Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Obama Administration Proposes Major Public Transportation Policy Shift to Highlight Livability

Official portrait of Secretary of Transportati...Image via Wikipedia

Last Wednesday LaHood

proposed that new funding guidelines for major transit projects be based on livability issues such as economic development opportunities and environmental benefits, in addition to cost and time saved, which are currently the primary criteria.

In remarks at the Transportation Research Board annual meeting, the Secretary announced the Obama Administration’s plans to change how projects are selected to receive federal financial assistance in the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) New Starts and Small Starts programs. As part of this initiative, the FTA will immediately rescind budget restrictions issued by the Bush Administration in March of 2005 that focused primarily on how much a project shortened commute times in comparison to its cost.

"Our new policy for selecting major transit projects will work to promote livability rather than hinder it," said Secretary LaHood. "We want to base our decisions on how much transit helps the environment, how much it improves development opportunities and how it makes our communities better places to live."

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Sunday, January 17, 2010

TRANSPORTATION: Officials warn Obama's 'smart growth' initiatives may be hard to sell

(Monday, January 11, 2010)
Saqib Rahim, E&E reporter

Administration officials gave an update yesterday on the president's "livability" initiative, saying it has been difficult to recast the vision of U.S. communities, with so many laws geared toward another vision: the auto-driven society.

Speakers at a conference of transportation researchers said the three main agencies in charge -- the Department of Transportation, U.S. EPA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development -- have already begun to craft plans.

But they said the Obama administration's "livability" vision, which has taken flak for being too vague, also faces hurdles because many federal laws discourage, or even make illegal, transportation plans for walking, transit and dense neighborhoods.

Beth Osborne, DOT's deputy assistant secretary for transportation policy, said federal laws often work at cross-purposes, so planners have a hard time drawing a blueprint that includes different kinds of infrastructure.

"A lot of it [is] the disjointed federal programs that often discourage and certainly do not incentivize the coordination of housing policy and transportation policy, water infrastructure policy, economic development policy," she said.

"In fact, within the transportation program, we really disincentivize this," she said. A state that improves traffic flow and transit use will burn less gasoline, meaning it will lose revenue from its main source of transport funding -- the gas tax. "That state that creates greater efficiency can see their own budget get slashed as a reward."

The administration introduced the livability initiative last March, proposing that the three government agencies, working together, could improve coordination in a transport system that had developed in an ad hoc way, making cars and sprawling suburbs facts of daily life.
Scant public support for congestion pricing

The initiative was built on a "smart growth" vision that assumes Americans are often forced to drive because they don't have other options, such as quick transit service, walkways to grocery stores, or even carpool lanes.

The speakers said they are tailoring their new programs, many of which are funded through last year's economic stimulus bill, to help localities break through zoning laws that prevent smart growth. Osborne said Capitol Hill has asked DOT to craft its own version of a transportation reauthorization bill, the half-decade-long plan that would not tell states how to grow, but would offer funding to guide growth.

Officials on the panel said this large-scale shift is a difficult pitch to make, especially in the economic slump.

There's another reason, as well, according to other experts on the panel: Many transportation policies are being sold poorly to the American public, which doesn't understand the wonky talk of researchers and remains unexcited about plans that make driving more expensive.

One proposal, known as "congestion pricing," would charge motorists to drive on the most stagnant roads. The revenue could be used on an urban highway or other ways to unsnarl the knottiest zones of a city's downtown.

New York City is one of two governments that are using the charge, but as Bruce Schaller, the city's deputy commissioner for planning and sustainability, pointed out, it's a tough sell to drivers that see they will pay more, but don't know what they get for it.

Unless leaders can make that connection -- that the congestion charge should reduce traffic, reducing commute times, with the money possibly going to other infrastructure -- the policy just won't get popular support, Schaller said.

"The key issue is ... what the benefit is for drivers," he said. "We need to have a conversation with the public ... not in ways that [researchers] frame the discussion, but in ways that people can relate to."

