Transportation Nation

Montana Locality: No Studies That Will Slow Coal Train

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A coal train traveling near Billings, MT. Picture by Jackie Yamanaka.

(Billings, MT-YPR) – The largest city and county in Montana decided to deal with the impact of possible increased coal train traffic locally rather than join the efforts of other communities in calling for a regional environmental study on the issue. Yellowstone County officials object to any study that is critical of coal.

"We need to look at this as an opportunity," says Yellowstone County Commission Chairman John Ostlund. "We have more coal than anybody in the world, countries around the world want to burn it. We need the jobs. We need the tax base. These are the greatest opportunities and problems to have that we could ever hope to have."

The Yellowstone Valley Citizens Council (YVCC), an affiliate of the environmental group Northern Plains Resource Council, recently asked Billings and Yellowstone County officials to ask to be included in an  Environmental Impact Statement scoping hearing for the Cherry Point Port Terminal in Whatcom County, Washington.

The Helena City Commission recently agreed to write a letter to the U-S Army Corps of Engineers to look into increased rail traffic on Helena, the capital city, as it conducts an environmental review on the Cherry Point Port terminal.

YVCC’s Svein Newman asked Billings' Policy Coordinating Committee (PCC), a city-county transportation planning board, to join Helena.

“The issue faced by Billings is similar to the issue faced by Bozeman, Helena, Spokane, and more (communities),” he says. “And instead of over a dozen individual studies to arrive at similar conclusions it makes sense to focus on one (study), especially when it is not funded by county taxpayers.”

Asian customers are interested in buying more U-S coal, but the lack of port capacity is restricting shipments. If ports are expanded, or new ports built, coal from the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming is the most direct and closest source via rail.

Opponents of coal port terminal expansion cite concern about the environmental effects of burning coal, the human health effects of coal dust blowing from rail cars, and the impact of increased coal trains on motor vehicle traffic. YVCC projects the number of coal trains passing through Billings could triple from 2009 figures to 40 trains per day because of the growing demand for U-S coal in Asia.

Billings officials, however, are not interested in conducting another rail traffic study. There have been 8 such studies, the most recent in 2004. Instead, they want staff to look at the recommendations from past studies, for example, whether signs to alert motorists when there’s a train blocking the road keep traffic flowing.

“Pardon me if I sound kinda blunt, but I think having a sign that says ‘train on tracks’ when you can actually see the train on tracks is kinda redundant,” says Greg Krueger, Development Director for the Downtown Billings Partnership. “It just says, ‘there’s a train on the tracks’ and prepared to be frustrated.”

PCC Chairman and Yellowstone County Commission Chairman John Ostlund laughed and asked if that should be on the sign.

“I think so,” replied Krueger. “But I do believe if we have signal upgrades that could interface with reader boards, that I’ve seen in other cities, that says ‘southbound traffic/train on tracks/turn left now.’ What I am saying is a train route that in essence takes you around the tracks.”
Other options that could be considered include:  adding left turn lights on the main thoroughfares through Downtown Billings when there’s a train on the tracks and improving one downtown underpass so it could accommodate emergency vehicles.

Yellowstone County Commissioner Jim Reno calls these options “low-hanging fruit.” While being stuck at a rail crossing is an inconvenience, he says, it should be welcomed by the community. Reno says increased rail traffic points to a growing economy.

“We embrace the fact there’s additional landings at the airport. We embrace when we see more (sugar) beet cars. We embrace when we see unit trains of wheat and grain,” he says. “We should come at it (increased coal train traffic) from a positive view point as opposed to my impression that it came early on as an anti-carbon, anti-environmental. We should get past that and look at it as an opportunity that frankly some regions of this country would welcome the opportunity to have economic growth.”

Recently, the Yellowstone County Commission unanimously adopted a resolution formally declaring support for coal and coal based power and the expansion of ports on the West Coast to accommodate increased shipments Powder River Coal from Montana and Wyoming to customers in Asia.

The PCC did not formally take action on how to address traffic concerns through Billings from increased coal train traffic. But it indirectly told a Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) to review the recommendations of past rail studies and determine: project prioritization based on projected train traffic, costs, funding sources, responsible party, and a time frame. The TAC recommendations would then be considered at a late date by the PCC.

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Transportation Nation

Lautenberg, Christie Appointee Feud Over Toll Hike, ARC Tunnel

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Port Authority's Bill Baroni, testifying at a Senate hearing

Listen to a conversation about the hearings -- and hear some audio from them - below.

UPDATED A Senate hearing ostensibly on the fairness of toll hikes devolved into a slugfest between Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ)  and Bill Baroni, Deputy Executive Director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Lautenberg has been seething since New Jersey Governor Chris Christie killed the ARC commuter tunnel under the Hudson River in late 2010.  Last summer's  Hudson River toll hikes -- raised by as much as 50% -- only added fuel to the fire.

Lautenberg had a line of questions prepared, including when the Governors of New Jersey and New York knew about the 2010 toll hikes and whether Baroni thought they were fair.

But Baroni, a Christie appointee, was prepared. "It is impossible to argue fairness in tolls if you don’t pay them," he said, pointing out that the senator -- a Port Authority commissioner from 1978-1982 -- had used an agency-funded EZ Pass at Port Authority toll crossings 284 times (a perk -- since discontinued -- formerly available to Port Authority commissioners for life).

