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Transportation Nation

Dozens in Congress Press for Nat'l Bike and Pedestrian Safety Goals, Measurement

Thursday, March 28, 2013

(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) The recent lobbying by bicycling advocates on Capitol Hill seems to have paid off.

A bipartisan group of 68 members of the U.S. House, responding to the advocates’ safety concerns, has signed a letter to Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood asking him to order the Department of Transportation to follow through on two aspects of the MAP-21 legislation signed into law last year.

The representatives, including D.C. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, are asking Sec. LaHood to establish a national goal to reduce bicyclist and pedestrian fatalities and to push individual states to set “performance measures” to accomplish the same.

“If we don't set performance goals for states and cities there will be no incentive for them to look at what many don't even recognize,” Norton said in an interview with WAMU 88.5. “More people are walking and more people are taking their bikes. Thus, there will be no incentive to try to make the roads easier to navigate.”

As overall roadway fatalities have dropped significantly the number of pedestrians and bicyclists killed has increased, according to federal data. Total fatalities have dropped from 37,423 in 2008 to 32,367 in 2011. But roughly 5,000 pedestrians and bicyclists are killed annually, from 12 percent of all roadway deaths in 2008 to almost 16 percent in 2011, according to the federal government’s fatality analysis reporting system.

Safety advocates see the establishment of performance measures as an opening for additional federal funding directed to bicycling and walking infrastructure. Currently less than one percent of federal highway safety funds are spent improving bicyclist and pedestrian safety.

“We urge USDOT to set separate performance measures for non-motorized and motorized transportation,” says the letter signed by the 68 House members. “This will create an incentive for states to reduce bicyclist and pedestrian fatalities, while giving them flexibility to choose the best methods to do so.”

Follow Martin Di Caro on Twitter @MartinDiCaro

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Transportation Nation

Investigation: Washington Airport Agency Leadership Targeted Pro-Labor Board Members in Rail Line Fight

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Dulles Airport (photo courtesy of Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority)

(Washington, D.C, - WAMU) A former board member of the authority in charge of airports in the Washington, D.C. region is accusing the agency's leaders of not telling the whole truth in testimony before Congress, and internal emails suggest three current authority board members worked with officials in Richmond, Va. to remove one of their colleagues, an investigation by WAMU has found.

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) is trying to rebuild the public's trust after a tumultuous 2012. But key officials who remain in their MWAA posts were involved in the political maneuvering that ended in the resignations of two pro-labor, Democratic board members who, their opponents say, were threatening the completion of the Silver Line: Mame Reiley and Dennis Martire, who supported a controversial pro-union provision for the construction of the rail project's second phase.

Twenty-three pages of emails obtained by WAMU suggest that Republican board members Tom Davis and Todd Stottlemyer, as well as Democrat Rusty Conner, were aware of Gov. Bob McDonnell’s intention to remove Dennis Martire from the MWAA board and communicated with Republican officials in Richmond to secure Martire's removal.

And former MWAA board member Bob Brown, a Democrat, says agency CEO Jack Potter and board vice-chairman Tom Davis did not tell the whole truth when they told members of a House subcommittee last November that the hiring of Mame Reiley to a staff position was only Potter’s idea.

The emails, along with Brown's allegation, suggest that an agency designed to be insulated from political pressures was riven by them.  The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is comprised of four jurisdictions: D.C., Maryland, Virginia, and the federal government (three board members are presidential appointees). The board members terms are staggered to prevent any single mayor or governor from exerting excessive influence over the appointment process.  Yet it appears the Republican administration of Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell sought to replace members of the board of directors not when their terms expired but through political pressure exerted by its allies.

‘Not illegal, but against the grain’

Reiley resigned from the board in February, citing health concerns, and began a new, $180,000 per year position shortly thereafter.

“Nobody did anything illegal, but it goes against the grain, of the notion of these kinds of non-political regional agencies,” said Brown.

Brown says Davis, who was appointed by McDonnell, orchestrated the hiring of Reiley to a special position created for her. Brown says he knows this because both Reiley and Davis told him so.

“Tom was the one that conceived of the idea of how to persuade Mame Reiley to resign her seat and open up that prior Democratic appointment for McDonnell to fill,” Brown says.

By replacing Reiley on the MWAA board of directors with Todd Stottlemyer, the McDonnell administration secured another Republican vote against a pro-labor provision included in the bidding process for Phase 2 of the Silver Line. McDonnell and Republicans in the General Assembly fought against that provision, known as a PLA or project labor agreement, and the all-Republican Loudoun County Board of Supervisors threatened to pull out of the project over it.

