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Transportation Nation

Federal Loan Process for Tappan Zee Moves Forward

Thursday, September 26, 2013

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the state can now formally submit a loan request for its new $3.9 billion Tappan Zee Bridge.

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Transportation Nation

LaHood Doles Out Another $1.42 Billion To Transit Hit By Sandy

Friday, March 29, 2013

(New York, NY - WNYC) The federal government is making available the balance of $2 billion promised to transit agencies hit hard by Sandy. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told transit managers, mostly in New York and New Jersey, that if they've got invoices for Sandy reconstruction and repairs, he's got $1.2 billion in reimbursements to dole out.

That's $545 million less than the amount available before cuts forced by sequestration.

Most of the funding will go to the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs buses, trains and subways in and around the city; the PATH train, which connects northern New Jersey to Manhattan; New Jersey Transit, which runs trains and bus in that state; and the NYC Department of Transportation, which oversees roads and bridges.

Here's the full text of LaHood's announcement:

U.S. Transportation Secretary LaHood Announces $1.42 Billion to Help Transit Agencies Recover From Hurricane Sandy

FTA meets deadline to get first $2 billion in aid to storm’s hardest-hit communities

WASHINGTON – U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today announced a third round of Federal Transit Administration (FTA) storm-related reimbursements through the FY 2013 Disaster Relief Appropriations Act. The majority of the $1.4 billion announced today goes to the four transit agencies that incurred the greatest expenses while preparing for and recovering from Hurricane Sandy—the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), the Port Authority Trans-Hudson Corp. (PATH), New Jersey Transit (NJT), and the New York City Department of Transportation (NYC DOT). The remainder will be allocated to other transit agencies that incurred eligible storm-related expenses but have not yet received funds.

“Shortly after Hurricane Sandy made landfall, President Obama and I promised that we would do everything in our power to bring relief to the hardest-hit communities, and that is exactly what we have done,” said Secretary LaHood. “In less than two months’ time, we met our commitment to provide $2 billion to more than a dozen transit agencies that suffered serious storm damage, and laid the groundwork to continue helping them rebuild stronger than before.”

A total of $10.9 billion was appropriated for the disaster relief effort, which is administered through FTA’s Emergency Relief Program. (This amount was reduced by 5 percent, or $545 million, because of the mandatory sequestration budget cut that took effect on March 1.) Earlier this month, FTA allocated nearly $554 million of the first $2 billion in aid to reimburse certain transit providers in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut. With today’s allocation, FTA has now met the 60-day Congressional deadline to get the initial funds out the door in order to reimburse hard-hit transit agencies for expenses incurred while preparing for and recovering from the storm.

“Considering that over a third of America's transit riders use the systems most heavily damaged by Hurricane Sandy, it is imperative that we continue this rapid progress to restore these systems in the tri-state region,” said FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff.

The remainder of the $10.9 billion will be utilized for ongoing recovery efforts as well as to help agencies become more resilient in the face of future storms and disasters. The FTA has published an Interim Final Rule in the Federal Register this week for FTA’s Emergency Relief Program outlining general requirements that apply to all the funds allocated related to Sandy and future grants awarded under this program.

A summary of how the funds announced today are to be allocated is described below. A more detailed breakdown, and information on eligibility requirements, appears in the Federal Register:

$1.4 billion in disaster relief aid primarily to assist the transit agencies that incurred the greatest storm-related expenditures: the New York MTA, the PATH, New Jersey Transit (NJT), and the NYC DOT. These funds are made available on a pro-rated basis, based on damage and cost assessments FTA has made with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the transit agencies themselves.

A separate $21.9 million allocation to reimburse the NYC DOT as part of a consolidated request with other entities for various activities prior, during, and after the storm to protect the Staten Island Ferry, its equipment, and personnel, the East River Ferry service, and Governors Island, including the public island’s Battery Maritime Building ferry waiting room. Emergency measures included moving transit equipment to higher ground, operating ferry vessels at berths to prevent damage; debris removal; reestablishing public transportation service; protecting, preparing and securing Ferry Terminals at St. George and Whitehall, facilities and offices to address potential flooding; staffing and operating ferryboats at berths to prevent damage; and performing shelter-in-place operations for worker protection during the storm.

$422,895 to reimburse four additional transit agencies for expenses incurred preparing for and recovering from the storm. These are the Greater Bridgeport Transit District ($21,783); the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority ($344,311); the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority ($1,179) and the Connecticut Department of Transportation, which is receiving $55,622 just for CTTransit bus-related expenses, as FTA previously allocated $2.8 million to MTA for Metro-North rail service serving southwestern Connecticut.

A table listing total allocations for funding recipients to date and a summary of their reimbursable expenditures is available here.

 

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Sequestration Means Less $$$ To Harden Northeast Transit Against Future Storms

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

One of eleven major NY subway tunnels flooded by Sandy. (photo by MTA New York City Transit / Leonard Wiggins)

(New York, NY - WNYC) New York area transit has received a double setback, both having to do with Storm Sandy and what's needed to recover from it: money.

Thanks to the sequester, the U.S. Department of Transportation will be disbursing five percent less in Sandy disaster relief to transit systems damaged by the storm. That means 545 million fewer dollars for the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority; the PATH Train, which connects northern New Jersey to Lower Manhattan; and transit agencies in six northeastern states battered by the storm.

The NY MTA officially learned of the funding reduction in a letter sent Tuesday from the president of the Federal Transit Administration to the authority's acting executive director, Tom Prendergast.

"Dear Tom," the letter began. "I have regrettable news..."

The letter went on to say that "due to inaction by Congress" -- meaning the failed federal budget talks -- there would be less money to recover from Sandy, "the single greatest transit disaster in the history of our nation."

