Wednesday, March 06, 2013
By Martin DiCaro : WAMU
After U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood praised the beleaguered Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority at a Congressional hearing last autumn, two Democratic members of Congress did a slow burn and sent separate letters to him, stating they were "troubled" and "disappointed and concerned" by his support for MWAA.
MWAA oversees the D.C. area's airports -- and is in charge of the massive $6 billion Silver Line rail project. In recent months the agency has been trying to repair its image after a federal audit that found the agency had unethical hiring and questionable contracting practices. The agency also battled Virginia's governor, who sought to oust a member of its board, and it's being sued by a former employee. Now, it's hiring an outside public relations firm.
Maryland Rep. Donna Edwards and West Virginia Rep. Nick Rahall, members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, wrote LaHood following his November 16 testimony in which he expressed “a lot of confidence in” MWAA’s CEO Jack Potter and MWAA board chairman Michael Curto.
Potter, Curto, and MWAA board vice-chairman Tom Davis were all called to testify about the findings in an audit by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s inspector general. The audit revealed a litany of questionable hiring and contracting practices – a “culture of nepotism” – inside MWAA.
“In light to these admissions to serious missteps, and those highlighted in the Inspector General’s (IG) report, I am troubled by the support you expressed in their continued leadership,” Edwards wrote LaHood. “I would appreciate a more complete explanation of your support for the current leadership of MWAA despite their admission and the IG’s report.”
Congresswoman Edwards declined to comment on this story, but Secretary LaHood’s office provided the following statement:
“Secretary LaHood met with Congresswoman Edwards on January 23, 2013 to respond to her letter. They had a productive discussion of the steps the Department of Transportation has taken to improve accountability and transparency at MWAA, and the Secretary promised to work with the Congresswoman and other interested Members from the Washington Metropolitan area on this issue moving forward.”
Congressman Rahall’s February 15 letter to Sec. LaHood expressed the same concerns about the federal transportation’s chief stated confidence in Potter and Curto.
“I was disappointed and concerned by your testimony that you ‘have a lot of confidence’ the chairman of MWAA’s board of directors and MWAA’s chief executive officer, particularly in view of the fact that these individuals, by their own acknowledgement, were involved in some of the questionable conduct identified by the Inspector General,” wrote Rahall, the committee’s ranking member.
In their November testimony, the two MWAA leaders said many of the transgressions outlined in the audit took place before they assumed their current positions. There were, however, notable cases in which they were directly involved: a law firm that employed Curto’s wife was granted a $100,000 no-bid contract to provide legal counsel.
“I was not chairman at the time. I was not on the legal committee at the time. The general counsel for [MWAA] made the decision to retain the law firm. My wife at the time was an employee at that law firm… she had no direct or indirect financial interest in the law firm,” explained Curto. “Although it wasn’t an actual conflict of interest it certainly was an appearance of a conflict of interest.”
Potter was questioned about the hiring of former MWAA board member Mame Reiley to a job created specifically for her at an annual salary of $180,000 without proper vetting or board approval.
“My judgement was not good in terms of the hiring of that person,” said Potter, who said the creation of the job was necessary to meet the challenges created by rising costs at Dulles International.
Following these admissions Edwards asked Curto if he belonged in his leadership position.
“I would hope so,” Curto responded. “I think the body of the report, most of the findings and conclusions of the inspector general's report occurred prior to my time on the board and certainly prior to my tenure as chair.”
When reached to comment on this story, Curto provided a statement.
MWAA’s "leadership continues to work diligently to address the issues and concerns reported on over the past year. We have made significant progress and believe the organization is moving expeditiously in the right direction."
Rep. Rahall’s office did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Follow @MartinDiCaro on Twitter.
Tuesday, March 05, 2013
It was a wistful good-bye for transportation secretary Ray LaHood at the 2013 National Bike Summit.
The Secretary, who began with a low-profile that he quickly raised in the biking community by, among other things, jumping on a table at the 2010 Bike Summit Meeting to promote bikes, gave a long a loving paean to his administration's efforts to promote bike share, bike lanes, and safe biking.
"I guarantee you this," LaHood said, close to the beginning of his speech. "Whoever my successor is. You'll not have a secretary of transportation stand on the table and speak to you, that will never happen again."
"Since he was appointed in 2009, LaHood has been a true believer in the power of biking and has raised the credibility of bicycles as transportation at the federal level," the League wrote in its blog. “Ray LaHood is the first and only transportation secretary that keeps talking about bikes — even after we’ve left the room,” said League President Andy Clarke.
