Tuesday, March 19, 2013
By Martin DiCaro : WAMU
The nation’s infrastructure received a D+, a slight improvement from the D issued in 2009, in an infrastructure report card released by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), a group whose members stand to benefit from increased spending on the construction of roads, bridges, levees and dams.
The report grades infrastructure in sixteen sectors and prescribes a funding level necessary to bring each up to a B grade. That will require spending $454 billion annually over the next eight years, according to the group’s figures. However, the society estimates only $253 billion annually is currently earmarked for infrastructure repair and improvements, leaving a yearly funding gap of $200 billion.
At a news conference at the Earth Conservation Corps Pump House in southeast Washington – with a view of the structurally obsolete Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge spanning the Anacostia River – advocates of infrastructure spending sought to convey their message in easy to understand terms, acknowledging that ordinary citizens often do not see the costs associated with outdated infrastructure.
“The real goal is that Americans would have this conversation about infrastructure at their kitchen table,” said ASCE president Greg DiLoreto. “They’d sit down and they’d say, you know what? I was driving home last night, hit a pothole, and I ruined the front end of our car. What can be done about that?”
Former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, the co-founder of the bipartisan group Building America’s Future, said more Americans are beginning to realize that infrastructure is not free and does not last forever. Still, there is a large difference between what a group of civil engineers believes should be spent and what Congress and state and local governments are willing to spend.
“Members of both parties feel this way, predominately Republicans, that we can’t spend money on anything. That’s wrong,” Rendell says. “We’ve got to get away from this idea that investing in infrastructure is wasteful spending. There are some projects that are bad and we should ask for stricter accountability and transparency, but we’ve got to invest in growth.”
The sector with the highest grade (B-) is solid waste. Inland waterways and levees both received the lowest grade, D-. Grades were poor to mediocre in transportation sectors: aviation (D), bridges (C+), rail (C+), roads (D), and transit (D).
“First we have to repair the quality of the roads,” Rendell said. “But then we have to expand. We have to do additional ramps. We have to widen lanes. A good hunk of the money should be spent on mass transit. There’s got to be a balance.”
The report card breaks down infrastructure state by state. In Washington, D.C., for example, 99 percent of roads are rated poor or mediocre. The report card says driving on roads in need of repair costs District of Columbia motorists $311 million a year in extra vehicle repairs and operating costs – $833 per motorist.
Winning the public’s support to raise revenues for infrastructure spending will depend on convincing the public they have to pay more, whether its taxes or user fees, according to Emil Frankel, a visiting scholar at the D.C.-based Bipartisan Policy Center and former Assistant Secretary of Transportation under the George W. Bush Administration.
"The challenge is being able to make the case about specific facilities that people know and understand, and what the implications would be if they have to close that facility,” said Frankel, who said the ASCE’s figures are sound, even if they are unrealistic in terms of what governments are willing to spend.
“We’re not going to raise that money. People acknowledge we have to invest more but there’s disagreement about how much we need to invest. Whatever funds are available we have to make better choices, prioritize and target,” Frankel said.
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
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Thursday, September 13, 2012
New Yorkers can get their first peek at the technology required to construct a proposed park in an underground abandoned trolley station. A year ago (almost to the day). the Lowline project teased the imaginations of New Yorkers and dazzled park lovers everywhere by releasing dreamy renderings of a lush park paradise-to-be in a most unlikely place: below ground. And not just below ground, but below Delancey Street, one of the most disparaged and dangerous stretches of asphalt in the whole city for a pleasant pedestrian stroll.
In dense Manhattan, though, clusters of unused cubic feet are precious, be they in a penthouse or buried in infrastructure purgatory. So an abandoned trolley terminal dating back to the early 1900s is a contender to become New York park space. The plan depends on subterranean sunlight shining through the sidewalk in beams powerful enough to grow greenery.
"What I envision is that we will have this kind of undulating, reflective ceiling actually functioning as an optical device to draw sunlight into the space to make it somewhere that you would actually like to spend some time," says James Ramsey, co-founder of the Lowline and designer of the "Imagining the Lowline" installation that opens Saturday to showcase sample "solar harvesting" technology.
The Lowline name is a play on the wildly successful High Line, which turned an abandoned freight rail line on Manhattan's far west side into elevated park space. To showcase how that might be replicated in cavernous conditions, the Lowline team has set up an exhibit in a warehouse at ground level, right above the proposed site on Essex Street between and Broome and Delancey Streets. The rugged, blackened warehouse aims to recreate what it might be like to amble through the 100-year old trolley terminal below.
"On top of this roof we created a massive superstructure, that's way in the air, that's actually harvesting the sunlight, redirecting it through light pipes," Ramsey says. A computer guides the rooftop solar collectors to track the sun all day long for maximal reflected light through a system created by a Canadian company, Sun Central.
To fund the exhibit, the Lowline raised $155,000 on Kickstarter. But it has to cross a number of hurdles before -- not to mention if -- it becomes reality.
Ramsey cautioned that the final design will depend on "many, many different conditions." Including negotiations with several city agencies. Delancey Street -- presently under a years' long redesign to become more bike and pedestrian friendly -- would need another overhaul to install "remote skylights." The preliminary engineering study for the Lowline is still weeks away from being finalized. That will bring with it cost estimates for tasks like lead paint abatement and adding drainage. After the price tag is tabulated, a design will be hatched, and the dreamers crazy enough to build a park below a busy city will have to commence some serious fundraising.