Lautenberg seemed caught off guard by the statement, and although he quickly brought the line of questioning back to the toll hike, it looked like he had brought a butter knife to a switchblade fight.

The senator was also unable to pin Baroni down on one of his key issues: what did Governor Christie know about the Port Authority's plans for last summer's toll hikes, and when did he know it? Baroni wouldn't get specific. "I'm not going to talk about conversations that I have with different administration officials," he said -- spurring Lautenberg to retort: "Are you running a protection agency there?" "Excuse me?" responded Baroni, all wounded indignation.

But with all things Lautenberg and Christie-related, all roads lead back to the ARC tunnel. Senator Lautenberg is furious with the governor for canceling the trans-Hudson tunnel -- a project which the senator had long championed. "Why did the administration that we have in office now cancel $6 billion worth of money that we raised through this place to build a tunnel and get 22,000 cars off the road?" he spat at Baroni. A brief mic outage muted the Port Authority executive's response.

Lautenberg went on to grill Baroni about accusations of political patronage at the Port Authority, and told Baroni he had two weeks to supply the Senate committee with the names of people Governor Chris Christie had recommended for employment at the Port Authority.

"Sure!" said Baroni. "Should we go through them now?"

"Your impertinence is barely tolerable," Lautenberg told Baroni.

Later in the hearing, which stretched to almost 70 minutes, Baroni described the agency's plans to expand platforms at Harrison's PATH station. "Under the plan, we're going to be able to go to ten cars, and that's going to help us bring more rail —"

The senator abruptly hit the gavel twice. "Thank you very much. This hearing is over."

After the hearing, Senator Jay Rockefeller, Chair of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee chided Baroni: “I am troubled and disappointed by accounts of inappropriate discourse and decorum by a witness at the Senate Commerce Subcommittee this morning. A basic level of civility is expected from every witness who testifies in a formal Senate hearing and reports suggest that standard was not met today.”

Later this afternoon, Governor Chris Christie's press secretary, Michael Drewniak, sent the following statement dripping with enmity: (full statement at end of post) "Let’s accept the obvious:  the hearing was a partisan charade. Senator Lautenberg is deluding himself if he actually believes the practices he oversaw, participated in and encouraged during his time as a commissioner with the Port Authority are not relevant in explaining the Port Authority inherited by Governors Cuomo and Christie."

For his part, Lautenberg sent out a statement saying "Mr. Baroni engaged in distraction, deception and diversion.  I am very disappointed that the Port Authority continues to operate behind a veil of secrecy."

Lautenberg has requested that the GAO examine interstate tolling authorities. Meanwhile, late this afternoon, word was released that a joint New York-New Jersey hearing on the Port Authority -- scheduled for this Friday on Staten Island -- is being postponed.

Read below for a partial transcript of a piece of this morning's exchange. You can watch a archived video of Wednesday's hearing here.

Here's a transcript of part of this morning's exchange:

Lautenberg: The question is: did the size of the increase strike those of you who make decisions at the Port Authority as being fair? I mean, that’s a substantial -- 50% increase to cross the bridge. That’s a lot of money.

Baroni: Senator, thank you for the question, and I know that the conversation we heard, some of my colleagues talking about much it is. But as I described before, Senator, that if you are a cash-paying, non-EZPass using, rush hour driving truck, you are causing the most challenges physically to our crossings.  For every fully-loaded tractor-trailer that goes across our bridges, it (causes) 10,000 times the damage to our bridges as one car. But one of the reason we built all of the discounts in, Senator, is to be able to -- those folks who are commuting, who have an EZ Pass, or drive in off-peak, and, Senator, respectfully I understand the concerns that people have about paying tolls across the Hudson. It is something that commuters as you mentioned, Senator, each and every day – but respectfully, Senator, you only started paying tolls recently. For years, Senator, as former commissioner of my agency, you received free EZ Pass. Year after year – in fact, I have a copy of your free EZ Pass. I’ve got letters from ‘01 --

Lautenberg: how often was it used? Do you know?

Baroni: yeah, actually. ’01, ’02, ’03

Lautenberg: what? how many times?

Baroni: I can tell you. In...

Lautenberg: I’m not going to permit you to continue with this silliness.

Baroni: Well, Senator, you took 284 trips for free in the last two years you had the pass.

Lautenberg: I want you to answer this question. (Baroni. Sure!) Is this fair? Is this toll increase fair to the public at large?

Baroni: I think, Senator, for those--

Lautenberg: talk about the individual cars (crosstalk) I want to keep you on track. So. Let's go.

Baroni: Senator, it's impossible..certainly, Senator. It is impossible to argue fairness in tolls if you don’t pay them.

After that testy exchange, Baroni talked about the Port Authority's discount toll programs and how many vehicles use EZPass (81%) -- but  Senator Lautenberg was doing the slow burn.

Lautenberg: To pull out that little thing that I got after serving after in the Port Authority for four years -- I don't even think about using it, Mr. Baroni.

Baroni: of course not, because we took it away.

