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Transportation Nation

Transportation Is the Number One Cause of Worker Deaths

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Almost 2,000 of the 4,628 workplace fatalities that year involved some kind of moving vehicle: a car, truck, boat, plane, train, even “animals used for transportation purposes.”

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Transportation Nation

Virginia Prepares Public Push to Win Local Support for New Highway

Friday, August 02, 2013

WAMU

Virginia officials are taking a more personal approach in the state's attempt to sell a proposed highway to the locals. Now, in the face of ferocious opposition, the Virginia Department of Transportation is preparing to meet with county officials to present the state's vision of what the Bi-County Parkway would be.

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Transportation Nation

GOP Opposition to Virginia Highway Plan Continues to Grow

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

WAMU

Another Virginia congressman is adding his voice to Republicans questioning the McDonnell’s administration’s plan to construct a major north-south highway in Northern Virginia, a parkway running west of Dulles International Airport and Manassas Battlefield that critics call an “outer beltway.”

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Transportation Nation

Reimagining Package Delivery, WalMart Asks Customers to Play Courier

Friday, March 29, 2013

(Nancy Marshall-Genzer -- Marketplace) So, you’re at Walmart, getting ready to pay. The cashier says, 'Wait! You can get a few bucks off if you deliver some stuff your neighbor ordered.'

Walmart is definitely thinking outside the big box on this one. Ken Perkins, president of Retail Metrics, says Walmart may be thinking customer couriers would be faster than Amazon, which Walmart sees as enemy number one -- for good reason.

“The whole retail industry is shifting toward mobile and online purchases and probably felt like they’ve gotten a late start to it,” Perkins says.

So they have to get creative. Walmart and other big-box stores have also experimented with matching Amazon’s prices. Other retailers are offering free apps that tell them when you’re in their store. They can track your progress through the aisles and text you with special offers.

“Let’s say you’re in a grocery store and you’re in the ice cream aisle," explains Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst at the NPD Group. "They can tell you that Haagen-Dazs ice cream is on sale today.”

Other retailers are closing brick-and-mortar stores and customizing the ones they keep. Alden Lury, a retail strategist at Kurt Salmon, says for example, a Target in a city might not stock bargain sizes.

“You might not find the 12-pack of Bounty," he says. "You might find the six pack of Bounty. It might be hard to get on the subway with a 12-pack of Bounty.”

Lury says if retailers can get to know their customers that well, and tailor themselves to what savvy shoppers want, they might just have a chance against Amazon.

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Transportation Nation

Want to Drive a Semi in Montana? Be Prepared to Wait

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

(photo by Bradley Gordon via flickr)

(Helena, MT-YPR) – There's no relief in sight to remedy the long waits for prospective semi truck drivers to get their Commercial Driver’s License (CDL).

Montana legislators, for now, are not funding a request by the Montana Motor Vehicle Department to retain four full-time equivalent (FTE) CDL examiners. The inaction comes despite acknowledgement by members of the Montana House Appropriations Committee that there’s up to a 60 day waiting period to take the CDL exam.

“I find it unacceptable that we got a 60-day waiting list to put people to work so they can start paying their taxes,” says House Appropriations Chairman Duane Ankney (R-Colstrip). He adds this is not the fault of the MVD.

The reason for the shortage of semi-drivers is multifaceted, but it is exacerbated by the boom in the Bakken oil field in Eastern Montana and Western North Dakota. That has led to more people seeking training to drive the big rigs and the need for a CDL.

Montana State Capitol in Helena. Photo by Jackie Yamanaka

Ankney asks if the local community colleges can offer that training and testing.

MVD Administrator Brenda Nordlund says current state law prohibit third-party testing. “That happens in other states, but there are some risks,” she says. “Fraud, particularly when there is a large demand and scarcity of resource.”

Currently MVD has five people, some part-time, temporarily spread across Montana to conduct CDL exams. The money for those positions runs out June 30, 2013.

Initially the House Appropriations Committee tried to fund those positions with money from a consumer protection account. A legal opinion advised them against that action.

The Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee passed the state’s main budget bill without funding the temporary CDL positions. The bill can still be amended on the House Floor or in the state Senate.

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Transportation Nation

A Deadly Mix: Students, Trucks, and a Missing Crossing Guard in Harlem

Friday, March 01, 2013

A police officer directs traffic at 117th Street and First Ave a day after six-year old Amar Diarrassouba was fatally struck by a truck there. The normal crossing guard has been suspended.

Parents held their childrens' hands a little tighter as they picked them up from PS 155 on Friday afternoon. Danger felt closer than usual here, and tragedy was the topic of conversation after six-year old Amar Diarrassouba died on the corner, struck and killed by a turning tractor trailer truck.

"I was the one who picked him up off the middle of First Avenue," said Melanie Canon, a mother who was standing in front of the school a day after the accident.

"He was face down," she said of Amar, who'd been walking to school with his 9 year-old brother. "His brother was standing right next to him. The little boy said, 'Help.' I picked him up by the back of his jacket. He was lifeless, limp. I saw a big pool of blood."

Canon is a doctor but there was nothing she could do. Amar--praised by neighbors as being kind to all--had no pulse.