MWAA had defended the pro-labor provision against these attacks for months, but bowed to this pressure and voted to kill the PLA on June 6.

Davis denies he orchestrated Reiley’s hiring. Reiley did not return calls and emails seeking comment.

“There are other people, who I am not going to get into, that basically initiated this conversation,” Davis said. “I didn't have a dog in that fight but I thought getting her off the board frankly at that point would be a win-win for everybody.  So I acquiesced and didn't raise an objection to it.”

Potter, the MWAA CEO, finalized Reiley's hiring and continues to take sole responsibility for the decision — a decision that was among questionable dealings highlighted in an audit by the U.S. Department of Transportation last year.

“I stand by what I testified in front of Congress. I made the decision on the hiring and it was my sole decision. I made the decision to hire Mame Reiley, period,” Potter told WAMU 88.5 in an interview this week.

Potter noted in his November testimony, “My judgment was not good in terms of the hiring of that person.”  He added, however, that the position was necessary to develop land to offset rising costs at Dulles International Airport.

Davis testified at the same hearing that he knew the job was being created for Reiley.

“I was aware. There were board members it was run by,” Davis testified. “This was a complicated situation.”

Board members emailed about Martire’s ouster

McDonnell on June 14, 2012 attempted to remove Dennis Martire from MWAA's board "for cause."  It was just one week after the board voted to remove the pro-labor provision from the Silver Line bid process. Martire supported the PLA but had also been embarrassed by accusations that he abused MWAA’s travel policy.

Emails sent by Davis, Stottlemyer, and board member Rusty Conner suggest they knew of the governor's intention to dump Martire in February — four months earlier, according to emails which were obtained from a Fairfax Circuit Court filing.

In an email sent on Feb. 18, 2012 Davis wrote to David Speck, a former MWAA board member and member of Virginia’s House of Delegates. “I think they will try to remove Denny so that means two more [board] openings,” the email from Davis reads. “ [Virginia Transportation Secretary] Sean Connaughton is the key decision maker. It may be helpful for them to keep this bipartisan.”

A Fairfax Circuit Court judge blocked the governor’s attempt to remove Martire. The board member eventually settled his legal dispute with the commonwealth and agreed to resign his board seat.

Davis admitted he wanted Martire off the board, but insists it was not for political reasons, and that there was nothing improper in him supporting the labor leader’s removal.

“My job was to try to get a rail system built. This board was dysfunctional. It wasn't just the PLA. It was the lack of transparency. There were 20 things going wrong at that point,” Davis told WAMU 88.5 in an interview.

One of those things going wrong was the insertion of the labor agreement into the bidding process for Phase 2 of the Silver Line, which would have awarded contractors a bonus in their bidding scores if they agreed to enter into a voluntarily labor agreement with the workforce building the rail line. As a right-to-work state, Virginia’s General Assembly voted to withhold $150 million in funding if the PLA provision remained.

Project costs would have escalated under the project labor agreement, Davis argues. But Potter sees a value in such agreements; he credits the PLA Phase 1’s construction with keeping the project on time and on budget.

“The project labor agreement included a no-strike clause.  It assured that there was an available trained workforce for the project.  It produced an outstanding safety record. It provided management flexibility in the form of flexible work schedules that were very much needed given the nature of the type of work that was being done,” Potter said at an MWAA board meeting.

Bids for Phase 2 of the Silver Line construction are due by April 19.

In mid-May, Davis emailed fellow board member Conner, telling him that the PLA would be overturned June 6. "We all need to keep powder dry until then including Richmond," meaning the move to remove Martire should wait until after the PLA vote.

Conner emailed back,  "Call Sean [Connaughton] and tell him not to pull the trigger on Martire until the 7th,” referring to the Virginia transportation secretary.

But Connaughton says it wasn’t his call; the Governor had the final say on Martire’s removal.

“The airports authority members are supposed to be representing the interests of the people that they were appointed by,” Connaughton said. “Each one is governed by the laws of the jurisdictions that appointed them.  They are not supposed to be off doing things that are contrary to the interest of the jurisdictions in the region.”

In a June 1 email, Davis seems to joke that Martire may "keep his parking if he resigns, not if he is removed."