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The Obama-Biden Plan

The Obama-Biden Plan

As a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago, Barack Obama learned firsthand that urban poverty is more than just a function of not having enough in your pocketbook. It's also a matter of where you live -- in some of our inner-city neighborhoods, poverty is difficult to escape because it's isolating and it's everywhere. Our job across America is to create communities of choice, not of destiny, and create conditions for neighborhoods where the odds are not stacked against the people who live there. Barack Obama will lead a new federal approach to America's high-poverty areas, an approach that facilitates the economic integration of families and communities with efforts to support the current low-income residents of those areas.

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Beyond the Motor City

{{fr|1=Rame TGV 4402 (Record du monde de vites...Image via Wikipedia

Spain: The Next American System?
When President Barack Obama introduced his high-speed rail plan last year, he pointed to Spain — not only as an example to follow, but also as a country America has fallen behind. “In Spain, a high-speed line between Madrid and Seville is so successful that more people travel between those cities by rail than by car and airplane combined,” said the President, “There’s no reason why we can’t do this. This is America. There’s no reason why the future of travel should lie somewhere else beyond our borders.”

Spain opened its first Alta Velocidad EspaƱola, or AVE (meaning “bird” in Spanish), high-speed train route in 1992 — the same line President Obama referenced. The network has spread out since, with trains traveling at speeds up to 218 mph over 1,242 miles of rail from Malaga (the south coast) to Barcelona (the northeast coast) and points in between.

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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Eased Federal Rules a Boon for SEPTA and NJ Transit Plans

PHILADELPHIA, PA - NOVEMBER 3: SEPTA elevated ...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

By Paul Nussbaum
The Philadelphia Inquirer
PENNSYLVANIA - Proposed rail projects on the Philadelphia waterfront and in South Jersey got a significant boost yesterday when federal transportation officials announced plans to rescind Bush administration restrictions on transit spending.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the Obama administration wanted greater flexibility to pay for transit projects that could provide an economic boost or benefit the environment.

That could make it easier to get federal money for a proposed $1.5 billion light-rail line from Camden to Gloucester County and for a $500 million light-rail line along the Philadelphia waterfront.

The Delaware River Port Authority, which is planning the projects, had acknowledged they likely would not qualify for federal aid under existing rules.

Projects being developed by SEPTA and NJ Transit could also benefit from the proposed policy change, officials said.

"Our new policy for selecting major transit projects will work to promote livability rather than hinder it," LaHood said yesterday at the annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board in Washington. "We want to base our decisions on how much transit helps the environment, how much it improves development opportunities, and how it makes our communities better places to live.

The Bush administration, which believed transit systems should rely less on federal funding, in 2005 restricted federal grants to projects that could show significant reductions in commute times in comparison with costs.

The new approach, said Federal Transit Administration chief Peter Rogoff, "will help us do a much better job of aligning our priorities and values with our transit investments. No longer will we ignore the many benefits that accrue to our environment and our communities when we build or expand rail and bus rapid-transit systems."

The $500 million Philadelphia light-rail project would operate on tracks in the middle of Columbus Boulevard between Pier 70 and Girard Avenue. The route would provide service between the two casinos planned for the waterfront, Foxwoods in the south and SugarHouse in the north.

A Market Street light-rail line would run from City Hall to the waterfront line.

The waterfront trolleys could be running by 2016 if funding is available, DRPA officials have said.

The $1.5 billion South Jersey project is proposed to run 18 miles alongside a Conrail freight line and serve Glassboro, Pitman, Mantua, Wenonah, Woodbury, Deptford, West Deptford, Westville, Bellmawr, Brooklawn, and Gloucester City.

The line would connect to PATCO and River Line trains at the Walter Rand Transportation Center in Camden, where passengers could catch trains to Philadelphia or Trenton.

The first leg, between Camden and Woodbury, could be operational in five years.

Gov. Corzine committed $500 million in state funding to help build the line, and transit officials said they hoped to get state, federal, and corporate funding for the rest.