Also sharing space with the "Imagining the Lowline" exhibit is "Experiments in Motion," an installation sponsored by Audi and executed by Columbia architecture students to explore multi-modal transportation possibilities. The centerpiece of the projects on display is a 50-foot 3D model of New York's underground public spaces, mainly subway stations, meant to place the Lowline in spacial context.
The exhibit is open to the public Saturday, September 15th - 27th. More details are at the Lowline website.
Wednesday, September 05, 2012
By Kate Hinds
A plan to turn DC's old 11th Street Bridge into a pedestrian park is gaining traction. "What we're proposing to do is to transform this old freeway into a place of active recreation," says one supporter. The city of D.C. and some locals are on board with the idea, but worries about gentrification -- and how to pay for the project -- are hurdles that must be dealt with.
Read more -- and hear the story -- at NPR.
Friday, June 29, 2012
By Jim O'Grady
Congress approved a two-year, $100 billion transportation and infrastructure bill just days before the federal highway trust fund was set to expire.
The legislation comes after more than 1,000 days of wrangling by Republicans and Democrats over issues like Keystone oil pipeline approval allowing transit agencies to use federal capital funds for operating expenses during periods of high unemployment. (Neither provision made it into the final bill.)
Senator Barbara Boxer praised the legislation, after leading the Democratic side of negotiations in the Senate. She said it would save about 1.8 million jobs by keeping aid for highway and transit construction flowing to states and create another 1 million jobs by using federal loan guarantees to leverage private sector investment in infrastructure projects.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called it “a good, bipartisan bill that will create jobs, strengthen our transportation system and grow our economy."
But Advocacy group Transportation for America said the bill "disappointing." In a statement, the group said: "We are pleased Congress has averted a shutdown, and the associated loss of jobs -- but this is literally no way to run a railroad...Despite never passing their own bill, House leaders were able to eliminate dedicated funding for repair of bridges and highways; cut vital transportation dollars for cities and local governments; slash funding available to prevent pedestrian deaths; and erode public input and local control in the planning of major transportation projects.
Monday, June 04, 2012
(Billings, MT – YPR) – Eight trail projects from across the country are being recognized for their outstanding use of money from the federal Recreational Trails Program (RTF) funds.
The 14th Annual Achievement Awards were chosen by the Coalition for Recreational Trails.
Winning trails meander through Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon and Wyoming. See the full list below.
The awards will be handed out June 5, 2012 on Capitol Hill. The celebration is part of Great Outdoors Week 2012. Two states and members of Congress also will be recognized.
One of the winners is a multi-use trail in Billings, Montana. The Swords Park Trail, Phase 2 is on top of the sandstone cliffs that frame the north end of the state’s largest city.
“When you’re up on the trail system you have incredible views of the Yellowstone River valley, of Billings itself, and you can also see 2 mountain ranges in the distance – The Beartooth Mountains and the Pryor Mountains,” says Darlene Tussing, alternate modes coordinator for the city of Billings. “It really is a beautiful environment.”
The Montana trail is the winner in the Environment and Wildlife Compatibility category.
Phase 2 converted what was once a historic road bed and historic site for early settlers to the Yellowstone Valley. This includes Sacrifice Cliff and Skeleton Cliff, important to the Crow Indian Tribe. There’s also Yellowstone Kelly’s grave and Boot Hill, both tributes to early white settlers to the Yellowstone Valley.
The Montana trail project serves both motorized and non-motorized users. The Swords Park, Phase 2 also won the 2012 Montana State Parks “Trail of the Year Award.”
“Because we wanted to give people choices,” says Candi Beaudry, Director of the City-County Planning Department. “It’s not one mode over the other. We look at all users and that’s embodied in the city’s Complete Streets Policy.”
Funding for this project came from a variety of sources, including the RTP.
“It’s important for Congress to understand how programs passed and operated here in D-C have real life impact on opportunities for recreation at the grass roots level all across this country,” says Derrick Crandall, President of the American Recreation Coalition.
Other winners are:
• The Lombard Trail (Idaho) – Maintenance and Rehabilitation
- Intertwine Alliance Bi-State Regional Trails Website (Oregon and Washington) – Education and Communication
- Kwolh Butte Shelter (Oregon) – Multiple Use Mangement and Corridor Sharing
- Cattahoochee Nature Trails (Florida) – Construction and Design (local)
- Tahoe-Pyramid Bikeway (Nevada) Construction and Design (long-distance)
- Children’s Center’s Life Trails and Therapeutic Park (Oklahoma) – Accessibility Enhancement
- Mount Yale Trail Realignment Project (Colorado) – Use of Youth Conservation and Service Corps.
The RTP is administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration. It was created in 1991 and funding comes from the Federal Highway Trust Fund.
“The Congress said it’s only fair,” says Crandall. “Because a number of recreational trail interests, including: ATV’s, snowmobilers, motorcyclists and 4x4’s pay the federal gas tax on the fuel that they use in their recreational activities. It’s only fair that the money goes into the purposes that are directly benefiting recreation trails as opposed to paving roads or doing other kinds of traditional highway trust fund funded projects.”
Crandall says the RTF budget is about $84 million a year, a fraction of the $200 million collected each year from the roughly 18¢/gallon federal fuel tax from non-highway recreationists. Congress is working on a surface transportation reauthorization bill. Crandall is optimistic the Recreational Trails Program will continue to receive funding.
“While they (Senate and the House) may not agree on lots of things,” he says “They do seem to be in complete agreement on that (RTP funding).”