Millions Less For Mitigation

The cut won't be felt right away because the first $2 billion in aid, out of nearly $10.4 billion, is in the pipeline. The NY MTA's first grant was $200 million "for repair and restoration of the East River tunnels; the South Ferry/Whitehall station; the Rockaway line; rail yards, maintenance shops, and other facilities; and heavy rail cars."

The PATH Train, which is operated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, received $142 million "to set up alternative commuter service; repair electric substations and signal infrastructure; replace and repair rolling stock; and repair maintenance facilities."

Future grants were supposed to be used, in part, to protect transportation assets and systems from future disasters. But the letter goes on to say that the cut will curtail those efforts: "FTA will now be required to reduce these investments by the full $545 million mandated by the sequester."

The feds say that the reduced pile of Sandy recovery money means priority will given to reimbursing transit agencies for "activities like the dewatering of tunnels [see photo above], the re-establishment of rail service ... and the replacement of destroyed buses."

Also Affected: A Troubled Megaproject

A spokesman for the NY MTA said the reduction in funds won't affect progress on mega-projects like the Second Avenue Subway and East Side Access, which will bring the Long Island Rail Road into Grand Central Terminal.

"East Side Access and Second Avenue Subway will keep rolling along," the spokesperson said.

But at what cost? In the case of East Side Access, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli gave a detailed answer on Wednesday, which constitutes transit setback number two. He said in a report that the cost of the project had nearly doubled from an original estimate of $4.3 billion to the current price tag of $8.25 billion. The completion date has also been pushed back ten years to 2019.

These semi-appalling facts are generally known. Less well known is the report's conclusion that the NY MTA's current estimates for the East Side Access timetable and final price tag "do not take into account the impact of Superstorm Sandy."

The storm did little to no damage to the project's eight miles of tunnels. But DiNapoli said it diverted NY MTA resources, which resulted in a construction delay at a key railyard in Queens, costing $20 million. The comptroller added, "Within the next three months, the MTA expects to determine whether the delay will have an impact on the overall project schedule."

In other words, there's a chance that East Side Access could be more than ten years late. A spokesman for the NY MTA declined to comment.

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Transportation Nation

Steel Gates, Raised Roadbeds & Dunes: NYC Transpo After Sandy

Friday, February 15, 2013

Sandy flooded the Battery Park Underpass with 15 million gallons of water.

(New York, NY - WYNC) Now that post-Sandy repairs to New York's transportation infrastructure are in full swing, attention is shifting toward hardening the city's bridges, tunnels and roads against future storm surges.

U.S Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood came to Manhattan to hand over $250 million to reimburse the city Department of Transportation for repairs it's making to its storm-damaged facilities. LaHood also said $5 billion is on the way to make those same facilities resilient in the face of future storms.

It's unclear how much of that money could come to New York City. But U.S. Senator Charles Schumer gave examples of how it could be spent locally.

"Once they repair the inside of the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, they can put, if they choose, steel gates, to prevent another flood," he said. He also talked about raising coastal roads and building dunes to shelter highways from the ocean.

New York City Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, who joined LaHood and Schumer, said Sandy caused the city "$900 million worth of  damage to city roads, bridges, our ferry system, signals, signs--an extraordinary amount of damage."

By way of example, she said The Battery Park Underpass at the tip of Lower Manhattan was filled with 15 million gallons of water (see photo). When it comes to reducing that kind of vulnerability to storm damage, Sadik-Khan said her department "has a long way to go."

Schumer praised LaHood for delivering the $250 million in repair money less than a month after it's authorization by Congress, which he called "a world record" in the realm of post-disaster relief. He explained that the funds will be used in part to reimburse the city for repairs it has already undertaken.

"The mayor couldn't sit there and wait and say, 'We'll fix the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel when the federal money comes,'" he said. "The city had to lay out enormous sums of money."

Some of the money has been spent on repairing the vents and electrical system of the Battery Park Underpass , fixing flood-damaged parts of the Staten Island Ferry terminals, shoring up bridges, and replacing highway lights and guardrails.

Sadik-Khan said the mayor's office will release a report in May about how to harden the city's infrastructure against future storms, including roads and bridges .

 

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Transportation Nation

BREAKING: U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood: I'm Out

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Secretary LaHood (photo by Martin Di Caro)

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is leaving his post, ending a term where he caught transportation advocates, Republicans and Democrats alike off-guard by his spry push for safety, high speed rail, and a broad view of transportation systems.

“I have let President Obama know that I will not serve a second term as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation,” LaHood said in an email to staff Tuesday morning (full text below.) “It has been an honor and a privilege to lead the Department, and I am grateful to President Obama for giving me such an extraordinary opportunity. I plan to stay on until my successor is confirmed to ensure a smooth transition for the Department and all the important work we still have to do.”

“Every American who travels by air, rail or highway can thank Ray for his commitment to making our entire transportation system safer and stronger," President Barack Obama said in a statement.

LaHood, a former Republican congressman from Peoria, was one of President Obama’s final appointments in his first cabinet, adding an “R” to diversify his cabinet. At the time, LaHood was little known outside his district, and no one expected him to make many waves.

Those people were wrong. “You — you’re the best thing that happened,” Senator Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat, once remarked to LaHood, who vigorously and unsuccessfully tried to save the ARC tunnel – an under-Hudson rail tunnel killed by Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

“When they said it was going to be a Republican taking this job, I thought we had a Democrat who later on thought he was a Republican,” Lautenberg said. But New York U.S. Senator Charles Schumer interjected as the three made small talk before an event at New York’s Penn Station. "No, he gets along with everybody." Schumer credited former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel -- now Mayor of Chicago -- with LaHood's appointment, a fact LaHood confirmed.

As the Tea Party’s ascendency in Congress made even highway spending a matter of caution, LaHood pushed forcefully for a federal role in infrastructure spending.