Lautenberg: Well, what happened, what happens, it was there, that's what they did, that's what I took and I'm not going to defend it. That's a silly thing to bring into this. I want to discuss your direction of this grand agency and where the money is gone, and why the increases were so large. What - what - is that fair play in your view? Why did the administration that we have in office now cancel $6 billion dollars worth of money that we raised through this place to build a tunnel and get 22,000 cars a day off the road? Do you want to talk about those things?

Christie's office sent out the following statement:

"As we learned today, Senator Lautenberg himself perpetuated some of the very dysfunction that only now, under Governors Christie and Cuomo, is being reversed through reforms and intensive audits.  A few counterpoints raised by Deputy Executive Director Baroni:

→ Senator Lautenberg, a wealthy businessman who was a commissioner of the Port Authority from March 1978 to December 1982, received free annual passage at Hudson River crossings and parking privileges at all NY/NJ airports for 24 years.  Mr. Baroni pointed out that in the final two years of his free EZ Pass, the Senator made no less than 284 free toll crossings.

→ At the height of his hypocritical moments today, Senator Lautenberg became enraged when Mr. Baroni pointed out that one of Sen. Lautenberg’s 2002 campaign staffers in charge of “U.S. Senate Candidate Visibility” was hired at the Port Authority after the campaign as a “principal energy specialist.”

While Mr. Baroni told the Senator he was available to talk all day and present evidence about PA tolls and operations, the hearing ended abruptly with Senator Lautenberg visibly angry over the turn of events.  Repeatedly, Senator Lautenberg tried to stop Mr. Baroni from providing answers that didn’t fit the hearing game plan or that held inconvenient truths.

→ “I’m not going to permit you to continue with this silliness,” Senator Lautenberg said as he cut off Mr. Baroni’s discussion of EZ Pass discounts available to motorists and the Senator’s free privileges.  “Certainly Senator,” Mr. Baroni replied, “it is impossible to argue fairness in tolls when you don’t pay them.”

→ Let’s accept the obvious:  the hearing was a partisan charade. Senator Lautenberg is deluding himself if he actually believes the practices he oversaw, participated in and encouraged during his time as a commissioner with the Port Authority are not relevant in explaining the Port Authority inherited by Governors Cuomo and Christie.

→ The toll hikes at the NY/NJ crossings were the last thing the Governors wanted to see happen.  But by 2010, the agency was mired in a fiscal crisis years in the making that required the reduced toll hikes the two Governors finally had to approve.  And the undisputed fact of history is that only since Governor Christie took office have reforms been enacted, payroll numbers and costs beenreduced and independent audits – warts and all – been ordered.  Sure, hold a hearing, ask all the relevant and necessary questions you like, but Senator Lautenberg should have spared us the hypocrisy and fake outrage.



Here's Senator Lautenberg's statement:




WASHINGTON – At a U.S. Senate Commerce Committee Surface Transportation subcommittee hearing today, Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg pressed Port Authority Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni on the Port Authority’s recent toll hikes and allegations of patronage and mismanagement.

During his testimony, Mr. Baroni stated that $12 tolls on drivers are “fair” and repeatedly refused to answer questions about when Governor Christie became aware of proposed toll increases.

In contrast to Mr. Baroni, witnesses from AAA and the American Trucking Associations were very clear about their strong opposition to the toll hikes, the burden they put on families and businesses, and the lack of opportunity for public input about the toll increases.

“We called this hearing to help New Jersey drivers understand the reasons behind these massive toll increases and what steps the Port Authority is going to take to fix their serious problems,” said Sen. Lautenberg. “Instead, Mr. Baroni engaged in distraction, deception and diversion. I am very disappointed that the Port Authority continues to operate behind a veil of secrecy. Despite this stonewalling, I will continue to stand up for New Jersey commuters and businesses.”

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Transportation Nation

100 Years Ago, Arrival of Ship Carrying Titanic Survivors Set Off Media Frenzy in NYC

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Popular illustration, titled "Arrival of the Ship of Sorrows," shows Titanic survivors disembarking in New York.

(New York, NY - WNYC) The sinking of the Titanic on April 15 in 1912 was the biggest news story of its day. But people on land had only the barest facts about the tragedy at sea until almost three days later, when more than 700 survivors reached New York on the steamer Carpathia. What followed was an unprecedented media frenzy.

The Carpathia had wireless communication with the shore but on its way to New York had sent only a trickle of news. After a couple of days, it was known that most of the passengers and crew on the Titanic had died — but not much beyond that.

A theory for the near-news blackout is that the White Star Line, which owned the Titanic, was trying to manage the story by shutting out the media.

For example, newspaperman Carlos Hurd, who worked for a Hearst paper in St. Louis, happened to be on the Carpathia. Hearst editors in New York sent frantic messages to him begging for news but the ship's crew intercepted them.

That left the public was frothing for details of the disaster. By the time the Carpathia arrived in the New York harbor on April 18 around 9:15 P.M., thousands of people were standing outside Pier 54 at West 13th Street on the Hudson River.

Many were family members of passengers who didn't know if their relatives were dead or alive. Reporters waded in and worked the crowd, interviewing relatives while waiting to catch survivors coming off the ship and record their memories while they were still visceral.