Canon's daughter is a 3rd grader who attends nearby PS 206 and passes the same intersection every morning. Like the parents outside the PS 155, she said it's a treacherous walk for a child. "The paths to the schools need to be safe."

Outside the school, where the flag waved limply at half-mast, parents complained about the heavy volume of trucks, especially since 2009, when the East River Plaza mall opened a block away.

Tara French lives in the neighborhood and walks her three children to the school each day. "It's dangerous," she said." First Avenue is a dangerous street for them to be crossing. And now we have the mall so we have all the 18-wheelers coming up First Avenue."

Jaime Barton agreed. "The trucks should have at least another way to go for deliveries, that's how I feel," he said. The truck that struck Amar was coming from the direction of the mall, heading west on 117th street, and hit the child as it turned right onto First Avenue toward the Tri-Borough Bridge, which is seven blocks north. 117th Street is a narrow, one-way side street.

"Even 116th is a bigger intersection because it's two-way. This is one-way," Barton said as her daughter interrupted to boast about a recent birthday, her 6th.

A crossing guard was supposed to be at the intersection. Police are investigating her whereabouts. "What we're saying is that she was not on post when the accident happened which was  0754--that's all we can say at this time is that she wasn't there," Police Commissioner Ray Kelly told reporters Friday.

While some parents said that crossing guard was frequently late or absent, others didn't blame her. Lydia Soto, who has a 13-year old at the school, said that parents had complained in the past about the guard to the school. Standing with French, the parents said that several years ago--the date was uncertain--parents had petitioned to have a different crossing guard replaced. The new guard on Second Avenue was "fabulous," they said.

Department of Education spokesperson Marge Fienberg said, "The principal of the school has not received any complaints about this guard and generally, when there are complaints, the safety agents provide parents with the number of the local precinct.

The NYPD is responsible for hiring crossing guards. The department has said that retaining crossing guards can be difficult because the job is only part time, several hours in the morning and several in the afternoon, and, according to the NYPD website, can pay below $10 per hour . 

A spokesperson at the NYPD said the department would have to research whether there had been past complaints about the crossing guard at PS 155.

The city Department of Transportation oversees the rules of the roads, such as where trucks are permitted to drive or when special turn signals or lane markings are needed. The department has declined repeated requests over the past two months for data on the number and locations of children who were hit by vehicles in New York City.

Amar's family wouldn't speak about the accident. But outside the family's home, a man identifying himself as the boy's uncle said of the tragedy, "It is God." He said the rest of the family was taking the same approach.

-With WNYC News

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Transportation Nation

An Oral History of San Francisco's Bay Bridge

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Rendition of the new span of the Bay Bridge

After eleven years of construction, the Bay Bridge’s new eastern span is set to open to traffic this fall.

Meanwhile, the Regional Oral History Office (ROHO), part of University of California-Berkeley’s Bancroft Library, is soliciting stories from people who were there when the original Bay Bridge opened in 1936.

Sam Redman, a ROHO historian, recorded a number of interviews with folks who remember that time. He shared excerpts with KALW’s Steven Short.

"The clips that I’m sharing today are from people who happened to be in the Bay Area at the time," said Redman, "people who were working on the bridge—Rosie the Riveters or tow truck drivers and engineers and other people that worked on the Bay Bridge."

Redman played a few soundbites from the World War II generation who actually watched the bridge as it was actually constructed.

Like Ralph Anderson.

“It was going to be wonderful. I didn’t realize that the ferries wouldn’t be there anymore. But to go across the bridge on the Key System trains, the whole lower deck was trucks and trains. And that worked out great, I thought that was a good system. And to go across the bridge for a quarter, I was impressed and pretty soon the bridge was going to be paid for and you wouldn’t have to pay anything.”

(Currently tolls on the Bay Bridge are between $4 and $6 dollars, depending on the time of day).

Yes, you read that right: the lower deck of the Bay Bridge, as it was initially constructed, carried rail. The Key System operated from 1938 to 1958.

(Image from keyrailpix.org)

"One of the interesting thing about this series," said Redman, "is learning about some of the failed proposals that we’ve had for bridges, including a span that would have run similar to the Bay Bridge from Alameda, south of the current Bay Bridge into San Francisco to alleviate some of that traffic congestion that was building up early on on the Bay Bridge.  It exceeded all traffic projections almost right away."

Redman said one of the things that amazed him while conducting the Bay Bridge's oral history project is "the way people have worked have changed on the bridge since time it actually started. Like Bay Bridge painters, for example. New rules and regulations mean that for their actual work it takes longer to paint the Bay Bridge, but that’s to actually keep the Bay that’s beneath them healthy. Before, the paint would just go directly into the Bay."

Here's a remembrance from Berkeley resident Norma Grey:

“In 1936, they just summarily announced that we were going to California. And it was precisely because my dad could not find a job. And so he borrowed $100 from his brother, put his three little girls and what possessions he could put in a Model T Ford and drove across the country. He stopped in Berkeley. Their plan was San Francisco, but it cost 25 cents to go across the new Bay Bridge.”

"Twenty-five cents would have been enough to buy a meal for the evening for the family," said Redman. "I think that puts in context how hard times really were. And it gives us a little insight into the folks who worked on the Bay Bridge. Job openings at the Bay Bridge or the Golden Gate Bridge would have looked pretty appealing at that time, even though they were pretty dangerous jobs."

