Saturday, May 21, 2016

Transportation News Round-Up: May 21, 2016

Photo courtesy of the Washington Post.

This week in transportation, the presidential candidates found one thing to agree on, the White House expressed frustration with the permitting process, and DC Metro continued to be unpopular. Here are the most important and interesting stories from the past week:

The Hill: Rebuilding plans capture spotlight
All three of the remaining presidential candidates, including presumptive nominees Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, have spoken on the importance of federal investment in transportation infrastructure. Given the sorry state of our transportation system, this is heartening. It is somewhat discouraging, however, to see the author write that Trump "sounds like a Democrat" when he talks about the importance of investing in infrastructure: that was not always a partisan issue.

Morning Consult: White House official says infrastructure permitting process needs work
Jason Millar, deputy director of the White House National Economic Council, said this week that the Obama Administration will tackle challenges related to our infrastructure in two ways: first through new investment under the 21st Century Clean Transportation System, and through a review of inefficiencies related to our infrastructure permitting system. This could certainly be helpful, as we've seen a connection between the large-scale projects that have trouble getting through the permitting system, and the projects that would create the most jobs and other economic benefits.

Next City: This is what a smarter 21st-century transportation system will look like
Next City outlines the three criteria that a "smarter, more equitable 21st-century transportation system" should meet: it should leverage transportation investments to drive job growth, it should put racial and economic equity at the center of the investment decision-making process, and it should ensure that the communities that will be affected by those investment decisions have a part in the decision-making process.

Washington Post: Nearly half of you use public transportation - and less than a third are satisfied, according to new survey
It's almost too obvious to be newsworthy, but a new study has found that while DC-area residents continue to rely on public transportation, a majority of them are unsatisfied with the quality of our  transportation system. WBA Research found that 47 percent of respondents use public transportation (42 percent of which use Metro, and the rest Metrobus and other options like MARC and Circulator), but less than a third of those riders would rate the system at least 8/10. However, vast majorities of DC, Virginia, and Maryland commuters would be at least somewhat likely to support increased government funding for public transportation.

California High-Speed Rail Authority: Central Valley Construction Update - April 26, 2016
This is a bit longer than a week old (it was posted May 10), but CHSRA has released a  new video updating residents and transportation wonks on the progress that's being made to California's new high-speed rail system. The video takes us on a tour of the Central Valley, highlighting developments from bridges and viaducts to tunnels that will allow the train to circumnavigate existing infrastructure. One thing we're not seeing yet: tracks.

Happy reading, and happy weekend!

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Transportation News Round-Up: May 7, 2016

Photo courtesy of DC Fire and EMS

This week in transportation, a CSX freight train derailed, DOT announced a new program to help cities remove divisive infrastructure, and DC Metro unveiled its major maintenance plan. Here are the most important and interesting stories of the past week:

Reuters: U.S. bullet train proposals shun public funds, favor private cash
Anyone who's been following the California high-speed rail project knows it's been plagued by, among other obstacles, funding gaps that could jeopardize future construction segments. The project has relied on public funding this far, including bond sales approved by voters in 2008, Recovery Act funding, and cap-and-trade revenues. This story takes a look at some of America's other high-speed rail projects - in Texas, Nevada, and Minnesota - that have chosen to go private instead, and what the advantages and disadvantages are to that. A blog post I wrote several months ago explored some of the differences and similarities between California's and Texas' projects.

Fresno Bee: High-speed rail plans Madera stop
Speaking of high-speed rail, work on the California project continues, with the California High-Speed Rail Authority announcing last week that the new system will include a connecting station in Madera linking HSR to Amtrak's San Joaquin passenger rail service. Connectivity will be an important part of how HSR interacts with the larger transportation system in California, but there are likely political reasons for this move as well, given Madera's opposition to the system as a "fly-by" city.

Read more here:

CityLab: The U.S. DOT's newest plan to tackle transportation barriers
In order to tackle the challenge of transportation barriers - such as a viaduct cutting through a city - Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has announced the Every Place Counts Design Challenge. Local governments will work with urban planners, designers, and local residents to identify neighborhoods that face transportation infrastructure-related barriers and compete for special attention from DOT design experts. Having spent a year in Syracuse, NY, where the viaduct has certainly curtailed economic growth in the middle of the city, I think this is an important transportation-related challenge that the federal government should play a greater role in tackling.

WTOP: CSX train derails in Northeast D.C., causing hazardous leak
Early Sunday morning, a CSX train heading from Maryland to North Carolina derailed in Washington, DC, overturning several cars including one that contained a hazardous chemical. Sodium hydroxide is used to make household products such as paper and soap, and Hazmat workers plugged the leak that same morning. It's unclear what caused the derailment, but DC is facing a number of infrastructure challenges and this only serves to re-emphasize that point.

The Hill: Metro to shut down portions of subway in massive repair effort
DC Metro released the details of its massive track work plan, which will take place from June of this year to March 2017. Five stations will be closed at different times throughout that period, with 10 portions of lines utilizing single-tracking for periods of less than one month. Contractors will be brought in to complement the work of Metro crews, which will include replacing insulators, eliminating temporary gauge bars, replacing wooden ties and fixation fasteners, and clearly drains. After a series of embarrassing and dangerous incidents, including tunnel fires, it's clear the work is necessary but we'll have to wait and see how effective it is in mitigating future disasters.

Happy reading, and happy weekend!