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Transportation Nation

NY Gov Cuomo Offers No Details on Tappan Zee Bridge Funds

Thursday, May 03, 2012

The Tappan Zee Bridge spanning, on the day of this photo, a serene Hudson River. (Flckr / duluoz cats)

(New York, NY - WNYC) In the Q & A after New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the members of a new state Infrastructure Bank Board, he talked today about how the state might pay to replace the Tappan Zee Bridge after the federal government did not grant a $2 billion loan application.

(Ray LaHood wrote about the projects that did get the funding here.)

The proposed $5.2 billion project is a high priority for Cuomo.  It would build two spans to replace an aging, overcrowded bridge across the Hudson River in New York City's northern suburbs.

Environmental and transportation groups have criticized the replacement bridge's design because it makes no provision for transit.  Some opponents have suggested Cuomo's  vehicles-only approach contributed to the project's failure to win federal transportation funding.

But Cuomo downplayed the decision by the Obama administration not to grant a loan on April 26.   Cuomo said he's considering public-private partnerships that could leverage private financing, but he has no proposal at this time.

Here's an excerpt of the Q & A:

Q: Was it disappointing to not get the federal transportation loan for the Tappan Zee Bridge? Also, any progress on the next steps in terms of funding?

Cuomo: I believe the federal transportation funds will be reauthorized and I believe we will be competitive. Howard, anything new on the Tappan Zee financing?

Director of State Operations Howard Glaser: We’re doing many things simultaneously: the environmental review, the financial plans, working out labor agreements. So you’ll continue to see that work being done over the next few months.

Q: Do you need public-private partnership legislation to fund the bridge?

Cuomo: We’re talking about public-private partnership legislation. We don’t have an immediate proposal on that.

[Cuomo then talked about the various political obstacles to the project, and the need to overcome them to show that the state can still think and build big.]

[We're battling] inertia and institutional opposition—just bureaucratic opposition: opposition of the system, opposition to change, opposition to risk, which is very real and one of the main challenges you’re going to face.

The Tappan Zee Bridge is a project that has been talked about for decades, literally. The Tappan Zee Bridge--and there’s a project called the Peace Bridge in Buffalo--are large scale public works projects that have been talked about for decades but have somehow defied progress, let alone completion. That is one of those cultural enemies, I think, to progress. This sense that big projects are just too difficult to tackle.

Building a bridge: it’s controversial, it’s complex, there’s going to be opposition and [the idea that] if there’s opposition, we should stop. We’re trying to do the exact opposite with the Tappan Zee. We’re trying to say, ‘When there is a pressing need, government should be able to respond quickly, expeditiously, efficiently. Hear everyone, fair process, due process…but then get it done. Get it done.’

Government was about functioning [during the tenure of former NY State Governor] Al Smith. Government was about functioning and performing, competently, quickly. So the Tappan Zee Bridge, which we’ll be involved in, is a project that we identified early on, that is not just going to be about repairing that bridge. But it’s going to be about making the statement that government can work and society can work and we can still do big things. We’re that good. So keeping the Tappan Zee on time and moving along is very important to us.

Q: The biggest roadblock seems to be how to pay for it.

Cuomo: We’re working through a number of financing options and we’ll present a number of options for discussion and we’ll pick the best one.

Q: Will you be passing legislation during this session to allow you to raise public-private money for the Tappan Zee Bridge? Would it have to go through legislation?

Cuomo: It would not have to go through legislation. No.

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Transportation Nation

Obama Hits Congress on Transpo Bill

Monday, April 30, 2012

President Obama speaking at an auto plant earlier this year. (photo: BarackObama.com)

President Barack Obama is getting pointed on the transportation bill.

Speaking at the AFL-CIO's Building and Construction Trades Department Conference today, Obama whacked the Republican-led House of Representatives for "refusing to pass a bipartisan bill that could guarantee work for millions of construction workers.  Already passed the Senate.  Ready to go, ready to put folks back to work.  Used to be the most -- the easiest bill to pass in Washington used to be getting roads and bridges built, because it’s not like only Democrats are allowed to use these things.  Everybody is permitted.  (Laughter.)  Everybody needs them.  (Applause.)

"So this makes no sense.  Congress needs to do the right thing.  Pass this bill right away.  It shouldn’t be that hard.  It shouldn’t be that hard.  Not everything should be subject to thinking about the next election instead of thinking about the next generation."

While Obama spent a good deal of time this fall criticizing Congress for failing to pass a jobs bill, these are some of his most pointed remarks to date on the transportation bill, and they drew boos (for the Republicans) from the union crowd.

"As a share of the economy, Europe invests more than twice what we do in infrastructure; China about four times as much," the President said. "Are we going to sit back and let other countries build the newest airports and the fastest railroads and the most modern schools?"

The President left the stage to thunderous applause, so we may be hearing more of this.

Here's the full transcript:

THE PRESIDENT:  Hey!  Hello, everybody!  (Applause.)  Thank you.  Thank you.

 

AUDIENCE:  Four more years!  Four more years!

 

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Thank you very much.  Everybody, please have a seat.  (Applause.)  Thank you, guys.  Everybody, take a seat.  Well, thank you, Sean, for that outstanding introduction. 

 

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Four more years!  Four more years! 

 

THE PRESIDENT:  (Laughter.)  I'll take it.  Thank you.  Thank you.

 

Well, it is good to be back among friends.  The last time I was here we -- was Saturday night.  (Laughter.)  And they tell me I did okay.  But I want to not only thank Sean for his extraordinary leadership; I want to acknowledge all the other presidents who are on stage for what they do each and every day on behalf of not just their members, but on behalf of all working people.  I'm proud of that.  (Applause.) 

 

I want to thank my good friend, Tim Kaine, who is here and is a friend of labor -- (applause) -- the next United States senator from the great Commonwealth of Virginia. 

 

And obviously, we come here at a time where -- I just want to repeat my condolences to everybody in the building and construction trades on the passing of Mark Ayers.  Mark was a tremendous leader.  He was a good friend.  His commitment to the labor movement and to working people will leave a mark for years to come.  And my thoughts and prayers are with his family.  But I know that Sean is going to do an outstanding job, and we wish him all the best in his future endeavors.  So congratulations.  (Applause.)

 

So it's good to be back in front of all of you.  It's always an honor to be with folks who get up every day and work real jobs -- (laughter) -- and every day fight for America's workers.  You represent the latest in a long, proud line of men and women who built this country from the bottom up.  That's who you are.  (Applause.)  It was workers like you who led us westward.  It was workers like you who pushed us skyward.  It was your predecessors who put down the hard hats and helped us defeat fascism.  And when that was done, you kept on building --highways that we drive on, and the houses we live in, and the schools where our children learn.  And you established the foundation of what it means to be a proud American.

 

And along the way, unions like yours made sure that everybody had a fair shake, everybody had a fair shot.  You helped build the greatest middle class that we've ever seen.  You believed that prosperity shouldn’t be reserved just for a privileged few; it should extend all the way from the boardroom all the way down to the factory floor.  That's what you believe.  (Applause.)

 

Time and again, you stood up for the idea that hard work should pay off; responsibility should be rewarded.  When folks do the right thing, they should be able to make it here in America.  And because you did, America became home of the greatest middle class the world has ever known.  You helped make that possible -- not just through your organizing but how you lived; looking after your families, looking out for your communities.  You’re what America is about.

 

And so sometimes when I listen to the political debates, it seems as if people have forgotten American progress has always been driven by American workers.  And that’s especially important to remember today. 

 

The last decade has been tough on everybody.  But the men and women of the building and construction trades have suffered more than most.  Since the housing bubble burst, millions of your brothers and sisters have had to look for work.  Even more have had to struggle to keep the work coming in.  And that makes absolutely no sense at a time when there is so much work to be done.

