Topic: high speed rail
The Federal Transit Administration late last month released new evaluation criteria for transit projects vying for funds from the New Starts and Small Starts programs. These two programs dispensed a total of $2 billion last year, providing roughly half the funding for transit expansions in the U.S. The new criteria will move away from evaluating projects on how much travel time they save and focus more on economic development and number of passengers served.
President Obama is making good on his State of the Union promise to provide for greater investment in infrastructure. In an announcement by Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, the TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) Discretionary Grant program will enter a fourth round, making another $500 million available for capital investments in surface transportation projects. TIGER 2012, as it is being called, will focus on projects having a significant impact on the nation, metropolitan areas or regions. High-speed rail and intercity passenger rail projects will remain eligible for funding.
Because of high demand, funds will be distributed on a competitive basis. In previous rounds of the TIGER program, the Department of Transportation allocated $2.6 billion toward 172 projects throughout the United States and its territories. This was despite over 3,348 applicants requesting more than $95 billion in funding. The Department of Transportation will evaluate each proposal’s safety, economic competitiveness, livability, environmental sustainability, state of repair and potential for short-term job creation.
Fitch Releases 2012 Outlook for Energy Infrastructure Projects - Fitch Ratings’ Outlook for North American energy infrastructure projects in 2012 is Stable according to its report entitled, “2012 Outlook: Energy Infrastructure North America.” (MarketWatch)
Breakthrough Could Double Solar Output – A chemist at the University of Texas at Austin may have discovered a way to double the efficiency from solar cells. (Los Angeles Times)
Recovery Through High Speed Rail? - An opinion article looks at why building a high-speed rail system in the U.S. is a good way to revitalize America’s economy and reduce the use of foreign oil. (Bloomberg)
Transit’s Not Bleeding the Taxpayer Dry — Roads Are - A discussion of the real cost of maintaining roadway infrastructure. (DC.StreetsBlog)
Fish Oil to Reduce Lead Contamination – The Environmental Protection Agency is overseeing a project in Oakland that uses a paste made from fishbone meal to reduce lead contamination in soil. This marks the first residential use of the practice, which is less financially demanding than replacing the contaminated soil. (The New York Times)
Are Wind Farms Eye Sores? – As wind farms multiply to keep up with the growing demand for clean energy, so do nearby residents’ complaints about the 450-foot eyesores. (Los Angeles Times)
Will Cellulosic Ethanol Fulfill Its Promise? – In 2006, cellulosic ethanol was expected to be a feasible alternative to energy-intensive ethanol made from corn by 2012. Today, cellulosic production lags significantly behind previous production estimates, and critics contend that it is a failure of government policy — rather than science — that is to blame. (Reuters)
Rail Funds Redirected to Missouri – Plans for the nation’s first truly high-speed rail network, which would link Los Angeles to the Bay Area with 220-mph trains, is in jeopardy after House Republicans voted last week to redirect all high-speed rail funds to flood-control projects in Missouri. (San Francisco Chronicle)
E.P.A. Issues New Rules for Power Plants – The Environmental Protection Agency has issued new rules for power plants in 28 states, aimed at reducing emissions of compounds that cause soot, smog and acid rain. (The New York Times)
Corn Ethanol Subsidies In Jeopardy – As part of the recent deficit reduction discussions, the $6 billion subsidy for corn ethanol producers has come into question and may be eliminated. (Wall Street Journal)
Trash Trucks Powered by Trash Gas – This week, Waste Management will add its 1,000th truck fueled with liquified natural gas (LNG). The company captures methane gas from its Altamont, CA, landfill to manufacture the LNG. (Los Angeles Times)
High Speed Rail: Any Results? – $630 million have been spent on high speed rail in California. Does the State have anything to show for it? (Sacramento Bee)
The House Transportation Committee recently drafted the Competition for Intercity Passenger Rail in America Act, which brings Amtrak one step closer to being ejected from the Northeast Corridor (“NEC”). The Act seeks to (i) end Amtrak’s dominance on the crucial passageway and (ii) promote private-sector competition, investment and operations. Other long distance Amtrak routes currently losing money could also be vulnerable to certain provisions of the Act. Public frustration with Amtrak apparently has grown as the company outlined a lengthy 30-year plan to bring high-speed rail to the NEC that would carry a price tag of $117 billion. With the proposed Act, legislators expect to cut costs, create jobs and improve efficiency and service.
Under the Act, Amtrak’s NEC assets would be transferred to the Department of Transportation (“DOT”). The DOT then would enter into a 99-year lease with the NEC Executive Committee, which would handle the NEC’s infrastructure and operations. Lastly, a competitive bidding process—open to the private sector—would be implemented, and winning bids would be selected by the NEC Executive Committee. Details regarding performance goals for bidders can be found in Section 106 of the Act.
The July issue of the online journal Urban Studies includes findings from a November 2010 study that identified three forces that most impact the demand for public transportation: service, fares and gas prices. The study showed that improved service translates into increased ridership, but that service has a less prominant impact on ridership than fares. Every 1% increase in fares translates into a 0.4% short-term dip in ridership and a 0.8% decline thereafter.
The study also showed, however, that a sharp increase in gas prices will result in higher ridership, as shown by a 13-month rise in demand for public transporation following a recent gas price spike. Moreoever, the research indicated that higher gas prices have a greater impact on increased ridership than a decrease in fares.
@Amtrak in Boston Could Face Changes – House Republicans propose to dismantle Amtrak and give private investors the right to bid on the construction and operation of a private high-speed rail service between Washington and Boston. (Boston Globe)
Municipal Bond Q & A with Peter Hayes – Questions and answers with Peter Hayes, head of the BlackRock Municipal Bonds Group. (Los Angeles Times)
Detecting Earth’s Groundwater Levels from Space – Scientists at the University of California’s Center for Hydrologic Modeling are searching for small variations in the Earth’s gravity in order to identify spots around the globe where people are making unsustainable demands on groundwater. (New York Times)
Vision for Transportation Policy – Op-Ed piece about transportation and infrastructure policy. (Wall Street Journal)
Conduit Bond Issuers Going National – The Wisconsin Public Finance Authority joins other conduit bond issuers in a growing trend of partnering with issuers outside their territorial boundaries. (American City and County)
Green Cars Need Green Dealerships – BMW of North America recently announced plans for a $60 million eco-redevelopment of two of its Manhattan dealerships. (Wall Street Journal)
Federal Energy Loan Program Survives – A Department of Energy green energy loan program survived recent budget cuts. (Reuters)
High Speed Rail Gets the Axe – The recent federal budget proposal completely eliminates funding for high speed rail. (Infrastructurist.com)
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood recently announced that 24 states, the District of Columbia and Amtrak are all in the running for $2.4 billion in federal high-speed rail money. The money became available when Florida Governor Rick Scott canceled a high-speed rail project previously earmarked to receive the funds, citing fears that the state would have to make up operating losses.
California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York and Texas are among the states hoping to receive a piece of the available money. According to California Governor Jerry Brown, his state hopes to use the funds as a building block for a statewide network of rail lines linking high-speed and intercity lines to regional lines. Some of the Midwestern states hope to use the money to buy new trains, build tracks and signals and install railroad crossing upgrades.
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) will review the applications based on each project’s ability to reduce energy consumption, improve the efficiency of a region’s overall transportation network, and generate sustained economic activity along the corridor. The date for project selections has yet to be determined.