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Transportation Nation

Florida's SunRail Is On Pace to Launch in 2014, Gets Another $87 Million in Fed Funds

Friday, February 22, 2013

Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff at Friday's SunRail announcement (photo by Matthew Peddie)

Another infusion of federal cash is keeping central Florida's SunRail project on track to open in 2014.

Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff, speaking on behalf of transportation secretary Ray LaHood, paid a visit to a Florida Hospital in Orlando, where one of the stops for the 61 mile long SunRail line  is being built.  Rogoff was joined by local leaders, state department of transportation officials and Florida lawmakers including U.S. Senator Bill Nelson and U.S. Rep. Corinne Brown.

Rogoff announced the federal government would make $87.3  million available in funding for SunRail, bringing the FTA's investment to date in the Central Florida commuter rail line to $148 million. The Federal government has agreed to pay $178.6 million overall in New Start funds towards construction of the 32-mile long first phase of the line, about half the capital cost.

"We make incremental payments based on the progress of the project," Rogoff said. "They're making great progress, they're ready to spend that money, they're ready to keep these people on the job."

Rogoff highlighted the rail line as a jobs engine, which has already employed 800 people to work in construction.

"But what we're really excited about is all the additional jobs that are coming in from the economic development along the line," he added.

The Florida hospital station is at the heart of a 176 acre "health village" where the hospital is developing medical research offices, apartments and shops.

SunRail officials say there are more than two dozen retail, office, government and residential development projects associated with stations along the rail line, representing $1.6 billion in investment.

"We are here to celebrate the continuing completion of a transportation system for the metro Orlando area that is putting us into the 21st Century," said Senator Bill Nelson (left) "The only thing lacking is the high speed rail which we had $2.5 billion dollars on the table of the federal share," he added. (photo by Matthew Peddie)

Rogoff also talked about the need for additional spending on roads and other infrastructure in Florida-- particularly to fix up hundreds of bridges, highlighting president Obama's call for a $50 Billion infrastructure plan. "If that $50 billion dollars goes through, you're going to see more investment around here, not just on this type of  rail project but on highway and sea port projects that will keep the economy of Florida going."

Asked whether sunshine state might see federal funds in the future for high speed rail, Rogoff said "that is going to depend a lot I believe on the leadership of Florida."

Florida's Governor Rick Scott famously turned down federal money for a high-speed rail line from Orlando to Tampa in 2011.

Meanwhile, SunRail officials say the first phase of the commuter rail line, a 32 mile long stretch from DeBary to Sand Lake Road, will open in 2014.

 

 

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Transportation Nation

Top Transpo Congressman, John Mica, Mulls Next Move

Friday, November 09, 2012

Shovel Ready: Congressman John Mica talks to reporters at the groundbreaking ceremony for a new intermodal rail terminal in Winter Haven, Florida (Photo by Matthew Peddie)

(Orlando, Fla. -- WMFE) John Mica, the chair of the U.S. House Transportation Committee, joined with Florida Governor Rick Scott and other business leaders and elected officials near Winter Haven Thursday, for the symbolic groundbreaking of a new intermodal rail terminal.

Before grabbing one of the gold painted shovels, Mica, a republican from Winter Park, Fla. praised the governor for his business savvy and leadership in supporting the project, which will serve as a distribution hub for trains and trucks delivering cargo throughout Florida. The project came about after rail company CSX reroute freight traffic from 62 miles of track to accommodate the SunRail commuter train.

"We are very fortunate to have Governor Scott with his business background at this time and his vision for transportation and infrastructure," said Mica.

"You cannot build this state or this community or projects like this without people like Governor Scott."

Florida Governor Rick Scott, CSX Chief Executive Michael Ward and US House Transportation Comittee Chair John Mica (photo by Matthew Peddie)

Mica and Scott have not always seen eye to eye on big transportation projects in Florida, notably on the failed high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando, which the Governor nixed early in 2011 by rejecting $2.4 billion dollars in Federal stimulus money. At the time Mica panned the Governor's decision, labeling it a setback for the state's transportation, economic development and tourism.

While the high-speed rail plans collapsed, there's evidence to suggest Mica may have -indirectly- helped Central Florida's SunRail Commuter train avoid a similar fate during his tenure as chair of the house transportation and infrastructure committee.

Mica lists the two year Highway Transportation bill and the FAA bill as  accomplishments during his chairmanship, but he says those came about in spite of the Obama administration.

Looking ahead to a second Obama administration, Mica said he hopes the president will work better with Congress on transportation issues this time around. "They've been absent without leave," said Mica. "I’m hoping that their second time around they’ll be more cooperative."

Advocates for increased transportation and infrastructure spending have lauded President Obama's stimulus plan and his advocacy of a national rail network.