Redman added that the working conditions at the time helped keep construction costs down -- compared to today.

You can see differences in terms of safety, in terms of pay, in terms of all sorts of workplace conditions changes. In the course of building new bridges, people will look at the old Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge and say, gee, these were completed on budget and on time. But it’s because of a remarkable range of changes in labor that are actually good changes in many respects.

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Shippers, Dockworkers Making Last-Ditch Attempt To Avoid Massive Port Strike

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Port of Howland Hook in Staten Island, NY.

(New York, NY - WNYC) UPDATED WITH WHITE HOUSE COMMENTS

The White House is urging dockworkers and shipping companies to reach agreement on a contract extension for East Coast and Gulf Coast dockworkers whose existing pact expires this week.

Obama spokesman Matt Lehrich said Thursday the White House is monitoring the situation closely and urges the parties to "continue their work at the negotiating table to get a deal done as quickly as possible."

Earlier this week, a federal mediator called a meeting of the International Longshoreman's Association (ILA) and an alliance of shipping concerns in an eleventh-hour effort to avert a commercially crippling East and Gulf Coast port strike on December 29.

Director George Cohen of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service said the parties have agreed to attend, but gave no information beyond that "due to the sensitive nature of the negotiations."

Dockworkers from Massachusetts to Texas are threatening to walk off the job if an agreement isn't reached by Saturday at midnight, when their contract extension expires.

Talks between the two sides broke down December 18. “We at New York Shipping Association are certainly disappointed that the USMX – ILA negotiations are apparently coming to an abrupt end," said association president Joseph Curto.

The New York-New Jersey ports handled $208 billion of cargo last year, most on the East Coast.

But in what may be a sign that negotiations are gearing up to resume, "no comment" was the uniform word from all sides in the dispute: the New York Shipping Association, USMX (a consortium of 24 container carriers and every major marine terminal operator and port associations on the East and Gulf Coasts) and the ILA, which represents 14,500 workers at more than a dozen ports extending south from Boston and handling 95 percent of all containerized shipments from Maine to Texas, about 110 million tons' worth.

The Associated Press reports that issues including wages are unresolved, but the key sticking point is container royalties, which are payments to union workers based on cargo weight.

Port operators and shipping companies, represented by the Marine Alliance, want to cap the royalties at last year's levels. They say the royalties have morphed into a huge expense unrelated to their original purpose and amount to a bonus averaging $15,500 a year for East Coast workers already earning more than $50 an hour.

The longshoremen's union says the payments are an important supplemental wage, not a bonus.

USMX, on its website, gives several examples of the economic devastation that could result from a strike, including these numbers related to the Port of New York and New Jersey:

  • Employs more ILA members than any of the 13 other East and Gulf Coast ports, the union’s 3,250 members would lose $7.5 million a week in wages alone.
  • A strike at the port, the largest on the East Coast, could also put at risk the nearly 171,000 jobs directly related to its operations.
  • A shutdown would result in $100 million in lost revenue a month for railroads, truckers and other port-related transportation industries that handle more than 250,000 containers per month.

The National Retail Federation wrote to President Obama last week and asked him to use "all means necessary" to head off a strike. “A strike of any kind at ports along the East and Gulf Coast could prove devastating for the U.S. economy,” said Matthew Shaw, the group's president and CEO.

Earlier this month, an eight-day strike shut down the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. That strike was resolved only after a federal mediator was brought in.

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Transportation Nation

Northern Virginia Road Expansion: Betting on Dulles Airport as Freight Hub (Part 2)

Friday, December 21, 2012

There's already construction in the area, building new lanes, but planners are contemplating an entirely new highway. Pictured: Express Lane Construction on I-495 at Route I- 66 (Photo by Trevor Wrayton, VDOT)

This is the second of a two-part series on plans to expand Northern Virginia’s road network and freight capacity of Dulles International Airport. (Part 1)

To elected officials and Virginia transportation planners, Dulles International Airport is an untapped well of economic growth. However, maximizing its potential will necessitate major improvements of the surrounding road network.  That includes completion of a “north-south” corridor which is now in the conceptual stages.

On Dec. 12 the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority unveiled its intentions to pursue development of airport properties, including 400 acres on Dulles’ western side and sixteen acres around the future Rt. 606 stop of the Silver Line. The goal is to enhance the airport's industrial capacity as a freight hub.

“We are the only airport on the east coast with that kind of land available to us for development purposes. Cargo is down at Dulles right now, but it is down because of the economic uncertainty in Europe,” said Loudoun County Supervisor Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn). “The problem we have today is there is no easy access from the airport. The only access we have today is Rt. 28 and 28 is very limited.”

At their monthly board meeting, MWAA officials emphasized the importance of both expanding the Dulles Loop – Routes 606, 28, and 50 – and eventually connecting it to the north-south corridor.  Studies to expand all three roadways are underway.

MWAA CEO Jack Potter indicated the agency would take a cautious approach to development.

“We do not want to make an investment either at Rt. 606 or in the western lands to put a lot of infrastructure in there. We are not going to build something and hope that somebody comes,” he said during a presentation to the MWAA board.

Elected officials in Loudoun County who support the “north-south corridor” concept see Dulles as a key to future economic growth and the roads it will require as relief for traffic-weary commuters.