"The President recently told me that he ran into someone who said something about Ray LaHood,” the Secretary said in his speech. “The president said, ‘You must be a cyclist’ — and he was.”
LaHood has promoted bike share, bike lanes, and biking to work, and has argued -- often to unsympathetic former Republican colleagues in the House -- that biking should be given respectability as a mode of transportation.
For that, he'll be missed in biking circles. "What a ride these four-and-a-half years with all of you. You’ve made a great difference; you really have," LaHood told the cyclists.
To which the League replied: "Right back at you, Mr. Secretary."
Friday, February 15, 2013
By Jim O'Grady
(New York, NY - WYNC) Now that post-Sandy repairs to New York's transportation infrastructure are in full swing, attention is shifting toward hardening the city's bridges, tunnels and roads against future storm surges.
U.S Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood came to Manhattan to hand over $250 million to reimburse the city Department of Transportation for repairs it's making to its storm-damaged facilities. LaHood also said $5 billion is on the way to make those same facilities resilient in the face of future storms.
It's unclear how much of that money could come to New York City. But U.S. Senator Charles Schumer gave examples of how it could be spent locally.
"Once they repair the inside of the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, they can put, if they choose, steel gates, to prevent another flood," he said. He also talked about raising coastal roads and building dunes to shelter highways from the ocean.
New York City Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, who joined LaHood and Schumer, said Sandy caused the city "$900 million worth of damage to city roads, bridges, our ferry system, signals, signs--an extraordinary amount of damage."
By way of example, she said The Battery Park Underpass at the tip of Lower Manhattan was filled with 15 million gallons of water (see photo). When it comes to reducing that kind of vulnerability to storm damage, Sadik-Khan said her department "has a long way to go."
Schumer praised LaHood for delivering the $250 million in repair money less than a month after it's authorization by Congress, which he called "a world record" in the realm of post-disaster relief. He explained that the funds will be used in part to reimburse the city for repairs it has already undertaken.
"The mayor couldn't sit there and wait and say, 'We'll fix the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel when the federal money comes,'" he said. "The city had to lay out enormous sums of money."
Some of the money has been spent on repairing the vents and electrical system of the Battery Park Underpass , fixing flood-damaged parts of the Staten Island Ferry terminals, shoring up bridges, and replacing highway lights and guardrails.
Sadik-Khan said the mayor's office will release a report in May about how to harden the city's infrastructure against future storms, including roads and bridges .
Tuesday, February 05, 2013
(Alec Hamilton-WNYC News) U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood says area transit agencies should be able to be ready to withstand future storms.
"Nobody's sitting around,” LaHood told WNYC's Soterios Johnson. "There's a sense of urgency about getting this done, getting it done the right way, making sure that it's done correctly -- and making sure that it's done in a way that will withhold the kind of storm that hit the region during Sandy."
On Monday the Federal Transit Administration said it would start releasing $2 billion of the $10.9 billion in transit aid voted into law last week.
New Jersey has requested $1.2 billion of that aid, New York close to $5 billion. Neither agency has released a complete breakdown of how those funds would be spent.
Tuesday, January 29, 2013
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is leaving his post, ending a term where he caught transportation advocates, Republicans and Democrats alike off-guard by his spry push for safety, high speed rail, and a broad view of transportation systems.
“I have let President Obama know that I will not serve a second term as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation,” LaHood said in an email to staff Tuesday morning (full text below.) “It has been an honor and a privilege to lead the Department, and I am grateful to President Obama for giving me such an extraordinary opportunity. I plan to stay on until my successor is confirmed to ensure a smooth transition for the Department and all the important work we still have to do.”
“Every American who travels by air, rail or highway can thank Ray for his commitment to making our entire transportation system safer and stronger," President Barack Obama said in a statement.
LaHood, a former Republican congressman from Peoria, was one of President Obama’s final appointments in his first cabinet, adding an “R” to diversify his cabinet. At the time, LaHood was little known outside his district, and no one expected him to make many waves.
Those people were wrong. “You — you’re the best thing that happened,” Senator Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat, once remarked to LaHood, who vigorously and unsuccessfully tried to save the ARC tunnel – an under-Hudson rail tunnel killed by Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
“When they said it was going to be a Republican taking this job, I thought we had a Democrat who later on thought he was a Republican,” Lautenberg said. But New York U.S. Senator Charles Schumer interjected as the three made small talk before an event at New York’s Penn Station. "No, he gets along with everybody." Schumer credited former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel -- now Mayor of Chicago -- with LaHood's appointment, a fact LaHood confirmed.
