Saturday, February 27, 2016

Transportation News Round-Up: February 27, 2016

Photo courtesy of Michael Rivera, Wikimedia.
This week in transportation, the US Department of Transportation announced new TIGER grants, the Tesla Supercharger Highway expanded, and Google continued building up its new smart cities effort. Here are the stories I found most important or interesting this week:

The Hill: Feds to award $500M in transportation grants
The U.S. Department of Transportation announced over the weekend that it will award $500 million for infrastructure construction projects across the country as part of the 2016 Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program. TIGER grants, first established under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act ("the Recovery Act"), are competitively awarded and can be used to rebuild a deficient bridge, make a train station more handicap accessible, and anything else that helps our transportation infrastructure help the economy.

Transportation Topics: More states consider tolls to finance infrastructure
As the gas tax becomes a less and less adequate revenue stream for investing in infrastructure projects, states are increasingly looking for other funding mechanisms. Several are considering introducing (or, in Connecticut's case, reintroducing) tolls as a way to raise money off drivers to help pay for roads. Different states' tolls will work differently: Rhode Island's will be truck-only, while other states like Arizona and Illinois are considering them just for freight-heavy highways. The money quote, which speaks to state governments' desperation for infrastructure funding: "When people's hopes for [a federal fuel-tax hike in] the FAST Act weren't realized, that moved the focus back on the states... Tolling is no one's first option."

Atlas Obscura: America's massive new transportation infrastructure system is hiding in plain sight
This piece explores the rise of electric vehicles and supercharging stations that allow EV drivers to travel further and recharge more quickly. Tesla's so-called "Supercharger Highway," according to Atlas Obscura, would be a game-changer for the EV industry, as right now you can only drive your EV so far from home before it needs to be recharged. In fact, the company says that by the end of the year, there will be enough stations that you will be able to drive your electric car through every state in the continental US.

Wired: Google's city-fixing "Sidewalk Labs" is finally getting to work
Google has a new project, "Sidewalk Labs," which aims to bring city planners and technologists together to solve urban issues from congestion to housing to energy use. The idea is that bringing private- and public-sector entities together will harness the unique strengths of both: the private sector's flexibility and efficiency, and the public sector's commitment to helping all of its constituents, not just the most tech-savvy. Its first project, LinkNYC, will replace old phone kiosks with free WIFI, including touch screens that allow for local calls and internet browsing.

GreenBiz: Green infrastructure grows like a weed
This excerpt from GreenBiz's 2016 State of Green Business Report highlights opportunities and challenges in the area of low-carbon infrastructure, be it transportation, energy, water, or other kinds. The issue is framed as both a climate change necessity and economic opportunity. As the report says, "Readying the world economy for the climate change challenge can be seen as a major investment opportunity... This includes low-carbon transport, such as railways and urban metros, and low-emission buildings, both new constructions and retrofitted existing buildings."

Happy reading, and happy weekend!

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!