Monday, May 20, 2013
The first stage of construction on California’s high-speed rail is set to begin this summer, but the legal challenges aren’t going away anytime soon. Last week, a judge ruled that a lawsuit filed by Central Valley residents of Kings County to block construction will move forward as planned.
Monday, May 13, 2013
"We can’t depend on the old ways of doing things," says Harry Barley, the executive director of Central Florida’s regional transportation planning agency Metroplan Orlando.
"The old ways have typically been simply building wider roads and newer roads. We’ve got to look for more efficient ways of moving people." Florida may be known for aborting a high-speed rail project in 2011, but come 2014 and beyond, it may be a state of rail investment.
Friday, May 03, 2013
Amtrak is getting reimbursed for the $20 million it spent pumping water out of flooded train tunnels during Sandy and additional money to fix infrastructure damaged in the storm. The federal government will give $30 million to the publicly subsidized company, which has said it suffered $60 million in damages from Sandy and needs $250 million to adequately prepare for the next storm.
For comparison, the NY MTA, which runs the NYC subway and commuter rail lines was much harder hit in its miles of electrified underground tunnels. The MTA estimates $5 billion in losses with several billion more needed to prepare for future storms. That agency has received $2 billion in federal relief funds with another $6 billion on the way.
Thursday, May 02, 2013
Montgomery County officials have no intention of letting D.C.'s Metro back out of the Silver Spring Transit Center -- even though the project is two years behind schedule and millions of dollars over budget.
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Orlando's transportation planning agency says the city could see a bike sharing system up and running by next spring, in time for Central Florida's SunRail commuter train, a program we reported on last fall. On Wednesday Metroplan Orlando's bike share working group got a look at bikes produced by one of the companies angling for a toe hold in Central Florida.
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
(UPDATED) The strained relationship between Ray LaHood and House Republican leadership was on full display Tuesday morning, when the transportation secretary sparred with members of a House subcommittee at a hearing about the Department of Transportation's budget request.
Friday, April 12, 2013
Now that the NY MTA has a new chairman in Tom Prendergast, and Local Transport Workers Union 100 has a recently re-elected president in John Samuelsen, the two sides can now sit down hammer out a contract.
Thursday, April 11, 2013
New York City Council speaker Christine Quinn gave voters their first detailed glimpse into what her transportation agenda would be if she's elected Mayor. It's like Bloomberg's -- but without the big, bold visions.
Thursday, April 11, 2013
The success of a megaproject can come down to a single decision: choosing the right contractor.
As the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) prepares to embark on Phase II of a $5.5 billion rail extension to Dulles International Airport known as the Silver Line, five pre-qualified construction consortiums are facing an April 19 deadline to submit bids to build a transportation project largely financed by toll revenues from the Dulles Toll Road.
After receiving the bids next Friday, MWAA will announce the winner in May. Preliminary work is scheduled to begin later this year with a target of 2018 for completion of the Silver Line to Dulles and beyond into Virginia's Loudoun County. Phase I of the project, which extends D.C.'s Metro to Reston -- is scheduled to open later this year.
Some of the biggest names in the construction industry are competing for the Phase II contract, including Bechtel, the firm that is building Phase I. The lowest bidder wins Phase II.
“Before you go to a low bid, you do everything possible to make sure that you have a firm that is fully capable and fully understands the scope of work of the project involved,” said Patrick Nowakowski, the executive director of the Dulles Corridor Rail Project. “We don’t want to have firms leading the effort… who’ve never undertaken a megaproject.”
Nowakowski says using the low-bid procurement procedure ensures the lowest possible price for Fairfax and Loudoun County taxpayers and the toll road users.
“It’s all about price,” Nowakowski said.
Once the contractor teams’ individual design proposals met the standards established in MWAA’s design schematics, the lowest bid became the only factor in deciding who will win the contract. Therefore, a bidding contractor with a superior design receives no advantage in the bidding process. But Nowakowski says his office has been meeting with the competing contractor teams for months to ensure all the design proposals are sound.
“That’s where the confidence level comes in, the amount of time we have spent working with them,” Nowakowski said. “[We] make sure that the designs they produce meet the minimum standards that [we’ve] established in a specifications.”
Critics say low bid invites trouble
Any number of issues can push a megaproject over budget, but the low-bid procurement process is particularly troublesome, critics say, because it entices a contractor to submit an artificially low bid with the intention of requesting change orders to drive up a project’s final cost, paid for by the project’s owner and into the contractor’s pockets. In the case of the Silver Line, the owner is MWAA.