Mica, who comfortably staved off a Democratic challenger to retain his seat in Florida's U.S. House District 7 Tuesday, is due to be termed out of his role as chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. However he says he'd like to hang onto the position if possible.

“Oh we’ll see," he said. "It depends on whether they grant waivers or not, and that’s yet to be decided.”

"I’ve been honored to chair for the last 2 years, ranking for four years, chaired a sub committee for six years, and I intend to be a leader in whatever capacity my colleagues choose,” said Mica, who's also in line for other potential committee chairmanships.

"But I’m not moving from transportation even if I took another slot,” said Mica, who added he intends to be in a key position to make decisions on transportation policy.

Republican Congressman Bill Shuster of Penn. has already expressed an interest in the committee chair position.

Florida Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad was also pondering the implications of the second Obama term. Prasad said it's important that there's leadership at the Federal level and that members of congress can work together to craft a long term highway transportation bill.

"I just hope we can get to a deal," said Prasad.

"The last deal was only two years, and partly because I think folks in congress wanted to get past this election... Now that the election's over, let’s not wait another two years to get another two year bill, let’s work next year and have a long term bill that creates a transportation vision for the country.”

Historically transportation funding bills were non-partisan bills approved for six years at a time to facilitate planning of longer term projects. For more on how that changed this Congress, read our previous coverage.

 

 

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Transportation Nation

Florida’s Flirtation with High-Speed Rail Recounted in New Book

Monday, October 01, 2012

HSR in Florida No More

Not coming to Florida anytime soon

It seems like Florida and high-speed rail were a couple that always flirted across a crowded room -- but neither had the nerve to ask for a date.

Finally in 2010 and 2011 it seemed like progress was being made. But then the pair's matchmaker -- governor Charlie Crist -- left office, and new governor Rick Scott started sending mixed signals. What could have been a storybook romance for President Obama, Florida, and fast trains evaporated faster than a Shinkansen speeding between Tokyo and Kyoto.

Time Magazine journalist Mike Grunwald recounts some of that story in his new bookThe New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era”.

Speaking with Mark Simpson on WMFE’s Intersection program this week, Grunwald recalled Orlando and Tampa’s hope’s creating a blazing fast network of trains between the two anchors of the I-4 corridor: “Florida had the shovel-readiest bullet train," he says. "You had the land, you had the route right down I-4, it was pretty much good to go. You had all these private companies that were willing to pick up the slack and say we’ll cover the cost of any overruns and make sure this isn’t going to cost Florida a dime.”

Grunwald says Rick Scott’s cancellation of high speed rail reflected the action of other Republican governors around the country, including Wisconsin and Ohio, and political ideology played into the stripping away of Obama’s grand plans for high speed rail. “There was a kind of tea party element to this; we don’t like trains, that’s the sort of liberal way to travel and we don’t like government projects.”

The high-speed rail network is now much smaller than the nationwide map originally envisioned in the stimulus package. Rather, routes in the Midwest and Northeast are beefing up to bring “higher speed rail,” which don't approach the bullet train speeds of Europe and Asia but instead are shaving off some commuting time between major cities.  (Watch videos of recent Acela tests on TN.)

So now, President Obama can't point to a gleaming set of new trains and say "I built that." According to Grunwald, that has ramifications. I talked to a guy in the administration who told me he thought this was going to be a great issue for Obama in 2012," he says, "because they would just show pictures of those guys in Florida building this new fancy high-speed network that was going to whip bullet trains past traffic on I-4 and create tens of thousands of jobs, and they’d be able to run those ads in Wisconsin and say hey thanks for your money Wisconsin -- but of  course it turned out Florida went [in that same] direction.”

You can listen to the complete conversation on WMFE’s web page.

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The Takeaway

Why Isn't Anything Being Done About the Tuberculosis Outbreak in Florida?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

In 2008 tuberculosis broke out in Florida. What's strangest isn't what happened before the outbreak. It's what happened after. Which is to say, nothing.

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: Florida Bullet Train Would Have Been Profitable, Cheap Natural Gas Boosts US Energy Independence, Historic Wright Bros. Shop May Be Demolishe

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Top stories on TN: the Senate will move its highway bill Thursday. An audit of the Port Authority called it a "challenged and dysfunctional organization" and found cost overruns at the World Trade Center. Houston is a leading purchaser of green energy. Gas prices are creeping higher -- especially in D.C. And: listen to what happens when a subway platform becomes a musical instrument.