Most of the DRPA's money comes from tolls paid by drivers who cross the agency's four bridges over the Delaware River.

Without substantial federal aid, the most likely source of money for the rail lines would be higher bridge tolls. Auto tolls are scheduled to rise by $1, to $5, on July 1, 2011. That revenue is committed to paying off existing debt and maintenance and repair projects that are already scheduled.

The new policy won't take effect until the FTA prepares rules and a 60-day public comment period is held. The rule-making process could take at least six months.

"Hopefully, it's good news for us," SEPTA spokesman Richard Maloney said yesterday, "but we just don't know yet what the rules are going to be."

Contact staff writer Paul Nussbaum at 215-854-4587 or pnussbaum@phillynews.com.

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Change in Washington Could Mean Shake-Up for Central Corridor Plans

Changing of the Guard, Inaugration Day, Washin...Image by Beverly & Pack via Flickr

By Dave Orrick
St. Paul Pioneer Press (Minnesota)

MINNESOTA - A major change to a powerful bureaucratic formula in Washington sent local officials scrambling Wednesday to figure out the impact on the proposed Central Corridor light-rail line linking St. Paul and Minneapolis.

It's all about the CEI.

Behind all the politics and posturing that have characterized many major decisions about the proposed 11-mile train line -- the debate over a tunnel beneath the University of Minnesota, the struggle over how much to spend, if anything, on University Avenue businesses facing the loss of parking, the decision to remove three stations from largely minority neighborhoods -- the Federal Transit Administration's "cost-effectiveness index" has reigned supreme.

On Wednesday, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced the CEI's reign was over.

The CEI is a complex algorithm that determines how much a project should cost, given its ability to save time for the population it serves. Under President George W. Bush, it determined the fate of all mass-transit projects in which the federal government was asked to pay half the construction cost, including the Central Corridor.

With President Barack Obama's blessing, LaHood is proposing new guidelines based on "livability issues," such as economic-development and environmental benefits, as well as cost effectiveness.

Some said the change opened the door to more stations along University Avenue and more money for businesses. Others suggested it could provide more money to address the University of Minnesota's concerns over the trains' effect on sensitive research equipmen

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And some said it would do nothing.

"There's a lot we don't know about what this means," cautioned Nancy Homans, the Central Corridor point person for St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman.

Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff specifically mentioned the Central Corridor, saying he was troubled "from a civil rights perspective" that the project might not build train stations in black and Asian neighborhoods of St. Paul because they wouldn't comply with the Bush policy's cost-effectiveness rules.

The new policy "will allow that (train) service to do a better job of serving those communities," Rogoff said.

"He's my hero," St. Paul City Council member Dave Thune said Wednesday with a fist-pump after a reporter read him Rogoff's quote. Thune, along with council members Russ Stark and Melvin Carter III, made a beeline for Coleman's office shortly after learning the news.

"We can use this to supply relief for our businesses," Thune said.

"And build the three stations," Stark interjected, referring to stations along University -- at Victoria, Hamline and Western -- that were initially planned but yanked from the official project because they hurt the cost-effectiveness index. Currently, the city is planning to pony up the roughly $5 million needed to build one of those stations, but the fate of the other two is unclear.

"It's an enormous opportunity to give people the project we always promised," Thune said Wednesday.

Not so fast, warned several other officials, including Peter Bell, chairman of the Metropolitan Council, the lead agency on the project

"I am not, as of this point, planning on taking any different actions," Bell said. "Everybody's broke."

In other words, Bell and others said, just because spending restrictions might be loosened doesn't mean there's any more money available.

The Coleman administration appears to agree.

"Everybody's pockets didn't just get fatter with this announcement," Homans said.

Bell, an appointee of Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, said the cost-effectiveness index was too restrictive, but he cautioned against removing it from play entirely.