"Anybody who lives in Loudoun County knows that more road capacity is necessary,” said Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles). “Keeping roads small doesn't prevent growth from happening.”

Environmental groups opposed to the construction of a multi-lane, divided highway west of Dulles Airport question whether the expansion of freight is the right goal.

“There are only so many pounds of freight that you can move on an airplane in an economical way. I think it is less than one-tenth of one percent of freight in Virginia comes by air. It is going to be an important economic activity but it is not the major way to move freight in the United States,” said Chris Miller, president of the Piedmont Environmental Council.

In his view, the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Northern Virginia master plan and MWAA’s development ideas amount to a move in the wrong direction, toward sprawl-inducing road expansions that could undermine the ongoing investment in the Silver Line rail project, scheduled for completion in 2018.

“I think the people who move west of Dulles Airport aren’t looking for another interstate highway with trucks on it to serve their neighborhood,” Miller said.

Miller uses the term “outer beltway” to describe the north-south corridor concept, a term that chafes supporters.

“If you want to unlock the potential of our economic engines – and Dulles is the biggest economic engine that we have in Northern Virginia – you’ve got to be able to tie it back to the other industries. If you look on the other side of the river, we have a large biotech industry in the I-270 corridor,” said Supervisor Buona.

“If you are able to create a [transportation] link between that industry and the IT and government contracting set, and that link connects to the airport, what you’ve done is create a corridor of commerce. You have not created an outer beltway,” he added.

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Transportation Nation

Northern Virginia Planning Big 'Outer Beltway' Road Expansion (Part 1)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Approximate rendering by the Piedmont Environmental Council, a group that opposes the plan.

This is the first of a two-part series on plans to expand Northern Virginia’s road network and freight capacity of Dulles International Airport. (Part 2)

In a massive undertaking that would transform the face of Northern Virginia, state transportation planners are unveiling plans to create a “north-south corridor of statewide significance.” Some are calling it a potential beginning of an "outer Beltway," others say it's essential infrastructure for the region's economy. Critics call it a big waste of money, unnecessary and poorly planned.

The proposal would add a path between I-95 in Prince William County to Route 7 in Loudoun County, arcing west of Dulles International Airport and connecting to I-66, Rt. 50, and the Dulles Greenway.

Neither the exact route of a new highway, the cost, nor the number of lanes has been decided, but the agency’s objective is coming into focus: to dramatically expand Northern Virginia's road capacity to benefit commerce, namely the growth of Dulles Airport into the east coast's largest freight hub.

“I'm concerned that they are going to build a road at six lanes going 60 miles an hour much like the Beltway or Highway 28. They are going to need to do four lanes and they will have to slow it down,” said South Riding, Virginia resident Todd Sipe, who pointed out his home on a map of one of the proposed corridor routes at the first of two public open houses on Tuesday night.   “I believe nothing is settled yet.  They are collecting public comment now.”

Officials at the Virginia Department of Transportation greeted residents inside a high school cafeteria in Loudoun County filled with maps, charts, and bullet points about a regional master plan that is still in its conceptual stages.

 Residents attending the event were skeptical of the need for a major north-south highway west of the airport, running along the western edge of Manassas Battlefield State Park.

“It seems to be more aimed at industry and transporting freight to Dulles Airport,” said Sterling resident Bill Roman. “In terms of our needs here in the county, people commute east-west mostly, not north-south. There are no north-south issues.”

“I think the state could spend its money in much more effective ways. The way this is shown right now, it ends on Rt. 7. That isn’t the place where you can end a road like this,” said Emily Southgate of Middleburg, referring to mounting pressure to extend a corridor north of Rt. 7 in the form of a new Potomac River crossing, an idea supported by Virginia state officials but not by their counterparts in Maryland.

One lawmaker who conceptually supports the creation of the corridor is convinced additional highway capacity would help commuters. Loudoun County Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles) says concerns about a sprawl-inducing new highway could be addressed by limiting access, building fewer exits and entrances.

“When you talk about limiting access you have two main benefits,” he said. “It makes it easier to privatize the road to get it paid for, which is what I think VDOT is primarily interested in. The other benefit is that you can limit development in areas that are undeveloped."

In Letourneau’s view, new housing development is coming to Loudoun County, so the board of supervisors has to responsibly accommodate it.

VDOT officials say a limited-access highway that improves access to Dulles Airport and incorporates HOV lanes and bus lanes would serve the most people.

“We are going to work the best transportation system that we can and meet the needs of the public. There has to be political consensus to do that,” said Garrett Moore, VDOT’s Northern Virginia District Administrator.  “We can limit access. One of the things we'd like to do is get predictable and fast transport, additional capacity and carpools to include express and bus rapid transit.”

Some environmental groups are adamantly opposed to building a north-south highway west of Dulles Airport, especially if it would absorb any property on the periphery of the Manassas battlefield.

“In the context of our limited resources in Virginia, this is one of the worst expenditures we could make,” said Chris Miller, president of the Piedmont Environmental Council.  “The fact that it might be a public-private partnership doesn't change that analysis.”

Building through a public-private partnership would likely mean new tolls on the highway. To Miller, VDOT’s plans amount to an “outer beltway” that would lead to new development in 100,000 acres of farm land and rural subdivisions.