“The procurement on Phase II is not being done in an optimal way,” said Brian Petruska, an attorney at the Laborers International Union of North America, one of the unions that supplied workers to build Phase I of the Silver Line. “For a contractor the number one goal is to get the project.”
Change orders usually occur in one of three ways: the project owner requests the change and then pays the contractor to include it; an unexpected problem arises in the construction process requiring a change for the project to proceed safely; or the contractor requests a change order from the owner. In the latter case, MWAA would have to approve any change orders that are requested by the general contractor.
“We've looked at projects such as the Wilson Bridge and the Springfield interchange where change orders were approved because the price of steel went up. You would think the contractor should factor in potential increases in the price of steel, so when they make the bid they take the risk,” said Petruska, who said MWAA should have chosen a bidding process that grades on both design and price.
MWAA insists its contract documents and oversight procedures will prevent unnecessary change orders and, therefore, stick to the Silver Line’s budget.
“I worry about change orders from the day I sign the contract to the day I end it,” Nowakowski said. “It’s not a function of the low-bid procedure. It’s a function of how well the contract documents were written and how well you manage the project from the day you start to the day you finish.”
The higher the Silver Line price, the higher the tolls on the Dulles Toll Road
Virginia’s approval of an additional $300 million in Silver Line funding lightened the burden on Dulles Toll Road users to finance the $2.7 billion Phase II extension. Before the Commonwealth approved new funding, toll revenues were scheduled to cover 75 percent of Phase II’s costs. That cost has been reduced to 64 percent, according to an MWAA spokeswoman-- as long as Fairfax and Loudoun Counties continue to fund the $400 million needed to build parking garages and a rail station at the planned Rt. 28 stop.
If Phase II’s construction goes over budget, toll road users may be asked to make up the difference, according to Virginia Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton.
Connaughton says it will be up to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority to make sure only legitimate change orders are approved for Phase II of the Silver Line.
“Any price escalation is passed almost directly onto the toll road users, and the toll road users are already bearing a very large brunt of the cost of this project,” Connaughton said.
Change orders and bloated project budgets
The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority has a mixed record in keeping its projects on budget. While MWAA officials have praised the contractor and union workforce for keeping Phase I of the Silver Line on time and on budget, the Dulles Main Terminal Automated People Mover Station will receive no such praise.
The Automated People Mover Station, which provides a rail and pedestrian link between the main terminal and midfield concourses at Dulles Airport, was awarded by MWAA to the contractor Turner Construction Co.* at the low-bid price of $184 million. After 82 change orders were approved, the project finished at $388 million, an increase of $204 million from the original low bid, according to sources familiar with an internal MWAA audit.
The audit also found MWAA staff approved certain increases without documentation and without written contractual obligation to do so, sources said.
While the People Mover Station may provide an egregious example of a project’s costs soaring out of control, it serves a caution that even when government agencies sign a contract with established construction industry giants, things can go very wrong. That is why, Nowakowski said, the Silver Line’s project management team will exercise strict oversight.
“We’ve got some of the five best teams in the world competing” for the contract, he said. “The taxpayers can believe that we’ve done everything that we can to get the best possible price.”
The Springfield Interchange (Archer Western) and the Silver Spring Transit Center (Foulger Pratt) provide two widely publicized examples of projects that went well over budget despite having major construction firms serving as general contractors. Archer Western is leading one of the five construction consortiums that will bid of Phase II of the Silver Line.
In addition to Archer Western Contractors, the other construction consortiums competing to build Phase II are led by Bechtel Infrastructure Corp., Skanska USA, Clark Construction Group, and Fluor Enterprises Inc.
Construction industry warns against pointing fingers
Representatives of the construction industry say it is harder to determine what actually went wrong than to simply assign blame when megaproject encounters budget or construction problems.
“A newspaper or a radio show or anybody can spout off and say there was a problem on a job and they name the contractor or the subcontractor,” said Patrick Dean, president of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Virginia. “Typically they don’t get into the details because that news is old by the time anything is figured out.”
Dean says the idea contractors pocket huge sums off excessive change orders is “a fallacy.”
“It’s not like contractors are going to make a lot of money on change orders. A change order increases their contract but they are a hassle. You have to negotiate them, sometimes you fight over them. You may have to rework something or change your schedule,” said Dean, who said some change orders are requested not for profit but to make projects more durable to reduce future maintenance costs.