As the Tea Party’s ascendency in Congress made even highway spending a matter of caution, LaHood pushed forcefully for a federal role in infrastructure spending.
He tangled repeatedly with Congress on high speed rail and shutting down the FAA. An avid cyclist, LaHood once jumped on a table at a Washington, DC bicycle conference to emphasize his enthusiasm for cycling as transportation. A Buick driver, LaHood was especially passionate in his anti-distracted driving campaigns, pushing back not only against texting but also against shaving and applying make-up while driving. He was known to take immediate action if he witnessed distracted driving. "What I've been doing is kind of honking at somebody if I see him on a cellphone," he once told a local DC radio station.
LaHood shepherded through spending on high speed rail, stimulus funding, and innovative transportation projects like bus rapid transit. But he and the Obama administration were unsuccessful in convincing Congress to expand high speed rail and infrastructure funding. He also failed in convincing NJ Governor Chris Christie to save the NJ Transit tunnel under the Hudson.
LaHood, blunt, and candid, was a favorite among journalists for his propensity to speak frankly into a microphone, sometimes to the consternation of his own staff. He also answered questions from the public in his "On the Go" video chats -- two of which he did especially for Transportation Nation readers. (Watch them here and here.)
No word yet on a replacement.
The Secretary sent the following email to DOT employees across the country, informing them of his plans:
“I have let President Obama know that I will not serve a second term as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation. It has been an honor and a privilege to lead the Department, and I am grateful to President Obama for giving me such an extraordinary opportunity. I plan to stay on until my successor is confirmed to ensure a smooth transition for the Department and all the important work we still have to do.
As I look back on the past four years, I am proud of what we have accomplished together in so many important areas. But what I am most proud of is the DOT team. You exemplify the best of public service, and I truly appreciate all that you have done to make America better, to make your communities better, and to make DOT better.
Our achievements are significant. We have put safety front and center with the Distracted Driving Initiative and a rule to combat pilot fatigue that was decades in the making. We have made great progress in improving the safety of our transit systems, pipelines, and highways, and in reducing roadway fatalities to historic lows. We have strengthened consumer protections with new regulations on buses, trucks, and airlines.
We helped jumpstart the economy and put our fellow Americans back to work with $48 billion in transportation funding from the American Recovery and Investment Act of 2009, and awarded over $2.7 billion in TIGER grants to 130 transportation projects across the Nation. We have made unprecedented investments in our nation’s ports. And we have put aviation on a sounder footing with the FAA reauthorization, and secured funding in the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act to help States build and repair their roads, bridges and transit systems.
And to further secure our future, we have taken transportation into the 21st century with CAFE Standards, NextGen, and our investments in passenger and High-Speed Rail. What’s more, we have provided the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy with the funding and leadership it needs to prepare a new generation of midshipmen to meet our country’s rapidly-evolving defense and maritime transportation needs.
Closer to home, we also have made great strides. In December, the DOT was recognized as the most improved agency in the entire Federal government in the 2012 “Best Places to Work” rankings published by the Partnership of Public Service. Even more impressive, DOT was ranked 9th out of the 19 largest agencies in the government.
Each of these remarkable accomplishments is a tribute your hard work, creativity, commitment to excellence, and most of all, your dedication to our country. DOT is fortunate to have such an extraordinary group of public servants. I look forward to continuing to work with all of you as the selection and confirmation process of the next transportation secretary moves forward. Now is not the time to let up - we still have a number of critical safety goals to accomplish and still more work to do on the implementation of MAP-21.
I’ve told President Obama, and I’ve told many of you, that this is the best job I’ve ever had. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to work with all of you and I’m confident that DOT will continue to achieve great things in the future.
Thank you, and God bless you.”
Monday, November 19, 2012
By Kate Hinds
Top officials at the agency in charge of the $6 billion Silver Line testified before a U.S. House oversight committee on Friday after an audit exposed its unethical hiring, travel, and contracting practices.
Members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee grilled MWAA Board Chairman Michael Curto and CEO Jack Potter about personal roles and agency policies in the granting of no-bid contracts and the rampant nepotism detailed in the audit. The chair of the house committee, John Mica, called the agency a "poster child for corrupt practices." While acknowledging the agency's missteps, both men pointed to recent measures designed to overhaul MWAA's ethics, travel, and contracting practices.