 

I don’t have to tell you we’ve got bridges and roads all over this country in desperate need of repair.  Our highways are clogged with traffic.  Our railroads are no longer the fastest in the world.  Our skies are congested, our airports are the busiest on the planet.  All of this costs families and businesses billions of dollars a year.  That drags down our entire economy.

 

And the worst part of it is that we could be doing something about it.  I think about what my grandparents’ generation built:  the Hoover Dam, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Interstate Highway System.  That's what we do.  We build.  There was a time where we would never accept the notion that some other country has better roads than us, and some other country has better airports than us.  I don't know about you, but I’m chauvinistic.  I want America to have the best stuff.  I want us to be doing the building, not somebody else.  (Applause.)  We should be having -- (applause) -- people should be visiting us from all over the world.  They should be visiting us from all over the world and marveling at what at what we’ve done. 

 

That kind of unbridled, can-do spirit -- that’s what made America an economic superpower.  And now, it’s up to us to continue that tradition, to give our businesses access to the best roads and airports and high-speed rail and Internet networks.  It’s up to us to make sure our kids are learning in state-of-the-art schools.  It’s our turn to do big things.  It is our turn to do big things.

 

     But here’s the thing -- as a share of the economy, Europe invests more than twice what we do in infrastructure; China about four times as much.  Are we going to sit back and let other countries build the newest airports and the fastest railroads and the most modern schools, at a time when we’ve got private construction companies all over the world -- or all over the country -- and millions of workers who are ready and willing to do that work right here in the United States of America?

 

American workers built this country, and now we need American workers to rebuild this country.  That’s what we need.  (Applause.)  It is time we take some of the money that we spend on wars, use half of it to pay down our debt, and then use the rest of it to do some nation-building right here at home.  (Applause.)  There is work to be done.  There are workers ready to do it, and you guys can help lead the way.

 

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  We can do it!

 

THE PRESIDENT:  We can do it.  We’ve done it before.  And the truth is, the only way we can do it on a scale that’s needed is with some bold action from Congress.  They’re the ones with the purse strings.  That’s why, over the last year, I’ve sent Congress a whole series of jobs bills to put people to work, to put your members back to work.  (Applause.)  Again and again, I’ve said now is the time do this; interest rates are low, construction workers are out of work.  Contractors are begging for work, and the work needs to be done.  Let’s do it.  And time after time, the Republicans have gotten together and they’ve said no. 

 

AUDIENCE:  Booo --

 

THE PRESIDENT:  I sent them a jobs bill that would have put hundreds of thousands of construction workers back to work repairing our roads, our bridges, schools, transit systems, along with saving the jobs of cops and teachers and firefighters, creating a new tax cut for businesses.  They said no. 

 

AUDIENCE:  Booo --

 

THE PRESIDENT:  I went to the Speaker’s hometown, stood under a bridge that was crumbling.  Everybody acknowledges it needs to be rebuilt.

 

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Let him drive on it! (Laughter.)

 

THE PRESIDENT:  Maybe he doesn’t drive anymore.  (Laughter.)  Maybe he doesn’t notice how messed up it was.  (Laughter.)  They still said no. 

 

There are bridges between Kentucky and Ohio where some of the key Republican leadership come from, where folks are having to do detours an extra hour, hour and a half drive every day on their commute because these bridges don’t work.  They still said no.  So then I said, well, maybe they couldn’t handle the whole bill in one big piece.  Let’s break it up.  Maybe it’s just too much for them.

 

So I sent them just the part of the bill that would have created these construction jobs.  They said no.

 

AUDIENCE:  Booo --

 

THE PRESIDENT:  We’re seeing it again right now.  As we speak, the House Republicans are refusing to pass a bipartisan bill that could guarantee work for millions of construction workers.  Already passed the Senate.  Ready to go, ready to put folks back to work.  Used to be the most -- the easiest bill to pass in Washington used to be getting roads and bridges built, because it’s not like only Democrats are allowed to use these things.  Everybody is permitted.  (Laughter.)  Everybody needs them.  (Applause.) 

 

So this makes no sense.  Congress needs to do the right thing.  Pass this bill right away.  It shouldn’t be that hard.  It shouldn’t be that hard.  Not everything should be subject to thinking about the next election instead of thinking about the next generation.  (Applause.)  Not everything should be subject to politics instead of thinking about all those families out there and all your membership that need work -- that don’t just support their own families, but support entire communities.

 

So we’re still waiting for Congress.  But we can’t afford to just wait for Congress.  You can’t afford to wait.  So where Congress won’t act, I will.  That’s why I’ve taken steps on my own.  (Applause.)  That's why I’ve taken steps on my own and speeded up loans and speeded up competitive grants for projects across the country that will support thousands of jobs.  That’s why we’re cutting through the red tape and launching a lot of existing projects faster and more efficiently.

 

Because the truth is, government can be smarter.  A whole bunch of projects at the state level sometimes are ready to go, but they get tangled up in all kinds of bureaucracy and red tape.  So what we’ve said is if there’s red tape that's stopping a project and stopping folks from getting to work right now, let’s put that aside.  

 

Because the point is, infrastructure shouldn’t be a partisan issue.  Investments in better roads and safer bridges -- these have never been made by just one party or another because they benefit all of us.  They lead to a strong, durable economy.  Ronald Reagan once said that rebuilding our infrastructure is “common sense” -- “an investment in tomorrow that we need to make today.”  Ronald Reagan said that, that great socialist -- Ronald Reagan.  (Laughter.)  Couldn’t get through a Republican primary these days. 

 

The folks up on Capitol Hill right now, they seem to have exactly the opposite view.  They voted to cut spending on transportation infrastructure by almost 30 percent.  That means instead of putting more construction workers back on the job, they want to lay more off.  Instead of breaking ground on new projects, they want to let existing projects grind to a halt.  Instead of making the investments we need to get ahead, they’re willing to let us all fall further behind.

 

Now, when you ask them, well, why are you doing this -- other than the fact that I’m proposing it?  (Laughter.)  They’ll say it’s because we need to pay down our deficit.  And you know what, the deficit is a real problem.  All of us recognize in our own lives and our own families, we try to live within our means.  So we got to deal with the debt and we got to deal with the deficit.

 

And their argument might actually fly if they didn’t just vote to spend $4.6 trillion on lower tax rates -– that’s with a T, trillion -– on top of the $1 trillion they’d spend on tax cuts for people making more than $250,000 a year.  So they're willing to spend over $5 trillion to give tax breaks to folks like me who don't need them and weren’t even asking for them at a time when this country needs to be rebuilt.  That gives you a sense of their priorities.

 

Think about that.  Republicans in Congress would rather put fewer of you to work rebuilding America than ask millionaires and billionaires to live without massive new tax cuts on top of the ones they’ve already gotten.

 

Now, what do you think would make the economy stronger?  Giving another tax break to every millionaire and billionaire in the country?  Or rebuilding our roads and our bridges and our broadband networks that will help our businesses sell goods all around the world?  It’s pretty clear.  This choice is not a hard one.  (Applause.)

 

Of course, we need to bring down our deficits in the long term.  But if we’re smart about it, we also will be making and can afford to make the investments that will help our country and the American people in the short term.  Not only will it put people back to work, but if the economy is growing -- look, every time one of your members is on a job, that means they’ve got more money in their pockets.  That means that they’re going to the restaurant, and that restaurant owner suddenly is doing a little bit better.  They’re going to Home Depot to buy some stuff, and suddenly Home Depot is doing a little bit better. 

 

This is a no-brainer.  And, by the way, when everybody is doing better and the economy is growing, lo and behold, that actually helps to bring down the deficit, helps us pay off our debt.  Previous generations understood this.  Apparently, right now, Republicans disagree. 

 

And what makes it worse -- it would be bad enough if they just had these set of bad ideas, but they’ve also set their sights on dismantling unions like yours.  I mean, if you ask them, what’s their big economic plan in addition to tax cuts for rich folks, it’s dismantling your unions.  After all you’ve done to build and protect the middle class, they make the argument you’re responsible for the problems facing the middle class.  Somehow, that makes sense to them.