 

(courtesy of NASA)

The high-speed rail project that Florida's governor killed last February would have made an annual surplus of $31 million to $45 million within a decade of operation, according to a state report. (TBO)

The boom in shale oil and natural gas is moving the U.S. closer to energy independence -- but cheap natural gas means less incentive to invest in cleaner energy. (Marketplace)

New York City will unveil a pedestrian safety plan for Delancey Street, nearly a month after a 12-year-old was killed while crossing the busy intersection at the entrance to the Williamsburg Bridge. (DNA Info)

Toronto's city council is preparing to kill the mayor's transit plan. (Toronto Sun)

Four consortiums of engineering and construction companies have been found qualified to bid on the $5 billion project to replace the Tappan Zee Bridge. (Times Herald-Record)

An Ohio building constructed around the first Wright brothers' bicycle shop has been declared a public nuisance and may eventually be demolished. (AP via ABC)

Meanwhile: Newt Gingrich, campaigning in Ohio, says the Wright brothers rose from bicycle mechanics to world renowned inventors – without the assistance of government funding. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

U.S. DOT head Ray LaHood is blogging enthusiastically about Denver's light rail expansion. (FastLane)

Some DC Metro bus signs are telling passengers to "alight" instead of "exit." (Washington Post)

Just what is Detroit? A city, an industry, or an idea? (Forbes)

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Transportation Nation

YEAR IN REVIEW FLORIDA: 2011 Rides Rails Out of the Sunshine State

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

SunRail survived 2011; high-speed rail in Florida wasn't so lucky.

(Orlando-WMFE) The start of 2011 held a fair amount of transportation-related optimism for Florida--and with good reason. The state looked on track to be one of the first in the nation to begin a high-speed rail line, Central Florida was eying commuter rail, and Florida's brand new governor, Rick Scott, was promising fresh thinking in Tallahassee.

But then Scott took office. And one of his first decisions was to freeze major state actions until after he reviewed them. His review of high-speed rail wasn't favorable, and in February, Scott joined Republican governors from Ohio and Wisconsin in rejecting federal funds for bullet trains. The move set off a flurry of activity to stop the Sunshine State from losing the more than $2 billion slated for the project. It also raised the blood pressure of rail supporters, who were now left wondering what Scott would do to central Florida’s promised SunRail commuter line.

The governor spent months reviewing SunRail and he approved it in July.  Behind the scenes, though, powerful Republican Congressman John Mica, who chairs the U.S. House Transportation Committee, had been watching Governor Scott’s moves.  The governor was counting on Mica to approve $77 million dollars in federal funds to start deepening the port of Miami to accommodate Panamax ships.   Mica made a connection between the Governor’s approving of SunRail and his approval of the $77 million.

Florida also rolled out a major roads program in August.  It spells out proposals for creating new tolled lanes on Interstate 4 and completing a ring road around Orlando known as the Wekiva Parkway. But both programs could be susceptible to budget machinations which are set to start in next month in Tallahassee.  Last year state lawmakers raided the transportation trust fund to the tune of more than $100 million dollars to fill a budget gap.  Governor Scott says he’s loathe to pull that money out again, but he knows it's an option.

So all in all, Florida lost some high speed rail, gained SunRail, might get a major parkway around Orlando, will likely get deeper ports, and more toll roads.  Money holds the key to all of it, and legislative session starts next month.

Read our other year in review posts here.

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Transportation Nation

ANALYSIS: High Speed Rail Naysayer Scott Says Nay to California Costs

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Florida Governor Rick Scott wasted no time making hay of the formal increase in cost projections for high speed rail in California. “The news today out of California that High Speed Rail cost estimates have now tripled to the $100 billion range reinforces that Florida made the right decision earlier this year to protect taxpayers from just this sort of boondoggle,” Scott said in a statement. “As I said at the time, High Speed Rail would be far too costly to taxpayers and I believe the risk far outweighs the benefits. I’m glad Florida is no longer entangled in the high speed spending web.” 

Florida Governor Rick Scott. Photo by Gage Skidmore

 

But bullet train advocates contacted by Transportation Nation were just as quick to call out the Governor for playing politics. “As usual, Rick Scott is putting ideology way ahead of the facts,” wrote Kevin Brubaker, who manages the Midwest High-Speed Rail Network Project of the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Chicago. “Florida’s high-speed rail proposal was designed as a public-private partnership with the private sector bearing all the risk for cost overruns.  Private firms were ready to bid on this project, gambling their potential profits against potential cost increases. But Governor Scott never allowed the private sector to do what it does best. Instead, he canceled the project before private firms could bid and before his own government completed their analysis of the project.”

Indeed, as we reported in February, at least eight teams were prepared to answer the Request for Qualifications for the Tampa-to-Orlando line, and Florida had been expected to issue that RFQ within a month of Scott’s cancellation. Nora Friend, the Vice President of Public Affairs and Business Development at the Spanish rail company Talgo, told me then that, factoring in the strength of Disney tourism and the chance to extend the line to Miami. “We feel that the project warrants the risk.”