Meanwhile, out in the harbor, more than 50 tugboats jammed with journalists met the Carpathia in lower New York harbor. Reporters with megaphones yelled up at the ship, offering $50 or $100 for eyewitness accounts. Photographers' cameras lit up the side of the ship with flashes of magnesium powder.

This was before the rise of radio and movie reels, when newspapers ruled. It was also a Darwinian moment in the history of American journalism.

Mitchell Stephens, professor of journalism at NYU and author of The History of the News, says there were dozens of papers in multiple languages coming out three times a day in New York, with 'Extra' editions. "It was cutthroat competition between these newspapers for stories and to be first on the streets with stories,” he said. “So the streets were full of newspapers being hawked all day long."

Stephens added that the U.S. also had the highest per capita newspaper circulation in the world in the early 20th century. The fight was on to feed that audience. "Races for news were nothing new and packs of journalists were already starting to develop," he said.

Two of the heavyweights in the city were William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal and the up-and-coming New York Times.

Carr Van Anda was the editor of The Times in 1912. He rented out the top floor of the Strand Hotel, now called the Liberty Inn, and set up a temporary newsroom to better cover the disaster. The hotel was just a block from Pier 54. Then Van Anda set his sites on interviewing the Titanic’s 22-year-old wireless operator, Harold Bride. He even paid Bride’s employer, Guglielmo Marconi, who was the inventor of the wireless, to make sure he got an exclusive interview.

Marconi sent a message to Bride on the Carpathia that read, “Stop. Say nothing. Hold your story for dollars in four figures.”

When Harold Bride got to New York, a Times reporter met him onboard and took down his istory. He then reported what he'd heard: that the band played on while the ship went down and that a stoker had broken into the wireless room and tried to steal Bride's lifejacket as the Titanic was sinking, forcing the operator to beat the stoker senseless.

As for Hearst man Carlos Hurd, he spent his trip on the Carpathia interviewing Titanic survivors and hiding his notes from the crew.

He wrote up his stories and put them in a cigar box rigged with Champagne corks as floats. When the ship reached the harbor, Hurd spotted a Hearst editor in a tugboat and hurled the cigar box into the water. The editor fished it out and rushed it back to the newsroom in Lower Manhttan. Before the Carpathia had docked, an 'Extra' edition of The New York World was on the street with the banner headline:

"Titanic Boilers Blew Up, Breaking Her In Two After Striking Berg."

Not quite as fast as the Internet, but fast. And accurate. And heartbreaking.


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Transportation Nation

The Port of Houston Through the Voices of Workers

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Father and son sailors wave to each other from their ships at the Port of Houston. (Photo by veteran Houston Ship Channel pilot Lou Vest)

(Houston, TX -- Gail Delaughter, KUHF) The Port of Houston will turn 100 years old in 2014 and as part of the observance, a local arts organization is recording oral histories of longtime port workers, everyone from executives to deck hands, in an effort to tell the stories of the individual people behind one of Houston's biggest industries.

Houston Arts Alliance Folklife Director Pat Jasper is working to record 100 interviews for the centennial. She says she was drawn to the work because she wanted to explore how people develop their identities around their occupation.

With the help of a grant from the Library of Congress, Jasper launched the "Working the Port" project, with the goal of capturing the voices of the men and women who work in the diverse businesses that support the shipping industry. She says she also wants to create a better understanding of the port's role in the city's development.

"It's really amazing to think about the scale of the work they are doing, the size of those docks, the heft of those lines they are responsible for," she said.

The Port of Houston is one of the busiest ports in the world. The sprawling 25-mile complex along the Houston Ship Channel contributes billions to the local economy but Jasper says it's not really part of the everyday lives of most Houstonians. For one, much of the port's operations are tucked away on Houston's East End, a working-class neighborhood east of downtown that's away from the other major centers of the city. They've also tightened up security since 9-11. That means there aren't many viewing areas where the public can see what goes on at the port.

Boatmen at the Port of Houston. (Photo by Lou Vest)

One of the people she talked to is Steve Bennett. He's a boatman, and his job is to help tie up the big ships. He talked about what it was like when he was first hired and learning from the older guys.

"When I joined the union what they did: they said, 'Okay, when you come to a union meeting, bring you a big Coke and a bag of popcorn, sit back in the back and just shut up. We don't want to hear anything from you.' So you know that kind of opened your eyes, what's going on here. But they treated you good."

Another person Jasper spoke with is Lou Vest. He's been a ship pilot since the 1980's. There's a lot of competition to become a pilot and Vest was interviewed about how he learned he'd gotten the coveted job.

"In the maritime industry being a pilot is like being invited to be in the major leagues, and it's like being invited to play with the St. Louis Cardinals. I was very pleased."

Vest is also a photographer, and has used his access to the port to capture vibrant images that are currently on display in the Houston Arts Alliance's gallery. As for Jasper's project, her interviews will be housed at the Library of Congress once they're complete. Several Houston organizations have also also expressed interest in preserving the voices of the port for future generations.

Listen to some of the voices here, in the audio version of this story at KUHF.