 

That’s not what I believe.  I believe our economy is stronger when workers are getting paid good wages and good benefits.  That’s what I believe.  (Applause.)  That’s what I believe.  I believe the economy is stronger when collective bargaining rights are protected.  I believe all of us are better off when we’ve got broad-based prosperity that grows outwards from a strong middle class.  I believe when folks try and take collective bargaining rights away by passing so-called “right to work” laws that might also be called “right to work for less,” laws -- (applause) -- that’s not about economics, that’s about politics.  That’s about politics.

 

That’s why we’ve reversed harmful decisions designed to undermine those rights.  That’s why we passed the Fair Pay Act to help stop pay discrimination.  That’s why we’ve supported Davis-Bacon.  That’s why we reversed the ban on Project Labor Agreements, because we believe in those things as part of a strategy to rebuild America.  (Applause.)  

 

And as long as I’m your President, I’m going to keep it up.  (Applause.)  I am going to keep it up -- because the right to organize and negotiate fair pay for hard work, that’s the right of every American, from the CEO in the corner office all the way to the worker who built that office.

 

And every day, you’re hearing from the other side whether it’s the idea that tax cuts for the wealthy are more important than investing for our future, or the notion we should pursue anti-worker policies in the hopes that somehow unions are going to crumble.  It’s all part of that same old philosophy -- tired, worn-out philosophy that says if you’ve already made it, we’ll protect you; if you haven’t made it yet, well, tough luck, you’re on your own.

 

That misreads America.  That's not what America is about.  The American story has never been about what we can do on our own.  It’s about what we do together.  In the construction industry, nobody gets very far by themselves.  I'm the first to admit -- I’ve got to be careful here because I just barely can hammer a -- (laughter) -- nail into the wall, and my wife is not impressed with my skills when it comes to fixing up the house.  (Laughter.)  Right now, fortunately, I'm in a rental, so -- (laughter) -- I don't end up having to do a lot of work.  (Laughter and applause.) 

 

But here is what I know about the trades:  If you’ve got folks who aren't pulling together, doing their own thing, things don’t work.  But if you've got enough people with the same goal, pulling in the same direction, looking at the same game plan, you can build something that will stand long after you're gone.  That's how a Hoover Dam or a Golden Gate Bridge or a Empire State Building gets built -- folks working together.  We can do more together than we can do on our own.

 

That's why unions were built -- understood workers on their own wouldn't have the same ability to look after themselves and their families as they could together.  And what’s true for you is true for America.  We can’t settle for a country where just a few people do really well and everybody else struggles to get by.  We've got to build an economy where everybody has got a fair shot, and everybody does their fair share, and everybody plays by the same set of rules.  We can’t just cut our way to prosperity.  We need to fight for an economy that helps everybody -– one built on things like American education, and American energy, and American manufacturing, and a kind of world-class infrastructure that makes it all possible.

 

Now, these have been some tough years we've been in.  I know a lot of your membership can get discouraged, and they can feel like nobody is looking out for them, and they can get frustrated and they -- sure, it's easy to give up on Washington.  I know that.  But we've been through tougher times before.  Your unions have been through tougher times before.  And we’ve always been able to overcome it, because we don't quit. 

 

I know we can get there, because here in America we don't give up.  We’ve been through tougher times before, and we’ve made it through because we didn't quit, and we didn't throw in the towel.  We rolled up our sleeves.  We fired up our engines, and we remembered a fundamental truth about our country:  Here in America, we rise or fall together as one nation, as one people.

 

     It doesn't matter where you come from, what you look like, what your last name is.  It doesn't matter whether your folks came from Poland, or came from Italy or came from Mexico.  One people -- strong, united, firing all cylinders.  That's the America I know.  That's the America I believe in.  That's the America we can rebuild together.  (Applause.)

 

     So if you’re willing to join us in this project of rebuilding America, I want you to know -- when I was running for this office, I told people I’m not perfect.  I’m not a perfect man.  Michelle can tell you that.  (Laughter.)  I’m not a perfect President.  But I made a promise I’d always tell you where I stood.  I’d always tell you what I thought, what I believed in, and most importantly I would wake up every single day working as hard as I know how to make your lives a little bit better.

 

     And for all that we’ve gone through over the last three and a half, four years, I have kept that promise.  I have kept that promise.  (Applause.)  And I’m still thinking about you.  I’m still thinking about you, and I still believe in you.  And if you join me, we’ll remind the world just why it is that America is the greatest nation on Earth.  (Applause.)

 

Thank you.  God bless you.  God bless the United States of America.  (Applause.)

 

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Transportation Nation

Senate Conferees Named for Transportation Bill

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Senators James Inhofe and Barbara Boxer (photo by EPWChairBoxer viaFlickr)

Now it can be known -- here's who will be hammering out the details of a Transportation Bill with the House -- should any hammering be possible -- with experts from Ray LaHood on down opening doubting there will be a transportation bill this year. The House has yet to name any conferees.

Democrat Conferees:

Barbara Boxer (CA)
Max Baucus (MT)
Jay Rockefeller (WV)
Tim Johnson (IL)
Chuck Schumer (NY)
Bill Nelson (FL)
Bob Menendez (NJ)
Dick Durbin (IL)

Republican conferees:

James Inhofe (OK)
David Vitter (LA)
Richard Shelby (AL)
Orrin Hatch (UT)
Kay Bailey Hutchison (TX)
John Hoeven (ND)

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Transportation Nation

Former NY Governor David Paterson Joins MTA Board

Monday, April 23, 2012

Former Governor David Paterson with Governor Andrew Cuomo (right) (Photo: Governor Cuomo's flickr stream)

New York's former Governor, David Paterson, has been nominated by his successor, Andrew Cuomo, to serve on the board of New York's MTA.

As Governor, Paterson presided over some of the deepest cuts the MTA had to sustain in generations -- but he also vociferously stumped for East River bridge tolls to fund transit. Those tolls foundered when they arrived at the state legislature, and a patched-up plan left MTA finances in a continually precarious position.

Paterson also appointed Jay Walder, a respected transportation professional, to run the MTA.

"I applaud Governor Andrew Cuomo's nomination of former Governor David Paterson to the Board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority," said Joseph Lhota, the current head of the MTA, in a statement. "I have known the former Governor for 35 years and look forward to the opportunity to work with him again. He has long shared the Governor's commitment to our mission of providing safe, efficient and effective transportation to more than 8.5 million riders every day.

"Once confirmed by the Senate, former Governor Paterson will bring a unique and practical perspective, particularly with respect to issues affecting minority communities and disabled New Yorkers. I look forward to former Governor Paterson bringing to our board deliberations the charm, wit and compassion he has shown throughout his public life.”

Transit activists were also pleased with the appointment. “With another planned fare hike looming in January 2013, Paterson’s experience as a governor and state senator will prove critical to working with Albany lawmakers to find new funding for our transit system, sparing overburdened New Yorkers yet another fare hike,” said Paul Steely White, Executive Director of Transportation Alternatives, in a statement.

Paterson, the former Lt. Governor. was elevated to Governor when his predecessor, Eliot Spitzer, resigned after it emerged he had consorted with prostitutes.

Paterson, who is legally blind, had previously been a State Senator from Harlem. As Governor, Paterson became embroiled in his own scandals, involving an accusation of domestic violence against one of his top aides, and a possible cover-up. Paterson chose not to run for re-election, and now hosts his own radio show.

Paterson will replace Nancy Shevell, a GOP fundraiser and trucking executive, who resigned after marrying former Beatle Paul McCarthy.

 

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Transportation Nation

Traffic Is Down But Revenues Soar In Six Months After Toll Hike At NY-NJ Port Authority Crossings

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The George Washington Bridge The George Washington Bridge is a NY-NJ Port Authority crossing that links New Jersey to Manhattan. (Flckr / Ciorra Photogrpahy)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Six months after the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey raised prices at its six bridges and tunnels, the numbers are in: about a half million fewer drivers per month are using them. That's a 5 percent decrease.

