Monday, May 16, 2011
News Roundup

Infrastructure in the News: May 16, 2011

The Hill reported that a rail security amendment has been added to a House intelligence authorization bill and AltTransport published Pew Center's report on transportation investments in 2010. More in this Infrastructure in the News.


BAF in the News

Courier Post: Delaware environment: Cleaning up contamination
Rendell, also a former Democratic National Committee chairman, is a co-founder of Building America's Future. The national campaign is lobbying widely for expanded public investment in public roads, bridges, buildings, railways and other infrastructure. "If we don't do something real soon about our infrastructure, we are headed toward becoming a second- or third-class economic power," said Rendell. 

The Hill: The Week Ahead
Former Gov. Ed Rendell, D-Pa., co-chair of Building America's Future Educational Fund; Joseph Kile, assistant director for microeconomic studies at the Congressional Budget Office; Matthew Posner, director of Municipal Market Advisors; and Gabriel Roth, civil engineer, transport economist and research fellow at the Independent Institute, will testify before the Senate Finance Committee on "Financing 21st Century Infrastructure," focusing on how best to fund infrastructure improvements, including how to replenish the Highway Trust Fund. The hearing will begin at 10 a.m. in 215 Dirksen.


National News

Time Magazine: The 20 Best and Worst Cities for Public Transit
With gas prices rising and family budgets strained, more commuters are looking for efficient ways to get to work without a car. But are America's transit networks up to the task? To find out, the BROOKINGS Institute analyzed 100 metro areas in the U.S. to see which cities are getting it right and which aren't. 

USA Today: Drivers face more toll increases
Record-high gas prices and a resulting reduction in travelers means there's no longer a guarantee traffic will increase year after year, says Neil Gray, government affairs director with the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association. And so, a growing number of the 100 toll agencies in 31 states are moving moved to scheduled increases to ensure funds for maintenance.

The Hill: Sen. McCaskill opposes disavowed mileage tax proposal
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who is considered by many to be vulnerable in the 2012 elections, came out this week against a proposal to tax people based on how many miles they drive.

Associated Press: Proposed federal aid cuts threaten rural airports
The Essential Air Service program was established in 1978 when the government deregulated the airlines, enabling them to drop lightly traveled routes that lose money and focus on lucrative, big-city markets. It pays carriers to provide a minimum number of seats and trips from small airports to larger "hub" airports. The $200 million program has long been a target of conservatives who consider it wasteful spending and political pork. But with 35 of the lower 48 states having at least one participating airport, supporters have fended off attempts to abolish or curtail it. 

Land Line: Congress focuses on infrastructure, funding
As Congress gets closer to drafting and debating a multiyear transportation authorization bill, lawmakers are offering up their own ideas about infrastructure and funding in an effort to get them included. There’s a reason these proposals are coming forward, says Ryan Bowley, director of legislative affairs for OOIDA. “The White House continues to say that a fuel tax is off the table, so that’s why we are seeing various funding bills like the infrastructure bank bills,” Bowley said. 

Streetsblog Capitol Hill: Brookings: Transit Access to Jobs Is the Missing Link
If you’re a middle-income person living in the Philadelphia metro area, there’s an 85 percent chance you live within three-quarters of a mile of a transit stop, and you probably have to wait about 12 minutes for a bus or train. But if you’re looking for work, beware: only 20 percent of the jobs in the region are accessible to you via transit in a reasonable amount of time. 

BNET: Americans Say They'll drive Less at $4.90/Gallon, but They're Lying
Let’s face it, U.S. society is incredibly dependent on cars, and expensive gas can only change that at the margins and over fairly long periods of time. Taking public transportation to work, for instance, currently isn’t even a real option for more than half of Americans, no matter how expensive gas gets.

Infrastructurist: Walkability Plus Greenery Equals Greater Home Value
Economists at Reed College have taken a step forward in determining the value of walkability . Niko Drake-McLaughlin and Noelwah Netusil studied thousands of real estate transactions in Portland, Oregon, and found that walkable homes are pricier homes — especially when walkability intersects with neighborhood greenery. Citing reasons of review, the authors ask writers not to quote from a draft of the research paper, but the May issue of Portland Monthly sums up the findings well.

