Saturday, November 26, 2016

This Week in Transportation: November 26, 2016

Photo courtesy of Reuters.
This week in transportation, the FRA released draft regulations for high-speed rail and buzz grew for President-Elect Donald Trump's transportation infrastructure plan. Here are the most important and interesting transportation stories from the past week:

The Feds finally make safety rules for high-speed rail
WIRED reports, "Today, it’s back to good news: The Federal Railroad Administration is releasing new draft regulations that could make it a lot easier to build the speedier transport option right here in the US of A. They lay out clear safety standards for the trains, the product of 10 years of back-and-forth with industry."

Stephen Bannon has a grand plan to secure Trumpism’s future. Will Democrats cooperate?Greg Sargent writes for the Washington Post, "One of the most consequential decisions at the outset of the Trump presidency will be this: How far will Democrats go in cooperating with Donald Trump’s vow of a big boost in infrastructure spending? At first Democrats sounded very accommodating on this front, signaling that they were eager to work with Trump to pass a big package. But in an interview with me, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi laid down a harder line. She suggested Democrats should reject any infrastructure scheme that amounts to a privatization plan fueled by tax breaks, which it increasingly looks like Trump’s plan will be."

Five things to know about Trump's infrastructure plan
The Hill writes, "Buzz is growing around President-elect Donald Trump's plans for a massive infrastructure package. Republican and Democratic lawmakers frustrated by the lack of significant federal transportation spending are hopeful they can work with Trump on a bill, making it one of the few bipartisan issues that could see action next year... While the final details of Trump’s plan are still in flux, the real estate mogul has offered clues on the campaign trail about how he would work to repair the nation’s ailing transportation system. Here are five things to know about Trump’s infrastructure ideas."

Railroads push for inclusion in Trump infrastructure plan
The Hill reports, "A trade group representing major freight railroads and Amtrak is urging President-elect Donald Trump to include the rail industry in any infrastructure proposals. In a letter to the transition team on Monday, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) called for a number of specific policy reforms that affect the freight rail industry."

Be Wary of a Trump-Led Infrastructure Bank
Laura Bliss writes for The Atlantic's CityLab, "Still, if it was seeded adequately and guided by strategic policy objectives, a national infrastructure bank could serve a new and meaningful purpose, as an addition to the federal government’s existing suite of financing tools. Now, whether that means Congress should rally to support a Trump-backed infrastructure bank—or any part of a Trumpian infrastructure plan—is a separate question. Prominent Democrats have announced their willingness to partner with Trump on his public works proposals. Yet Trump’s plan to privatize infrastructure projects, insofar as his advisors have explained it, is profoundly unviable. And it’s entirely unclear what the national objectives of Trump’s infrastructure build-out would be, beyond jobs, jobs, jobs."

Happy reading, and happy weekend!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

This Week in Transportation: November 19, 2016

Photo courtesy of the Washington Post

This week in transportation, transportation came into focus for the next Congress, California's high speed rail briefly considered buying foreign train parts, and DC Metro's maintenance program may get an extension. Here are the most important and interesting stories from the past week:

House, Senate appear split on infrastructure as top priority
The Hill reports, "Republican leaders in the House and Senate appear to disagree on whether an infrastructure package will be an immediate priority for the next Congress... House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Monday that he supports fixing the nation’s infrastructure and believes it could be a top priority for the lower chamber, though he emphasized that any plans would need to be fully paid for... But across the Capitol, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has adopted a different tone. The Kentucky Republican seemed to throw cold water on Trump's infrastructure proposal last week, saying it would not be a top priority."

Opinion: Trump's big infrastructure plan? It's a trap.
Ronald A. Klain, who oversaw implementation of the Recovery Act under President Obama, writes for the Washington Post, "I’ve got a simple message for Democrats who are embracing President-elect Donald Trump’s infrastructure plan: Don’t do it. It’s a trap. Backing Trump’s plan is a mistake in policy and political judgment they will regret, as did their Democratic predecessors who voted for Ronald Reagan’s tax cuts in 1981 and George W. Bush’s cuts in 2001."