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Transportation Nation

Security Shake-Up Planned For Port Authority Of NY-NJ

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Former chief of U.S. Homeland Security Michael Chertoff announces security changes at the NY-NJ Port Athority with PA Executive Director Foye (right). (photo by Jim O'Grady)

(New York, NY - WNYC) The Port Authority of NY & NJ, which owns the World Trade Center,  announced Thursday that it is overhauling its security operations. The changes will start with the hiring of a Chief Security Officer.

The position is a new one. Former chief of U.S. Homeland Security Michael Chertoff recommended the creation of the job after reviewing security at the authority and finding no one person in charge. "I was surprised by the lack centralized accountability," he said at a press conference held at NY-NJ Port Authority headquarters in Manhattan.

He also said security arrangements across the authority's many departments "lack coordination" and that "decisions are made by managers at individual facilities."

A NY-NJ Port Authority press release added that Chertoff, whose security firm was hired to conduct a review, found "the absence of a clear sense of mission and inadequate lines of responsibility and operational control over the organization."

Chertoff stressed the security upgrade comes "not because of a crisis" but because "historically, the Port Authority has been the target of plots."

Pat Foye, executive director of the Port Authority, said a national search for a chief security officer would begin immediately.

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Transportation Nation

Port Authority: Turn Off That Electronic Device Or Pay the Price

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

(photo by Kenneth Gaerlan via flickr)

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey wants to fine passengers who disobey the FAA's ban on portable electronic devices during takeoff and landing.

"In (certain) cases, where passengers disrupt flights on a regular basis --  or have such an egregious case that it becomes overwhelming --  then we will consider filing civil action against them," said Steve Coleman, a Port Authority spokesperson.

The Port Authority operates the three major airports in the New York City area: JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark Liberty. Coleman said in 2011, there were 400 incidents at those airports in which a plane had to turn back to the gate -- and Port Authority police had to respond -- because a passenger refused to shut off a device.

Meanwhile, the FAA said last week it was taking "a fresh look" at the ban.

The Port Authority also recently announced it's suing dozens of drivers who habitually evade tolls at the bridges and tunnels it operates.


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Transportation Nation

Possible Increased Coal Train Traffic Raises Community Concern

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A typical coal train traveling through Montana.

(Billings, MT – YPR) – Asian markets are demanding more fossil fuels from the Rocky Mountain area and that has some environmental groups in the state worried as plans to transport more coal by rail take shape the coal-rich Powder River basin in Montana and Wyoming.

The Yellowstone Valley Citizens Council (YVCC) , an affiliate of the conservation group Northern Plains Resource Council, was one of the sponsors of a two-day conference in Billings, Mont. to discuss how to mitigate any increase in rail traffic. Railroad tracks cut right through downtown Billings. Their concern is heightened as plans to build a shipping terminal near Longview, WA have resurfaced.

The conference brochure states, “About 22 freight trains a day pass through Billings. Increased coal export could add about 40 more trains a day.”

Organizers say train traffic already causes traffic congestion and delayed emergency service response. They add, increased coal train traffic would exacerbate that and there’s the added public health concern about flying coal dust.

Burlington Northern Santa Fe railway spokesman Zak Andersen of Fort Worth, Tex. says he understands the concerns of communities across the West, including Billings, about the possibility of increased coal train traffic. But he calls the figures cited by YVCC speculation.

“It seems to be based around the anticipation of exporting coal off the West Coast,” he says. “There are several facilities proposed. They’re in the process of getting permitted. None of them are built. So until any of them are built, you really don’t know what the amount of (train) traffic will be.”

Concern about rail traffic is not new, says Candi Beaudry, planning director for the city of Billings. She says the first study on the issue came out in 1960. She says coming up with a mitigation plan is easy.

“But where are we going to find the money? The money is huge as far as the obstacle to resolving the problem,” she says.

Beaudry says this is an issue confronting communities across the country. She notes, for example, the BNSF and Montana Rail Link rail lines would have to cross Montana, Idaho, and Washington on their way to any West Coast port.

“They’re all experiencing and all dreading the impacts of increased rail traffic,” she says. “So we may not be looking at just a local solution but possibly a regional and hopefully a global solution.”

Some environmental groups are opposed to expanding or building new port terminals out of concern of the climate impacts of burning more coal.  But BNSF’s Zak Andersen says the railway also uses those ports to export Montana agricultural products to Asia.

Beaudry told conference attendees about the project in Reno, NV that lowered the train tracks just over 30 feet. The project cost:  $265 million.

She says Reno did not undertake this project because of coal trains. “They did have a lot of train traffic,” Beaudry says. “But what was the driving impetus behind this project is that they felt their downtown was losing business and they really wanted to revitalize the downtown area.”

“I don’t want to see the trains go away,” says Greg Krueger, development director of the Downtown Billings Partnership (DBA). The Billings native says he’s one of those who gets caught waiting for trains downtown.

“I’ve also waited in line at Target. I’ve also waited in line to go through security at the airport,” he says. “Waiting is a part of life. So I think we have to be relative here.”

He says DBP has worked on this issue, including spending about $800,000 to create a “quiet zone” so trains no longer have to blast their horns at downtown rail crossings. Krueger says before that happened, businesses found they couldn’t conduct work by phone because of the noise.