That will not be a problem for the authority's bottom line. Toll revenues are up 31 percent since the hikes kicked in this past September. Between October 2010 and March 2011, the tolls raised  $459 million; October 2011 and March 2012, the tolls took in a whopping $602.7 million.

The drop in vehicle usage is to be expected, especially given that four months after prices went up at the crossings, tolls jumped by 50 percent on the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway. Those are feeder roads to the Port Authority crossings, which laid a double toll hike whammy on drivers making a typical trip to Manhattan or Staten Island.

Traffic has fluctuated in the past six months but has remained consistently down. In the 16 months before the toll hikes, the number of vehicles using authority crossings ranged from 10 million to 11 million--excluding three months of extreme weather during late 201o and early 2011. Then came September, when the authority raised peak-time E-ZPass tolls to $9.50 from $8.  (After scheduled increases through 2015, that toll will be $12.50.) Since then, usage of the crossings has ranged from 9 to 10 million vehicles per month.

The hikes remain contentious. A February audit of the authority, conducted as a condition of support for the toll hikes by New Jersey Governor Christie and New York Governor Cuomo, found a $4 billion cost over-run at the World Trade Center and an average salary for authority employees of $143,000 per year. Both governors used the audit as an occasion to blast the authority for wasteful spending.

New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg held a Congressional hearing on Wednesday to grill Bill Baroni, Deputy Executive Director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, about the fairness of the hikes. The hearing devolved into political theater as Baroni, a Christie appointee, told Lautenberg he was unfit to investigate the impact of the toll hikes because the senator had for five years used the bridges and tunnels for free, a perk of his position as a  Port Authority commissioner.

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Transportation Nation

Virginia Budget Passes Without Silver Line Funding

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Rendering of a future Metro station in Tysons Corner, Virginia (image courtesy of Fairfax County)

(Sharon Rae -- Washington, DC, WAMU) In a swift legislative turn of events, the Virginia Senate abruptly passed the $85 billion state budget Wednesday -- without including money for a Metrorail extension to Dulles Airport.

The bill had been voted down three times in the past two months.

One moderate Democrat, Sen. Charles Colgan of Prince William County, broke with his party and joined Republicans to give the budget the one-vote majority required for passage. Colgan had been pushing Gov. Bob McDonnell for $300 million for the Metrorail extension to Dulles Airport, but he said the need to pass the budget outweighed the need to secure funding for the Silver Line project.

Democrats had balked yesterday over the Republicans' refusal to grant the funding for the Metrorail extension to Dulles, saying the costs for commuters who use the Dulles Toll Road would rise from $2.25 to $6.75 one-way within a few years. They argued that the sharp increase was an undue burden that could stifle the economy of Northern Virginia — a region that provides 40 percent of Virginia's tax revenue.

The budget bill now goes to the governor for consideration.

Meanwhile, officials in Virginia's Loudon County are deciding whether or not it wants to go ahead and shoulder its share of the construction costs.

You can listen to the audio version of this story here. More TN coverage of the Silver Line can be found here.

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Transportation Nation

Report: LaHood Says There's No Hope of Transpo Bill Before November

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

LaHood (file photo)

Politico is reporting that Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a former Republican Congressman from Illinois, sees no hope of passage of a transportation re-authorization bill before November's election.

 "Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood knows it's unlikely a long-term transportation bill will be passed on his watch, so he says his greatest accomplishment in the Obama administration will be a commitment to safety.

“I wish we could see a transportation bill, but I know we won’t,” LaHood said Wednesday morning at the launch event for POLITICO Pro Transportation.

 

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Transportation Nation

Stringer Puts Transit on the Mayoral Map, But Backs off Support of Congestion Charging

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

LIRR commuters (photo by @MSG via flickr)

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer -- a likely 2013 New York mayoral candidate -- put transit squarely in the middle of the 2013 debate Tuesday by proposing a reinstatement of the commuter tax and an infrastructure bank to fund long term capital projects, including more rapid buses in the outer boroughs and a subway from Brooklyn to the Bronx.

"I believe we need to get back to an era in which public transportation is acknowledged as an essential civil responsibility," Stringer said in a speech to the Association for a Better New York.  "Right alongside public safety and education."

Stringer wants to re-jigger the way capital construction is financed, setting up an infrastructure bank seeded by the NY Mortgage recording tax, which now funds transit operations.

But to do that, he needs a replacement source of funds for transit operations, and he's looking to the restored commuter tax to supply more than $700 million a year to do that.

Still,  the fate of the commuter tax, which would be borne exclusively by suburbanites, is cloudy at best, and it's already being blasted by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who's calling it "penny-wise and pound-foolish."

And in supporting the commuter tax, Stringer is backing away from his previous support of congestion charging. The commuter tax would only affect suburbanites, who won't vote for the next mayor, while a congestion charge would hit some city residents.

The commuter tax -- a 0.45 percent surcharge on income -- died in 1999 when Democratic Assembly member Sheldon Silver brokered a deal to eliminate the tax in order to help a Democrat win a special Senate election in Orange County. The Democrat lost. The tax was detested by suburbanites.

But Stringer says he thinks he can get it passed. "Every Mayor, when they get elected, gets one big ticket from Albany," Stringer said in a question-and-answer session after Tuesday's speech. " Mayor Bloomberg got mayoral control of the school system. Other mayors came up and asked for something from Albany that can change the discourse in this city. I believe the next mayor can go to Albany, rearrange the commuter tax, build a partnership with suburban elected officials, and finally finally finally get this transit system on sound footing because this is not just a New York City issue, it’s a regional issue. And if we flounder, we could take our economy with us, and that’s the argument we have to make."

In 2008, a congestion charging plan backed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg passed the New York City Council, but died in the legislature, where it found little support.

Congestion charging is “our last best chance to reduce the number of cars and trucks on our streets, lessen the business costs associated with congestion, reduce asthma rates, build new mass transit, and prepare New York City for another million residents," Stringer testified in 2008.

But Stringer stopped short of endorsing the latest congestion charging plan -- Sam Schwartz's  "Fair Plan" -- which would charge drivers entering Manhattan while  lowering some other tolls around the city. Stringer said that was an idea that deserves "discussion." His prepared remarks said "serious consideration."

When questioned after the speech, Stringer said "I am supporting my plan...I’m not endorsing the Sam Schwartz plan. I’m not endorsing those ideas today, but I wanted to say to people, elected officials, potential candidates, why don’t we dig in and have a real discussion and not be afraid to talk about new ideas?"

Stringer's press people were also quite clear that Stringer does not favor congestion charging -- although he doesn't not support it either.

The MTA stopped short of supporting Stringer's call for a commuter tax, but spokesman Adam Lisberg said "we're glad that he’s started this conversation about how to get more funding for the MTA, because the MTA needs money."

Neither the congestion charge nor the commuter tax have much support in Albany. Governor Andrew Cuomo, when asked about the congestion charge while campaigning for Governor, called it " moot." He's shown a distinct distaste for taxes -- especially dedicated transit taxes -- this year eliminating a dedicated tax surcharge for the MTA paid by suburbanites.

In supporting a commuter tax over the congestion charge, Stringer is hewing a politically less treacherous route -- he's not pushing for a tax or a toll that some outer borough residents detest. No constituents of Stringers, should he be elected mayor, would be affected by the commuter tax.

Of the other 2013 candidates for Mayor, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn helped steer the congestion charge through the city council -- where Public Advocate Bill Di Blasio, then a council member, voted against it. City Comptroller Bill Thompson, a 2009 mayoral candidate, opposed congestion charging, but supported more expensive registration fees for heavier cars.

Former Congressman Anthony Weiner, before he withdrew from the 2009 Mayor's race, supported congestion charging -- but only for people who didn't live in New York.