Foreign train parts? Never mind, says California High-Speed Rail Authority
The Silicon Valley Business Journal reports, "The authority that’s building the system, due to begin service from San Jose in 2025, withdrew a waiver to the Buy America Act today that it filed just last week with the Federal Railroad Administration. Had the waiver been granted, it would have allowed the authority to equip its trains with components built outside the United States... Though it wasn’t stated explicitly, it’s clear that the authority came under political pressure following last week’s announcement."

Metro's SafeTrack could cost twice as much as expected and likely won't conclude until June
The Washington Post reports, "Metro’s SafeTrack maintenance program will cost significantly more than anticipated and take at least three months longer to complete, according to a progress report released Wednesday. The report by the Federal Transit Administration estimates that the total cost of the project will be $118.8 million — nearly twice the $60 million price tag Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld floated in June... Additionally, the FTA report confirms what had already become apparent after recent changes to the SafeTrack schedule. Although the project was originally expected to conclude by March 2017, managers are now predicting a June 2017 completion date."

Happy reading, and happy weekend!

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Transportation News Round-Up: November 12, 2016

Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

This week in transportation, President-Elect Donald Trump made his opening bid on a transportation infrastructure package, and Obama Administration unveiled a new plan for electric vehicle corridors, and Americans cast their votes on a variety of transportation ballot measures. Here are the most important and interesting transportation stories from the past week:

Trump's answer to fixing country's transportation infrastructure: use other people's money
Forbes reports, "President-elect Donald Trump said in his victory speech following the election on Tuesday that a major focus of his administration will be upgrading America’s ailing transportation infrastructure and creating jobs in the process... Trump plans to encourage $1 trillion in private sector infrastructure spending via $140 billion in tax credits for the companies that invest in infrastructure construction. That’s far short of the $3.6 trillion the American Society of Civil Engineers estimates it would take to significantly raise the grade (currently a D+) of the U.S. transportation infrastructure."

Obama Administration announces new actions to accelerate the deployment of electrical vehicles and charging infrastructure
The White House has announced a series of new steps to make it easier for electrical vehicle (EV) drivers to drive cross-country. The new measures include:
  • Establishing 48 national electric vehicle charging corridors on our highways, covering nearly 25,000 miles in 35 states;
  • 28 states, utilities, vehicle manufactures, and change organizations committing to accelerate the deployment of electric vehicle charging infrastructure on those corridors; 
  • 24 state and local governments committing to partner with the Administration and increase the procurement of electric vehicles in their fleets;
  • Conducting two studies to evaluate the optimal national electric vehicle charging deployment scenarios, including along DOT’s designated fueling corridors; and 
  • 38 new businesses, non-profits, universities, and utilities signing on to DOE’s Workplace Charging Challenge and committing to provide EV charging access for their workforce.
After Eno Transportation Weekly outlined 10 transportation ballot measures to watch on Election Day, I found that voters passed nine of the 10. The approval of these measures will help improve public transit in Los Angeles, modernize Rhode Island's ports, connect North Carolina's Research Triangle, and much more. As I wrote, "After a very eventful election, we'll all be watching to see how transportation policy will be reshaped at the federal level. But we see from these ballot measures that cities continue to lead the way, with voter approval, in providing public transportation and infrastructure upkeep for their constituents at the local level."

The Washington Post asks, "How about a high-speed ferry to transport commuters from Woodbridge to the D.C. waterfront in under an hour? Or a gondola to carry people through the skies over Rosslyn to Georgetown in less than five minutes? A superfast train that could take you from Union Station in Northeast Washington to Baltimore in 15 minutes and another that would get you to Richmond in 90 — more than an hour faster than today’s Amtrak service? Sound too unrealistic for a region that struggles with upgrading its crumbling bridges, paying for new roads and finding the money to rebuild its struggling Metro system? Possibly. But transit planners, advocates and government officials say the proposals aren’t just wishful thinking."