Streetsblog Capitol Hill: So Many Subsidies for Big Oil, So Little Political Will to End Them
Lisa Margonelli, director of the New America Foundation’s Energy Productivity Initiative, hit the nail on the head on the problem with Congressional action on oil subsidies. Yesterday, she wrote in Politico that ending Exxon’s unjustifiable tax breaks would be nice, but there are far more egregious examples of U.S. government handouts to big oil. 

Department of Energy: Secretary Chu Highlights More Than 1,800 Electric Vehicle Chargers Installed Under the Recovery Act
As part of the Obama Administration's comprehensive plan to address rising gas prices and reduce oil imports one-third by 2025, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu today announced that to date, more than 1,800 electric vehicle chargers have been installed under the Recovery Act. Coulomb Technologies, ECOtality, General Motors and others have been moving forward to install the charging stations as part of the Administration's investments in U.S. electric vehicle manufacturing and alternative vehicle infrastructure. Secretary Chu made the announcement at an event today in Exposition Park in Los Angeles, California, where he was joined by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Coulomb Technologies founder and Chief Technology Officer Richard Lowenthal. The event marked the installation of the 500th electric vehicle (EV) charger by Coulomb, which received a $15 million award under the Recovery Act. 

New York Times: Scientists’ Report Stresses Urgency of Limiting Greenhouse Gas Emissions
The nation’s scientific establishment issued a stark warning to the American public on Thursday: Not only is global warming real, but the effects are already becoming serious and the need has become “pressing” for a strong national policy to limit emissions of heat-trapping gases.

AltTransport: Pew Study Rates Environmental Stewardship for Each State
In 2010 states spent an estimated $131 billion on transportation systems. A report, “Measuring Transportation Investments: The Road to Results,” released by the Pew Center on the States and the Rockefeller Foundation examines those dollars and other factors. The five areas of the study include safety, jobs and commerce, mobility, access, environmental stewardship and infrastructure preservation.

AltTransport: Cities Report an Increase in Transit Ridership as Gas Prices Rise
With gas prices breaking $4 a gallon in much of the United States, and the flooding crisis in the Gulf states promising to drive oil prices even higher, it’s hardly surprising that public transit ridership has increased in much of the country. What might be surprising is where it’s increased. CNN Money reports several cities are reporting a bump in transit ridership—but they’re cities that aren’t exactly known as public transit innovators.

Transportation Nation: AAA: 630 Bicyclists Killed in Motor Vehicle Crashes in 2009
The AAA gets in on the “respect campaign,” kind of a motorists counterpart to the “Don’t Be A Jerk” campaign, with this story on its web page.  The “Jerk” campaign tells cyclists to follow the law (don’t ride the wrong way, or on a sidewalk) using humorous ads with Mario Batali and John Leguizamo.  Now the AAA is telling drivers, more or less, not to be jerks to cyclists:

The Hill: Rail security amendment added to House intelligence bill
An amendment to the intelligence authorization bill that would place a higher priority on making sure railways are secure was approved Friday by the House.

Progressive Railroading: Amtrak: keeping an eye on the long-range forecast for U.S. intercity passenger rail
It's been four decades since Amtrak began operating a national intercity passenger-rail system, taking on a slew of unprofitable passenger services from about 200 freight railroads after the 1970 passage of the Rail Passenger Service Act. And for four decades, the railroad has had a less-than-stable upbringing.  

Transportation Nation: Does Driving Make You Fat?
A new University of Illinois study says it does.   The language is kind of academic, but the conclusion is  “if the relationship [found in the study] holds, each 1% reduction in annual VMT [Vehicle Miles Traveled] per [licensed driver]  would be associated with a 0.8 % drop in the adult obesity rate six years later. ..For the United States as a whole, given an adult population of around 230 million…this implies that reducing daily vehicle travel by one mile per licensed driver (i.e. 365 miles per year) would lead to almost 5 million fewer adults being classified as obese after six years.”

Fleet Owner: The state of state transportation spending
In fact, just 13 states – California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Virginia (my home state!) and Washington – maintain goals, performance measures and data to help decision makers prioritize transportation spending. 