MWAA provided Martire $855,000 to pay his legal fees.  The authority also provided Davis, Stottlemyer, and fellow board member Rusty Conner $196,000 for their legal fees incurred fighting subpoenas for 700 emails requested by Martire’s lawyers. The emails cited in this story were part of that filing. The $196,000 was paid to the law firm DLA Piper, where board member Rusty Conner is a partner.

"A Clean Sweep"?

Despite MWAA’s efforts to turn over a new leaf on ethics and practices, one government watchdog said the continued political infighting will affect the agency’s ability to perform its duties.

“Given all that has gone in the past couple of years with the board, it really seems like the best course of action would be a clean sweep and an entirely new set of board members,” said Melanie Sloan, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Both the MWAA board chairman Michael Curto and CEO Jack Potter should also resign after being implicated in the Department of Transportation audit, Sloan said.

“It’s impossible for the public to have confidence in board members who engage in conduct like that,” she said.

Follow Martin Di Caro on Twitter @MartinDiCaro

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Transportation Nation

U.S. DOT Gives $74 Million to Virginia for 11-Mile High-Speed Rail Construction

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

This just in from the Dept. of Transportation: Virginia is getting an additional $74 million in federal money for high-speed rail. Upon closer inspection, it's really higher speed rail that will top out at 110 m.p.h. The money will help pay for laying an extra 11-mile stretch of rail meant to speed freight and passenger travel between Washington, D.C. and Charlotte, N.C.

The Obama administration has allocated around $10 billion to high-speed rail that was meant to lay whole new track and connect regional lines into a national rail network. Republican governors in Wisconsin and Florida returned federal money, saying the plans were too expensive and the states would be on the hook for cost overruns. That leaves California as the the biggest beneficiary of federal money, for an ambitious nearly 400-mile plan to connect Los Angeles with San Francisco by high-speed rail. DOT funds have been distributed around 153 projects, most of which are more like today's Virginia announcement than California's plan: projects meant to incrementally push the nation's rail network toward true high-speed rail through construction that will help an eventual HSR network, but also offer near-term intermediate benefits like faster travel time on congested stretches.

Here's the full release:

U.S. Department of Transportation Awards More than $74 Million to Further Development of the Southeast High-Speed Rail Corridor in Virginia 

Added Capacity Will Improve Passenger, Freight and Commuter Rail Service Between Virginia and Washington, D.C. 

WASHINGTON –U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today awarded more than $74.8 million to the Commonwealth of Virginia to continue development of the Southeast High-Speed Rail Corridor.  The funding will help improve passenger and freight rail service between Virginia and Washington, D.C. and reduce delays on the Virginia Rail Express (VRE) commuter service.

“The Southeast High-Speed Rail Corridor between Charlotte and Washington D.C. serves one of the fastest growing regions in the country, which is why it is critical to eliminate congestion points so that intercity passenger, freight and commuter rail can all run smoothly without delays,” said Secretary LaHood.  “This is a great example of how federal, state and local governments are working with rail carriers to build capacity and improve service for the public.”

The project will build up to 11 miles of third track and related improvements from Arkendale in Stafford County to Powell's Creek in Prince William County, Va. The third track will provide the capacity needed for higher speed trains on the Southeast Corridor to operate without conflict from freight and commuter trains.  On a daily basis, 40-50 freight trains, 10 Amtrak trains and 14 VRE trains operate over this segment, and the addition of a third track will allow for traffic to flow unimpeded.  In addition to adding a third track, the project includes final design and improvements to the station at the Quantico Marine Base in Quantico, Va.

“The Washington, D.C. area transportation system has been plagued with delays as population in the area has increased and more commodities flow through the region,” said Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph C. Szabo.  “Reducing congestion and adding capacity are two key outcomes we and our state partners in Virginia planned for in making this investment.  Projects like this will make a real difference for passengers while maintaining our world class freight system.  We are building a rail infrastructure for an America built to last.”

When completed, the Corridor will have have at least eight high-speed trains traveling at 110 mph between Charlotte, N.C. and Washington D.C.  Travel time between Charlotte and Washington D.C. will be reduced by up to three hours, and travel time between Richmond and Washington D.C will be reduced by 35 minutes.  The Southeast Corridor is one of five originally proposed high-speed passenger rail corridors designated by the U.S. Department of Transportation in 1992. It is part of an overall plan to extend service from the existing high-speed rail on the Boston to Washington Northeast Corridor to points in the Southeast.  Future plans for the Southeast High-Speed Rail Corridor call for extending service from Charlotte to Atlanta.