He tangled repeatedly with Congress on high speed rail and shutting down the FAA. An avid cyclist, LaHood once jumped on a table at a Washington, DC bicycle conference to emphasize his enthusiasm for cycling as transportation. A Buick driver, LaHood was especially passionate in his anti-distracted driving campaigns, pushing back not only against texting but also against shaving and applying make-up while driving. He was known to take immediate action if he witnessed distracted driving. "What I've been doing is kind of honking at somebody if I see him on a cellphone," he once told a local DC radio station.

LaHood shepherded through spending on high speed rail, stimulus funding, and innovative transportation projects like bus rapid transit.  But he and the Obama administration were unsuccessful in convincing Congress to expand high speed rail and infrastructure funding.  He also failed in convincing NJ Governor Chris Christie to save the NJ Transit tunnel under the Hudson.

LaHood, blunt, and candid, was a favorite among journalists for his propensity to speak frankly into a microphone, sometimes to the consternation of his own staff. He also answered questions from the public in his "On the Go" video chats -- two of which he did especially for Transportation Nation readers. (Watch them here and here.)

No word yet on a replacement.

The Secretary sent the following email to DOT employees across the country, informing them of his plans:

“I have let President Obama know that I will not serve a second term as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation. It has been an honor and a privilege to lead the Department, and I am grateful to President Obama for giving me such an extraordinary opportunity. I plan to stay on until my successor is confirmed to ensure a smooth transition for the Department and all the important work we still have to do.

As I look back on the past four years, I am proud of what we have accomplished together in so many important areas. But what I am most proud of is the DOT team. You exemplify the best of public service, and I truly appreciate all that you have done to make America better, to make your communities better, and to make DOT better.

Our achievements are significant. We have put safety front and center with the Distracted Driving Initiative and a rule to combat pilot fatigue that was decades in the making. We have made great progress in improving the safety of our transit systems, pipelines, and highways, and in reducing roadway fatalities to historic lows. We have strengthened consumer protections with new regulations on buses, trucks, and airlines.

We helped jumpstart the economy and put our fellow Americans back to work with $48 billion in transportation funding from the American Recovery and Investment Act of 2009, and awarded over $2.7 billion in TIGER grants to 130 transportation projects across the Nation. We have made unprecedented investments in our nation’s ports. And we have put aviation on a sounder footing with the FAA reauthorization, and secured funding in the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act to help States build and repair their roads, bridges and transit systems.

And to further secure our future, we have taken transportation into the 21st century with CAFE Standards, NextGen, and our investments in passenger and High-Speed Rail. What’s more, we have provided the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy with the funding and leadership it needs to prepare a new generation of midshipmen to meet our country’s rapidly-evolving defense and maritime transportation needs.

Closer to home, we also have made great strides. In December, the DOT was recognized as the most improved agency in the entire Federal government in the 2012 “Best Places to Work” rankings published by the Partnership of Public Service. Even more impressive, DOT was ranked 9th out of the 19 largest agencies in the government.

Each of these remarkable accomplishments is a tribute your hard work, creativity, commitment to excellence, and most of all, your dedication to our country. DOT is fortunate to have such an extraordinary group of public servants. I look forward to continuing to work with all of you as the selection and confirmation process of the next transportation secretary moves forward. Now is not the time to let up - we still have a number of critical safety goals to accomplish and still more work to do on the implementation of MAP-21.

I’ve told President Obama, and I’ve told many of you, that this is the best job I’ve ever had. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to work with all of you and I’m confident that DOT will continue to achieve great things in the future.

Thank you, and God bless you.”

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U.S. DOT Gives $60 Million to Clean Energy Transit Projects

Friday, September 14, 2012

This just in from the United States Department of Transportation: the feds are giving almost $60 million to transit projects that are especially eco-friendly.  Looks like most of the money is for cleaner fuel buses, where taking the older gas guzzlers off the road is the low hanging fruit of emissions reductions.

Buried way at the bottom is the boastful stat that transit ridership nationwide is up, about 2.5 percent over the same time last year.

Full Press Release:

U.S. Transportation Secretary LaHood Announces $59.3 Million for Clean, Energy-Efficient Transit Projects Across the United States

WASHINGTON – U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today announced that 27 projects will receive a combined $59.3 million to help transit agencies purchase and support cleaner, greener buses that reduce harmful emissions and improve fuel economy while also delivering a more comfortable, reliable ride for passengers. The funds from the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) FY 2012 Clean Fuels Grant Program will help achieve President Obama’s goal for an independent and secure energy future.

“President Obama is committed to investing in sustainable transportation systems that improve access to jobs, education and medical care for millions of riders, while bringing cleaner air to our communities and reducing our dependence on oil,” said Secretary LaHood. “These projects will also help transit agencies operate more efficiently, and save money in the long run.”

The types of projects selected to receive funding include replacing aging diesel buses with new hybrid-electric, compressed natural gas (CNG) or zero-emissions electric vehicles; building new fueling stations to accommodate alternative-fuel vehicles; and purchasing new clean-fuel hybrid batteries for buses.

“As more and more Americans choose to ride the bus to work and elsewhere, it’s good to know that they can depend on vehicles that won’t pollute their neighborhoods while also helping us to achieve greater energy independence,” said FTA Administrator Rogoff. “By investing in these clean-fuel projects today, we’re helping to ensure that the nation’s transit services are good for the environment for years to come.”

Demand for FY2012 funding was competitive, with FTA receiving 146 project applications totaling $516 million. A list of all 27 project selections, and a related map, can be found here: http://www.fta.dot.gov/grants_14835.html.

Some projects selected for funding include:

$3.3 million for the St. Cloud Metropolitan Transit Commission in St. Cloud, Minnesota to renovate its Metro Bus Operations Center so the facility can accommodate a fleet of compressed natural gas (CNG) fueled vehicles and a CNG fueling station. 

$4.4 million for the Transit Authority of River City in Louisville, Kentucky, to replace outdated, high-emission trolley cars with zero-emission buses, which will bring the transit system into compliance with federal clean air requirements for the first time and enable the transit authority to save on operating costs for years to come.