“There’s a big choice this region is going to make over the next ten years,” Miller added. “Are we going to take advantage of the investment in the Silver Line, or are we going to allow development to occur in this large 100,000 acre range from I-66 to Rt. 7 west of the airport. We don’t think it is inevitable. The McDonnell administration is encouraging sprawl by encouraging this highway.”

The second part of this series deals with Dulles as a freight hub. 

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VIDEO: Transportation Nation's Mug. It Can Be Yours.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Action shot from "Multi-Modal Mug" shot film by Amy Pearl / WNYC

At Transportation Nation, we serve up serious news, with flair, style, and a flash of java.

Rejoice. (And get a tax deduction, too.) You can own a Transportation Nation coffee mug.

'What's so exciting about a coffee mug?' you might ask. 'It doesn't run on a smart grid or move at the speed of a bullet train." But, friends, it is a reminder to you of all the value this site has brought you in 2012. And your donation shows our reporters here at TN that you care.

Plus, the video is hilarious. We present to you the multi-modal mug. Yours as a thank-you gift for a donation of $5 / month to our ad-free, nonprofit public media project.

If you won't donate, consider sending this around to your friends who might.

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Transportation Nation

NY Conflicted on Hiking Tolls for Trucks

Monday, December 10, 2012

(Karen DeWitt, Albany) The board in charge of setting tolls for New York's main highways is scheduled to meet again next Monday. But there’s still uncertainty whether the New York State Thruway Authority will finally act on a proposal to raise truck tolls.

The 45 percent toll increase on trucks, first proposed by the Thruway Authority last spring, has languished for months as the board has scheduled, then abruptly cancelled several meetings. Opponents, including the trucking industry, have condemned the idea, saying it detracts from the state’s recent efforts to be more business friendly.

At a cabinet meeting called by Governor Andrew Cuomo in recent days, Thruway Authority executive director Tom Madison says it hasn’t been decided yet whether the board will continue to push its proposal at a meeting scheduled for December 17th. Madison says he knows the toll hike idea is widely unpopular.

“We’ve heard at the toll hearings loud and clear from our customers,” Madison said. “We’re exploring every possible alternative.”

Madison spoke following a presentation on proposals for new Tappan Zee Bridge, in which three design options were unveiled as artist's renderings.

Cuomo has neither supported nor condemned the toll hike proposal, saying he understands that the authority, which has been poorly managed in the past, might need new revenue to avoid a bond rating downgrade. The Thruway Authority holds billions of dollars in road construction bonds. But the governor has said he’d like to see toll hikes implemented only as a last resort.

“I don’t think [it's] any mystery. It’s a tough situation for the Thruway,” Cuomo said. “They’re under pressure from the bond underwriters.”

But Cuomo says there have been enough toll hikes lately. The authority has raised the fares several times in the past decade. Less than two weeks ago, tolls were increased on bridges and tunnels controlled by the Port Authority of NY and NJ.

“I don’t think you go to the last resort until you have proven that there is no other viable option,” Cuomo said. “And I don’t believe they’ve gone through that process yet.”

Assembly Republican Leader Brian Kolb has proposed that the Thruway Authority merge with the state’s Transportation Department, to save money. Kolb says the authority has been secretive, and mismanaged. He says he’d rather see an independent audit conducted of the Authority’s books to find out whether a toll hike is really justified.

“You’ve got an agency that won’t answer the bell, in terms of questions about how its finances are run, why is so much money needed,” Kolb said. “They’re not answering the public.”

Madison, with the Thruway Authority, says since he was appointed to his post by Governor Cuomo over a year ago, he has been trying to cut costs.

“We have taken a hard look and continue to do so internally,” said Madison, who says the construction program has been cut by $300 million, and the authority has reduced in operating expenses by $25 million.

The Thruway Authority meeting on December 17th, to approve proposals for a new Tappan Zee Bridge plan, is its first gathering since early August. A spokesman could not say whether the toll hike proposal, in its present or an altered form will be voted upon then. Spokesman Dan Weiller says even though thruway executive director Madison said all options are on the table, he did not mean a toll hike for passenger cars. He says that option has been ruled out.

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Chicago Wants to Pay Diesel Truckers to Swap for Electric Vehicles

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

(photo by Steve Rhode via flickr)

(Lauren Chooljian - Chicago, WBEZ) Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants to make a deal with diesel truck owners in the Chicagoland area: give up your truck, and the city will give you a voucher that covers around 60 percent of the cost of a new electric one.

Officials say the project could help with air quality and even quieter streets across the city. By next spring, fleets in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will counties will be able to apply for the program.

“The city is encouraging companies to invest in electric vehicles in order to incrementally improve Chicago’s air quality while helping to advance these emerging transportation technologies,” Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein said in a statement. “By offering a voucher at the point of sale, rather than as a post-sale rebate, we hope that more companies will be encouraged to participate in the program.”

But not all drivers are jumping at the chance to trade in their truck. Phil LaPalermo, co-owner of All Ways Paving and Plowing, says he's not sure there's an electrical vehicle out there that can compare to the power of a diesel truck. LaPalermo said he likes the idea of using alternative energy sources, but the diesel engine is what keeps his fleet plowing and paving streets all over the city and suburbs.