Regardless of whether MWAA or the general contractor will pay for any change orders approved during Phase II of the Silver Line, the additional costs may ultimately fall on drivers on the Dulles Toll Road.
Virginia Transportation Sec. Connaughton, a critic of MWAA’s past performance, said the agency must run this project well. “Additional costs not only delay the project but obviously cause it to spiral out of control with price,” Connaughton said.
This is the first of a two-part series on construction of Phase II of the Silver Line to Dulles.
*This post originally listed the contractor as Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. They are the architects, not the contractor.
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
(New York, NY - WNYC) The Bloomberg Administration is saying it's still a good idea to extend the 7 subway train from the west side of Manhattan to a major transit hub in Secaucus, New Jersey.
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
NJ Transit's board meetings will now be videotaped, and the agency is expanding the information on its Sandy recovery website.
It's part of an agency attempt to provide more transparency to the riding public -- many of whom have showed up at NJ Transit board meetings since Sandy to complain about confusing schedule changes, last-minute service outages, and a general lack of effective communication.
Jim Simpson, the state's transportation commissioner and NJ Transit chairman, said Wednesday at a board meeting that the videos of each board meeting will be available on the agency's website within 48 hours "to increase transparency on the board. We think it's really a good thing for everybody."
Executive director Jim Weinstein also said the NJ Transit website will now "include a listing of contracts associated with the Sandy recovery, as well as background on all projects." And the site now offers details on agency efforts to repair and replace trains damaged by Sandy.
NJ Transit has been under scrutiny for its decision to store rail stock in flood-prone areas during the storm, which caused nearly a quarter of its fleet to suffer damage.
The board also approved paying another $28.5 million to Canadian rail company Bombardier, which is repairing train cars damaged by Sandy. NJ Transit says it will reimbursed for storm expenses through a combination of federal aid and insurance money.
Following the meeting, Weinstein less enthusiastic about a different subject: a recent study endorsing a proposal to extend the #7 subway to Secaucus. "It’s not a New Jersey project," he said. "It emanated from the mayor’s office in New York and it clearly has some different points of view in New York, from the MTA." Weinstein sounded lukewarm about the project. "We'll see where it goes," he said.
One recent bright spot for the agency: Weinstein said NJ Transit got a ridership boost during last week's Wrestlemania, when the agency provided more than 35,000 bus and rail trips to the Meadowlands. The agency views the event as a dress rehearsal for next year's Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium, where the Jets and Giants play. Weinstein, who was on site for much of the event, described Wrestlemania as "quite an enlightening experience."
Tuesday, April 09, 2013
Rail ridership continues to grow in America.
March was the best single month ever in the history of Amtrak, and October, December and January each set records for their respective months, according to a company spokesperson. (UPDATE: Full release here.)
All of that is despite the damage and closures caused by Sandy.
It's also because Amtrak has been setting ridership records for just about every year for the past dozen years (chart), so any growth -- whatever size -- is also a new record. Amtrak set 11 consecutive monthly records last year. (PDF)
Amtrak reports ridership numbers by fiscal year. For the first six months of FY2013 (October 2012 to March 2013), Amtrak grew about one percent over the previous six months, putting the rail network on pace to break the 2012 yearly ridership record, despite Sandy. The damage from that storm shut down much of the Northeast Corridor, Amtrak's busiest route, for days.
Amtrak will release line-by-line ridership numbers later this morning. A statement from the company says 26 of 45 routes posted ridership increases and suggested its growth is evidence for more sustained capital funding for a passenger rail network.
Why passenger rail is on the rise
A recent Brookings Institution report found that on shorter trips, passengers are shifting to rail. That's partly because airlines are scaling back on short haul flights, which aren't as profitable for carriers.
All of that means Amtrak has been slowly but steadily gaining travelers who used to fly, especially on the Northeast corridor.
Consider this chart from an Amtrak presentation showing how, over time, passengers traveling between Washington, D.C. and New York City have shifted to rails from planes. Of the people who flew or rode a train between the two cities in 2000, 37 percent of them took Amtrak; but by 2012, 76 percent were riding Amtrak.
Amtrak's D.C-N.Y. route is beating the airlines. The chart excludes cars and buses, which themselves are increasing dramatically despite a crackdown on so-called Chinatown buses, and longer-route planes certainly carry more passengers, but it's the trend that is telling, and confirmed in the Brookings report.
