Saturday, February 20, 2016

Transportation News Round-Up: February 19, 2016

Photo courtesy of Rich Pedroncelli, AP
There were a lot of interesting news items and opinion pieces on transportation topics this week, from federal rail funding to state- and city-level infrastructure projects. Here are the big stories of the week:

The Hill: Amtrak requests $1.8B for fiscal 2017
On the heels of December's FAST Act, Amtrak has requested nearly $2 billion for fiscal year 2017, funding that will be used to implement Amtrak's five-year plan to meet rising demand for capacity and performance on the Northeast Corridor, buy new trainsets, and address the omnipresent problem of deteriorating infrastructure. The request will doubtlessly reignite debate over Amtrak subsidies; while Republicans argue that privatizing the Northeast routes would lead to more efficient operation, rail advocates note that the Northeast routes actually cross-subsidize money-losing, long-distance routes elsewhere in the country (see my earlier blog post on this topic).

New York Times: What happened to the great urban design projects?
This is a great piece by Allison Arieff of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association on recapturing the creative spirit that gave us infrastructural marvels like California's Golden Gate bridge. It uses Atlanta's BeltLine and Elon Musk's Hyperloop as examples of modern, imaginative transportation projects that deserve more attention and appreciation. To quote Arieff, "In an age of cost overruns, project delays, safety risks and the other, seemingly infinite obstacles to infrastructure... keeping our eye on what's possible is certainly as important as fixating on what isn't."

Sacramento Bee: High-speed rail operating plan pivots to Silicon Valley
The California High-Speed Rail Authority released its draft 2016 business plan this week, and it shifts the next construction segment north. Instead of focusing on the Merced-Bakersfield-Los Angeles portion of the system, they will now turn their attention to the less costly Kern County-San Joaquin Valley-San Jose segment (map below for those less familiar with the geography). Authority board chairman Dan Richard says the shift "marks a transition from what has been primarily planning and initial construction to being able to tell the Legislature and the people that we now know with the available resources we have... those funds are sufficient to build and open and operate the first real high-speed rail leg in California."

Image courtesy of the California High-Speed Rail Authority

Vice: NYC wants to build a state of the art transit line - but sea level rise could put it under water

In his effort to promote a "modern, efficient, state-of-the-art" transit link along the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio has thrown his support behind the Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX) project, a system of trolleys and light rail connecting Sunset Park, Brooklyn to Astoria, Queens. But climate change scientists caution that with predicted sea level rise due to climate change, the proposed route would run along current and future flood zones. It makes for an interesting example of the interconnectedness of transportation and climate change issues.

Omaha World Herald: Legislators want infrastructure bank for roads projects, but disagree on how to fund it
The idea of establishing an infrastructure bank to help finance transportation projects has long been a popular one, and as states continue to take the lead on repairing and revitalizing their infrastructure, many are considering this option (30 states already have one). In Nebraska, there's agreement on the need for a state infrastructure bank, but not on how to pay for it: Sen. Jim Smith of Papillion supports moving $150 million from the state's cash reserve to launch the bank, while Sen. Heath Mello of Omaha says the bank should take no more than $50 million from the reserve. It's the sort of bread-and-butter issue that a lot of states are debating as they continue to deal with transportation funding gaps.

Happy reading, and happy weekend!

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