"Does everything come back now?" Bell said, emphasizing that his staff as of Wednesday evening was unsure what the announcement meant. "Is the tunnel back on? That's two years of study and analysis and a lot more cost -- and everybody's broke. ... I am not planning on revisiting the tunnel."

Susan Kimberly, interim president of the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, said too much progress and too many compromises have been made to reopen many aspects of the plan.

"This does not change the realities of Minnesota's economic climate," Kimberly said. "We simply don't have the time or money to re-examine every decision made over the last several years. Central Corridor must move forward on time and on budget so we can realize its benefits."

University of Minnesota officials were reviewing the federal action Wednesday and hadn't fully determined what it meant either, a spokesman said.U.S Rep. Jim Oberstar, a Minnesota Democrat who chairs the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, praised Wednesday's news, and a spokesman said it would help the Central Corridor. A congressional staff attorney told local officials the change would help the project reach a crucial milestone next month of receiving Federal Transit Administration recommendation for funding in the president's 2011 budget.

But although LaHood rescinded the Bush policy, his new proposal can't take effect until after a long regimen of hearings and public comment under the federal rule-making process. It's highly unlikely that will be done before the spring, when, officials hope, final agreement with the Federal Transit Administration will be inked.

"And that might mean this has no effect on the Central Corridor," Bell said. "We're still trying to figure it all out."

If all goes as Bell outlined, construction will begin later this year.

This report includes information from the Associated Press.

Friday, January 15, 2010

AP misses the transportation stimulus jobs forest for the trees

The Associated Press Building in New York City...Image via Wikipedia

January 11, 2010
AP misses the transportation stimulus jobs forest for the trees

Today, the Associated Press published an article skeptical of transportation stimulus spending's effect on employment. Now, I'm all for a vigilant press to help keep our government effective. But this story is missing the point. This Administration's transportation stimulus spending is putting people to work.

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Running on empty: Bay Area transit in crisis

C class tram number 3017 at the St Vincent's P...Image via Wikipedia


Running on empty: Bay Area transit in crisis

By Mike Rosenberg

Bay Area News Group
Posted: 01/09/2010 10:19:56 PM PST
Updated: 01/10/2010 12:41:19 PM PST

After enduring the most brutal year in the history of Bay Area public transit, train and bus operators are barreling down a track toward bankruptcy.

The near-inevitable result will be costlier and longer commutes for all, whether they ride or drive

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Thursday, January 7, 2010

What We Learned From The Stimulus

And how to use what we learned to speed job creation in the 2010 jobs bill
The latest data on stimulus spending show that funds spent on public transportation were a more effective job creator than stimulus funds spent on highways. In the 10 months since the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) was signed, investing in public transportation produced twice as many jobs per dollar as investing in roads:

* Every billion dollars spent on public transportation produced 16,419 job-months.
* Every billion dollars spent on projects funded under highway infrastructure programs produced 8,781 job-months.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Kolkata Monorail mass transit system to be operational by mid-2011

Kolkata Monorail mass transit system to be operational by mid-2011
Posted by . at 6:06 PM

From 2011 onwards, you will be able to travel on the Kolkata Monorail!

India has, it seems, a newfound fascination with monorail mass transit systems. Last week it was the MMRDA which cleared the Mumbai monorail project, and now the Kolkata-based Andromeda Technologies has got an order for building a monorail public transport system in Kolkata.

Three German companies – Fernmeldewerk Munchen Aubing, Derap AG and Helbling Technik will be working with Andromeda on this monorail project, work on which will start in March 2009. In the first phase, the monorail system will connect Budge Budge to Taratala in South Kolkata, a distance of around 20km. The cost of putting up the monorail will be Rs 600 million per kilometre, and the project is expected to be completed by mid-2011.

In the second phase, Kolkata’s monorail project will be extended by another 52km, stretching from Taratala to Rajarhat, in the eastern part of the city.

Why America Needs Trains

Joe Biden

Vice President of the United States of America
Posted: January 5, 2010 06:48 PM

Why America Needs Trains