The Concord Monitor reports, "Tuesday night’s gubernatorial debate saw lots of conflicting numbers thrown out for the cost of a proposed rail line. The project in question is a 33-mile extension of an existing MBTA commuter rail line from Lowell, Mass., to the cities of Manchester and Nashua. Rail has been one of the most hotly contested issues in the race for governor between Democrat Colin Van Ostern and Republican Chris Sununu – and their cost estimates vary widely. Van Ostern estimates the project will cost the state between $3 million and $4 million per year in operating fees, while Sununu generally lists the total price tag at $350 million." The article explores who's right, and what it would take to finance expanded rail service in New Hampshire.

Happy reading, and happy weekend!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Transportation funding a voter favorite at ballot box

ATLANTA: A northbound MARTA train passes by bumper to bumper
traffic on GA 400. Photo courtesy of Curtis Compton.

Shortly before Election Day, Emily Han and Ann Henebery of the Eno Center for Transportation outlined 10 ballot measures to watch on Election Day of the hundreds of transportation measures and initiatives that were on the ballot. Of the 10 measures, selected for having broader implications beyond their individual cities or regions, voters passed nine of them. The approval of these measures will help improve public transit in Los Angeles, modernize Rhode Island's ports, connect North Carolina's Research Triangle, and much more.

Let's look at these 10 important transportation ballot measures to see what happened:

Metropolitan Detroit: DEFEATED
Voters narrowly rejected a $4.6 billion regional transit plan to build out a rail and bus network that would have connected Macomb, Oakland, Washtenaw and Wayne counties. The 20-year, $1.2 million tax proposal received roughly 49.5% of the vote, losing by an extremely thin margin.

Los Angeles County: PASSED
Los Angeles voters approved Measure M, a permanent half-cent sales tax increase to fund a major expansion of the county's public transit system. The measure is expected to bring in $120 billion over the next three decades to fund a range of transportation projects, including a rail line to LAX airport, a Purple Line extension to Westwood, and sidewalk/bike infrastructure repairs and expansions. ENO writes that the measure will "allow Los Angeles to create and sustain a robust transportation network."

Rhode Island: PASSED
Rhode Island voters approved a state-wide ballot measure to issue $70 million in bonds to finance expansion of two seaports to accommodate larger freight ships. With the rise of ocean carrier alliances and the gigantic "neo-Panamax" ships coming into America's ports, it will continue to be important to deepen waterways and modernize our maritime infrastructure.

Louisiana: PASSED
Voters approved Amendment 5, which will create a new Revenue Stabilization Trust Fund funded by oil and gas revenue, as well as corporate taxes when collections are higher than usual. Once the fund reaches $5 billion, some of it will be spent on construction projects and road work. ENO writes that Amendment 5 "presents yet another scenario where a state is using new, creative means to generate funding for transportation infrastructure."

Sound Transit District, Metropolitan Seattle: PASSED
Voters approved Sound Transit 3 with 54% support. Proposition 1 raises property, sales, and car-tab taxes to finance a slew of new transportation projects including 62 more miles of light rail, extended commuter rail, more park-and-ride spaces, and bus rapid transit.

Honolulu: PASSED
Voters approved a charter amendment placing operations and maintenance responsibilities for public transportation, including setting rail fares, solely in the Department of Transportation, rather than the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation. ENO wrote the vote "would provide a precedent for voters changing a transit agency's governance;" the measure is a response to increasing costs of constructing the city's rail system.

Atlanta: PASSED
Voters overwhelmingly approved a half-penny increase for the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) to expand transit services, as well as a three-quarters-penny increase to pay for traffic signal synchronization, road repairs, new bike lanes, and buying right-of-way to complete the Atlanta Beltline.