Beyond the Northeast, Amtrak is doing better as well, with some local clamor for more service on state-subsidized routes, even where it has little chance of breaking even financially. We'll see how ridership is doing on those routes later this morning when Amtrak releases its full passenger counts.
Thursday, April 04, 2013
(New York, NY - WNYC) Build higher. That's what the federal government is saying to the owners of structures badly damaged by Sandy. Northeast flood zones now have tougher re-building requirements that apply across the board: to houses, businesses and government infrastructure.
Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood stood in front of an Amtrak electrical station in a New Jersey swamp to make their point: any structure more than half destroyed by Sandy that is being rebuilt with federal funds, must be lifted higher than before. The new standards require a building owner to consult an updated FEMA flood map, find the new recommended height for his structure and then lift it a foot above that.
LaHood explained why: "So that people don't have to go through the same heartache and headache and backache that it's taken to rebuild."
LaHood says the Amtrak electrical plant, which was knocked out by Sandy, will be lifted several feet at a cost of $25 million. A statement from the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force has details on the new standards:
WASHINGTON – Today, the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force announced that all Sandy-related rebuilding projects funded by the supplemental spending bill must meet a single uniform flood risk reduction standard. The standard, which is informed by the best science and best practices including assessments taken following Hurricane Sandy and brings the federal standard into alignment with many state and local standards already in place, takes into account the increased risk the region is facing from extreme weather events, sea level rise and other impacts of climate change and applies to the rebuilding of structures that were substantially damaged and will be repaired or rebuilt with federal funding. As a result, the new standard will require residential, commercial, or infrastructure projects that are applying for federal dollars to account for increased flood risk resulting from a variety of factors by elevating or otherwise flood-proofing to one foot above the elevation recommended by the most recent available federal flood guidance.
This is the same standard that many communities in the region, including the entire state of New Jersey, have already adopted – meaning federally funded rebuilding projects in the impacted region often already must comply with this standard. In fact, some communities require rebuilding higher than this minimum standard and if they do so, that stricter standard would supersede this standard as the minimum requirement.
“Communities across the region are taking steps to address the risks posed by climate change and the Federal Government needs to be a partner in that effort by setting a single clear standard for how federal funds will be used in rebuilding,” said Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, who also chairs the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force. “Providing this guaranteed minimum level of protection will help us safeguard our investment and, more importantly, will help communities ensure they are better able to withstand future storms.”
“President Obama has called on us to invest in our nation’s infrastructure—and that includes ensuring that our transit systems, roads, rails and bridges are built to last,” said Transportation Secretary LaHood, who joined Secretary Donovan in making the announcement in New Jersey today. “The flood risk reduction standard is a common sense guideline that will save money over the long-term and ensure that our transportation systems are more resilient for the future.”
Today’s announcement does not retroactively affect federal aid that has previously been given to property owners and communities in the Sandy-impacted areas. It also does not impact insurance rates under the National Flood Insurance Program, which is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Moving forward the federal standard applies to substantial rebuilding projects (i.e. when damage exceeds 50 percent of the value of the structure) that will rely on federal funding.
The specific steps that these types of structures will need to take include:
- Elevating – the standard would require structures to elevate their bottom floor one foot higher than the most recent flood risk guidance provided by FEMA; and/or
- Flood-proofing – in situations where elevation is not possible, the standard will require structures to prepare for flooding a foot higher than the most recent flood risk guidance provided by FEMA – for example, by relocating or sealing boilers or other utilities located below the standard elevation
These additional steps are intended to protect communities from future risk and to protect taxpayer investments over the long term.
The programs which received funding in the supplemental bill and will be impacted by this standard include:
- HUD: Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery program
- HHS: Construction and reconstruction projects funded by Social Services Block Grants and Head Start
- FEMA: Hazard Mitigation Grant Program and the Public Assistance Program
- EPA: The State Revolving Fund (SRF) programs
- DOT: Federal Transit Administration's Emergency Relief Program, as well as some Federal Railroad Administration and Federal Highway Administration projects
Wednesday, April 03, 2013
(Sarah Gonzalez - WNYC/NJPR) John Williams says he’s been living at Newark Penn Station for a couple months.
His nails are almost an inch long; his grey beard less groomed than he’d like. But the 60-year-old is dressed sharp in a light brown plaid suit.
“I done had it on for two months,” he said. “I don’t smell and stuff like that but that’s a problem, you got some people in here that really, really smell bad.”
Laws prevent transit police from asking anyone – including the homeless – to leave stations unless they’re breaking rules.