$2.5 million for Florida’s Miami-Dade County to retrofit older buses with new electric engine cooling systems that will improve fuel economy, reduce emissions, and prolong the life of the transit bus fleet; and


$4.5 million for the Worcester Regional Transit Authority in Worcester, Massachusetts, to replace aging diesel transit buses with zero-emission, all-electric buses, which will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, decrease fuel consumption, and save on operating costs.

In FY 2010 and FY 2011, FTA’s Clean Fuels Program awarded $89.7 million for 36 projects and $62.8 million for 29 projects, respectively. This year’s projects were competitively selected based on their ability to help communities achieve or maintain the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ozone and carbon monoxide while supporting emerging clean fuel and advanced propulsion technologies for transit buses.

Transit ridership across the U.S. has increased 16 out of the last 19 months, and in July 2012, ridership was up by 2.5 percent over the prior 12-month period. 

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(UPDATED) Greyhound to Move into Chinatown Bus Market after Law Change

Friday, August 17, 2012

View through the window of a Chinatown bus. (photo by brotherM / Flickr)

(New York, NY - WNYC) UPDATE: A source in the NY State Senate says this bill is now a state law. Here's a few of the law's main points: 

Bus permit applications must include identification of the intercity bus company, buses to be used, and bus stop location(s) being requested; total number of buses and passengers expected to use each location; bus schedules; places where buses would park when not in use.

The city, prior to assigning an intercity bus stop, must consult with the local community board, including a 45 day notice and comment period.

Intercity bus permits would be for terms of up to three years; permits will cost up to $275 per vehicle annually; permits must be displayed on buses.

Intercity buses that load or unload passengers on city streets either without a permit or in violation of permit requirements or restrictions will face a fine of up to $1,000 for a first violation, up to $2,500 for repeat violations, and suspension or revocation of permit.

 

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is expected to sign a bill into law on Friday that would restrict where long distance bus companies can pick up and drop off passengers in New York City.

The bill becomes law if Governor Cuomo doesn't veto it by Friday at midnight, and would take effect after 90 days.

Greyhound and Peter Pan, two of the large carriers, are betting Cuomo will sign the bill: they're already vying for prime spots in Chinatown. Both have scheduled meetings next month with the transportation committee of Community Board 3 in Manhattan, which includes Chinatown.

The new law would require input from community boards before the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority could grant bus parking permits to a company. The permits would cost $275 per bus and be good for up to three years. Companies that operate curbside without a permit would risk a fine of $1,000 for a first violation and $2,500 for repeat violations.

As of now, bus companies can load and unload passengers at most legal parking spots in the city. Residents and officials in Chinatown, where many long distance bus companies do business, say that's causing crowding and pollution.

Greyhound operates discount carrier Bolt Bus. However, Greyhound spokesman Jen Biddinger said that if the company gets the new permits, they'd go not to Bolt Bus but "a totally new service operated by Greyhound." She declined to say how many spots the company is angling for. Greyhound currently offers curbside service at 34th & 8th at Penn Station.

Two accidents last year involving low cost bus lines killed 17 people. In May, the U.S. Department of Transportation shut down 26 "Chinatown" bus lines for safety violations.

State Senator Daniel Squadron alluded to those events when endorsing the current bill, "This first-ever permit system will bring oversight to the growing and important low-cost bus industry, helping to end the wild west atmosphere while allowing us to identify problems before they become tragedies," he said.

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Transportation Nation

LaHood Invites Bids for Enriched Pot of Federal Transpo $, Winks at Tappan Zee Bridge

Friday, July 27, 2012

That's the Tappan Zee Bridge in the background. It spans the Hudson River about 25 miles north of Midtown Manhattan. At three miles, it is the longest bridge in the state. (photo by digitaltree515 / flickr)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Step right up, we've got money for loans. That was essentially today's message from U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to states with large public transportation works in the planning. That includes rebuilding the Tappan Zee Bridge in New York, about which LaHood and his chief financial officer spoke positively, if vaguely.

 “We have heard from very high officials in the state of New York about this project and we have directed them to the notice in the federal register,” said LaHood, referring to today's official announcement that the grant money is available.

In February, the state applied for a $2 billion loan for the Tappan Zee Bridge from the U.S. DOT fund known as TIFIA (Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act). But TIFIA turned it down.

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo has been undeterred. He continues to apply political muscle to the project: this week, he appointed a former TV anchorman as Special Advisor to the The Tappan Zee Bridge. But he has yet to explain how the estimated $5.2 billion cost of the rebuilding will be funded. Given the state's limited finances, it would seem to behoove the governor to scoop up some of that TIFIA cash.

TIFIA functions as the U.S. DOT's infrastructure investment arm. In the past, it has paid for projects like an upgrade to the Staten Island Ferry and an extension to the President George Bush Turnpike in West Texas.

The fund is newly infused with $1.7 billion from the recently enacted federal surface transportation bill. LaHood said that money can be leveraged into $17 billion worth of "loans, loan guarantees, and standby lines of credit to major infrastructure projects with the potential to create jobs and spur economic development and growth." That's a big jump up from the last round of $120 million, which was used to dole out $1.2 billion in loans.

U.S. DOT chief financial officer Chris Bertram said the department favors projects that have "a revenue source like a dedicated sales tax or, in the case of the Tappan Zee Bridge, tolls." He said that reassures the department it will be paid back.

Department spokesman Justin Nisly said the sooner a grant application is received, the sooner it will be dealt with. "We will begin evaluating letters of interest immediately, and announcements will be made on a rolling basis."

U.S. DOT will also launch a unit that will help state and local governments figure out how to finance their transportation projects. According to a press release, the Project Finance Center will act as a wise uncle to bureaucrats seeking "to analyze financial options for highway, transit, rail, intermodal and other surface transportation projects facing funding challenges." 