At any rate, it’s hard to compare the two projects. A full sixty-five percent of the cost estimate increase in California had to do with the number of viaducts and tunnels needed to pass through the mountainous areas of the Pacheco Pass, Tehachapi Mountains, and the San Gabriel Mountains. Those geographical features—and therefore the costs associated with them—would not be a concern between Tampa and Orlando.

What to critics was a weakness of the Florida segment—its relatively short route along what was already a major interstate—was for proponents and potential bidders a strength: The state of Florida already owned the needed right of way, so the engineering and routing challenges were not nearly as complex or unknown as those in California and elsewhere.

Likewise, some of the California project’s major liabilities—its 400-mile length, its passage through major urban population centers, its flexibility as to route—are tied to strengths. The CHSRA’s press release hinted at this when it cast even the new price as a bargain. "As the state’s population grows from 38 million people today to 60 million people by mid-century, it is estimated that without high speed rail California will need as much as $171 billion to meet its transportation needs,” the Authority said, citing “an additional 2,300 lane-miles of highways, 4 runways, and 115 airline gates.”

“With this business plan, the project has grown more expensive, but the plans are also becoming more realistic,” Petra Todorovich, Director of the America 2050 initiative for the Regional Plan Association, told Transportation Nation today. “We now have better information about phasing, costs, ridership, and ticket prices. It is essential that both supporters and opponents monitor the project closely to ensure that this level of transparency persists throughout the life of the project.”

Cost estimates by category for California High Speed rail. Black is the 2009 estimate. Yellow is the new low end and blue is the new high estimate.

Good information and transparency was all that Florida high speed rail advocates wanted from Rick Scott, and the Governor wouldn’t give them either. No matter the conclusions Scott or others draw from the news out of Sacramento this week, the CHSRA has certainly provided a level of transparency that exceeds almost any Californians’ level of curiosity.

Along with the new price tag, the California High-Speed Rail Authority released a set of detailed documents, including a 42-page report detailing the breakdown of cost changes and the reason for them ("There has also been an expansion of key cost items (viaducts, tunnels) consistent with more detailed design and additional geotechnical information.") and a 31-page cost benefit analysis ("The anticipated quantifiable benefits from the CA HSR project exceed their anticipated costs regardless of the phasing or the high/low cost scenarios presented.")

Seventy-three pages of detailed information is unlikely to impress anyone who’s already made their minds up about high speed rail. Whether their contents will mean more to California voters than $98.5 billion remains to be seen.

 

Matt Dellinger is the author of the book Interstate 69: The Unfinished History of the Last Great American Highway, which describes the Trans-Texas Corridor battle in great detail. You can follow him on Twitter.

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: Boston T Sets Ridership Record, Auto Sales Up, San Francisco Embraces Car Sharing

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Top stories on TN:

See who is lobbying and donating to influential members of Congress. (Link)

California's high-speed rail costs soar, but proponents say there's 'no choice' but to build. (Link)

The Senate approved an austere transportation spending bill (link), as well as $15 million for a trans-Hudson tunnel with an uncertain future (link).

Boston T (photo by Michael Kappel via Flickr)

Boston's T set a ridership record. (Boston Globe)

Car sales are up for the big three -- as well as most foreign automakers. (Detroit Free Press)

Congressman John Mica said the federal government will honor its $300 million commitment to the Second Avenue Subway. (DNA Info, Second Avenue Sagas)

And: Mica is meeting with Wall Street investors today to talk about investing in high-speed rail on the Northeast Corridor. (Bloomberg Businessweek)

TN's Andrea Bernstein talks infrastructure and jobs bill on The Takeaway.

Florida Governor Rick Scott experiences schadenfreude over new estimates for the cost of California's high-speed rail program. (The Hill)

NYC is rethinking putting neon stickers on cars that violate alternate side parking rules. (Wall Street Journal)

The head of the NJ DOT says the ARC tunnel was flawed from the start. (Asbury Park Press)

San Francisco is ground zero for the car-sharing movement. (USA Today)

From water bottle to bridge: one company is making infrastructure out of recycled plastic. (Fast Company)

And: Beethoven Awareness Month even affects skateboarders! Vide0 here.

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Transportation Nation

Florida HOT Lane Expansion Gaining Top Level Support

Friday, October 28, 2011

(Image via Florida DOT)

(Orlando, Fla. -- WMFE) A plan to expand managed toll lanes on highways around Florida is gaining support in top offices at the state and national level.  This week Governor Rick Scott, speaking on a Florida radio program, said that he endorses creating more High Occupancy/Toll lanes, where drivers drivers pay a fee to use them, especially during rush hours.