An audit released earlier this month by the Department of Transportation's Inspector General took the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority for "ambiguous policies and ineffectual controls." In addition to overseeing the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project, the MWAA also manages Dulles and Reagan National Airports.
Curto and Potter also said many of the transgressions outlined in the audit took place before they assumed their current positions.
There were, however, cases that directly involved them: the law firm that employed Curto's wife was granted a $100,000 no-bid contract to provide legal counsel. Maryland Rep. Donna Edwards (D-4th) asked Curto to explain how such a large contract could be awarded without the approval of the board of directors.
"I was not chairman at the time. I was not on the legal committee at the time. The general counsel for the authority made the decision to retain the law firm. My wife at the time was an employee at that law firm... she had no direct or indirect financial interest in the law firm," said Curto, who said in retrospect the contract should not have been granted on a no-bid basis. "Although it wasn't an actual conflict of interest it certainly was an appearance of a conflict of interest," he said.
Potter was questioned about the hiring of former MWAA board member Mame Reiley to a job created for specifically for her at an annual salary of $180,000 without proper vetting or board approval.
"My judgement was not good in terms of the hiring of that person," said Potter, who said the creation of the job was necessary to meet the challenges created by rising costs at Dulles International. Rep. Edwards asked the officials if they should remain in their positions given the agency's record.
"I would hope so," Curto said, pointing to the measures MWAA has approved to revamp its ethics, travel, and contracting policies as well as terminate contracts granted to former or current board members.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood testified that MWAA has indeed revamped its policies, adding that its leaders understand reforms must be successful if the agency is going to receive additional federal funding to pay for the Silver Line, whose first phase of construction is scheduled for completion late next year.
"Phase I has worked pretty well. It really has. I think Phase II will work equally well because when you talk to these folks now in charge of MWAA, a new CEO and president, a relatively new chairman, they get it," said LaHood. "These people get it. They do. They know this has to be done correctly."
"They have pending before us a TIFIA loan. We're not going to give them a TIFIA loan if they are not doing things correctly. They know that," added LaHood, referring to the federal loan program for major transportation projects.
In August, LaHood sent the MWAA a blistering letter questioning the board’s ethics and laying out steps the authority must take to get in line.
Phase II construction of the Silver Line is supposed to begin next year.
Watch a video of Friday's hearing here.
Friday, November 02, 2012
(Anna Sale, Newark, NJ -- WNYC) The federal Department of Transportation announced $12 million in emergency highway funds for Connecticut and New Jersey on Friday. New Jersey gets the bulk: $10 million.
That money will pay for road repair. Ray LaHood, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, says none of the aid money will pay to fix the stalled transit system in New Jersey, which is coping with washed away track, broken equipment and even a pile of boats stuck on top of a drawbridge. (Slideshow)
"They tried to get an emergency transit fund established, but it hasn't been funded," LaHood said of Democrats in Congress.
New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez supported emergency transit funding in Washington, but says it was blocked by Senate Republicans. He says Sandy’s paralyzing effects on regional transit could alter the politics of transit funding in Washington. “Maybe when we go back and we can make the case, see this is what we were talking about when we were trying to get you to agree. Agree now to give us an appropriation for this amount.”
New Jersey’s two U.S. senators joined Secretary LaHood on a tour of a flooded light rail line at Newark’s Penn Station on Friday. The last water had been pumped from the muddy tracks just hours before, and the extent of the electrical damage was still not clear. New Jersey Transit has not released an estimate or timetable for restoring service, earlier telling Transportation Nation the damage had been "unprecedented" and "crippling."
Secretary LaHood says it will be a busy weekend of repairs, but transit riders may still have to wait to resume their normal routines. “Be patient," he said. "We are doing all we can to make sure that people can be delivered to work on Monday in this region. Not just in New Jersey, but in this region. Whatever requests were received for additional buses, we’ve provided.”
Some of those buses will begin running between New Jersey park-and-ride locations and Hudson River ferries as early as Monday, New Jersey Transit announced. NJ Transit rail service along the Northeast Corridor will began connecting Trenton to New York City late Friday night.
Thursday, September 20, 2012
By Jim O'Grady
(New York, NY -- WNYC) The one-word street markings started appearing around Manhattan in mid-summer. An eagle-eyed TN reporter snapped a photo of one and, with no help from the city's tight-lipped Department of Transportation, deduced it was the start of a new pedestrian safety campaign.