The Federal Railroad Administration and its 32 state partners are making great progress on High-Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail projects across the country. With $10.1 billion in federal funding, states are moving forward with 153 projects, laying the foundation for a 21st century passenger rail network.

 

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Transportation Nation

LaHood Said to Reject Federal Loan To Dulles Metrorail Project

Thursday, June 02, 2011

(Washington D.C. - WAMU) US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood met yesterday with the partners behind the faltering Dulles Metrorail project, a nearly $6 billion venture to build a new subway line out to Dulles Airport in Northern Virginia. And according to several sources involved in the meeting, LaHood told them that a federal loan they were hoping for isn't likely.

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Transportation Nation

In Wake of Bronx Crash, New Fed Rules For Long Distance Buses

Thursday, May 05, 2011

(photo by Naomi A. / Flickr creative commons)

(New York, NY - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) Almost two months after fifteen people were killed in a bus crash in the Bronx, federal regulators have announced new safety rules for long distance buses. The rules increase oversight mainly on drivers and new bus companies.

U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says new bus lines will have to undergo safety audits before they can sell their first ticket. And bus drivers could lose their commercial licenses if they violate drug and alcohol laws even while operating their own private car.

The rules were embraced by American Bus Association president Peter Pantuso, who joined LaHood at a press conference in Washington, DC. The association represents existing carriers, who wouldn't be subject to the safety audits. And the toughest of the new rules are aimed at drivers, like the creation of a national database tracking the results of drivers' alcohol and drug tests.

Whether the rule change about driving under the influence would have prevented the bus crash in the Bronx is doubtful. That driver had been stopped in his private car--but for speeding, not DUI. And he kept the summonses from affecting his commercial license by allegedly giving a false name to police.

Bus companies and state transportation agencies will have three years to prepare to comply with the new safety rules.

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Transportation Nation

Safety Problems Widespread on NY's Inter-City Buses

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

One of many discount buses that pick up passengers at the curb. (Photo by Naomi A. / Flckr Creative Commons)

(New York, NY - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) A review of federal data shows inspectors issued a safety alert for about a third of all inter-city bus companies in New York State in the past month. The alerts are applied when a company rates in the bottom half nationwide of a safety category.

Among those cited were two of three companies whose buses have crashed in the Northeast in the last month. The third company also had a problematic record.

World Wide Travel, the operator whose bus skidded into a pole in the Bronx and killed fifteen people, has an safety alert for Fatigued Driving. The company, which runs buses labeled "World Wide Tours," also rated in the bottom half of all bus operators for vehicle maintenance.

Super Luxury Tours had a crash in New Jersey last week that killed two. It has three alerts: for Fatigued Driving, Driver Fitness and Unsafe Driving--where it scores in the bottom one percent nationwide.

Queens-based Big Boy Coach saw 23 of its passengers injured on Monday when one of its buses tipped over on a New Hampshire highway. Inspectors found its drivers to be unfit at nearly three times the national average. It has no alerts as of now because it's a small company and hasn't been inspected enough to determine whether it warrants them.

Large carriers like Greyhound, Peter Pan, Bolt Bus and Megabus have no alerts and show relatively high safety ratings. Popular Boston-based carrier Fung Wah, on the other hand, has three alerts for Fatigued Driving, Driver Fitness and Vehicle Maintenance.

The U.S. Department of Transportation rates carriers in seven safety categories based on roadside inspections of drivers and vehicles, infractions like speeding and crash data.

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer is asking the New York state commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles to conduct a full audit of all drivers licenses of tour bus drivers, saying that an earlier audit would've prevented the fatal crash in the Bronx.

Sixteen out of 26 coach buses stopped in Manhattan by Governor Cuomo's stepped-up enforcement effort were pulled out of service last weekend  for vehicle or driver violations or both. At checkpoints outside the city, violations were found in 25 of 138 coach buses stopped. The unannounced inspections by state Department of Transportation investigators and local police were made Friday night through Sunday.

Mayor Bloomberg said that though scores of inter-city buses operate out of New York, local government is not charged with overseeing them. "It' federal and state regulations that deal with them," he said. "Clearly somebody should have stopped--if we were able to predict the future--the bus driver in the terrible accident that killed fifteen people. Whether any regulation would've stopped it, I just don't know. It's not something the city does."

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