Last week in Orlando, Republican Congressman John Mica who chairs the House Transportation Committee said he also wants the program to move forward.  “What we hope to do is free up the inside median and the right of way and allow innovative financing plans.  We have many companies that will come in and partner with the state or local governments and commissions and provide additional laneage based on toll and revenue.” Several years ago, Mica inserted a provision into federal law prohibiting any new tolls on existing interstates in his district. He says, the ban will stay, and that only new lanes will be tolled.

An expansion of Interstate 4 around parts of Orlando using the HOT Lane concept, or as it is informally called, “Lexus lanes” is being considered under a new transportation plan unveiled earlier this year by state Department of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad.

Florida is facing a $1.5 billion budget shortfall this year. Expanded tolling is expected to help bridge the budget gap.  Florida already has HOT Lanes under the "Florida Express" program that runs on a 7.3 mile stretch of I-95 in Miami Dade County. Carpools and motorcycles don't have to pay, everyone else pays based on a variable congestion pricing scheme that rises the more crowded a lane is getting at a given time. According to a review of state DOT data by PolitiFact the lanes reduced traffic, "speeds for rush-hour traffic in non-toll lanes had improved from 25 m.p.h. to 45 m.p.h."

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Transportation Nation

After Months of Political Wrangling, the Northeast Corridor Gets $450 Million

Monday, August 22, 2011

(Photo: (cc) Flickr user JPMueller99)

Months of political wrangling came to an end today, when US Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced the release of nearly $450 million to upgrade rail electrical systems and tracks between Trenton, New Jersey and New York City.

(Update, 5:12 pm: Amtrak is the recipient of the $450 million. An additional $295 million is going to the New York State DOT to improve the Harold Interlocking rail junction in Queens, where a new flyover will separate Amtrak trains traveling between New York and Boston from Long Island Railroad and Metro-North commuter trains, and NJ Transit trains accessing Sunnyside Maintenance Yard.)

“These grants are a win for our economy and a win for commuters all along the Northeast Corridor,” said Secretary LaHood in a statement. “We are creating new construction jobs, ordering American-made supplies and improving transportation opportunities across a region where 50 million Americans live and work.”

The Northeast Corridor is the busiest passenger rail line in the country. Pre-construction work on the upgrade is expected to begin later this year.

The money -- which had been initially rejected by Florida Governor Rick Scott -- was obligated to the Northeast Corridor in May. But in June Republican congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen, who represents New Jersey, proposed diverting the money away from the Northeast toward flood-ravaged states in the Midwest. This spurred New Jersey's senators, Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, to write Ray LaHood a letter, urging him to release the money so work on the high-speed rail project could move forward.

Senator Lautenberg expressed relief in a press release. “It is great news for New Jersey that this funding has been saved from Republicans’ chopping block and awarded to Amtrak. Rail service is the lifeblood of our state’s economy and it is our responsibility to protect and strengthen it for our commuters,” he said. “This federal funding will significantly upgrade the rail lines for New Jersey Transit and Amtrak commuters, reduce delays that plague the Northeast Corridor and make our state home to the fastest stretch of high speed rail in the country.”

And rail delays seem particularly prevalent this summer. A derailment disrupted service on NJ Transit earlier this month (and renewed sniping over the canceled ARC tunnel), and in June, power problems hobbled service on both NJ Transit and Amtrak for three consecutive days.

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Transportation Nation

Big Contracts Awarded Ahead of Sunrail Groundbreaking Next Week

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Artist's Concept of the SunRail Train

(Orlando, Fla. -- WMFE) On Monday July 18, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is slated to attend a groundbreaking ceremony in Orlando for the SunRail Commuter train project.  LaHood is also expected to sign papers promising $72 million dollars in Federal funding for SunRail.  Total costs are expected to be around $1.2 billion dollars.

In the roughly two weeks since Florida Governor Rick Scott approved the Central Florida Commuter Train plan contracts have started moving.  The Florida Department of Transportation gave Boise-based locomotive manufacturer Motive Power the go signal on a $17.5 million contract for designing and manufacturing seven SunRail locomotives, with the stipulation that up to thirteen could be built later on. An agreement was also signed with Amtrak and the Florida Central Railroad this week that will provide operational support for SunRail.

Notices to proceed were also given to Archer Western/Railworks for $170 million worth of work related to track improvements along the 61 mile route.  Items still to be finalized include ticket vending machines and closing the purchase agreement from rail giant CSX on the rail corridor.  That will likely take place this fall.  SunRail is expected to start carrying passengers in 2014.

Other rail line ideas are gaining ground in the wake of SunRail’s approval.  One concept is called Orange Blossom Express.  The Express would be small passenger service moving rail riders from Lake County into Orange County with a connection into the SunRail line.  Tracks currently owned by Florida Central Railroad would need to be upgraded before passenger trains could travel on the line.  There is also debate among some local communities about the need for a passenger service.  Advocates for the plan though are hoping to sway skeptics towards supporting a proposal.