"We’re hauling a lot of weight, and we’re making a lot of runs throughout the day. They’re very dependable and you get high mileage. I mean a diesel engine, you could get three to 400 thousand miles on a diesel engine," he said.

Samantha Bingham, CDOT Environmental Policy Analyst, said while the plan might not work for plows or pavement trucks, it would be great for a bakery delivery truck.

"There is no silver bullet when it comes to alternative fuels or traditional fuels," Bingham said.

Chicago Department of Transportation officials said they have enough federal funding to support about 250 vouchers to start. According to Joe Schwieterman, transportation professor from DePaul University, the city would need a couple thousand or so to really make a statistical change on emissions.

"At the same time, I think the city's going to show that we're this Midwest Rust Belt town, and we're gonna adopt technologies that you know other cities in the region aren't doing," Schwieterman said.

City Hall has used federal funding for other green initiatives in the past, including the installment of 202 electric vehicle charging stations.

Listen to the radio story below.

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Virginia to Study Traffic over Potomac River

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Woodrow Wilson Bridge, stretching over the Potomac River in Virginia (photo by catface3 via flickr)

The Virginia Department of Transportation will study traffic volume over the Potomac River in an effort to determine where the most people and goods will cross as the region’s population grows, the agency said Tuesday.

The study – scheduled for completion next spring – will not recommend a solution but instead provide a basis for consultations with transportation officials in the District of Columbia and Maryland about how best to improve transportation across the river from Point of Rocks in the west to the Route 301 bridge in the east.

“We want to essentially gauge and develop the data from which we can make some informed decisions regarding the best alternatives to deal with the current traffic conditions and what we expect in the future,” said Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton in an interview with Transportation Nation.

Connaughton downplayed the possibility his office would push for the construction of a new bridge over the Potomac.

“We’re really not prejudging anything. In fact, we’re not really getting into what’s the best alternative,” he said.

The study already has its critics, who say the Republican administration of Governor Bob McDonnell has been pushing for a new Potomac River bridge for years.

“They are pushing for another bridge even though the real fixes we need to make are at the American Legion Bridge,” said Stewart Schwartz, the executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, which supports expanding mass transit instead of road expansions.  To Schwartz, a new bridge connecting Virginia and Maryland would lead to more congestion and sprawl.  He favors implementing transit options on the American Legion Bridge.

“In the near term, that can be buses on dedicated bus lanes with frequent service, connecting the Red Line and the Silver Line, connecting Tysons Corner and Fairfax County job centers with the Montgomery County job centers,” he said.  “Fortunately, Fairfax County and Montgomery County have already met and are pursuing the transit investments that are needed both short term and long term.”

Connaughton disputes the allegation the McDonnell administration is after a new “outer beltway” at the expense of mass transit investments.

“This is one of the things that will be the hallmark of the McDonnell administration, is that we are pursuing increased transit opportunities, as well as dealing with congestion on our roadways, and looking for bike paths and pedestrian paths.  We are doing everything.  This is not a one-solution-fits-all,” he said.

If Virginia officials privately favor building another Potomac River span, they may meet resistance across the river.  In an October letter to Secretary Connaughton, Acting Maryland Secretary of Transportation Darrell Mobley clarified his agency’s position.

“The Maryland Department of Transportation’s (MDOT's) highest priority remains the preservation of our existing infrastructure and the safety of the traveling public. MDOT does not intend to revisit the years of debate regarding new crossings of the Potomac River,” the letter said. “We are interested in the study of potential improvements to existing crossings, including: the Governor Nice Bridge along the US 301 corridor, the American Legion Bridge on the Capital Beltway, and the potential addition of transit across the Wilson Bridge.”

Connaughton said he believes D.C. and Maryland officials are in agreement that a study of future traffic volume is necessary. As far as a possible solution, he said, “we haven’t gotten there yet.”

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The H Train Rides Again in the Rockaways

Monday, November 19, 2012

(For the full NYC subway map, go here.)

The H train is rolling where the A train can't.

Starting Tuesday, residents of the storm-battered Rockaway Peninsula will get a free subway shuttle known as the H train. To connect Beach 67 Street to Beach 90, the train will incorporate a piece of rarely-used track known as the Hammels Wye.

Currently, A train service to Queens terminates at Howard Beach. According to a press release issued by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, the tracks over Jamaica Bay were "almost completely destroyed by the storm." Residents have been using shuttle buses to connect to mainland Queens as well as navigate the peninsula.

There are no estimates yet as to when full A train service will be back up and running.

(Note: according to the MTA, the appellation "H" is unrelated to Hammels. Shuttle service began on the Rockaways in 1956; by 1962, it was called the "HH." )

To get subway service out to the Rockaways, the MTA loaded subway cars onto flatbed trucks in Ozone Park, Queens, drove them over the Cross Bay Veterans Memorial Bridge, and lifted them back on the rails at the Rockaway Park-Beach 116 station. That work can be seen in the below video.

The H still exists on the rolls of the MTA -- as captured in the 2008 photo below.

An H train, spotted in 2008 (photo by SaikoSakura via flickr)

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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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Virginia Homeowners Fight 95 Express Lanes Ramp

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

A homeowners’ group in Alexandria is fighting a proposal by Virginia transportation planners to build a highway ramp near their homes.