In 2005, no Democratic candidates for mayor supported congestion charging.  I know, because I asked them about it during the primary debate.

 

 

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TN MOVING STORIES: Transit has an $80 billion repair backlog, Seamus "loved" the car roof, NASCAR goes electric, and one super commuter's bill? $800K

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Top stories on TN:

NYC 2013 Mayoral Race Begins as Stringer Backs Tax for Transit (link)

Ray LaHood drinks the BRT Kool Aid (link)

Why California Gas Prices Are So High (link)

 

 

 

 

 

Aging transit has an $80 billion repair backlog ( AP via Boston.Com) TN's earlier reporting on this here.

City cores are growing (The TransportPolitic)

Portland, ME, gets "bike taxis" (Kennebec Journal)

Discovery flies out of Florida for the last time (WMFE)

Obama abandoned a 2008 campaign pledge to tax oil companies (Politico)

While it pays to work in oil & gas industry (KUHF)

Ford builds all-electric car as NASCAR pace car (USA Today)

This super-commuter's bill?  $800K--and that's just from July (Washington Post)

And: Ann Romney: Seamus "loved" the car roof (Politico)

 

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The NYC Mayoral Transit Stakes Begin -- Stringer Backs Commuter Tax

Monday, April 16, 2012

Scott Stringer (phtoo: Stringer2013.com)

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer is the first likely 2013 New York mayoral candidate out of the box with a detailed plan for financing the city's transit system.  It's a a mix of solutions -- but the gist is this, there should be more financing for transit, and not just from transit riders.

Instead, Stringer wants to bring back the commuter tax, killed by Albany over a decade ago, as well as take a fresh look at congestion charging, bridge tolls, and other sources of funds for transit.

All of the taxes and fees would require approval by state lawmakers and Governor Cuomo.  In the past, leaders of both parties and Governor Cuomo have not supported congestion charging, and Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver brokered the deal that killed the commuter tax.

Stringer's proposals, to be delivered at a speech to the Association for Better New York Tuesday morning,  now set a bar for the other candidates -- City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Public Advocate Bill DeBlasio, and former City Comptroller William Thompson.

Other than Mayor Bloomberg's congestion pricing proposal, transit funding has not been a big part of mayoral campaigns in the past.  Stringer's speech is a sign that that there will be more discussion to come in the next 19 months.

Among his proposed solutions:

  • Dedicate the NY Mortgage Recording Tax, which currently funds transit operating expenses, to transit capital expenses. Stringer says the tax fluctuates too much to be a reliable source of year-to-year funds.
  • Instead, he wants to use the tax as the basis for a transit infrastructure fund, to draw in in union and other pension investments.
  • To replace the loss of the recording tax to the operating funds, he suggests a number of possible funding sources.
  • Bridge tolls, a la the 2010 Ravitch Plan.
  • A congestion charge, a la the Sam Schwartz "Fair Plan"
  • Letting the MTA borrow against increased property tax revenue that comes when new subway stations are built.
  • A restoration of the commuter tax, which was repealed by the state legislature in 1999.

Stringer says he'd spend the money on more bus rapid transit, light rail on 42nd street, and connecting Red Hook Brooklyn to the Navy Yard,  an AirTrain to LaGuardia, and an "X" subway line connecting Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx.

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On Opening Day, NY Yankees Parking Garages Limp Toward Default

Thursday, April 12, 2012

 

 

Yankee parking garage that was closed due to lack of customers. (Photo by Jim O'Grady)

The Yankees hold their first home game in the Bronx on Friday afternoon, but the company that owns their stadium's parking garages may be on its last legs.

The Bronx Parking Development Corporation is struggling to make payments on the $237 million in tax exempt bonds used to build the garages, placing the company in danger of default

As TN reported, the eleven garages were a little more than one-third full on game days last year. On days without a game, an average of  70 people paid to park there, leaving nearly 9,000 spaces empty. Each space costs $35 or $48 for valet parking. Smaller garages in the neighborhood charge much less.

Late last month, the corporation said it needed to raid its cash reserves to make its latest payment on its bond obligations. In a letter to bond holders, the corporation said that if it didn't do that, it would immediately default. The same crisis occurred before the last bi-annual payment came due, in November.

The parking company, which was set up with the backing of the Bloomberg administration because the Yankees wanted more parking spaces, also owes $25 million to the city in rent and property taxes.

In an audit last month, New York City Comptroller John Liu blasted the city Industrial Development Agency for recommending in 2006 that the bonds be issued to finance the new garages. "NYIDA did not independently analyze the financial position and cash flow of the proposed parking operation or the parking needs of the community to determine if there would be a demand for increased parking, at higher prices, in the Yankee Stadium vicinity," the report said.

Critics like Bettina Damiani of Good Jobs New York agreed with Liu's assessment. "This project was forced through despite the screaming concerns of local residents, transportation experts and good government advocates," she said.

The agency replied in a written statement that it relied on the recommendation of "a nationally recognized expert" in giving a thumbs up to the deal, and then helping to arrange for its tax exempt financing.

Agency spokesman Kyle Sklerov also stressed in an email to WNYC that the city would not lose money if the Bronx Parking Development Corporation defaulted on its debt. “The bonds are not a general obligation of the City or the IDA in any way, shape or form," he said.

Damiani said that may be true, but the garages going bust would mean a big hit to the reputation of the agency. "What does it mean for future projects in this city when a development as prominent as the one associated with Yankee Stadium goes into default?" she asked.

Sklerov disagreed. He said, "We expect that bond investors will continue to evaluate future IDA projects on their own merits.”

The garages were also controversial because city parkland was paved to make way for some of them. That parkland was fully replaced only last week when, after five years,  three new baseball diamonds on the site of the old Yankee Stadium were opened to the public.

A call to the Bronx Parking Development Corporation was not returned.

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Transportation Nation

After 5-Year Wait, Ballfields Near Yankee Stadium Finally Open

Monday, April 09, 2012

MaCombs Dam Field sits in the shadow of Yankee Stadium. (Photo by Jessie Wright-Mendoza)

(New York, NY - WNYC) It's been a long wait for a South Bronx neighborhood that heard promise after promise about how parkland that became parking garages would one day be replaced. That day is now here.

Five years after the city of New York allowed a heavily used set of baseball diamonds to be paved over for a parking lot serving the new Yankee Stadium, a set of replacement fields has opened--a year behind schedule. In the meantime, those garages have remained mostly empty on Yankee game days and, as TN has reported, the company that owns them is on the verge of default.

The field, which was also known as Heritage Field and is actually a set of three fields, saw its first action last week with a game between Cardinal Hayes and All Hallows high school varsity baseball teams. For years, the teams have been playing "home" games on opponents' fields while waiting for the new fields to open.

Neighborhood residents had to wait until Saturday to get their first access to the 10.8 acres of Kentucky bluegrass, installed where the old Yankee Stadium once stood. Standing outside the new Heritage Field, South Bronx resident Carlos Juarez said his neighbors have gone through a range of emotions as they waited for the former parkland to be replaced.

"In the beginning, people refused to support this construction," he said. "They took down the old Yankee Stadium and people were like, 'What are they going to do?' But when they saw the result, they just loved it."

Similarly, Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe stressed the end result rather than the lengthy and sometimes rancorous process that delivered it.

"When you talk to people in the neighborhood about the old MaCombs Dam Park, they knew they were not particularly great," Benepe said. "The old MaCombs Dam ballfield was sort of in a pit surrounded by elevated roadways."

The new MaCombs Dam Field will be open from 10 a.m. to dusk and will give priority to teams with permits from the city. But when those teams aren't playing, the public will be free to step on turf where Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio once plied their trade. Blue polymer fiber stitched into the sod marks where home plate once stood. Anyone can straddle it and, in their minds eye, knock a long ball out of the park.

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Transportation Nation

Ray LaHood: 50 Years Ago, JFK Talked Transit

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Really interesting post from Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today on his fast lane blog, which we're reprinting here, in it's entirety.