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Transportation Nation

BREAKING: Governor Rick Scott Approves SunRail

Friday, July 01, 2011

Sunrail is coming to CSX rail lines like these

(Orlando-WMFE)  UPDATED WITH COMMENTS FROM JOHN MICA

Florida Governor Rick Scott has approved SunRail.

His transportation secretary, Ananth Prasad, made the announcement today in Tallahassee.

Scott's decision puts an end to more than six months of waiting for the communities and cities along the route of the 61-mile, $1.2 billion commuter rail line.

Rick Scott had raised concerns about the lack of a dedicated funding source for the rail project, and earlier this year killed a high-speed rail line which many observers believed to be less risky financially. But after meeting this week with local government officials, Prasad told the governor that partner communities understood the financial risks.

If SunRail fails to support itself financially, Florida officials will dip into state funds for local transportation projects -- a threat which Prasad emphasized during his public hearings this week.

Florida Congressman John Mica, a longtime champion of the project, said the Governor made the right decision.

"I think the governor did what a smart business person does," Mica said. "Look at the bottom line and the bottom line is jobs, it’s the economy, it’s a cost effective transportation system for the future."

Mica indicated he's also on board with Governor Scott's efforts to expand the capacity of the Port of Miami to handle new larger ships out of the Panama Canal.

Back in April, Mica hinted that if Scott did not approve SunRail, partial funding for Miami's dredging project could be held up in the US House Transportation Committee, which the Congressman chairs.

SunRail is anticipated to be running by early 2014.

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Transportation Nation

FL DOT Head: Transit Projects Like SunRail Could Hurt "Traditional" Transportation

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

FL DOT secretary Ananth Prasad (second from left) at the Volusia County SunRail meeting. (Photo from the Florida DOT Facebook page)


(Orlando, Florida -- WMFE) Florida's transportation secretary says cities like Orlando might have to tap into state funding for road widening and other transportation projects to operate the proposed SunRail commuter rail line.

Secretary Ananth Prasad spent Tuesday in Central Florida as part of a whirlwind tour of the planned rail line. He held six public meetings, starting in Volusia County and ending in Osceola.

Prasad said other badly needed transportation projects in Central Florida will be hurt if local governments have to pay for SunRail’s operating deficits.

"I just want to make sure the local governments, the mayors and commissioners understand that, and the local citizens understand, that they are making a choice," he warned. "They are making a choice to go towards mass transit at the expense of other traditional transportation projects."

But Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said his city needed the rail line. "If we want to grow in a fashion that will allow us to maintain the quality of life that we have come to expect in Central Florida, and have transportation alternatives and have jobs that will be stimulated by transit oriented development, then it's a must that we get SunRail."

The partners in SunRail are ready to start building. Governor Rick Scott is expected to decide by the end of the week whether to approve the commuter rail line.

You can listen to the whole story here.

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: False Alarms Plague NY MTA Elevators, NJ Transit Increases Security, and Mimes To Promote Quiet Cars On Boston T

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Florida Governor Rick Scott sent his top transportation adviser to Central Florida to warn local officials that they'll be on the hook if SunRail fails. (St. Petersburg Times)

The monitoring systems on New York MTA elevators are plagued by false alarms. (New York Daily News)

São Paolo, Brazil, is building an 11-mile long monorail to link its airport to its subway system -- but it may not be completed in time for the 2014 World Cup. (Smart Planet)

A rendering of São Paulo's future monorail line

The Miami Herald asks officials not to penalize riders because of the scandal at Miami-Dade Transit.

According to a recent poll, NJ governor Christie's support is dropping among voters because of decisions like canceling the ARC tunnel and flying in a state helicopter to attend his son's baseball game. (Bloomberg)

NJ Transit is increasing security and developing an intelligence unit with the FBI. (AP via the Star-Ledger)

A key House Democrat says privatizing Amtrak would drain railroad workers' pensions. (The Hill)

A former GM vice chair will be on the Brian Lehrer Show later on this morning to talk about his view of car manufacturing -- more quality, less focus on stock price. (WNYC)

More on Boston's "quiet car" program, including the revelation that the MBTA will be using mimes to promote it. (WBUR)

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Transportation Nation

Start of the Showdown: Six SunRail Hearings Tuesday

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

(Orlando, Fla-WMFE) Florida Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad is barreling through Central Florida today, holding six public meetings in cities along the route of the proposed SunRail commuter train.

Governor Rick Scott is expected to decide by Friday whether to approve the project. Communities along the rail line are holding their breath, hoping the project will revive their struggling economies, and some people have already invested money to back up those hopes.

