseholders with additional impetus to invest in leases that they are more likely to develop. Analysis of the last 15 years of lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico showed that deepwater leases that received high bids of less than $100 per acre, adjusted for energy prices at time of each sale, experienced virtually no exploration and development drilling.

The terms of sale also reflect a series of conditions to ensure an appropriate balance of orderly resource development with protection of the human, marine and coastal environments. These include stipulations to protect biologically sensitive resources, mitigate potential adverse effects on protected species, and avoid potential conflicts associated with oil and gas development in the region. BOEM completed a supplemental environmental impact statement relating to this sale, which considers the latest available information for the Central Gulf of Mexico Planning Area following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.  Today, BOEM is also issuing a Record of Decision following that analysis.

For this sale, BOEM has also adopted a stipulation to notify bidders that the terms stated in a February 20, 2012 agreement between Mexico and the United States regarding the exploration and development of oil and natural gas reservoirs along the United States’ and Mexico’s maritime boundary may apply to some of the blocks offered in this sale, should the agreement enter into force.

The Final Notice of Sale information package is available at: http://www.boem.gov/sale-216-222/. Copies can also be requested from the Gulf of Mexico Region’s Public Information Office at 1201 Elmwood Park Boulevard, New Orleans, LA 70123, or at 800-200-GULF (4853).

The Final Notice of Sale and the Notice of Availability of a Record of Decision on a Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for Lease Sale 216/222 are available today in the Federal Register at: http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/public-inspection/index.html.

 

Read More

Comment

Transportation Nation

Former PA Gov Rendell: Best Transpo Bill Would "Do No Harm"

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

(photo by Kate Hinds)

Transit backers have given up on a comprehensive highway bill this go-around, hoping instead that whatever passes Congress this year lays the table for 2013. And, they say, whatever comes in 2013 must put public transportation on equal footing with roads.

That was the message today on a conference call given by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), which released a report predicting that volatility in gas prices would spur an additional 290 million passenger trips on public transportation this year.

APTA says transit systems nationwide are groaning under the weight of additional passengers and less funding. "More than 80% of our members have had to either raise fares, cut service, or do both as a way to manage their economic challenges," Michael Melaniphy, APTA's president, said. "At the same time, we had our second-highest ridership since 1957 last year."

Ed Rendell, the former governor of Pennsylvania and a co-chair of the infrastructure group Building America's Future (which co-sponsored the report), was asked about the likelihood of transportation funding reform in the current political climate.

"I don't think we're going to get a five or a six-year bill. I think we'll get something that will carry us into 2013, and I think the best that we can hope for at this point is to do no harm," Rendell said. "But in 2013, it seems to me that Congress and the administration have to come to grips with the problems facing not only our transportation infrastructure, but our entire infrastructure."

Which, he said, "is in desperate shape," adding that he's hoping for "a ten year, long-term infrastructure revitalization program."

Rendell said he had been “horrified by the original proposal floated by the House” that would have stopped gas-tax revenues from being used to fund transit systems. Republicans had said instead that transit funding should come out of a general fund. But that provision was not included in the extension passed in March, which kept things more or less status quo.

Curtis Stitt, the president of the Central Ohio Transit Authority, offered a cautionary tale about general revenue funding -- which, he said, is how public transit is funded in Ohio. "Ten years ago," he said, "the entire state got -- for about 42 transit agencies in the state -- we got about $43 million." In the aftermath of the financial crisis, he said, "this year we're getting $7 million."

APTA officials urged Congress to look at the transportation system holistically -- because that's how Americans see it. Gary Thomas, who runs Dallas' transit system and is also APTA's chairman, said "they view our transportation network as one system. Which is why both public transportation and the road network should continue to receive funding from the highway trust fund."

 

Read More

Comment

Transportation Nation

Shuster: President Will Sign Transpo Bill In the Fall

Monday, May 14, 2012

Congress member Bill Shuster (House photo)

Congress member Bill Shuster (R-PA), Chair of the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, & Hazardous Materials, predicts President Barack Obama will sign a transportation bill -- with a provision to build the Keystone Pipeline included -- in September or October.

"Americans support the Keystone Pipeline, 80:20" Shuster told a gathering organized by the New York University Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management.  (A march Gallup poll actually put that support at 57:29, still a big majority.)

The pipeline has been vehemently opposed by environmentalists, who say construction of the pipeline would mean "game over" for the environment.  And President Obama has said in the past that he would oppose any transportation bill that included funding for the pipeline.

But Shuster predicted presidential politics would force the President's hand come the fall -- though he acknowledged that for most Americans, transportation wasn't even in their top five issues.

Shuster also pointed the finger at "Leadership and Ways and Means," who he said pushed the idea of removing transit from the transportation bill, an effort that died after "every Republican in an urban or suburban district screamed bloody murder."

Shuster also said he thought Congess would achieve a so-called "grand bargain" avoiding steep across-the-board cuts in spending, either late this year if President Obama is re-elected, or after January if Mitt Romney wins the presidency.

Shuster also took a big swipe at California's high speed rail program, calling it "extortion," and said the only place America should build "high-er speed rail" was in the Northeast Corridor, where, he said, one in five Americans live.

 

 

 

 

Read More

Comments [2]

Transportation Nation

TN Moving Stories: Lower Manhattan Bike Share Stations Revealed, Pittsburgh Faces 35% Transit Cuts, MN Biking Safer, CA High Speed Rail Segment Approved and Foo

Friday, May 04, 2012

Top Stories on TN:

New York reveals locations for lower Manhattan bike share docks, we've got the details (link)

NY Governor Cuomo releases the names of who will be making decisions on big infrastructure projects (other than him) (link) but doesn't give any hint how he'll fund the $5.2 billion Tappan Zee Bridge project (link)

Ireland's Transport Minister says that country over-invested in infrastructure and can't afford anything now (link)

Houston gets a bike share, and Gail gets all the details on how it will work (link)

And Kate takes a spin on Leipzig's tram and does cartwheels (link)  Metaphorically.

Hard to know what's hipper... your lastest app, your fixie, your artisanal food, or your food truck (photo: Librarygroover via flickr)

Marketplace looks at why better fuel-efficiency could lead to higher gas prices (Marketplace)

A California board greenlights the first segment of that state's high-speed rail, construction could start this year (Fresno Bee)

...while candidates for Congress spar on its merits (Bakersfield Californian)

Business execs & Democrats speak out against biggest transit cuts in Pittsburgh's history (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

But in North Carolina, where voters approved a transit tax, plans are in the works for a light rail from Raleigh to Durham (WRAL.com)

In Minnesota, more people are riding bikes, but fatalities are down (Chicago Tribune)

Used to be, when you hit a pedestrian, you were charged with a crime (Atlantic Cities)

And NPR's Planet Money team rides along as food trucks seek that "mystical spot) (NPR)

Read More

Comment