LaHood is using the post to push Congress to pass an actual transportation bill, but still, history buffs, have a look.

(Text and photos from US DOT)

Here you go:

A lot changes in 50 years.  In 1962, the U.S. population was 186.5 million, compared to today's 311.6 million, and a gallon of milk cost only 49 cents.

One thing that has not changed, however, is our country's need for good transportation.

JFK

In fact, on this day 50 years ago, President John F. Kennedy wrote a Special Message to Congress on Transportation, and his message is as relevant today as it was in 1962:  "An efficient and dynamic transportation system is vital to our domestic economic growth. Affecting the cost of every commodity we consume or export, it is equally vital to our ability to compete abroad."

1960s congestionIn 1962, a mix of inconsistent and obsolete policy threatened the transportation system of the day.  As President Kennedy said, "This patchwork does not fully reflect either the dramatic changes in technology of the past half-century or the parallel changes in the structure of competition."

In the half-century that has passed since that moment, another patchwork has emerged in the form of transportation extensions rather than a long-term solution.

President Kennedy understood that passing a national transportation plan would be no simple matter for Congress, even in 1962, but he urged legislators to persevere: "If direct and decisive action is not taken in the near future, the undesirable developments, inefficiencies, inequities, and other undesirable conditions that confront us now will cause permanent loss of essential services or require even more difficult and costly solutions in the not-too-distant future."

One of the most interesting aspects of President Kennedy's 1962 letter is its special emphasis on public transit: “The program I have proposed is aimed at the widely varying transit problems of our Nation's cities, ranging from the clogged arteries of our most populous metropolitan areas to those smaller cities which have only recently known the frustrations of congested streets.”1960s transit

And for the first time, President Kennedy offered the basis for long-term public transit funding: "Only a program that offers substantial support and continuity of Federal participation can induce our urban regions to organize appropriate administrative arrangements and to meet their share of the costs of fully balanced transportation systems.”

It took 20 years, but in 1982 President Ronald Reagan signed into law a transportation plan--passed by a bipartisan majority in Congress--that added a dedicated transit account to our gasoline tax. This wasn't without an effort on President Reagan's part; to shepherd the bill through Congress, he had to end a Senate filibuster from his own party.

Reagan004
President Reagan signs Surface Transportation Act of 1982

President Reagan's words upon signing this plan also remain relevant 30 years later: "Because of the prompt and bipartisan action of Congress, we can now ensure for our children a special part of their heritage -- a network of highways and mass transit that has enabled our commerce to thrive, our country to grow, and our people to roam freely and easily to every corner of our land."

American transportation--from roadways to runways and transit to tugboats--has benefited from a long history of bipartisanship. Unfortunately, today's Congress can no longer find its way to keep our national quilt stitched together.

And we find our infrastructure in a position that President Reagan understood was unacceptable: "Common sense tells us that it will cost a lot less to keep the system we have in good repair than to let it disintegrate and have to start over from scratch. Clearly this program is an investment in tomorrow that we must make today."

We've got work that needs to be done; we've got workers ready to do it. If we want to keep this country moving forward, it's time to put aside partisanship on transportation.

 

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Cuomo's Infrastructure Bank To Fund Parks With $143 Million

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Bear Mountain state park (NYS Parks department photo)

Another media blast from the New York Governor -- his infrastructure bank, New York Works, will fund $143 million worth of parks improvements from ball fields in the Bronx to a bathhouse at Jones Beach to a new ski-lift at Belleayre Ski Mountain in the Catskills, a state-run ski facility.

Like the press blitz a day earlier of $1.2 billion in accelerated roads projects, the announcement was made via ten separate press releases detailing popular projects, each with specially tailored quotes from local lawmakers praising the projects and the governor.

New York Works is Cuomo's new infrastructure bank.  It was enacted in December, though the bill authorizing its funding is less than a week old.

New York works will coordinate capital spending by 45 agencies and authorities.  It will have a governing board of 16, controlled largely by the Governor, though that body has yet to be constituted.

In recent years, Governors have killed big infrastructure projects, and Congress has yet to pass a surface transportation bill.    But Governor Cuomo is taking full political advantage of his new infrastructure bank by pushing out word of popular projects -- which not only provide needed area parks, but also create jobs around the state.

Here are links to the most recent round of press releases.

04.04.2012 Governor Cuomo Announces NY Works Projects to Upgrade State Parks and Historic Sites in the Capital Region

04.04.2012 Governor Cuomo Announces NY Works Projects to Upgrade State Parks and Historic Sites in the Southern Tier

04.04.2012 Governor Cuomo Announces NY Works Project to Upgrade State Park in Central New York

04.04.2012 Governor Cuomo Announces NY Works Projects to Upgrade State Parks and Orda Facilities in the North Country

04.04.2012 Governor Cuomo Announces NY Works Project to Upgrade State Park in the Mohawk Valley

04.04.2012 Governor Cuomo Announces NY Works Projects to Upgrade State Parks in Western New York

04.04.2012 Governor Cuomo Announces NY Works Projects to Upgrade State Parks in Finger Lakes Region

04.04.2012 Governor Cuomo Announces NY Works Projects to Upgrade State Parks in New York City

04.04.2012 Governor Cuomo Announces NY Works Projects to Upgrade State Parks, Historic Sites and a Ski Facility in the Hudson Valley

04.04.2012 Governor Cuomo Announces NY Works Projects to Upgrade State Parks and Historic Sites on Long Island

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New York Invests $1.2 Billion in Roads Under New Infra Bank

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

New York is investing $1.2 billion in new, accelerated road and bridge projects, just days after Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the funding bill for his "New York Works" infrastructure bank.

The funding -- almost ten percent of the entire $15 billion projected spending on infrastructure -- came even before appointees to a 15-member committee to administer the fund were named.

The funding will accelerate road and bridge projects across the state, with the largest single payment -- nearly half a billion dollars -- going to replace the Kosciuszko Bridge between Brooklyn and Queens in New York City. But there are projects everywhere, from the Hempstead Turnpike in Long Island to the Latta Brook Road in Chemung County to Rt 52 over the Callicoon Creek in Delaware County to Route 9N in Port Henry, in the North Country.

The $1.2 billion in accelerated funding comes on top of $1.6 billion in previously planned spending on roads and bridges. It does not include the more than $5 billion replacement of the Tappan Zee Bridge, a project which has drawn fire for its lack of mass transit.

In a measure of how Governor Cuomo views the political potency of building new infrastructure, word of the investments came in a series of ten carefully-designed press releases, each targeted to a different media market with quotes praising the governor from local legislators.

The infrastructure bank has won support from business and labor leaders, who see a significant new infusion of funds into construction as a shot in the arm for the economy, particularly upstate.

And while many details of the fund are as yet unreleased, some infrastructure bank experts shrugged off the disbursement of funds before its governing structure has even been named.

"You can't just jump to where we should be," said New York University professor Michael Likosky, who has advised governments on setting of infrastructure banks. "That's a lot of the reason why these things have failed up to now."

Robert Yaro, president of the Regional Plan Association, was also nonplussed. "These were projects that had to happen," Yaro said, noting that New York has slowly defunded road projects over the years, leaving many roads and bridges in critical condition.

The grand idea of the NY Works fund is that it will coordinate capital spending among 45 agencies and authorities, including the state Department of Transportation, the New York MTA, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the Thruway Authority, the Department of Environmental Conservation, and others. The governing body will prioritize and coordinate state projects -- the lack of which can tangle with interest costs, construction materials, and labor availability.

The $1.2 billion in new spending consists of $247 million in state capital funds and $917 million in new federal funds. When it's fully constituted, the fund is supposed to draw in private capital -- but, unlike Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, Governor Cuomo hasn't said which private sector investors have indicated they will invest in the fund.

This tranche of funding includes $212 million for bridge decking and structural replacement on 115 bridges, $250 million for 2,000 miles of pavement, and $687 million for "transportation projects of regional or statement significance throughout the state that had been delayed due to resource constraints," according to the press releases.