“We can sleep sitting up in here, but if you lay down in here they’re going to wake you,” Williams said. “They take a stick and stick you with it. Or hit on the side of the wall or the bench.”
Inspector Al Stiehler with NJ Transit Police says managing the homeless in train stations takes officers are away from their primary role, which is counter-terrorism and safety.
“Sometimes we’re dealing with the same person two, three times a day,” Stielher said. “They’re intoxicated, they go to the hospital, they come right back. They have a seizure, they go to the hospital, they come right back. Police officers didn’t have the tools to do what they needed. It was just a cycle.”
Since New Jersey Transit can't ask homeless people to leave the waiting areas, they’re trying to offer help instead.
Michelle Walsh is the Community Intervention Specialist with New Jersey Transit. She tries to get the homeless into shelters and connect them to programs that offer food and services. She says the program has two goals.
“Helping the homeless but also making it more comfortable for passengers when they’re riding through,” she said.
Walsh says she engages about 75 percent of the homeless in some way.
“Even if it looks like someone isn’t working with me, we might be working on… getting their birth certificate from a different state which takes time.”
Many of the homeless men and women have mental disorders, Walsh said. Many want to stay at train stations.
And they have the right to be there, according to Ed Barocas, the legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union in New Jersey.
“If someone is simply sitting up on a bench, whether they do it for a half hour or 4 hours that’s their right to do it,” Barocas said. “These are areas open to the public, and people who are homeless are a part of the public.”
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has given the state $24 million dollars to help with the homeless. And some of that money will go to organizations that New Jersey Transit partners with.
Buying a Ticket to Sleep on the Benches
John Williams says he prefers to stay at train stations where there are a lot of other homeless people – like a station in Summit. He says it makes him feel more comfortable.
And if he wants to sit, or rest his eyes, on the benches for ticketed passengers only, he knows what he needs to do.
“I have a ticket, okay. This is what you need to have to stay in,” Williams says. “If you doesn’t have that you’re going to have to go out in the cold.”
He doesn’t need to buy a train ticket every night in order to sleep on the benches.
“No I don’t buy a ticket every night. I buy a ticket one time, as long as it’s not punched it’s good. As long as it doesn’t have a hole in it. I done had this for two months.”
Once you’re on a train, conductors, which cost taxpayers about 30 million dollars a year, come by with a hole-puncher, manually punching two holes in every passenger’s ticket.
If you never get on a train to get your ticket punched, your ticket will never expire.
Some of the homeless people at Newark Penn Station have been there for years. One has been at the station for 19 years; another for 26 years.
Inspector Al Stiehler says NJ Transit has been tossing around ideas to create a system where tickets would eventually expire, but he says that’s way down the line.
He says train stations attract large homeless populations because they offer amenities the homeless can’t get elsewhere.
“They have access to liquor stores and bars, there’s people around here that can get money, there’s food, and they have 24/7 hour police protection. They’re not going to get that at a shelter.”
John Williams says he shouldn’t have to go to a shelter.
“Because I am a taxpayer,” he said. “Well, I used to be a taxpayer.”
Wednesday, April 03, 2013
Maryland's Montgomery County Council approved an additional $7 million to pay for construction work already completed at Silver Spring Transit Center, which is already two years behind schedule and about $80 million over budget.
The $7 million approved by county lawmakers has nothing to do with major design and construction problems detailed in a county report released two weeks ago.When it comes to who will pay to repair those problems, county officials say it will likely be determined in litigation with the project’s contractors.
“We will move expeditiously to make sure that we make the necessary repairs and that the taxpayers of Montgomery County will not have to pay for the flaws of the contractor,” says County Executive Ike Leggett, who has threatened to cancel the county’s contract with Foulger Pratt and other contractors and sue to recover any funds paid to fix the transit center’s construction issues, like inadequately thick concrete.
“Whatever we spend we will get back because we are going to pursue to the ultimate degree of the law and the legal process to make sure the county is reimbursed for anything we may have to put out in advance,” says Leggett.
Council President Nancy Navarro echoed Leggett’s vow to go to court, if necessary, to protect taxpayers but left open the possibility the county is also responsible for the mess at the transit center.
“I have not said at any moment that the county could not have some responsibility in this. It is possible,” says Navarro, who says the transit center could open to the public while any litigation proceeds.
No lawsuits have been filed yet.
Contractor Foulger Pratt has said the county’s design plan was flawed from the start. Company executive Bryant Foulger has said any safety issues concerning concrete and reinforcing steel bars are the county’s responsibility.