Tax increment financing paid for the quiet zone.

It’s going to take local dollars to pay for any remedy, says Krueger’s counterpart, Lisa Harmon of the Downtown Billings Association. She warned conference attendees not to look to the federal or state government to pay for a rail traffic mitigation project, like what Reno did. Instead she suggested cheaper alternatives: changes in traffic signals to reroute traffic to existing rail underpasses, better signage to alert motorists earlier when there’s rail traffic through downtown, and easing traffic congestion through the creation of a downtown shuttle or advocating walking and bicycling.

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Transportation Nation

A Wider Panama Canal Could Lead to a NY Boom, But City May Not Be Ready

Friday, March 09, 2012

Miraflores Locks, Panama Canal (photo by: flickr user Ryan Healy)

The narrowest piece of Central America could hold the key to millions of dollars worth of additional business for the East Coast shipping industry.  A new channel being built in the Panama Canal will allow wider ships to squeeze through the isthmus in about two years’ time.

The supersize freighters will reduce shipping costs, making it cheaper to move goods originating from Asia to the East Coast, instead of the West Coast, for the first time.  That's expected to bring more ships, more cargo and more jobs to the region.

Ship at NYCT, Staten Island (photo by Kent Nickerson)

Port operators already supported 270-thousand jobs in 2010, and contributed more than $37-billion dollars in business income, according to a study from the New York Shipping Association.

Staten Island Cargo Yard (photo by Kent Nickerson)


Bob Silverman, industrial supply chain analyst with Jones Lang LaSalle said the larger freighters will set up a battle for the Midwest market.  Imagine a jagged line that runs north to south through the United States. Silverman calls it the line of demarcation.

“It’s the point at which the costs are equal to receive a container on the West Coast and ship it to that point, versus receiving that container on the East and shipping it,” said Silverman.  And after the Panama Canal has its new locks, that line is expected to shift further west -- favorign the east coast ports.

Eastern ports are giddy with the possiblity of more business.  It could also mean more jobs for truck drivers and other workers who move cargo from one point to another.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is preparing for all the new customers, along with many other eastern seaboard ports.  Dredging projects are underway to deepen harbors to accommodate these larger freighters.  Still, Rick Larrabee, Port Commerce Director for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, is cautious.

“There are lots of theories about whether this is a game changer,” said Larrabee.  The cost of gas and rail will also be a factor in which coast has the competitive edge.  “We believe more cargo will come here and the Panama Canal will become more efficient and consumers will benefit,” he said.

But the ships will have to be able to fit into eastern shipping channels, something they can’t do now.

“Right now ports on the East Coast, except for Norfolk, can’t handle those ships because their harbors aren’t deep enough,” said Bib Silverman, the Jones Lang LaSalle analyst.  The dredging projects will help with that.  But the Port of New York and New Jersey has one additional problem:  the big ships won’t fit underneath the Bayonne Bridge, that connects New Jersey to Staten Island.

A project to raise the Bayonne Bridge has been approved by the Port Authority’s Board of Directors.  But it will cost an estimated $1 billion.  And, it won’t be done until 2016, two years after the bigger ships are already sailing through the Panama Canal.  “For those first two years, the Port of New York and New Jersey will not be able to accept the biggest ships, so it will give the Southern ports a bit of a jump,” said Silverman.

Bayonne Bridge (photo by Kent Nickerson)

Port Commerce Director Rick Larrabee admits the Port “is playing a little bit of catch up here.”  It may be because the Port had hoped to save money.  “To be very honest with you, the first thing we thought was, don’t fix the bridge, fix the ships,” said Larrabee.  The cost of modification could have been made up in two or three trips.  But the shipping companies didn’t buy it.  “Most of the lines said you need to fix the bridge…we’re not interested in fixing our ships.  And, eventually, we got that,” Larrabee said.

But Larrabee is not convinced the Port is poised to get all that much new business from the massive freighters anyway.  “The West Coast ports will not sit by and watch, they’ll compete for the business,” he said.  He added that even without the Canal expansion, business is booming in New York area ports.  "We've doubled our cargo capacity since 1992, and we expect to double it again in the next twenty years," said Larrabee.

New York Container Terminal, NYCT, is one of the Port Authority’s 70 tenants along the Port of New York and New Jersey.  It among about half a dozen big ports in the region that stand to gain if more shipping business materializes after the Canal is widened.

Jim Devine is President and CEO of NYCT.  He said the Bayonne Bridge raising is not as critical to his company as to other port companies along the New York harbor.  “We have a terminal that’s outside the bridge, a global terminal, and we’re preparing to handle the larger ships there now, with more cranes and a deeper dock,” said Devine.

Ship Gets Unloaded at NYCT (photo by Kent Nickerson)

But the company’s Director of Marine Operations, Joseph Cordero, sees the Bayonne Bridge issue a little differently.  “It’s got to happen,” said Cordero.  “If it doesn’t happen, it will cut off this port and it will cut off all of New Jersey from handling that kind of commerce.”  Cordero added that the two year gap is a very serious gap and has to be closed one way or the other, even if it means doing away with the Bayonne Bridge.  Otherwise, his longshoremen will lose out.