American City & County: States not tracking transportation spending
In fiscal year 2010, states spent an estimated $131 billion in taxpayer dollars on transportation. However, only 13 states have goals, performance measures and data needed to show whether their surface transportation systems are advancing economic growth, mobility, access and other key objectives, according to a new report from the Washington-based Pew Center on the States (PCS) and the New York-based Rockefeller Foundation.


State News

Los Angeles Times: California's high-speed train-wreck
California's much-vaunted high-speed rail project is, to put it bluntly, a train wreck. Intended to demonstrate the state's commitment to sustainable, cutting-edge transportation systems, and to show that the U.S. can build rail networks as sophisticated as those in Europe and Asia, it is instead a monument to the ways poor planning, mismanagement and political interference can screw up major public works.

Sacramento Bee: Dan Walters: California's high-speed train is going nowhere
California's chronic inability to govern itself has made it an international laughingstock with a blistering article in the Economist, a highbrow British magazine, only the latest manifestation of that unfortunate status.  

California High Speed Rail Blog: Jim Costa Throws Cold Water on LAO Suggestion of Redirecting Federal Funds
One of the cornerstone arguments of the recent Legislative Analyst Office was that California should make the same demand of the federal government that Scott Walker and Chris Christie made: that the state be able to use the HSR funds for other purposes entirely.

Los Angeles Times: Los Angeles County rail projects: Metropolitan Transportation Authority is poised to accelerate its rail projects
The county's Metropolitan Transportation Authority unveiled this month a record $4.15-billion budget that includes money for about a dozen rail lines that are either under construction or being planned.

National Resource Defense Council: Expanding light rail in LA means developing "complete streets" for local communities
Once fully constructed, the Expo Light Rail Transit line will offer a crucial alternative to freeway gridlock and service an estimated 64,000 daily riders by 2030, allowing residents to travel from Santa Monica to Downtown in approximately 46 minutes. 

Eureka Times-Standard: Humboldt to receive $1.4 million in transportation funds
The California Transportation Commission (CTC) announced Thursday that it has allocated $58 million in new funding to 56 highway, transit and rail projects statewide to support jobs and upgrade the state's vital transportation system -- $1.4 million went to projects in Humboldt County.  

Boulder Daily Camera: Boulder B-cycle bike share launches new era in local transit
"We look at it as helping to create a culture of getting out and biking for any trip, all the time," said Marni Ratzel, the bicycle and pedestrian transportation planner for GO Boulder, which is supporting the project. "I think it breaks down a barrier for some people in terms of wanting to bike." 

The Ledger: Florida Transportation Funding: Stuck in 'Paradise'
"These projects will put thousands of Americans to work, save hundreds of thousands of hours for American travelers every year and boost U.S. manufacturing by investing hundreds of millions of dollars in next-generation, American-made locomotives and rail cars," Vice President Joe Biden said last week.

The Transport Politic: Rahm Emanuel and the Power of Municipal Entrepreneurship
Despite its burgeoning downtown, Chicago has big problems. The city lost 200,000 people between 2000 and 2010, according to the U.S. Census. Vast tracts of the south and west sides of the city sit vacant. Job growth in the metropolitan area is slower than in most other regions of the country. The city faces a $75 million budget deficit just over the next few months. 

Chicago Post-Tribune: High-speed rail development compared to transcontinental effort
A declaration from Gov. Mitch Daniels declaring Friday as National Train Day in the state made note of the May 10, 1869, placement of a famous golden spike. 

Indianapolis Business Journal: Interstate network isn't enough
Indiana’s interstate highway network is something to behold. Interstates 70, 74 and 65 crisscross the state. Interstate 69 will join them once it’s extended from here to Evansville. And when the Hoosier Heartland Highway Corridor is finished between Fort Wayne and Lafayette and U.S. 31 is upgraded to interstate standards from here to South Bend, you won’t be able to go far in Indiana without going over, under or onto an interstate highway. 

Associated Press: Evacuations in Cajun country after floodgates open
Days ago, many of the towns known for their Cajun culture bustled with activity as people filled sandbags and cleared out belongings. By Sunday, some areas were virtually empty as the water from the Mississippi River, swollen by snowmelt and heavy rains, slowly rolled across the Atchafalaya River basin. It first started to come, in small amounts, into people's yards in Melville on Sunday. But it still had yet to move farther downstream. 