Tuesday, April 02, 2013
Over a dozen plans for improving rail in the Northeast Corridor are under consideration by the federal government, ranging from minor improvements to a future with 220-mile-per-hour bullet trains between Washington and Boston -- not to mention new service between Long Island and New England.
These various options are detailed in a new report released Tuesday by the Federal Railroad Administration. NEC FUTURE sketches out 15 alternatives representing different levels of investment through the year 2040 in the 457-mile corridor.
The options, in turn, have been grouped into four separate categories which grow progressively more ambitious: while those in Level A focus on achieving a state of good repair, Level D would build a separate high-speed rail line between Boston and D.C. and bring new service in the region, primarily in Long Island, New England and the Delmarva peninsula.
The report aims to jump-start public debate about how rail capacity should be shaped in the region. "It is intended to be the foundation for future investments in the Northeast Corridor, a 150 year-old alignment that has guided the growth of what is now one of the most densely populated transportation corridors in the world,” said Rebecca Reyes-Alicea, NEC FUTURE program manager for the Federal Railroad Administration. “(It) will further the dialogue about the rail network in the Northeast and how it can best serve us over for the years ahead.”
Over the next year, these 15 options will be winnowed down. The federal government wants to have a single alternative in place by 2015.
Because it's conceptual, no cost estimates are included in the report. But existing documents provide a baseline. In 2010, Amtrak identified $9 billion alone in state of good repair projects for the NEC, with an additional $43 billion in investment just to meet projected 2030 ridership levels for the current system. Meanwhile, another Amtrak report estimated the cost of bringing high-speed rail to the NEC at $151 billion.
Dan Schned, a senior transportation planner at the Regional Plan Association, said "what’s possible and what Congress has the stomach to spend are two different things."
But he said that funding need not come solely from Congress. "Successful high-speed rail projects around the world have private sector participation," Schned pointed out, adding that "the arrangement of public and private financing and project delivery issues will be the most challenging" aspects of overhauling the NEC.
The Federal Railroad Administration is holding workshops in New Haven, Newark and Washington D.C. next week to present the plan to the public. For more information, go here. Read the full report below.
Friday, March 29, 2013
(New York, NY - WNYC) The federal government is making available the balance of $2 billion promised to transit agencies hit hard by Sandy. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told transit managers, mostly in New York and New Jersey, that if they've got invoices for Sandy reconstruction and repairs, he's got $1.2 billion in reimbursements to dole out.
That's $545 million less than the amount available before cuts forced by sequestration.
Most of the funding will go to the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs buses, trains and subways in and around the city; the PATH train, which connects northern New Jersey to Manhattan; New Jersey Transit, which runs trains and bus in that state; and the NYC Department of Transportation, which oversees roads and bridges.
Here's the full text of LaHood's announcement:
U.S. Transportation Secretary LaHood Announces $1.42 Billion to Help Transit Agencies Recover From Hurricane Sandy
FTA meets deadline to get first $2 billion in aid to storm’s hardest-hit communities
WASHINGTON – U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today announced a third round of Federal Transit Administration (FTA) storm-related reimbursements through the FY 2013 Disaster Relief Appropriations Act. The majority of the $1.4 billion announced today goes to the four transit agencies that incurred the greatest expenses while preparing for and recovering from Hurricane Sandy—the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), the Port Authority Trans-Hudson Corp. (PATH), New Jersey Transit (NJT), and the New York City Department of Transportation (NYC DOT). The remainder will be allocated to other transit agencies that incurred eligible storm-related expenses but have not yet received funds.
“Shortly after Hurricane Sandy made landfall, President Obama and I promised that we would do everything in our power to bring relief to the hardest-hit communities, and that is exactly what we have done,” said Secretary LaHood. “In less than two months’ time, we met our commitment to provide $2 billion to more than a dozen transit agencies that suffered serious storm damage, and laid the groundwork to continue helping them rebuild stronger than before.”
A total of $10.9 billion was appropriated for the disaster relief effort, which is administered through FTA’s Emergency Relief Program. (This amount was reduced by 5 percent, or $545 million, because of the mandatory sequestration budget cut that took effect on March 1.) Earlier this month, FTA allocated nearly $554 million of the first $2 billion in aid to reimburse certain transit providers in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut. With today’s allocation, FTA has now met the 60-day Congressional deadline to get the initial funds out the door in order to reimburse hard-hit transit agencies for expenses incurred while preparing for and recovering from the storm.