Crane Operators Unload Ship at NYCT (photo by: Kent Nickerson)


Larrabee said the Bayonne Bridge project will move forward. “I’m confident we’ll get this done in a reasonable amount of time, so long as we stay on the current time line,” said Larrabee.

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Transportation Nation

NY Ports Chief Calls Docks Bastions of Discrimination, Vows Action

Friday, February 24, 2012

Red Hook, Brooklyn. (Photo (cc) by Flickr user f.trainer)

The head of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey wants to use the agency's clout as landlord to get more dock workers of color hired.

Patrick Foye said, "I regret having to say it, but the docks at our ports on both the New York and New Jersey side appear to be one of the last bastions in the region of what can only be described as  deliberate racial and gender discrimination."

He said that dock workers are approximately 85 percent white and over 90 percent male, citing statistics from the Waterfront Commission. "This is not acceptable," Foye told union members and academics gathered for an NYU event about low pay rates for airport workers Wednesday.

Foye also called the racial and gender homogeneity of dock workers, "inexcusable inertia with respect to fair and diverse hiring." The PA head, who is took his post in November, promised strong action. The Port Authority owns the docks and leases the property to freight shipping and other companies.

"I intend to use every tool at our disposal," he said, "including leases with new customers, lease extensions and modifications with our existing customers, and most importantly, conditioning the Port Authority's future investments of billions of dollars in improvements on first reaching acceptable, concrete and enforceable, diversity hiring plans."

The International Longshoremen's Association, the union representing workers at the port of New York and New Jersey, controls hiring for new dock workers. At hearings last year, the ILA argued that they could not find sufficient non-white candidates for stevedore positions. The ILA did not return TN's requests for comment.

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Transportation Nation

NY-NJ Port Authority Chief Confirms He’ll Leave By Month’s End, Lays Out Plan For Brooklyn Waterfront

Friday, October 14, 2011

Chris Ward, head of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey -- Until Month's End (Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

Chris Ward confirmed he'll be stepping down as executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey by the end of this month. Ward spoke after giving a speech at a Municipal Arts Society conference in Manhattan.

The fact of Ward’s departure, though not its timing, has been known for a couple of weeks. Ward has used public occasions since then to describe tumultuous episodes in his three-year tenure that had left him feeling “burned” by politics, none more so than the recent bruising fight to raise tolls and fares at Hudson River crossings.

Today he said that topic was off the table, adding that “for those of you who are looking for the parting shot of an executive director, I will not speak ill of where we find ourselves here within this region."

He denied reports that he was leaving his post because of a poor relationship with Governor Cuomo. “I spoke to his staff all the time,” he said. “My relationship with Governor Cuomo didn’t prevent me from doing what I wanted to get done.”

Ward also said he hadn’t arranged his next career move. “Reports that I have a new job are inaccurate,” he said. Neither did he know who might replace him at the Port Authority. Asked whether anyone had mentioned to Ward the idea of running for mayor of New York City, he affirmed, "It has been mentioned."

In his speech, Ward made some final policy recommendations: saying the city should revitalize the Brooklyn waterfront by replacing Red Hook's maritime businesses with a high-capacity ferry to a densely developed Governors Island.

Ward said, “I will state here today, as the outgoing director of the Port Authority, that Governors Island will never realize its full economic potential so long as the Red Hook Container Terminal remains a container terminal.”

Ward used to be CEO of American Stevedoring, the chief maritime business in Red Hook. Now he’d like to see those kinds of operations concentrated in Sunset Park and Bay Ridge.

“There’s a tremendous amount of nostalgia for the Brooklyn waterfront, driven by the idea that container terminals create huge amounts of jobs,” he said. “We have the image of the Brooklyn waterfront of men leaving their homes, kissing their mothers and wives goodbye, carrying their lunch, thousand of them, working on the waterfront. That model is no longer the case.”

He said the Red Hook waterfront should instead serve as a mass transit connection to Governors Island. As for the island, Ward said some parkland and historic structures should be preserved, but the rest of it should be developed in a way that would make it self-sustaining, “or you will face infrastructure and operating costs of 65 to 100 million dollars a year in a city which is desperately trying to close its budget.”


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Transportation Nation

Mica Draws Connection Between Central Florida SunRail and Port of Miami Project

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

(Orlando, Fla-- Mark Simpson, WMFE) Central Florida Republican Congressman John Mica says he's carefully reviewing Governor Rick Scott’s proposal to deepen the port of Miami to accommodate a new class of larger ships.

As chair of the House Transportation Committee, Mica is in charge of signing off on Federal dollars for the project. At a meeting in Orlando Monday, Mica made a point to compare that process with the Governor's review of Central Florida's planned commuter train.

Governor Rick Scott wants to spend $77 million of state money to dredge the Port of Miami, but total costs for the project are expected to be as high as $150 million.

Congressman John Mica's committee gets to decide whether to approve an additional $75 million in federal money that would make up the difference.

Mica didin't directly  say he was linking that decision  to the Governor's  approval of the SunRail commuter train ... but he did bring up the similar timings for the two decisions, “ I get to authorize the project for the deepening at the federal level. Right now I’m studying them very closely as the Governor is studying the rail project very closely and I’ll make my decision next month in June about the time he makes his decision.”