That $1 million campaign has now been officially launched with the help of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who joined NYC Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan at the corner of Second Avenue and 42nd Street in Midtown Manhattan to show off an oversized stencil that read "LOOK!"
The emphatic order is meant to be spotted by a pedestrian with his head buried in a smartphone as he launches into traffic. The "O's" in LOOK! also double as eyeballs pointing toward a presumed onslaught of vehicles. Sadik-Khan said New Yorkers need the heads-up: more than half of those killed in city traffic accidents are pedestrians. She added that at that very corner, 75 people were hurt in crashes between 2006 and 2010.
The LOOK! markings are installed at 110 crash-prone intersections throughout the city, with 90 more to come.
LaHood said it's critical for pedestrians to remain alert while crossing the street because even when they're in the right, they can still be hurt--more than half of all New Yorkers killed last year by cars at a crosswalk had the green light. "Having the right-of-way does not guarantee your safety," he said. "Hold off on emailing or texting until you've crossed the street."
Sadik-Khan said she got the idea for the markings when she visited London and came across its well-known suggestions to "Look Left" or "Look Right" before crossing.
The NYC DOT isn't putting the burden of safety solely on walkers. The LOOK! campaign includes ads on the backs of buses that admonish motorists to "Drive Smart / LOOK!" Other ads tell drivers to yield to pedestrians when turning at an intersection.
A NYC DOT spokesman said the campaign is largely funded by the Federal Highway Administration.
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
By Kate Hinds
(UPDATED WITH MWAA RESPONSE) The head of the U.S. Department of Transportation says the board controlling the Silver Line is out of control and "in desperate need of reform."
Ray LaHood has sent a blistering letter to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority questioning the board's ethics and laying out steps the authority must take to get in line. Co-signed by the governors of Virginia and Maryland, as well as the mayor of D.C., the letter is an unflinching condemnation of "an organization that conducts much of its business behind closed doors."
The MWAA oversees the DC-area airports as well as the ongoing construction of the Silver Line, one of the largest and most expensive infrastructure projects in the region. A recent audit this spring slammed the MWAA for weak oversight, overspending, conflicts of interest, lax ethics, and lack of transparency.
And, if today's letter is any indicator, things haven't improved much since then.
The letter reads: "We are outraged by ongoing reports describing questionable dealings, including the award of numerous lucrative no-bid contracts to former Board members and employees and the employment of former Board members. It has become clear that MWAA's policies and procedures are deficient and lack the safeguards necessary to ensure the principled oversight of nationally and regionally significant assets."
The letter goes on to list eight steps the MWAA must take to bring itself in line with "best Federal practices" and "regain the trust of the public we all serve."
Michael Curto, the chairman of the MWAA's board, said in a statement: "We acknowledge the concerns of the Secretary of Transportation, our elected officials and others, and we are committed to restoring public trust wherever it is lost and to earning and assuring the confidence of the people we serve."
Curto says the MWAA is "making significant progress in a number of areas," and goes on to list eight ways the Authority is reforming.
Read the letter Ray LaHood sent to the MWAA in its entirety below.
Friday, July 27, 2012
By Jim O'Grady
(New York, NY - WNYC) Step right up, we've got money for loans. That was essentially today's message from U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to states with large public transportation works in the planning. That includes rebuilding the Tappan Zee Bridge in New York, about which LaHood and his chief financial officer spoke positively, if vaguely.
“We have heard from very high officials in the state of New York about this project and we have directed them to the notice in the federal register,” said LaHood, referring to today's official announcement that the grant money is available.
In February, the state applied for a $2 billion loan for the Tappan Zee Bridge from the U.S. DOT fund known as TIFIA (Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act). But TIFIA turned it down.
New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo has been undeterred. He continues to apply political muscle to the project: this week, he appointed a former TV anchorman as Special Advisor to the The Tappan Zee Bridge. But he has yet to explain how the estimated $5.2 billion cost of the rebuilding will be funded. Given the state's limited finances, it would seem to behoove the governor to scoop up some of that TIFIA cash.
TIFIA functions as the U.S. DOT's infrastructure investment arm. In the past, it has paid for projects like an upgrade to the Staten Island Ferry and an extension to the President George Bush Turnpike in West Texas.
The fund is newly infused with $1.7 billion from the recently enacted federal surface transportation bill. LaHood said that money can be leveraged into $17 billion worth of "loans, loan guarantees, and standby lines of credit to major infrastructure projects with the potential to create jobs and spur economic development and growth." That's a big jump up from the last round of $120 million, which was used to dole out $1.2 billion in loans.