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MAP: 255 Transit Projects Get $787 Million

Monday, July 23, 2012

This just in from the DOT.

Out of $4 billion in requests from state and local transit agencies, the federal Department of Transportation is doling out $787 million to 255 projects to fix old transit systems, upgrade or expand or build new ones.

In 2010 the DOT gave out $1.8 billion.

The release below lists a few of the larger recipients in this round of funding -- New Jersey, Maryland, LA for buses, Michigan for rail.

Here's a map of where all the funding is going, and in table form if words are your thing.

We'll have more details and analysis coming later this afternoon after the official announcement.

 

Here's the full release from the DOT:

U.S. Transportation Secretary LaHood Announces $787 Million to Repair, Modernize Nation’s Aging Transit Infrastructure

WASHINGTON – U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today announced $787 million that will put Americans to work modernizing and replacing aging transit facilities and vehicles to meet the growing demand from millions of riders across the country. This third round of federal funding will support 255 projects in 48 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

“President Obama’s support for an America built to last is putting people back to work across the country repairing and upgrading our nation’s public transit systems,” said Secretary LaHood. “By investing in the transit infrastructure people depend on to get where we need to go each day, we will keep our economy moving forward well into the future.”

Reflecting the need for infrastructure investment nationwide, demand for the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) FY2012 State of Good Repair and Bus Livability funds was overwhelming. FTA received 836 project applications totaling $4 billion in requests. In FY2010 and FY2011, FTA awarded a total of more than $1.8 billion in grants for hundreds of state of good repair projects, primarily involving buses and bus facilities.

“Since Day One, this Administration has been focused on addressing the maintenance backlog of our nation’s transit systems, and this is another down-payment on that effort,” said Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff. “For millions of Americans, these investments mean that they may more reliably and safely get to work to earn a paycheck or get to daycare to pick up their children on time, or simply have new choices to enjoy the communities in which they live.”

An interactive map of this year’s projects, along with a searchable table, can be found here: http://www.fta.dot.gov/about/12322_14741.html

Examples of projects selected include:

New Jersey Transit: $76 million to upgrade its statewide bus fleet, to improve commuting times, improve air quality for state residents, and save on fuel by doubling the fleet of fuel-efficient buses. In addition, the state will put new hybrid coach buses on the road to improve the commute to New York City and start a new Bus Rapid Transit service between Camden County and downtown Philadelphia.

Maryland Department of Transportation: $40 million to replace Baltimore’s 65-year old Kirk Division Bus Facility with two sustainable “green” buildings that will help reduce operating costs, create local construction jobs in Northeast Baltimore, and help more than 350 local transit employees maintain a growing fleet of new, energy-efficient buses that are now serviced elsewhere. 

Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority: $15 million to replace aging buses with new buses which will use compressed natural gas. These new buses will improve reliability for riders, leave a smaller environmental footprint and reduce fuel costs.

Capital Area Transportation Authority in East Lansing, Michigan: $6.3 million to redevelop a former Amtrak station near Michigan State University into the Capital Area Multi-Modal Gateway Project, which will improve bicycle and pedestrian access and connections to local bus and rail service.

City of Charlotte, North Carolina: $4 million to replace Charlotte Area Transit System diesel buses that have met or exceeded their useful lives with new hybrid technology buses that will reduce emissions, save on fuel costs, and reduce long term maintenance costs.

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US DOT To Spend $29 Million On Improving Transportation Options For Vets

Monday, July 02, 2012

Wounded veterans ride bicycles and hand bikes on the South lawn of the White House during the kicking off the 2010 Wounded Warrior Soldier Ride. (Flckr / William D. Moss)

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood announced 64 grants to help vets get around once they're back in the United States. Most of the money will go toward making it easier for veterans and their families to get transportation information by using smartphones and computers.

A typical grant was the $50,000 going to the Jacksonville Transportation Authority to help vets "connect to transit services through a single call or a single visit to a web page. Services include support organizations, social service agencies, car and van pools, volunteer driver programs, bicycles, walking, and taxis."

In all, 33 states and the Northern Mariana Islands will receive the awards. One of the largest went to the San Diego Association of Governments, which will receive $2 million to create a free mobile transportation app and 20 interactive transportation kiosks at military facilities and other veterans sites.

LaHood said vets need the assistance because of injuries suffered during service and because "the unemployment rate for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is more than 12 percent, more than four percentage points above the national average."

He gave the example of The Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority in Dayton, Ohio, which is home to the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and more than 80,000 veterans. "The $450,000 grant announced today will make it easier for returning and retired veterans and those who have disabilities to arrange for rides by phone, smart phone or on the web," LaHood said.

Peter Rogoff, Administrator of the Federal Transportation Authority, which will administer the grants, said, “America’s war heroes deserve a chance to support their families, participate in their communities, receive job training and get to work. It’s vitally important that we remove barriers to success by making transportation available wherever our veterans choose to live, work and receive care.”

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Transportation Nation

Ask the US DOT Secretary Your Transpo Questions!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

US Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is inviting questions from TN readers. Want to know how the nation's transportation priorities are shifting? Wondering about the future of high-speed rail? Or how he decides where to spend the DOT's $70 billion budget? Or do you just want to know if he really does honk at drivers he sees texting behind the wheel?

For the next episode of his Q&A video series called “On the Go," Secretary LaHood is inviting questions from Transportation Nation readers. To ask him a question, you can:

Post questions on the Secretary’s Facebook page

Tweet using the #q4ray hashtag

Leave a comment on the Secretary’s blog, or

Leave a comment on this page

He will choose three or four to respond to. Let him know we sent you – write ‘TN’ at the end of your question.  We’ll post his video when it’s available.

Want to see what "On the Go" is like? Watch Secretary LaHood field questions from TN readers in 2011!