Mica is referring to Governor Scott’s months long review of   SunRail's financial viability.

That has put a lot of SunRail supporters, including Mica, on alert, especially after the Governor torpedoed Florida’s High Speed Rail hopes in February.

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Transportation Nation

A Man, A Plan, a Canal—Miami

Thursday, March 17, 2011

(Matt Dellinger, Transportation Nation) At noon today, Florida Governor Rick Scott is scheduled to take a helicopter tour of the Panama Canal expansion, to see firsthand the third set of locks that will allow bigger ships to pass from the Pacific Ocean into the Caribbean and, Scott hopes, on into the Port of Miami.

Scott traveled to Panama—his first trade mission as Governor—just weeks after he suggested that his state should fully fund a planned deepening of Miami’s port to allow those bigger ships to dock. He announced the plan on the same day he formally rejected $2.4 billion dollars in federal high speed rail money. In the face of criticism that he is thwarting economic development by refusing to pursue rail, Scott has made a point of touting the 33,000 jobs the dredging is projected to create. Miami is already the nation’s eleventh largest container port by volume, and allowing “New Panamax” ships to call could double its capacity when the canal widening is completed in 2014.

The dredging, which would increase the shipping channel’s depth from 45 feet to 50 feet, is expected to cost around $150 million. Normally the federal government would pay half of that (they pay 65% for dredging down to 45 feet), but in its 2012 budget proposal, the Obama Administration failed to earmark the money Miami needed to proceed, leaving the role of port champion open for Scott to fill.

The Governor has presented the port enhancements as a sort of alternative to the Tampa-to-Orlando High Speed Rail project, but money for the two projects would flow from different springs in Washington: while rail is a Department of Transportation responsibility, ship channel dredging is the purview of the Army Corps of Engineers, and appropriations come from Energy and Water bills.

However, transportation dollars are already playing a huge role in the port’s expansion. The TIGER II stimulus program provided $22.7 million to help rebuild the port’s freight rail connection, and construction has already started on a $610 million tunnel that will obviate what is now a parade of containers through downtown Miami, as trucks make their way to Interstate 95.

Both projects are on track to be completed in 2014, the year the Panama Canal expansion opens. State and local governments have already come up with financing for the tunnel, their half of the dredging, and ancillary tasks like strengthening retaining walls and installing newer, wider, taller cranes. The federal share of the dredging funds—a relatively small sum of $77 million—is the last and the most important piece of the puzzle. The necessary studies have been done, and there’s not much time to wait.

“It's such a tight schedule,” Juan M. Kuryla, the Deputy Port Director, told me. “The canal is going to open in 2014, you're going to have a tunnel open in 2014, the rail is going to be open in 2014, and the last leg of the stool is this deep dredge. I always equate it like you're building airport. The brand new airport is done, you've got the connection to the interstate highway system, you got the terminal and everything done, and the only thing you're missing is the runway is not long enough to land the 747's. And our runway is our water and it's not deep enough.”

Kuryla and his colleagues have not been shy about expressing their needs. When I toured the Port of Miami late last year, before Rick Scott’s tenure began, a sign at the downtown entrance to the bridge leading to the port read “Mr. PRESIDENT, Deep Dredging = 33,000 new jobs.” Obama had recently come through town, and port officials were eager to communicate just how badly they needed recognition in the federal budget.

Container shipping companies joined the chorus as well, sending letters to the President last fall. Ian Calms, Vice President of Terminal Strategy & Development for CMA CGM wrote the president to “respectfully urge” him to fund the deep dredge. “The Port of Miami is the only port south of Norfolk, Virginia, that has Congressional authorization to dredge to -50 feet,” he pointed out, “and perhaps most importantly is the only port that can complete the project in the next three-four years.”

On November 14th, CMA CGM brought its ship the Don Carlos to Miami to show just how impressive these new, larger post-Panamax ships were. The Don Carlos carries an impressive 8500 TEUs (Twenty-foot Equivalent Units, or standard containers). The current Panama Canal locks permit boats carrying about 5000 TEUs, but the expansion will allow ships carrying 13,000 TEUs. “The largest ship we do now is about 5800 TEUs, and if that one comes fully laden, we have to wait for high tide and only the two newest cranes can work it,” Kuryla said. “They couldn't bring the Don Carlos in here fully laden. You could see the watermark on the ship. It was more than half empty. But with the 50 feet dredge, we can handle 8500 TEU's fully laden with the proper equipment. We're excited. But we need the 50 feet. If not we're going to remain a second tier port.”

Kuryla says the port doesn't even need the full $77 million to get moving on the deep dredge. A "symbolic appropriation" from Congress would allow the Corps to start drawing up contracts. But with the current budgetary climate in Washington, the port will likely find its money closer to home.

Since Governor Scott's initial declaration, almost two weeks ago, that he had "directed the Florida Department of Transportation to amend their work plan to include $77 million so that Florida can take another leap forward in international trade,” there have been no further news or details on the state's efforts to fund the dredge. Emails and calls to the Governor's office from Transportation Nation went unreturned on Wednesday. We will update this post with any developments.

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.

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