“Considering that over a third of America's transit riders use the systems most heavily damaged by Hurricane Sandy, it is imperative that we continue this rapid progress to restore these systems in the tri-state region,” said FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff.
The remainder of the $10.9 billion will be utilized for ongoing recovery efforts as well as to help agencies become more resilient in the face of future storms and disasters. The FTA has published an Interim Final Rule in the Federal Register this week for FTA’s Emergency Relief Program outlining general requirements that apply to all the funds allocated related to Sandy and future grants awarded under this program.
A summary of how the funds announced today are to be allocated is described below. A more detailed breakdown, and information on eligibility requirements, appears in the Federal Register:
$1.4 billion in disaster relief aid primarily to assist the transit agencies that incurred the greatest storm-related expenditures: the New York MTA, the PATH, New Jersey Transit (NJT), and the NYC DOT. These funds are made available on a pro-rated basis, based on damage and cost assessments FTA has made with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the transit agencies themselves.
A separate $21.9 million allocation to reimburse the NYC DOT as part of a consolidated request with other entities for various activities prior, during, and after the storm to protect the Staten Island Ferry, its equipment, and personnel, the East River Ferry service, and Governors Island, including the public island’s Battery Maritime Building ferry waiting room. Emergency measures included moving transit equipment to higher ground, operating ferry vessels at berths to prevent damage; debris removal; reestablishing public transportation service; protecting, preparing and securing Ferry Terminals at St. George and Whitehall, facilities and offices to address potential flooding; staffing and operating ferryboats at berths to prevent damage; and performing shelter-in-place operations for worker protection during the storm.
$422,895 to reimburse four additional transit agencies for expenses incurred preparing for and recovering from the storm. These are the Greater Bridgeport Transit District ($21,783); the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority ($344,311); the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority ($1,179) and the Connecticut Department of Transportation, which is receiving $55,622 just for CTTransit bus-related expenses, as FTA previously allocated $2.8 million to MTA for Metro-North rail service serving southwestern Connecticut.
A table listing total allocations for funding recipients to date and a summary of their reimbursable expenditures is available here.
Thursday, March 28, 2013
(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) On colorful maps spread out over long tables the planned path of the Purple Line, a 16-mile light rail extension to the D.C. area Metro system, was shown to residents and business owners at a ‘neighborhood work group’ meeting Wednesday night. But the maps reveal, progress to some, means bankruptcy fears to others.
While the maps conjure images of what might be if the $2.2 billion rail system supported by transit advocates and real estate developers ever gets built, to some the plans are the harbinger of personal hardship.
“I’m not happy at all,” said Dario Orellana, the owner of a Tex-Mex restaurant in busy Silver Spring. “We’ve been there for 14 years and moving is going to be really hard on us.”
Orellana is one of about a dozen businesses on 16th Street that would be displaced by the Purple Line’s proposed route through Silver Spring, Maryland. Officials from the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) explained that the planned right-of-way will also absorb part of business-friendly Bonifant Street, making it a one-way street with parallel parking on one side.
“We have to take up a good part of the street, roughly 25 to 30 feet of it, for the Purple Line to come along here,” said Michael Madden, the MTA’s Purple Line project manager. “We work very hard to minimize those impacts.”
Orellana’s lawyer said no matter how much money the state provides his client in compensation for moving his restaurant, he and other entrepreneurs displaced by the Purple Line will struggle to attract the same clientele to new locations.
“I am looking at the map right now and a number of these businesses will probably have to go somewhere. They are right there in the way of the line,” said attorney Dmitri Chernov.
No one will have to move their businesses anywhere if state lawmakers currently in session in Annapolis fail to approve additional funding to replenish Maryland’s transportation trust fund.
“This is the make or break year, so we know that we need additional revenue, the state needs additional revenue in the trust fund to actual build the Purple Line,” said Madden. “So far we are optimistic, based on the discussions going on, that will happen.”
Madden said the MTA is also preparing to negotiate a permanent federal funding agreement because the Purple Line has been accepted into the Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts program.
“We have planned and designed the project so that it meets all the federal requirements,” Madden said.
A federal grant would provide matching dollars splitting the bill with the state on a 50/50 basis each year of construction, which Madden hopes will begin in 2015 and wrap up in 2020.
“We would not start the project until we know we would have the assurance of sufficient funding to complete the project,” he said.
The Purple Line may be years from carrying its first passengers but the state is close to completing both its preliminary engineering and environmental impact statement, which are due this fall.