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Transportation Nation

LaHood: DOT Should Oversee Transit Safety

Friday, May 04, 2012

Washington's Metro (photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nj_dodge/68549080/)

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is stepping up his efforts to get Congress to pass his legislation allowing the DOT to oversee local transit agency's safety performance.  "Particularly in communities all over America that have stepped up transit, LaHood tells WAMU.

"We believe there ought to be some agency," says LaHood. "We think it ought to be the Department of Transportation and so did the Senate."

The U.S. DOT has been trying to get this legislation passed for several years.

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Transportation Nation

No Federal Loan for Tappan Zee Bridge -- At Least Right Now

Thursday, April 26, 2012

UPDATED WITH LETTER FROM FEDERAL GOVERNMENT New York State had been hoping that a third of the cost of the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement would be funded through a low-interest loan. But the federal government has taken a pass -- at least for this round.

State officials are maintaining that today's announcement is "very good news."  Speaking at an Albany press conference, director of operations Howard Glaser said the bridge would still be considered in later rounds of funding.

"They advised us the Tappan Zee bridge would be one of the six large scale projects that will be considered in the second round," Glaser said. But Glaser acknowledged financing couldn't come until after congress passes a surface transportation re authorization bill, which many experts predict won't happen until after the November elections.  And a letter supplied to Transportation Nation (at the end of the post) didn't mention a short list of six projects.

In February, the state sent the U.S. Department of Transportation a letter of interest, requesting a $2 billion TIFIA (for Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act) loan for the massive bridge construction project.

The state had said that the total cost of the project would be about $5.2 billion, although a budget hasn't been finalized.

The TIFIA website says that the agency received "26 Letters of Interest (LOIs) seeking more than $13 billion in credit assistance to finance approximately $36 billion in infrastructure investment across the country." It continues: "While limited TIFIA resources mean that not all of the LOIs can be selected, five projects are being invited to apply for credit assistance."

But state officials -- who have yet to release a financing plan for the project -- say the Tappan Zee bridge isn't out of it. "In this first round they only did $100 million total for the whole country," Glaser said. " Remember our application for the Tappan Zee alone is in excess of $2 billion.  So those large sclae  high profile projets will be a further round based  on federally available funding. They can't fund these large programs right now."

Glaser said the Tappan Zee bridge funding would have to wait until Congress reauthorizes the transportation bill.

TIFIA loans are used for large-scale infrastructure projects that cost $50 million or more. Loans can't exceed 33% of project costs.

The letter to the state from the federal government didn't make any mention of a short list of six projects. Here's the letter:

John M. Bryan
Chief Financial Officer & Treasurer
Interim Chief Information Officer

Thank you for submitting a Letter of Interest (LOI) in response to the FY 2012 TIFIA Notice of Funding Availability.  In response to the December 30, 2011 deadline, the Department received 26 LOIs seeking over $13 billion in credit assistance to finance an estimated $36 billion in infrastructure investment.  The requested level of TIFIA financing is more than 10 times the level than can be supported given current program resources.

Each LOI has been evaluated against the TIFIA statutory criteria, and the Tappan Zee Bridge project performed well in our review.  Unfortunately, the Department does not have sufficient budgetary resources to invite an application for your project at this time.  In light of those constraints, the Department prioritized projects that could be accommodated within resource levels and required financing in the nearest time frame.  However, if TIFIA budgetary resources are significantly increased as proposed in the President's Budget and the House and Senate reauthorization proposals, we will create an expedited review process for those funds.  We encourage you to continue the planning and financial work necessary to move your project if and when that review process takes place.  Please note that even with an augmented program, the level of TIFIA credit assistance may still be constrained, which could impact the amount available for the Tappan Zee Bridge project.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Duane

Duane Callender
Director
TIFIA Credit Program  (HITJ)
US Department of Transportation

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Transportation Nation

U.S DOT: Transit Ridership Up Again in February, Increase Highest Since 2005

Monday, April 09, 2012

Phoenix light rail (US DOT photo)

This in from the DOT: transit ridership spiked 5.5 percent compared to February of 2011.  According to Ray LaHood's Fastlane blog, "This is the first time since 2005 that transit ridership has increased by more than 5 percent from the prior year for two consecutive months. And the average increase during the past six months of 4.5 percent is the highest since 2008."

The increase correlates almost exactly with the beginning of this run of higher gas prices.  Take a lot at this chart of gas prices over the last six months from  gasbuddy.com -- look at what happens in February.

Other facts from the DOT:

  • Houston's Main Street Red Line carries 45,000 passengers a day, far over expectations.
  • Phoenix's  light rail has fueled a push for transit in neighboring Tempe and Mesa.
  • Charlotte's Lynx has generated $1.4 billion in economic development.

Transit ridership also spiked in 2008, and the number of miles driven cratered, but that slowly changed as gas prices sank again. But last spring, as gas prices inched up, so did transit ridership.

In 2011, transit ridership also steadily rose, the American Public Transportation Association reports.

The result of all of these data points  -- that transit ridership tracks gas prices -- would suggest that Americans are fickle. Except that last week, U.S. PIRG released a report showing that transit use is way up among young people, and driving is way down: 24 percent over the last decade.

That suggests a generational shift may be underway. As these young people age, Americans may drive less.

Stay tuned.

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Transportation Nation

U.S. DOT Bus Safety App Is As Clear As A Blind Curve In A Fogbank

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Screen shot of US DOT's SaferBus app.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has released a new app called SaferBus that lets riders review a bus company's safety record. It is packed with useful information, little of it decipherable.

To begin with, a search for popular long distance carrier Bolt Bus calls up nothing. A spokeswoman for DOT says the app does have safety data on Bolt Bus and that you can find it if you happen to know that the company is owned by Greyhound or you have Bolt Bus's 7-digit DOT number.  Otherwise you're out of luck.