The Governor's office promises a live web link to on going New York Works projects, but that list is not yet live.

Here are the ten press releases (with lists of projects)

April 2012

04.03.2012 Governor Cuomo Announces Accelerated Road and Bridge Projects in Western New York as Part of NY Works Program

04.03.2012 Governor Cuomo Announces Accelerated Road and Bridge Projects in the Finger Lakes as Part of NY Works Program

04.03.2012 Governor Cuomo Announces Accelerated Road and Bridge Projects in the Hudson Valley as Part of NY Works Program

04.03.2012 Governor Cuomo Announces Accelerated Road and Bridge Projects in the Capital Region as Part of NY Works Program

04.03.2012 Governor Cuomo Announces Accelerated Road and Bridge Projects on Long Island as Part of NY Works Program

04.03.2012 Governor Cuomo Announces Accelerated Road and Bridge Projects in the Southern Tier as Part of NY Works Program

04.03.2012 Governor Cuomo Announces Accelerated Road and Bridge Projects in the Mohawk Valley as Part of NY Works Program

04.03.2012 Governor Cuomo Announces Accelerated Road and Bridge Projects in New York City as Part of NY Works Program

04.03.2012 Governor Cuomo Announces Accelerated Road and Bridge Projects in the North Country as Part of NY Works Program

04.03.2012 Governor Cuomo Announces Accelerated Road and Bridge Projects in Central New York as Part of NY Works Program

 

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BREAKING: Obama Signs Transpo Bill Extender into Law

Friday, March 30, 2012

This just in from the White House:

Statement by the Press Secretary on H.R. 4281

 On Friday, March 30, 2012, the President signed into law:

H.R. 4281, the "Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2012," which provides funding for programs funded from the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) for the period April 1, 2012, through June 30, 2012; and extends the authority to make expenditures from the HTF for HTF-financed programs through June 30, 2012.

 

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Emanuel Pushes Audacious Plan for Chicago Infrastructure

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, speaking earlier this month (photo by U.S. Army Public Affairs, Midwest)

Fixing infrastructure has bedeviled cash-strapped cities in recent years. Washington has failed to pass a comprehensive surface transportation bill, last summer's debt deal paved the way for spending reductions, Republican governors have cancelled big rail projects, and the public has been generally sour on big spending deals.

With the announcement of a $7 billion infrastructure plan, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is signalling that era may be ending.

"The Mayor's basic premise is he's not going to let the city twist in the wind at the whim of the federal or state governments," said Tom Alexander, an Emanuel spokesman.

With funding from water rate hikes, efficiencies, and --mostly -- private banks setting up an "infrastructure trust" to finance projects, Emanuel plans to fund a $1.4 billion improvement in O'Hare airport, 16 new miles of bus rapid transit, and repair 100 CTA stations.

Also on deck:  $660 million for public schools, 180 new acres of parkland, the replacement of 900 miles of water pipe, and the completion of the Bloomingdale Trail -- the Chicago version of the High Line.

According to the press release:  the program, called Building a New Chicago, "is one of the most comprehensive infrastructure plans in Chicago’s history, involving an unprecedented level of coordination between City Hall, multiple city departments and sister agencies, private sector utilities, and the public."

Other big city mayors, notably New York's Michael Bloomberg and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, have championed big infrastructure projects.  Mayor Bloomberg is a co-founder of Building America's Future, a pro-infrastructure lobbying group. But neither mayor has the extensive control of Mayor Emanuel, who runs the transit system, schools, and water infrastructure. In New York, for example the MTA is run by the state.

"A lot of American cities are focused on what's happening in Chicago," said Robert Puentes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program. "There's nothing really like this -- we don't know all of what this is -- but there is so much interest.  I really expect other cities to replicate it if it's a success."

The Mayor's office hasn't fully explained all the financing, but in one part of the plan, major banks including JP Morgan Chase and Citibank are investing in more energy-efficient buildings.  Those efficiencies will be used to produce savings, which in turn can be used to pay back the investors.

Marcia Hale, president of Building America's Future, praised Emanuel's plan, and called out the Senate for passing a transportation bill "that would erect barriers to states and cities seeking to collaborate with the private sector."  (The Senate bill has not passed the House; on Thursday, both houses of Congress passed a 90-day extension of the existing bill, the ninth such extension.)

Chicago has not fully laid out the details of its financing plan, other than to say it won't rely on tax hikes.

The city did release a video explanation of the plan:

Here's the full  release:

Mayor Emanuel today announced a $7 billion, three year infrastructure program, Building a New Chicago, which is one of the largest investments in infrastructure in the City’s history.  The program will touch nearly every aspect of the city’s infrastructure network and create more than 30,000 jobs over the next three years.

“Whether it is renewing our parks or repairing our pipes, repaving our roads or rebuilding our rails, retrofitting our buildings or revitalizing our bridges, we must restore Chicago’s core,” said Mayor Emanuel. “Our plans are comprehensive because our needs are comprehensive -- because no city in America relies on its infrastructure more than Chicago.  While our infrastructure challenges are not unique, our resolve and determination to see them through is. I look forward to rebuilding our city’s infrastructure so we may continue to lead in the 21st century.”

Mayor Emanuel made the announcement at Chicagoland Laborers’ Training and Apprentice Center, in the city’s Austin neighborhood.

The investments will not require increases in taxes. Many of the projects are paid for through reforms, efficiencies, cuts in central offices, direct user fees, and the recently announced Chicago Infrastructure Trust. 

The improvements in Building a New Chicago will include:

  • Renovation, repair, or rebuilding of more than 100 CTA stations
  • The creation of the first 16 miles of Bus Rapid Transit Route on Jeffrey Boulevard, with future routes being developed for the Central Loop.
  • A $1.4 billion investment in O’Hare airport over the next three years, creating 5,900 jobs, including opening two new runways by 2015.
  • A five-year, $290 million capital plan for the City’s parks  that will include the acquisition of 180 new acres of parklands, and the building of 20 new playgrounds and 12 new parks.
  • The 2014 completion of the Bloomingdale trail.
  • The completion of two new boathouses this year on the Chicago River, with two new boathouses next year.
  • The replacement of 900 miles of century-old water pipe, the repair of 750 miles of sewer line, and the reconstruction of 160,000 catch-basins.
  • The reform of the Aldermanic Menu, and tax increment financing, so that these tools better match the city’s infrastructure needs.
  • A $660 million investment in Chicago Public Schools, and a $479 million investment in the City Colleges of Chicago, to create modern educational environments that will propel our students into the jobs of tomorrow.
  • “Retrofit Chicago,” a $225 million dollar effort to retrofit City buildings, reducing their energy consumption by 25 percent and creating 900 jobs in the next three years, the first project funded by the Chicago Infrastructure Trust.

Building a New Chicago brings a new level of coordination to the City’s capital investment process, maximizing efficiency, stretching scarce resources and minimizing impacts on residents.

The full speech, as prepared for delivery, is attached here.

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SHUTDOWN AVERTED: House Passes 90-Day Transpo Extension, Senate Follows Suit

Thursday, March 29, 2012

(photo: Flickr user: IceNineJon)

UPDATED -- SENATE PASSES EXTENSION BY VOICE VOTE House Republicans made the best of a bad situation Thursday and easily passed a 90-day extension to the Highway Bill, sending it to the Senate just two days before a potential shutdown of federal transportation programs and a suspension of the gas tax.

The bill passed 266-158, in a broad bipartisan vote that largely diffuses--for the moment--a standoff with Senate Democrats.

Just hours later, the bill was passed by voice vote in the Senate, staving off a potential shutdown at Sunday's deadline. Senate Dems had been pushing hard for the House to accept a $109 billion, two-year Highway Bill the Senate passed with 74 votes earlier this month.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the Senate bill's main champion, fired off  a statement attacking the temporary measure and pledging to attempt to force the House to vote on the Senate bill before leaving for a 2-week recess this evening.