U.S. DOT chief financial officer Chris Bertram said the department favors projects that have "a revenue source like a dedicated sales tax or, in the case of the Tappan Zee Bridge, tolls." He said that reassures the department it will be paid back.
Department spokesman Justin Nisly said the sooner a grant application is received, the sooner it will be dealt with. "We will begin evaluating letters of interest immediately, and announcements will be made on a rolling basis."
U.S. DOT will also launch a unit that will help state and local governments figure out how to finance their transportation projects. According to a press release, the Project Finance Center will act as a wise uncle to bureaucrats seeking "to analyze financial options for highway, transit, rail, intermodal and other surface transportation projects facing funding challenges."
Ray LaHood: If You Want Federal Transportation Money to Go to Biking and Walking, Start Agitating Locally
Monday, July 23, 2012
By Ray LaHood, Secretary, U.S. Department of Transportation
Last week Transportation Nation readers sent me a number of great questions to answer in my latest "On the Go" video. Today, I'd like to return the favor by answering one or two more questions right here on Transportation Nation.
Greg asked: "How can DOT give Americans more transit, walking, and biking options when the vast majority of the money will just be passed to state DOTs to buy more highways?"
Well, Greg, as I acknowledged in "On the Go," some readers of Transportation Nation may not be happy with every part of the new transportation bill, MAP-21. But at DOT, we aren't about to stop moving American transportation forward.
The new bill actually increases the portion of funding going to transit. It broadens the New Starts program to include projects that expand capacity on existing transit lines, and that's a great opportunity for cities with legacy systems. It also provides a big bump to our transit State Of Good Repair program.
And, although highway formula funding is passed to the states, states can still use some of those funds for bicycle and pedestrian projects and other activities that improve air quality and relieve congestion. It's true that MAP-21 permits the states to redirect transportation enhancement funding for purposes other than active transportation, but that doesn't necessarily mean they will.
If accessibility advocates and biking and walking advocates make their voices heard in their state capitols and in their county and city councils, there's no reason to believe that the tremendous progress we've made in the last three years can't continue.
(video of Secretary LaHood from "On The Go")
Tanya asked, "What's your favorite transit line? What city works the best?"
I don't know if Tanya is testing me here or not, but I've already been asked to pick my favorite Olympic sport, and I am not about to pick a favorite transit line or city and arouse the disappointment of every other community in America.
I will say that our nation's transit agencies are doing a great job of moving people where they need to go as safely and reliably as they can. Whether it's by bus, light rail, commuter rail, subway, paratransit, or streetcar, Americans are taking more than 10 billion transit rides each year. And the American Public Transportation Association recently reported that the first quarter of 2012 was the fifth consecutive quarter of ridership growth. As our economy continues to recover, those numbers are only going to increase even more. So my favorite transit line is any one that helps people get where they need to go.
I'm also pleased that MAP-21 gives the Federal Transit Administration a safety oversight role for the first time. We worked with Congress for more than two years to secure that authority, and I know the folks at FTA will hit the ground running in their new mission.
Okay, that's it from here. Thanks again to Transportation Nation and its readers. I appreciate your interest, and I encourage you to stay engaged.
Thursday, July 19, 2012
By Kate Hinds
For his latest "On the Go" video Q&A, the U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary fielded questions from Transportation Nation readers, who grilled him about the new transportation bill (MAP 21) and high-speed rail.
"We think that the MAP 21...is probably a little highway centric," says LaHood, but "I think we're on the right track" when it comes to bike and pedestrian improvements.
In response to a question about the prospects of high-speed rail in the Northeast, LaHood said that the federal government is investing $3 billion in rail upgrades along the corridor. "Amtrak is doing well," he said, pointing out that ridership is booming. While not talking specific timing for fast trains along the Boston-to-DC route, he said "the future is very bright" for rail in the Northeast.
Enough of transportation. What will the secretary be watching at the summer Olympics? It turns out he's a swimming aficionado ("people have to train very, very hard") as well as a basketball fan -- but he deftly sidestepped the current debate over whether the 2012 U.S. basketball team is the equal of the "dream team."
Monday, July 02, 2012
By Jim O'Grady
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood announced 64 grants to help vets get around once they're back in the United States. Most of the money will go toward making it easier for veterans and their families to get transportation information by using smartphones and computers.