On the bright side, a listing for Megabus pops up right away when you type it into the app's search screen. Five safety categories appear, as they do for each carrier monitored by the agency. Click on the first one, Unsafe Driving, and you'll find that the DOT's "intervention threshold" is 50% and that the Megabus "on-road performance" number is 4.5%.

Is that good or bad?

Turns out that's good, which you can discover by reading the first of three footnotes--yes, footnotes--delineating the "percentiles range" of the agency's Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASIC).

Got it?

Tyson Evans, deputy editor for interactive news at The New York Times, gave SaferBus a test drive and then talked about how good apps work. "You have to come up with some kind of headline that says, 'Compared to everyone else, they're doing really well or really poorly,'" he said. "You have to have the context without cluttering it with endlessly footnoted explanations."

Like, say, the five stars found in every Yelp restaurant review--or the other user-friendly ratings on countless consumer websites.

The information on SaferBus is pulled from records kept by The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. The spokeswoman said the agency is restrained by regulation from presenting its safety data in a way that clearly compares carriers. “Unfortunately at this point, we can’t rate," she said. "If the rider wants to know good or bad, that’s not where the agency is yet.”

The design of the SaferBus app come from staff at the DOT in collaboration with The Volpe Center, another federal transportation agency. In other words, SaferBus is an in-house government production.

By contrast, the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority does not design its own apps using data such as train and bus schedules. Instead, the authority opens the code to third-party developers, who have created dozens of apps that tend to be user-friendly because, in the world of mobile data, user-friendly makes more money. There are 51 apps and counting in the authority's App Center.

U.S. DOT communications director Candice Tolliver said the agency plans to eventually follow the lead of the NY MTA. "Later this year, the agency will participate in a federal government Challenge program that gives app developers access to the raw data used to make SaferBus an effective safety tool," she said.

 

 

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Transportation Nation

LaHood: Gateway Tunnel "Absolutely Critical" To NY/NJ Region

Thursday, March 15, 2012

DOT head Ray LaHood threw in a plug for a trans-Hudson rail crossing known as the Gateway Tunnel.

Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) -- a longtime booster of a new trans-Hudson rail crossing between New Jersey and New York City -- was questioning the secretary at Thursday's Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing on the Department of Transportation's budget. Lautenberg asked LaHood:  "You've looked at this proposal many times. What impact might the Gateway Tunnel project have on mobility and the economy of the Northeast Corridor?"

LaHood's response:  “We are working with both New Jersey and New York. We know this tunnel is absolutely critical and we will continue our work. Look, if this is the priority for the region, then it becomes a priority for us.”

The Gateway Tunnel, which would boost capacity for both Amtrak and NJ Transit, was proposed last year as an alternative to the ARC tunnel -- which NJ Governor Christie cancelled in October 2010.  In November 2011, the Senate approved $15 million for Amtrak to begin design and engineering work on the Gateway project.

You can watch the video of Thursday''s exchange below.

 

 

 

 

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Transportation Nation

$77 Million in Transpo Grants To Universities

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

This is from the U.S. DOT:

U.S. Transportation Secretary LaHood Announces $77 Million in Transportation Research and Education Grants
 

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced today $77 million in grants to 22 University Transportation Centers (UTCs) to advance research and education programs that address critical transportation challenges facing our nation. The UTCs, which are located throughout the United States, conduct research that directly supports the priorities of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), and the participating universities are a critical part of our national transportation strategy. 

“Transportation matters in everyone’s daily life. These research centers will help us solve the transportation challenges we face today and those that we know lay ahead of us,” said Secretary LaHood.  

DOT’s Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA), which administers the UTC program, used a competitive selection process to select ten University Transportation Centers (UTCs), two Transit-Focused UTCs, and ten Regional UTCs. The centers will advance U.S. transportation technology and expertise in research, education, and technology transfer. Each one of the selected UTCs will receive a $3.5 million grant which they must match with funds from non-federal sources. The 22 UTCs selected are all consortia, involving a total of 121 different universities.  

“We are excited about the proposals these consortia put forward. They have the potential to advance basic and applied transportation research today and ensure a robust pipeline of professionals for the transportation workforce of tomorrow,” said RITA Acting Administrator Greg Winfree. “It is absolutely crucial that we continue to invest in research, which has the added benefit of attracting and developing the high level of professionals needed for innovation and expertise in transportation.” 

UTCs work with regional, state and local transportation agencies to help find solutions to challenges that directly impact their communities and affect the efficiency of the nation’s transportation system. UTC projects are peer-reviewed and the results of their work are shared with the national transportation community to encourage greater progress through collaboration. The selected universities will research a wide range of transportation-related issues including shared rail corridors, innovations in multimodal freight and infrastructure, bridge inspection methods, and reducing roadway fatalities and injuries. 

A list of grant recipients is available here. Find out more about the UTC program

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Transportation Nation

46 Projects Get Federal Grants To Reduce Oil Dependence

Thursday, November 17, 2011

This in from the US DOT on its "TIGGER" grants (not to be confused with Tiger.)  We'll have more after the DOT's media call, but for now, here's the US DOT release:
WASHINGTON – U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today announced that 46 innovative transit projects chosen for their capacity to help cut the nation’s dependence on oil and create a marketplace for 21st century ‘green’ jobs will share $112 million in funding from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA).

“These grants will put thousands of Americans back to work building sustainable, energy-efficient transit vehicles and facilities across the country,” said Secretary LaHood. “The Obama Administration is committed to investing in the cutting-edge transportation projects that will keep our economy moving forward.”

Projects were selected through the FTA’s competitive Fiscal Year 2011 Sustainability Initiative, which includes funding from two FTA programs: the Clean Fuels Grant Program and the TIGGER III (Transit Investment in Greenhouse Gas and Energy Reduction) Grant Program.