Ryan Von Weller and his partners spent $3 million top buy four acres of land right next to wear the railway would pass in Longwood.

“I’ve been so excited and so disappointed so many times,” he says, “I’m truly excited about this, not only for my own business purposes, but I think it’s going to be a paradigm shift for the people of Orlando.”

Right now it's just a grassy lot with an old auto garage in it. If and when SunRail comes through, Von Weller will build a four-story mixed-use apartment building.

That's just one small example of the investments, which are both private and public, in cities along the proposed route.

Opponents including Tea Party protesters, say the plan is too expensive and plan to protest the public hearings.

State numbers obtained by WMFE show cities and counties along the 61-mile SunRail line will have to spend nearly $7.5 million a year by 2021 to keep the train operating.

Federal contributions are expected to cover $2 million of that, and riders are expected to generate $3 million in revenue.  That leaves a roughly $2 million deficit that will need to be covered.

Secretary Prasad will likely tell local leaders today that the state has no plans to help bridge that gap.

For more details on how the fight over SunRail has businesspeople, civic leaders and private citizens biting their nails and protesting in the streets, read the full story at WMFE.

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Transportation Nation

SunRail Showdown: Opponents and Supporters Prepare for Public Hearings

Thursday, June 23, 2011

(Orlando -- WMFE) Supporters and opponents of Central Florida’s proposed SunRail train are ramping up for what could be a boisterous set of public hearings next week.

The SunRail project -- a 61-mile commuter rail project that will be centered in Orlando and run through four counties -- has been in the works for years. It looked to be running forward smoothly -- until the Governor put major contracts related to the commuter train on hold in January pending his approval.

Florida’s Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad is scheduled to appear in Volusia, Seminole, Orange and Osceola counties, as well as holding a separate meeting with Orlando officials.

Prasad is slated to explain to local communities that taxpayers will have to come through with payments for the $1.2 billion project.  He’ll also explain there is no planned bailout if the commuter line fails to make money.

Already the West Orlando Tea Party is planning to rally on the steps of Orlando’s City Hall to protest the project on Tuesday afternoon.  Spokesman Clyde Fabretti says  SunRail “exposes the taxpayers to unnecessary risk.”  He also says members of the Tampa branch of the Tea Party are expected to attend the rally.

Meanwhile, commuter rail advocates in Seminole County are urging supporters to show up at the public forum between Commissioners and the Florida DOT secretary. An email circulating among planning circles says “it is anticipated that the opposition will be out in force.”

The meetings are set for only a few days before Governor Rick Scott’s long anticipated decision on whether or not he’ll approve SunRail by a self-imposed July 1st deadline.

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Transportation Nation

Pressure Mounting to Approve Sunrail in Central Florida

Thursday, June 16, 2011

 

(Orlando, Fla-WMFE)  Stakeholders across Central Florida are nervously waiting for Governor Rick Scott’s decision whether or not to approve the region’s 1.2 billion dollar commuter train project.

Scott says he will announce his decision at the end of June.

The Sunrail project has been in the works for years and looked to be running forward smoothly until the Governor put major contracts related to the commuter train on hold in January pending his approval.  But that didn’t stop communities from moving forward with their plans to develop storefronts and other transit related amenities near the proposed stations.

See the Sunrail route here.

Some communities have already paid their consultants, in some cases hundreds of thousands of dollars, and could risk spending the money for nothing if the Governor shuts down Sunrail.

According to Phil Laurien, the Director of the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council, “ It’s a risk if they did not plan for Sunrail.  If we waste the asset of the Sunrail stop to have more high density, transit oriented, walkable development, mixed use where people can shop and live and work, those are tremendous assets.  Everywhere that transit oriented development has been done right it has stimulated the local economy.”

Laurien says he recently was visited by members of the German Parliament looking for places to invest in sustainable development in the US.  He says the Germans consider Central Florida to be a loser region without the commuter train project.

Recently US Congressman John Mica, who chairs the House Transportation Committee heard a presentation on a proposed rail line that would run adjacent to Sunrail from downtown Orlando northwards into rural Lake County, called the Orange Blossom Express.  State transportation officials have 13.8 million dollars set aside to improve rails on that line.  The Orange Blossom Express could be running within five years

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Transportation Nation

If We Can't Afford to Fix Roads, Can We Afford to Build Roads?

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

New highway construction in Mississippi. Photo by Matt Dellinger.

(Matt Dellinger, Transportation Nation)  When Scott Walker was running for Governor of Wisconsin last fall, he peppered the airwaves with a campaign spot that made very clear why he planned to stop the proposed Madison-to-Milwaukee high speed rail line: It was going to cost about $810 million dollars to build, he said, and “I’d rather take that money and fix Wisconsin’s crumbling roads and bridges.”