Transportation Nation: Boston: Upwards of 1/3 of Riders Use Transit App Tools
About a year ago, I did a story for Marketplace on how Boston is releasing the GPS data on buses to the private sector — and how you can see where all its buses are, at any moment.  Just got this email update from Joshua Robin,  Director of Innovation and Special Projects at the MBTA. 

Michigan Live: Why money to improve high-speed rail service is good for Michigan
This week’s announcement that Michigan will receive $200 million in federal funds to improve Amtrak’s high-speed rail service between Detroit and Kalamazoo is good news for the state. The agreement further defines Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder as a leader focused on pragmatic solutions instead of partisan battles. 

Finance and Commerce: High-speed rail: On track or derailed
The proposed Northern Lights Express high-speed rail project got a boost this week from the federal government, but a lot more state and federal money will have to come down the tracks before the estimated $800 million project becomes reality. 

New York Times: In Christie's Policies, Pain for Commuters
As a standard-bearer of fiscal conservatism, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey won over voters with his aggressive, no-excuses approach to taming budget problems and identifying the parties he held responsible for them. He has sparred with unions, cut spending and sworn off raising taxes, including the state’s low gasoline tax.  

New York Post: New MTA buses lacking in head and leg room
The MTA's newest buses have New Yorkers scratching their heads at the numskull design, where riders 5-foot-2 or taller can easily hit their noggins on the low roofs.  

New York Times: Canarsie Plant to Reduce Sewage Flow into Jamaica Bay
On Thursday, New York City officials announced the opening of a $400 million plant in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn that is designed to capture the sewage and storm water runoff that had been discharged into Paerdegat Basin and Jamaica Bay during rainstorms.  

Tulsa World: I-244 bridge lane closure a taste of what's to come
Contractors for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation will be making minor repairs to help ensure that the 44-year-old span is maintenance-free during the coming $64 million project to replace the interstate's nearby westbound span. The eastbound span will carry traffic heading in both directions during much of the replacement project.

Bike Portland: Portland and bikes when disaster strikes
When disaster strikes here in Portland; what role will bicycles play? After all, we have not only the largest percentage of regular bike riders of any big city in America, we're deep when it comes to cyclocross talent (for those hard to pass roads), and we've got a flourishing cargo bike scene. 

Reading Eagle: Broken bridges
The stretch between the Penn Street Bridge and Interstate 176 contains several bridges with decks pockmarked by patching, making the surface more like a washboard than a smooth road. 

Rust Wire: Seeing Through the Smog in Pittsburgh
For the Pittsburgh region, spring also means receiving bad news from the American Lung Association’s State of the Air Report, which ranks the cleanest and dirtiest air in our cities. (Pittsburgh always gets bad news.) Angry rebuttals from editors and think tanks are released almost as quickly, questioning methodology, sampling rates, and monitor locations.

The State: Pay back money or finish I-526, McConnell says
Powerful lawmaker Sen. Glenn McConnell says Charleston County’s decision to walk away from the Mark Clark Expressway project — and not repay$11.6 million in state money already spent — is akin to asking for a government bailout. 

The Hill: Texas moves bill to ban airport pat-downs
The bill was approved unanimously by the Texas House of Representatives, and a vote is pending in the state Senate. If it's approved and the governor signs it, it will be the first state law restricting TSA's security techniques. 

Next American City: Third Houston Outerbelt Would Turn Prairies Into Texas Toast
In this place — one of the country’s few remaining tall-grass prairies — something amazing happens each fall. First hundreds, then thousands, then millions of birds arrive here at Katy Prairie, an international wintering grounds for migratory birds, especially waterfowl. 

Transportation Nation: Top D.C. Transportation Officials Resign As New Mayor Struggles to Fill Leadership Vacuum
It’s five months into his first term, and D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray still hasn’t selected a permanent head to his Department of Transportation. Now, two of the Department’s top deputies are resigning and one says this leadership vacuum was a factor in her departure. 

National Public Radio: Area Congressman Plays Big Role in Shaping Transportation Spending
Congressman Richard Hanna, a Republican, sits on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee which will create a several hundred billion dollar spending plan for America's transportation system over the summer.

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