Concerned Residents of Overlook, an upscale community adjacent to I-395, wants the Virginia Department of Transportation to relocate a ramp that will serve as the northern terminus of the 95 Express Lanes, 30 miles of high-occupancy toll lanes extending from the Edsall Road area in Fairfax County to Garrisonville Road in Stafford County.  The $1 billion public-private project is scheduled for completion in December 2014.

“The ramp is going to be about 75 feet from my house,” said Mary Hasty, who has lived in Overlook for ten years. Hasty says she's learned to live with the constant din of highway traffic but did not expect VDOT would ever build an exit ramp so close to her residence.

“You get used to the hum of traffic, but I certainly never anticipated that I’d have cars 75 feet from my house and my patio and garden,” she said.

The group claims VDOT failed to adequately study noise and air quality impacts that will result when traffic exits the new express lanes onto I-395 or local roads. The neighbors fear exiting highway traffic will back up and idle on the exit ramp.

“Our biggest issue is that they moved the end point, called the terminus, of the HOT lanes from Crystal City, Arlington County to our backyard and they did not do any studies specifically to determine the impact on our communities,” Hasty said.

Hasty’s friend and neighbor, Sue Okubo, said the ramp will ruin property values, too.

“Already a number of neighbors are putting their houses on the market,” Okubo said.

“Maybe there won’t be an impact.  I don’t believe that.  That’s why we are having independent studies to determine what the impact is. We are late in the game and it is a David vs. Goliath scenario, but we are pushing really hard.” Hasty added.

Construction of the ramp is already underway.  Relocating it is unlikely, according to state officials.

“It would be very difficult to make a change at this point having gone through a lot of the studies and approvals at the state, regional, and federal levels,” said John Lynch, VDOT’s regional transportation director for Virginia megaprojects. Lynch refuted the homeowners’ claims that the state failed to study traffic and pollution scenarios.

“We went through the federal requirements and developed an environmental assessment which includes analysis for both noise and air quality,” Lynch said.  “The bottom line is those studies met all the federal requirements and it was reviewed by both the Federal Highway Administration and Environmental Protection Agency. We wouldn’t have gotten approval to move forward with this project if it didn’t meet those requirements.”

Lynch said VDOT responded to residents’ concerns by extending auxiliary lanes to mitigate traffic congestion at the future interchange, adding that all the pertinent documents have been shared with the Overlook community.

“We have been very transparent in providing all of the information that they requested,” Lynch said.  “We’ve met with the community multiple times both in 2011 and 2012 during project development.”

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Transportation Nation

Rail Hauls One Million of Barrels of Oil A Day From North Dakota's Oil Fields

Thursday, September 06, 2012

A rail terminal near Williston, North Dakota where crude is loaded onto tank cars. Photo by Jackie Yamanaka.

(Billings, MT – YPR) ­­– Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) officials say the railroad is keeping pace with the rapid growth caused by the Bakken Formation, the largest oil field in the lower 48 states.

The lack of pipeline capacity has led oil producers to turn to rail and semi trucks to bring crude from fields in western North Dakota and eastern Montana to market.

BNSF recently announced it has increased capacity to haul one million barrels of crude per day out of the region, known as the Williston Basin.

“Yeah, it’s fun isn’t it,” says Denis Smith, BNSF Vice President of Marketing of Industrial Products. "Three years ago there was one facility that could load a crude petroleum train up there. Now we’re going to have 10 by the end of the year and a dozen by next year. " These terminals load oil onto 100 car trains.

He says customers have spent about $1 billion on these loading facilities, rail cars, and other infrastructure. In turn, Smith says the railroad has had to make sure it had the capacity to move those trains to market.

“It’s about a dozen trains,” Smith says. “And it is impressive, but if you put it in light of something like our coal business where we haul 50-plus trains a day, we’re capable of doing it.”

According to a BNSF press release, the railroad’s network reaches all major coastal and inland markets and directly serves 30 percent of US refineries in 14 states through direct and interline service. The company has 1,000 miles of rail line in the Williston Basin area, serving eight originating terminals. BNSF also connects to 16 of the top 19 oil producing counties in central and western North Dakota and five of the six oil producing counties in eastern Montana.

The railroad recently announced it spent $197 million on projects in North Dakota and Montana. The company also hired more than 560 new employees across its service area.

Smith anticipates BNSF will continue to be a key transporter of Bakken/Williston Basin crude even if the proposed Keystone XL pipeline is constructed from Canada to the US Gulf Coast. The pipeline is primarily to transport Canadian tar sands crude to the US for refining, but on-ramps are planned in Montana to also transport Bakken crude.

“We go to the Texas/Louisiana gulf but some of the other markets are better markets for producers up there [ND/MT],” Smith says. As an example, he says rail can deliver crude directly to markets in Philadelphia, Chicago, Florida, and the Pacific Northwest. “That’s the beauty and the surprise I think to the producers,” he says. “The reach that we have in terms of getting them to markets that give them the best buck for their oil.”

 

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Transportation Nation

NY Legislature Considers 45% Toll Hike for Trucks

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

(Karen Dewitt -- Albany, NY) The New York State Assembly began hearings Wednesday on 45 percent toll increase for trucks supported by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Several Assembly Republicans, who are in the minority party in that house, held the first of two hearing in Albany proposed by the  State Thruway Authority.