But a new report by the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group (WISPIRG) takes Governor Walker to task for cutting $48 million in local transportation assistance—much of which would be used for road and bridge repair—while proposing a 13% increase in spending on new highway capital projects. WISPIRG’s report “Building Boondoggles?” isn’t fooling anyone with the question mark in its title. The authors, Kyle Bailey and Bruce Speight, make no bones about the “troubling” nature of Walker's “new construction largess.”

In response to a $3.6 Billion state deficit, Bailey and Speight point out, the Governor has suggested cuts “in most areas of the state budget, including education, health care and state assistance for local cities, towns and counties. State funding for local road repair and transit have also been put on the chopping block. Transit in particular has been put at risk by receiving a 10% across the board cut.” At the same time, Walker's belt-tightening left room for a billion-dollar widening of Interstate 90 south of Madison, a $390 million widening of the Tri-County Freeway in Winnebago and Calumet Counties, and the $125 million construction of a four-lane road through Caledonia county between Milwaukee and Racine.

WISPIRG questions the wisdom of these specific projects, which, to be fair, were kicking around for years before Walker became Governor (but then again, so was the Madison-to-Milwaukee high-speed rail project). But more to the point, Bailey and Speight raise the question of how Governor Walker can suggest adding to the new-road budget an amount—$328 million—that could have prevented his cuts to transit and maintenance. (Walker's office respectfully declined to comment for this story.)

Expanding the system while deferring maintenance is not just a Wisconsin thing. According to another report, released today by Taxpayers for Common Sense and Smart Growth America, this is a nationwide habit. The two groups found that between 2004 and 2008, while bridges crumbled and roads deteriorated, states spent 57 percent of their highway budgets on road widening and new road construction.

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Transportation Nation

TN Moving Stories: Capital Bikeshare May Expand to VA, & NJ's ARC Tunnel Bill 225K A Month In Interest Alone

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

DC's Capital Bikeshare may expand to Alexandria. (WAMU)

Downtown Miami may be getting a pedestrian-friendly redesign. (Wall Street Journal)

Ray LaHood  blogs about the new VW plant in Tennessee, and intriguingly incorporates (but doesn't explain) a photo with a mini Darth Vader. (Fast Lane)

(photo from Fast Lane/US DOT)

Plus: the transpo secretary tries one more time today to broker an agreement about the Dulles Metrorail link. (Washington Post)

Former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley has landed a job with the firm that helped negotiate Chicago's parking meter deal. (NBC Chicago)

NJ is racking up $225,000 a month in interest alone on its ARC tunnel bill as it battles the federal government over repayment. (NJ.com)

Meanwhile, NJ Governor Christie took a state police helicopter to his son's baseball game. (NJ.com)

Will transit-oriented development finally come to New Carrollton, Maryland? (New York Times)

High-speed rail-rejecting Florida governor Rick Scott is becoming "wildly unpopular." (Politico)

The Bay Citizen has updated their bike accident tracker, which now has five years of data. (Bay Citizen)
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New Laws in Central Florida Boost Complete Streets, Bust Gas Gauging

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

(Orlando, Fla. — Mark Simpson, WMFE) Central Florida lawmakers took action to stop gas gauging and create complete streets last week. Tourist attractions aside, many towns in Central Florida can be pretty inhospitable to pedestrians and cyclists, with roads so busy it's difficult to ride a bike or even cross the street. Now Winter Park is joining a growing national movement to adopt "complete streets" that accommodate more than just cars. City Commissioners passed a resolution last week that lays out rules for a gradual adoption of complete streets.

The complete streets philosophy calls for features that improve roads like wider sidewalks, narrower lanes, and moving buildings closer to a road’s edge, according to Washington state-based Transportation expert, Dan Burden, who was in town for a presentation to Winter Park City Commissioners. Orlando is the third Central Florida city to adopt such a plan.

Right now, crossing a street in Winter Park legally, even to get to a bus stop could mean walking as far as 20 minutes to find the next official crosswalk. For a more detailed picture of pedestrian challenges and complete street initiatives in Winter Park, read the full story on WMFE.

Orlando, hasn't adopted complete streets planning models, but the city recently enacted tougher rules targeting gas stations near Orlando International Airport. Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer was concerned that two gas stations close to OIA were regularly charging about $2 higher than the average price for gas with little signage about the price. Unwary customers, usually tourists, often fill up without seeing the price as they head to return their rental cars and end up stuck with an inflated bill. That leaves a bad memory on the way out of town, harming the Orlando tourist brand.

Since Orlando can't regulate the price of gas, it passed an ordinance requiring the stations to post a sign with the price visible from the street or face a fine of $250 a day. As of Wednesday afternoon there were still no signs posted though.

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