"I am working with my colleagues to attach the Senate bill to the 90-day stop gap extension and send it back to the House," Boxer's statement read.

Boxer did not prevail in that effort, however, and the Senate's vote extends existing funding until June 30, making it the  ninth extension of transportation legislation since 2009.

The bill now to the president for a signature and buys 3 months to come up with a Highway Bill that can first pass the House and then go up against the Senate bill for final negotiations. That hasn't happened after months of wrangling between House Republican leaders and rank and file conservatives.

The White House also sniffed at the House's efforts: "While it is critical that we not put American jobs and safety at risk and hurt our economic recovery by allowing funding to run out, it is not enough for us to continue to patch together our nation’s infrastructure future with short-term band-aids," spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement. "States and cities need certainty to plan ahead and America’s construction workers deserve the peace of mind that they won’t have to worry about their jobs every few months."

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters Thursday that leaders were putting "final touches" on a GOP bill, complete with controversial energy production provisions that could include expanding oil drilling and fossil fuel exploration on federal lands including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

"It'll be ready when we get back" from the upcoming Easter-Passover recess Boehner said.

Senate Democrats, meanwhile, while frustrated over the House Republicans' refusal to take up their bill, Thursday expressed confidence that they have the upper hand on the speaker as he continues to hunt for a Highway Bill that can get enough Republicans to pass the House.

"He's got to spend time on this" after months of already trying, and failing to pass a House bill, one senior leadership aide said.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) told reporters after Thursday's House vote that the 90-day extension provides the breathing room lawmakers finally need to get a final deal.

"People want to get this bill done," he said.

Follow Todd Zwillich on Twitter @toddzwillich

 

 

 

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Transportation Nation

Transcript: Obama Strikes Populist Tone On Oil Subsidies

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The president has been teetering between supporting pipelines and gunning for green energy -- today, he's slamming big oil, as the Senate prepares to vote on legislation to repeal oil tax subsidies.

Here's a transcript of his remarks. (Watch him deliver them live here)

Good morning. Today, Members of Congress have a simple choice to make. They can stand with big oil companies, or they can stand with the American people.

Right now, the biggest oil companies are raking in record profits – profits that go up every time folks like these pull into a gas station. But on top of these record profits, oil companies are also getting billions a year in taxpayer subsidies – a subsidy they’ve enjoyed year after year for the last century.

Think about that. It’s like hitting the American people twice. You’re already paying a premium at the pump right now. And on top of that, Congress thinks it’s a good idea to send billions more of your tax dollars to the oil industry?

It’s not like these are companies that can’t stand on their own. Last year, the three biggest U.S. oil companies took home more than $80 billion in profit. Exxon pocketed nearly $4.7 million every hour. And when the price of oil goes up, prices at the pump go up, and so do these companies’ profits. In fact, one analysis shows that every time gas goes up by a penny, these companies usually pocket another $200 million in quarterly profits. Meanwhile, these companies pay a lower tax rate than most other companies on their investments – partly because we’re giving them billions in tax giveaways every year.

Now, we all know that drilling for oil has to be a key part of our energy strategy. And we want our oil companies to succeed. That’s why under my administration, we’ve opened up millions of acres of federal lands and waters to oil and gas production. We’ve quadrupled the number of operating oil rigs to a record high. We’ve added enough oil and gas pipeline to circle the Earth and then some. And just yesterday, we announced the next step for potential new oil and gas exploration in the Atlantic.

The fact is, we’re producing more oil right now than we have in eight years, and we’re importing less of it too. For two years in a row, America has bought less oil from other countries than we produce here at home – for the first time in over a decade. Simply put, American oil is booming.

So the oil industry is doing just fine. With record profits and rising production, I’m not worried about the big oil companies. With high oil prices, they’ve got more than enough incentive to produce more. I think it’s time they got by without more help from taxpayers who are having a tough enough time paying their bills and filling up their tanks. And I think it’s curious that some of the folks in Congress who are the first to belittle investments in new sources of energy are the ones fighting the hardest to keep these giveaways for big oil companies.

Instead of taxpayer giveaways to an industry that’s never been more profitable, we should be using that money to double-down on investments in clean energy technologies that have never been more promising. Investments in wind power and solar power and biofuels; in fuel-efficient cars and trucks and homes and buildings. That’s the future. That’s the only way we’ll break this cycle of high gas prices that happens year after year after year.

We can’t just drill our way out of this problem. We use more than 20% of the world’s oil, but we only have 2% of the world’s known oil reserves. That means we could drill every drop of American oil tomorrow – but we’d still have to buy oil from other countries to make up that difference. We’d still have to depend on other countries to meet our energy needs.

That is not the future I want for America. I don’t want folks like these to have to pay more at the pump every time there’s unrest in the Middle East. I don’t want our kids to be held hostage to events on the other side of the world. In America, we control our own destiny. We forge our own future.

That’s why as long as I am President, America will pursue an all-of-the-above energy strategy.

Yes, we’ll continue to develop our oil and gas resources in a responsible way. But we’ll keep developing more advanced, homegrown biofuels, like the kinds that are already powering truck fleets across America.

We’ll keep investing in clean energy, like the wind power and solar power that’s already lighting thousands of homes and creating thousands of jobs.

We’ll keep manufacturing more cars and trucks that get more miles to the gallon so that you can fill up less.

We’ll keep building more homes and businesses that waste less energy so that you’re in charge of your energy bills.

And we will do all of this by harnessing our most inexhaustible resource of all – American ingenuity and imagination.

That’s where we need to keep going. That’s what’s at stake right now. That’s the choice we face.

And that’s the choice facing Congress today. They can either vote to spend billions of dollars on oil subsidies that keep us trapped in the past. Or they can vote to end these taxpayer subsidies so that we can invest in the future. It’s that simple.

As long as I’m President, I’ll put my faith in the future. And the people I’ve talked to around the country – the people here with us today – they put their faith in the future, too. Because we’re Americans. That’s what we do. That’s who we are. We innovate. We discover. We seek new solutions to our oldest challenges. And we succeed. I believe we can do it again. And today, the American people are going to be watching to see if their Members of Congress believe that too.

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Transportation Nation

New York Governor Cuomo Touting Infra Bank in Election Email

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Governor Andrew Cuomo briefs the cabinet on the 2012-13 budget (March 27, 2012, Governor's flickr stream)

The Andrew Cuomo 2014 Committee is proud of the Governor's infrastructure bank, so proud it wasted no time sending out an email touting the so-called "New York Works" program as "the cornerstone of this budget."

The New York Works program was finalized as part of Tuesday''s budget deal. It would use $232 million in capital funds and $917 million in new federal funds for a total of $1.2 billion in new spending. That funding would, in turn, leverage private resources to inject $15 billion into infrastructure spending.

The fund would also pool planning resources across 45 state agencies. Among the agencies and authorities the Governor calls out in a brief on the plan are the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the MTA, and the Department of Transportation.

"Yesterday was an exciting day for New York," begins the email, which landed in mailboxes Wednesday afternoon.

In the past year, infrastructure spending has gone out of of favor, particularly among Republicans. Governors Chris Christie in New Jersey, Scott Walker in Wisconsin, and Rick Scott in Florida all killed big rail projects, and Republicans in Congress have balked at passing a surface transportation bill, which runs out at the end of this month.

So it's notable that Governor Cuomo sees infrastructure spending as part of his ticket to electoral success. His email describes New York Works "as a new and smarter strategy for putting New Yorkers back to work by rebuilding our aging infrastructure and helping put our state's economy back on track."

The Governor will also name nine of 15 members of a task force to decide on projects -- the legislature will name the remaining six. The governor is promising to post the projects on line so "New Yorkers can track the projects in their community" in real time. The list will be posted "over the next several days."

Infrastructure banks already operate in several states; President Barack Obama has tried and failed to get one through Congress.

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