The 16-mile light rail system would be powered by overhead cables between Bethesda in Montgomery County to New Carrollton in Prince George’s County, connecting to WMATA’s Red Line’s east and west branches and crossing over Connecticut Avenue. Rider estimates are 74,000 per day by 2040, Madden said.
Some residents at Wednesday night’s meeting – after taking in the MTA’s pretty topographical maps – focused on what they viewed will be the Purple Line’s negative effects on downtown Silver Spring.
“It’s going to take away parking on one side of the street and on Saturdays and Sundays around here on Bonifant Street everything is packed solid,” said Bob Colvin, the president of a local civic association.
Colvin was not impressed with the rail system’s potential to reduce car dependency, thus mitigating the loss of road. “I think people are still going to drive. They are going to come from afar and I’m sure this Purple Line is not going to cover all venues from wherever these people come from.”
Follow Martin Di Caro on Twitter @MartinDiCaro
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) While the District of Columbia grapples with proposed changes to its parking and zoning policies, last updated in 1958, nearby Arlington County, Virginia seems to have triumphed in its effort to minimize traffic congestion. Commuters are shifting from cars to transit and bikes.
What's more, traffic volume has decreased on several major arterial roads in the county over the last two decades despite significant job and population growth, according to data compiled by researchers at Mobility Lab, a project of Arlington County Commuter Services.
Multifaceted effort to curb car-dependence
Researchers and transportation officials credit three initiatives for making the county less car-dependent: offering multiple alternatives to the automobile in the form of rail, bus, bicycling, and walking; following smart land use policies that encourage densely built, mixed-use development; and relentlessly marketing those transportation alternatives through programs that include five ‘commuter stores’ throughout the county where transit tickets, bus maps, and other information are available.
“Those three combined have brought down the percentage of people driving alone and increased the amount of transit and carpooling,” said Howard Jennings, Mobility Lab’s director of research and development.
Jennings’ research team estimates alternatives to driving alone take nearly 45,000 car trips off the county’s roads every weekday. Among those shifting modes from the automobile, 69 percent use transit, 14 percent carpool, 10 percent walk, four percent telework and three percent bike.
“Reducing traffic on key routes does make it easier for those who really need to drive. Not everybody can take an alternative,” Jennings said.
Arlington’s success in reducing car dependency is more remarkable considering it has happened as the region’s population and employment base has grown.
Since 1996 Arlington has added more than 6 million square feet of office space, a million square feet of retail, nearly 11,000 housing units and 1,100 hotel rooms in the Rosslyn-Ballston Metro corridor. Yet traffic counts have dropped major roads: on Lee Highway (-10%), Washington Boulevard (-14%), Clarendon Boulevard (-6%), Wilson Boulevard (-25%), and Glebe Road (-6%), according to county figures. Traffic counts have increased on Arlington Boulevard (11%) and George Mason Drive (14%).
“Arlington zoning hasn’t changed a great deal over the last 15 years or so. It’s been much more of a result of the services and the programs and the transportation options than it has been the zoning,” said Jennings.
Arlington serving as a regional model
Across the Potomac, the D.C. Office of Planning is considering the controversial proposal of eliminating mandatory parking space minimums in new development in transit-rich corridors and in downtown Washington to reduce traffic congestion. In Arlington, transportation officials say parking minimums have not been a focus.
“When developers come to Arlington we are finding they are building the right amount of parking,” said Chris Hamilton, the bureau chief at Arlington County Commuter Services. “Developers know they need a certain amount of parking for their tenants, but they don’t want to build too much because that’s a waste.”
Hamilton says parking is available at relatively cheap rates in the Rosslyn-Ballston Metro corridor because demand for spots has been held down by a shift to transit.
“In Arlington there are these great options. People can get here by bus, by rail, by Capital Bikeshare, and walking, and most people do that. That’s why Arlington is doing so well,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton credited a partnership with the county’s 700 employers for keeping their workers, 80 percent of whom live outside the county, from driving to work by themselves.
“Arlington Transportation Partners gives every one of those employers assistance in setting up commute benefit programs, parking programs, carpool programs, and bike incentives. Sixty-five percent of those 700 employers provide a transit benefit. That’s the highest in the region,” Hamilton said.
“There’s been a compact with the citizens since the 1960s and when Metro came to Arlington that when all the high-density development would occur in the rail corridors, we would protect the single family neighborhoods that hugged the rail corridors,” he added.