Examples of key projects receiving federal funds include:

•    South Florida Regional Transportation Authority’s Tri-Rail project will receive approximately $5.7 million from the TIGGER III Program to showcase Tri-Rail’s first green, LEED certified, sustainable stations, which will generate more than 100 percent of the station’s energy demand through solar panels.  The project will send excess energy back to the power grid and store daytime energy for nighttime lighting of the station, parking area, and other parts of the facility.

•    The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) will receive two  grants, one for $5 million to replace diesel buses with hybrid buses that will reduce fuel costs and save money, and another for $1.4 million to install a “wayside energy storage system” on the Market-Frankford rail line, consisting of a battery that stores energy generated by braking trains. The stored electrical power can then be used later whenever energy is needed.

•    The Connecticut Department of Transportation will receive $5 million to purchase a stationary fuel cell for CTTransit’s New Haven Division Bus maintenance facility. The fuel cell will provide up to 3.3 million kilowatt-hours per year, or aproximately 59 percent of the facility's annual electric use.

Clean Fuels Grant recipients were awarded competitively based on the project’s ability to help communities achieve or maintain the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ozone and carbon monoxide while supporting emerging clean fuel and advanced propulsion technologies for transit buses.

TIGGER III grants were competitively awarded based on the ability of projects to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions while providing a return on the investment.  Since 2009, the TIGGER program has invested in numerous innovative transit projects that have brought to market advanced fuel-cell and hydrogen-powered buses and allow for the development of sustainable transportation stations.

“The Federal Transit Administration is tapping into American innovation and ingenuity to develop and build leading edge energy efficient transportation technologies,” said FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff.  “These continued investments help combat the pain commuters feel at the gas pump and curb the harmful greenhouse gas emissions that pollute the air we breathe.”

The Federal Transit Administration reviewed 266 project applications for both grant programs representing more than $1 billion in funding requests from transit providers across the country. A full list of successful proposals can be found here.

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Transportation Nation

Mica: No More FAA Shutdowns

Monday, October 17, 2011

The 18th Intelligent Transportation Systems World Congress Kics off this week in Orlando

(Orlando- WMFE) Central Florida Congressman John Mica wants to pass a four-year aviation re-authorization bill by January.  But to come to an agreement,  he doesn't want another FAA shutdown.

"What's different is we've been there and done it,"  the Chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee told a crowd gathered at the 18th World Congress on Intelligent Transport Systems being held in Orlando this week.

"No one liked the partial shutdown, it caused a great disruption but it did get me a solution.  We will have in place long term transportation policy definitely for aviation, and I'm going to do my best for surface and highway transportation."

More Money Please

Mica also said he wants to fund transportation and infrastructure projects beyond their current level but didn't provide specifics, "We've got to find a whole new way for funding transportation."  One idea the Congressman adamantly opposed was any consideration of increasing the Federal gas tax, "completely off the table is any raise in the gas tax.  We are looking at funding possibly, the speaker (John Boehner) has said  some other sources, maybe at the wellhead, maybe where we could get a more reliable and steady transportation funding mechanism. Right now the system is broken.  You drive further and you pay less."

Technology Solutions

Some ideas that could save money for drivers and governments are on display at the 18th ITS World Congress.  One of them is the newly commissioned Central Florida National Test Bed for connected vehicles.  The test bed is composed of a 25 mile loop around part of Interstate 4 loaded with short range radio and GPS transmitters.  Those transponders communicate with so called "connected vehicles" which share safety information in real-time.  The idea is supposed to allow drivers to receive safety warnings if there is road hazard or car crash ahead.  Proponents of the technology, including the US Department of Transportation estimate implementing a "connected vehicle system" could reduce traffic congestion and emissions, and lower driving costs.

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Transportation Nation

NJ to Pay One-Third of Original Bill in ARC Tunnel Settlement

Friday, September 30, 2011

New Jersey has agreed to pay the federal government $95 million for a never-built transit tunnel under the Hudson River. The U.S. Department of Transportation and  NJ Governor Chris Christie's administration have been engaged in a bitter dispute over $271 million in federal funds that New Jersey had already spent on the tunnel when Governor Christie pulled the plug on the project a year ago, citing a fear of cost overruns on the $9 billion project.

Under the terms of the deal, New Jersey has also promised to direct $128 million of the money to transit projects approved by the DOT. That money was already allocated for New Jersey, but could, in theory have gone to other projects. This is nearly identical to a deal offered by the DOT in December.

Construction on the he so-called "Access to the Region's Core" -- or ARC -- began during the administration of Christie's predecessor, Governor Jon Corzine.  The tunnel, which would have been completed in five year's time, would have doubled transit capacity for commuter trains going from New Jersey to Manhattan.

Christie had initially said he was in favor of the project, but last fall he changed his mind, saying he feared the project would go way over budget.

This had been a marquee project for the U.S. Department of Transportation -- it was the biggest transit expansion underway in the nation.  U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood strenuously fought to save the project, traveling to Trenton and offering a number of sweeteners.

But Christie was unpersuaded, and workers began filling in the hole that had been dug last fall.

The bitterness over the tunnel's cancellation spilled over into a dispute about whether New Jersey would have to pay back funds it had already spent, with LaHood insisting that New Jersey pay back all the money, plus penalties and interest. Christie's administration hired the influential lobbying firm, Patton Boggs, at a cost of about $1 million, to negotiate the deal.

Today's settlement represents about a third of what the federal government initially said NJ owed. Governor Christie's office said the full amount would be covered by insurance on the project.

New Jersey Senators Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez -- both Democrats and vocal critics of the project's cancellation -- praised today's decision nonetheless, saying they didn't want New Jersey to have to pay nearly $300 million to the federal government for an unrealized project.

Tom Wright, Executive Director of the Regional Plan Association, which had worked on the ARC tunnel for 20 years, said, at the end of the day, he too approved of the decision. "You don't want big projects to be canceled with no repercussions," he said in a phone interview. "But at the end of the day you want that money for transit projects going forward."

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