A typical grant was the $50,000 going to the Jacksonville Transportation Authority to help vets "connect to transit services through a single call or a single visit to a web page. Services include support organizations, social service agencies, car and van pools, volunteer driver programs, bicycles, walking, and taxis."
In all, 33 states and the Northern Mariana Islands will receive the awards. One of the largest went to the San Diego Association of Governments, which will receive $2 million to create a free mobile transportation app and 20 interactive transportation kiosks at military facilities and other veterans sites.
LaHood said vets need the assistance because of injuries suffered during service and because "the unemployment rate for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is more than 12 percent, more than four percentage points above the national average."
He gave the example of The Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority in Dayton, Ohio, which is home to the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and more than 80,000 veterans. "The $450,000 grant announced today will make it easier for returning and retired veterans and those who have disabilities to arrange for rides by phone, smart phone or on the web," LaHood said.
Peter Rogoff, Administrator of the Federal Transportation Authority, which will administer the grants, said, “America’s war heroes deserve a chance to support their families, participate in their communities, receive job training and get to work. It’s vitally important that we remove barriers to success by making transportation available wherever our veterans choose to live, work and receive care.”
Wednesday, June 27, 2012
By Kate Hinds
US Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is inviting questions from TN readers. Want to know how the nation's transportation priorities are shifting? Wondering about the future of high-speed rail? Or how he decides where to spend the DOT's $70 billion budget? Or do you just want to know if he really does honk at drivers he sees texting behind the wheel?
For the next episode of his Q&A video series called “On the Go," Secretary LaHood is inviting questions from Transportation Nation readers. To ask him a question, you can:
Post questions on the Secretary’s Facebook page
Tweet using the #q4ray hashtag
Leave a comment on the Secretary’s blog, or
Leave a comment on this page
He will choose three or four to respond to. Let him know we sent you – write ‘TN’ at the end of your question. We’ll post his video when it’s available.
Want to see what "On the Go" is like? Watch Secretary LaHood field questions from TN readers in 2011!
Friday, June 01, 2012
The popular East Broadway stop under the Manhattan Bridge — typically abuzz with ticket sellers, passengers and idling sparsely labeled motorcoaches — was no more than a quiet side street Friday afternoon, a day after the federal government shut down 26 bus operators in the single largest safety crackdown of the industry.
Two blocks away, he Chinatown office of New Century Travel, one of the operators shut down in the sweep, was shuttered on Friday afternoon. The company operated routes to Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., leaving no clear option for a Chinatown to D.C. bus trip. That route was one of the first to become popular -- originally with college students and other very price sensitive travelers -- a key step in helping the curbside bus model spread from a cheap alternative to Greyhound for supercommuting members of the Chinese community and into the a mainstream mode of travel it has become. Curbside buses are the fastest growing mode of travel in the nation.
Speaking in Chinatown Thursday, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said that over the course of a year-long investigation, his agency learned these companies were "blatantly and repeatedly" violated federal safety laws, including using drivers without valid commercial licenses and failing to do drug and alcohol testing.
"Shutting them down will save lives," LaHood said.
Teams of officials for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, armed with legal orders declaring the bus operations imminent hazards to public safety, swooped down Wednesday on companies based in six states: Georgia, Indiana, Maryland, New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. Officials withheld details about the operation until Thursday.
The shutdown orders were aimed at the companies' headquarters and at bus pickup locations. Most of the 233 bus routes serviced by the companies either departed from or terminated in New York City's Chinatown district. The DOT says the routes shut down served 1,800 passengers a day.
Not all companies were shut down, Fung Wah bus, arguably the most well known brand of Chinatown bus which serves trips between New York and Boston, continued operations unchanged, as did other lines serving Boston, and at least two serving trips from New York to Virginia, South Carolina and Baltimore.