Wake County, NC: PASSED
Voters approved a half-cent increase to the local sales tax rate to fund an expansion of public transportation. The tax will generate $1 billion towards a regional transit plan extending bus and rail service into new neighborhoods and improving connectivity in the Research Triangle of Durham, Chapel Hill, and Raleigh.

New Jersey: PASSED
New Jersey voters approved a "lockbox" amendment requiring the state's 37.5-cent per gallon gas tax to go exclusively to transportation. The issue was supported by Republican Gov. Chris Christie and Democratic leaders of the state legislature, who compromised on a deal to raise the gas tax by 23 cents and cut other taxes after the state ran out of money to pay for transportation projects.

Arlington, VA: PASSED
Arlington voters broadly approved a bond referendum for transportation projects. Included in the $58.8 million package is $30 million for WMATA's capital improvement program, $23.89 million for road pavement, and $5 million for other projects such as bridge renogations, BikeArlington, and traffic signals. ENO had written that "it will be interesting to see if voters in this transit-intensive county still have trust in the system" given WMATA's fiscal woes - with 78% support, it seems they do.

We can see based on these results that there remains an appetite for new and/or improved public transportation options in America's cities even if it means raising taxes. What's more, voters are also willing to pay for projects that will help fuel economic development in the region (see Rhode Island) or change an agency's governance when they aren't satisfied with the results they're getting (see Hawaii).

After a very eventful election, we'll all be watching to see how transportation policy will be reshaped at the federal level. But we see from these ballot measures that cities continue to lead the way, with voter approval, in providing public transportation and infrastructure upkeep for their constituents at the local level.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Transportation News Round-Up: November 5, 2016

Photo courtesy of Texas Central Partners
This week in transportation, Americans across the country considered transportation funding ballot measures, a regional RPO filed suit against the Houston-Dallas high-speed train, and Georgia moved closer to a high-speed link between Atlanta and Chattanooga. Here are the most important and interesting transportation stories this week:

"On November 8, in addition to the presidential drama, another election story, with dramatic lessons about state and local influence, will play out as Americans in nearly half the 50 states vote on important questions related to transportation investments in their regions. Eno has compiled a list of the states that have measures up for vote on Election Day and will continue updating this database."

government technology: New York City area tragedies bring infrastructure issues to the forefront
"Long before the crash in Hoboken, New Jersey Transit was in a state of turmoil. The organization operated without an executive director for nearly a year, and its board of directors went several months between meetings. The system faced a nearly $45 million budget shortfall this year, which transit officials offset using cash reserves and “internal efficiencies.” When a system operates in a disorganized and underfunded manner, problems are inevitable. These problems are hardly unique to New Jersey Transit. Transportation systems throughout the country grapple with similar issues."

Click 2 Houston: High-speed rail lawsuit filed
"The Waller County Sub-Regional Planning Commission filed suit in Travis District Court Wednesday against the Texas Department of Transportation for violation of state law that requires it to coordinate planning on the high-speed rail that has been proposed between Dallas and Houston... According to the release, Texas' Local Government Code, a state statute, clearly states 'In carrying out their planning and program development responsibilities, state agencies shall, to the greatest extent feasible, coordinate planning with commissions to ensure effective and orderly implementation of state programs at the regional level.'"

"A study released Wednesday by Texas Central suggests a large number of the state's residents would use a high-speed train the company wants to build between Dallas and Houston. According to the survey, more than 80 percent of 2,000 residents surveyed said they would consider using the bullet train, which would have a stop in northern Grimes County, and more than two-thirds who have traveled between Houston and Dallas in the past year would "definitely" or "probably" use a high-speed train it were available."

"After years of study, three possible routes have been identified for a high-speed rail line between Chattanooga and Atlanta. One route follows closely the I-75 corridor, while a second would veer to the east and include Chatsworth, Ga. A third would have a connection to Rome, Ga. The Georgia Department of Transportation study says following closely to I-75 is the shortest route at 128 miles between the Atlanta and Chattanooga airports. It also would be the quickest at 88 minutes."

Happy reading, and happy weekend!