Testimony ranged from a small steel fabrication business owner, who said the additional shipping costs for the toll hike will equal one worker’s salary and benefits, to a representative from the farm lobby. The Farm Bureau’s Julie Suarez says the recent floods and drought have already put farmers in a “a very difficult economic situation.” She says under the proposal, a truck carrying produce from Buffalo to New York City “results in an average year's increase of $11,500 to that farmer’s bottom line”.

The testimony from the farmers, small business owners and trucking companies will not be heard by the Thruway Authority, however. In a letter to the Republican Assemblymembers, Thruway officials said the public comment period is over, and that three public hearings have already been held in Buffalo, Syracuse, and Newburgh, NY. That response angered Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin, whose district borders the Hudson River.

“They’re out of touch, they’re a rogue agency, and they need to be reined in,” said McLaughlin. The NY Thruway authority is also in charge of the construction of the new Tappan Zee Bridge, an $5.2 billion infrastructure megaproject that has drawn criticism for a lack of decision-making transparency despite an extended the public comment period.

In a written response, the Executive Director of the Thruway Authority, Tom Madison, says large trucks put “thousands of times more wear and tear on the road” than cars but are currently charged just five times as much as passenger vehicles. He says the toll increase would help remedy that “inequality.” And he says the Authority has already trimmed nearly $400 million from its budget.

Governor Cuomo, who appointed Madison to his post, has not actively opposed the truck toll hike. In his most recent remarks about the tolls, the governor said he’s asked the Authority to trim waste and rectify past mismanagement. But he says it’s complicated, because if their revenues are too low, it could result in a downgrade of their bond rating.

“The bond rating has to be intact, otherwise we’ll have a different set of issues” Cuomo said in mid August.

Assemblyman Jim Tedisco, a Republican who represents portions of Schenectady and Saratoga, says Cuomo could do more to prevent the toll hike. “The governor’s the 900 pound gorilla,” Tedisco said.

Tedisco says Cuomo spoke up against a proposed $14 toll on a planned new Tappan Zee bridge. He says the governor could do the same for the truck toll proposal.

Governor Cuomo’s fellow Democrats in the Assembly are also now taking on the toll hike issue. The Assembly Committee on Corporations, Authorities, and Commissions on Wednesday afternoon called a hearing for Friday, and has invited the Thruway Authority’s Madison to testify. A spokeswoman for Committee Chair Assemblyman Jim Brennan says the proposed truck toll increases will be a key focus of the hearing, and thruway officials will be asked if there’s any way the steep toll increase can be mitigated or avoided altogether.

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Montana's State Fair Highlights Agriculture -- And Oil Drilling Equipment

Thursday, August 16, 2012

"Bonnie" and "Clyde" were guests at Energy Day at MontanaFair. Photo by Jackie Yamanaka

(Billings, Montana – YPR) – MontanaFair, the region’s largest fair, celebrates the state’s agricultural tradition with people competing to win the purple Best of Show ribbon for wool, pigs, and apple pie. But this year, MontanaFair is also celebrating the importance of the region’s energy industry – oil, gas and coal.

Eastern Montana and Western North Dakota are home to one of the country’s most active oil fields, the Bakken.

The energy exhibits are being held in a building between the mechanical bull ride and the Montana State University Extension Service agricultural and garden demonstration plots.

Event organizer Dana Pulis says Energy Day wants to celebrate Montana’s agricultural heritage and recognize another key industry. “We’re doing business with some of the biggest corporations in energy development while we’re wearing jeans, while we’re in a 100-year-old barn, and while we’re enjoying ice cream and hot apple pie.” Pulis says.

Sanjel's "Blender" (photo by Jackie Yamanaka)

Several companies brought working oil field equipment for public display. Alan Olson of Sanjel Corporation brought what’s known as “the blender.” This 73-foot long truck mixes the hydraulic fracturing – or fracking - fluid and sand. Olson says once MontanaFair is over, this unit is headed for Texas.

Schlumberger brought this horsepower pumping unit. Photo by Jackie Yamanaka.

A horsepower unit injects the fluid into the wells.

Photo by Jackie Yamanaka.

Texas license plates are common in Billings because of the Bakken oil boom. When Olson is asked if Montana is the new Texas: "When you go down and look at our operations in Texas, all of our equipment down there has Montana license plates," he says. "So Texas is the new Montana."

Photo by Jackie Yamanaka

This oil field services truck by Cliffhanger, LLC heats up water. “This is a spectacular piece of equipment, says Olson. “We’ve got to heat up water in the wintertime. You can’t frack or cement with ice cubes.”

Russ Burch of Nabors Well Services. Photo by Jackie Yamanaka

Sanjel and Nabors Well Services, the world’s largest on-shore drilling company, are among those also looking at fairgoers as potential employees.

“We’re looking for truck drivers,” says Russ Burch of Billings. The human resources district manager oversees hiring for Montana, North Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah. “I need to hire about 40 of them [truck drivers] to work rotations for us in North Dakota.”

The catch, he says, is they need to be experienced in winter driving -- and willing to put on chains in below-zero temperatures with strong winds.

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