TN Moving Stories: Houston Gets Bike Share, In London's Mayoral Race, It's All About the Bikes, GM CEO Defends SUVs and Tsunami Motorcycle Washes Up on Canadian
Thursday, May 03, 2012
Poor Die More in Car Crashes (Link)
As Fuel Prices Dip, So Does Fuel Economy in New Cars (Link)
NY Officials to Add Barriers, Speed Monitoring to Stretch of Parkway Where 7 Died (Link)
NY, 44 Cities Blow Through Smog Standards (Link)
Montana Now One of Eight States That Can Instantly Verify Liability Insurance (Link)
New York's Comptroller Says He'll Block New "Taxi of Tomorrow" Contract Because the New Cabs Aren't Accessible (Link)
West Wing Fanatics, They Reunited the Cast...and Produced This: (Link)
Kate's Photo Essay on All The Things Germany has that You Don't: Fast Trains with Bike Cars, Plenty of Space for Parking Your Bike, Cool Trams (Link)
CEO of GM, Dan Akerson, Defends SUVS, Bailout, in Chat with The Takeaway's Celeste Headlee (The Takeaway)
Vancouver's Bus Rapid Transit Greenlighted (The Columbian)
Houston Bike Share Pilot Launches (ahead of NY, SF & Chicago!) (Houston Chronicle)
London's Mayoral Race: It's all About the Bikes...And the Trains (in Shakespearean terms, no less) (NPR)
Benefactor will Fund Transit For Needy Boy Who Got An Agent Fired For Giving Free Rides (SF Chronicle)
SpaceX Rocket Launch Delayed (WMFE)
Chicago's New Red Line Depends on Transpo Bill (Chicago Tribune)
Business Big: Those Who Want Transit on Tappan Zee Either Ignorant or "Pure Obstructionists" (LoHud.com)
And....Motorcycle Washed Away in Japanese Tsuanami Washes Up on Candian Island 4000 Miles Away (Fuji TV via Boston Globe)
Wednesday, May 02, 2012
Here's his statement:
We have gathered here the Loudon county chair, the Fairfax chair, the WMATA chair and the Vice Chair of the Metro. We just had a very good meeting. And what we've decided to do is continue to stand behind this project; it's a very important project. There are a few things that need to be worked out. We'll probably have a couple more meetings, and then gather together again and find where we stand on things. The one sticking point, I think that probably is the biggest sticking point, is a provision called PLA, Project Labor Agreement. And the Virginia legislature, when they voted for their budget said that that was something that they prohibited on this project. So we're going to work with stakeholders, our friends from the airport and the Commonwealth and we'll work this out. There is actually an agreement that’s been signed by all of the parties. So the one sticking point I think can be worked out, and it will be worked out pretty quickly, and we'll proceed ahead.
Wednesday, May 02, 2012
As we've been reporting, Virginia is balking at a premium for union contracts on the project, and is threatening to pull funding.
Officials say Lahood, concerned that a crucial economic development project may be thwarted, has invited representatives from the Governor's office, MWAA, WMATA and Loudon and Fairfax counties to participate in the meeting.
Meantime, the Washington Airports Task Force issued the following statement today:
"We call upon all Dulles Rail funding stakeholders—MWAA leaders, federal, state and local government leaders, and WMATA’s management—to focus on resolving the issues concerning the second phase, in order to find the common ground that will enable Phase 2 of the Dulles Metrorail Project to move smartly forward to Dulles Airport and Loudoun County. In so calling, we applaud the further effort of U.S. Secretary Ray LaHood to save this project.
"The MWAA has managed Phase 1 essentially on cost and on time. It is now time to focus on the real issues, which are:
1) Funding Phase 2 without placing an unreasonable burden on Toll Road users.
2) Dropping the PLA preference, and instead requiring the contractor to provide a well-qualified and reliable workforce to build Phase 2 in a similar manner to Phase 1. The successful contractor should be left with the ability to use every tool in their toolbox to complete Phase 2 safely, within budget, on time and in conformance with Virginia’s right to work laws.
"America has built its greatness upon a pragmatic approach to business, science and politics. Pragmatism means working together to achieve what is best for the common good, and surrendering extreme desires in the interest of that common good.
"Extension of rail to Dulles/Loudoun County is a “Game Changer” for the whole region. The Dulles Metrorail Project will link the Dulles Corridor to the rest of the region. This project will benefit:
Ø Virginia, through increased revenue from the support of economic and employment growth in Northern Virginia.
Ø The District of Columbia, through economic and employment growth, and improved access to its international gateway for tourism.
Ø Maryland, by linking the entire Metrorail system to a corridor that now constitutes 25% of the entire Metro Region’s economy, bringing Maryland employers closer to Virginia residents and vice versa.
"It is unconscionable to think that, as a region, we would not move swiftly forward with the second phase of the Dulles Metrorail Project. If we did allow the project to fail, how could we, as one of the nation’s wealthiest areas, expect to solve the bigger transportation issues challenging our region, including swift multi-modal access between activity centers, relief for our congested highways, and creation of an effective, fair, sustainable source of regional infrastructure funding? "