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.
Transportation For America has provided an informative list of 10 things we should know about the new, 600-plus page, transportation law. MAP-21 is the new two-year national transportation program. Here are the 10 things:
- Incentivizing costly new construction, making repair optional. Under most circumstances, the required local match for building Interstate lanes drops from 20 percent to 5 percent. Meanwhile, dedicated funding for bridge repair disappears altogether.
- Steps toward accountability for performance, but few teeth. In a positive step, MAP-21 does begin to set performance targets for goals such as highway and bridge conditions and safety.
- A false promise of “flexibility”. Flexibility to spend federal transportation dollars on freight rail, local roads or expanding the frequency of buses and trains was dropped from the final bill. Many local governments will find their ability to meet needs as they see fit has been reduced.
- Less money, but more local control, to make streets safer for all users. The bill eliminates the popular Transportation Enhancements, Safe Routes to School, and Recreational Trails programs and creates a new set-aside called Transportation Alternatives, at a third less funding. Larger metros will get the money directly, but smaller and more rural communities may see little to none of it, depending on their state DOT.
- Continued funding of transit “New Starts” projects. In a victory for public transportation riders, MAP-21 will continue to fund new rail and rapid-bus projects at current levels, and with simplified approvals. The bad news is that the fund is wildly oversubscribed.
- More capacity to borrow, but less to innovate. The bill expands the ability to borrow at low cost through programs like TIFIA, but it eliminates the TIGER program, which allowed local entities and others to apply for grants for innovative projects.
- Transit stays in the trust fund, with more accountability for repair and safety. Fortunately, House leaders failed in their bid to remove federal dedicated funding for public transportation. New requirements will help to ensure that transit systems stay in good repair and are safe.
- Multiple changes to environmental and citizen review, with unpredictable impact. One of the biggest and noisiest fights was over what House negotiators termed “streamlining”, a euphemism for removing environmental and citizen protection around transportation projects. While wholesale elimination was averted, myriad changes to the rules will have impacts that only time will reveal.
- For rural communities, a seat at the table and a focus on the most dangerous roads. The bill authorizes the creation of new rural planning entities that will represent smaller communities in state transportation planning. It also should make it easier to fix rural highways with high crash rates.
- Tolling for new interstate lanes and HOV sleight-of-hand, and an emphasis on public-private partnerships. The short version: Restricting the ability to toll interstates to new lanes only misses a major opportunity to both manage traffic and generate revenue from thousands of miles of clogged urban interstates. U.S. DOT also is required to develop best practices for public-private partnerships, including ways to protect public and state and local government interests
Transportation for America provides additional information and commentary on its website, which can be found here.
It used to be an accepted truth that to travel anywhere in Los Angeles it would take you “20 minutes.” But as the City’s population has grown and streets have become increasingly congested, a 20-minute trip seems like a pipe dream. However, LA’s infamous traffic is expected to finally receive some relief with the opening of Phase 1 of the much anticipated Expo Line this weekend.
The new 8.6 mile line is the first light rail, mass transit line to serve West Los Angeles since the 1950s. The Expo line is expected to eventually shuffle 64,000 commuters a day between Downtown LA and Culver City, making it one of the most heavily-used lines in the country. That number could grow even larger when Phase 2 comes “online” in 2016. Phase 2 will expand the line 6.6 miles further west into Santa Monica.
Phase 1 features of the Metro Expo Line include:
- 8.6 miles long
- Directly connects to the existing 70-station Metro Rail system
- Estimated ride time between Downtown LA and Culver City: less than 30 minutes
- Ten new stations, three of which are aerial
- New public artworks at stations (Metro Expo Line Art Guide)
- 5.9 miles of new bike lanes
- Start of construction: 2006
- Grand opening: April 28, 2012
- Powered electrically with overhead catenary wires
Funding for the Expo Line was made possible by the Measure R, 1/2-cent sales tax for transit projects, passed by voters in 2008.
Visit www.Metro.net for more information on riding the new Expo Line.
On July 7, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee revealed its transportation re-authorization proposal, known as the “Mica Bill” to mixed reviews. The Mica Bill, proposed by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., authorizes approximately $230 billion of transportation expenditures over six years, which is about one-third of current spending levels. Proponents believe the bill will enable the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) to remain solvent without an increase in the gas tax. Supporters are hoping for a vote on the bill before Congress recesses in August to minimize the time opponents will have to strengthen their arguments against passage.
The Mica Bill attempts to restructure some of the current transportation financing procedures and encourages more public-private partnerships in an effort to create long-term savings. The approval process for infrastructure projects would also be streamlined by delegating more decision-making authority to the states. The bill also seeks to merge or terminate certain surface transportation programs that are redundant or do not serve a federal purpose.
The Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) drafted the Senate version of the bill, but continues to postpone its official release as details of a bipartisan bill continue to be negotiated. In May, Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) announced that the EPW bill would maintain currently authorized funding levels plus inflation, which translates into $339 billion over six years. Critics contend that the HTF cannot currently sustain such funding levels. As a contingency to the EPW bill, the Senate is considering a less financially demanding two-year proposal. With a reported price tag of $109 billion, this alternate proposal would also continue funding at currently authorized levels plus inflation. While still significantly divergent from the Mica Bill, this alternative would allegedly be more financially feasible for the HTF.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) recently announced that additional funds will be made available for the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) Discretionary Grant program. Approximately $537 million in grants for road, rail, transit and port projects that have a significant, long-term impact on the nation, a region or a metropolitan area will be awarded in denominations between $10 million and $200 million.
Several factors will be used to determine eligibility:
- Long-term outcomes (i.e., state of good repair, economic competitiveness, livability, environmental sustainability, and safety)
- Job creation and economic stimulus
The TIGER Discretionary Grant program is accepting applications from state, local and tribal government entities. Pre-applications are due by October 3, 2011, and must be submitted electronically to the DOT. Final applications will be accepted between October 4, 2011 and October 31, 2011 on Grants.gov.
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.
@kbhome’s Primera Terra Earns LEED Platinum – KB Home opens Primera Terra, a 52-unit, LEED Platinum condominium project in Playa Vista, California. (Los Angeles Times)
Future of Rail – The Wall Street Journal conducted an email interview on the future of rail with Jim McClellan, vice president of railroad consulting firm Woodside Consulting; Bill Rennicke, a consultant at Oliver Wyman Group; Francis Mulvey, a commissioner of the Surface Transportation Board in Washington; and Joseph Szabo, head of the Federal Railroad Administration. (Wall Street Journal)
Investors Return to Muni Bonds – Recent action in the municipal bond markets leads some investors and experts to believe that warnings of defaults were overblown. (Financial Times)
New Solar Sheet Captures More Light – A University of Missouri engineer and his team have developed a flexible solar sheet that captures up to 95% of light energy. The group plans to make affordable prototypes available to consumers within five years. (USA Today)
What Does ‘Green Building’ Really Mean – A brief and informative explanation of ‘Green Building.’ (Napa Valley Register)
Boston Launches Green Home Development Project – Working with the Boston Redevelopment Authority, Mayor Menino has unveiled a program to attract ‘net-energy positive’ development – meaning the construction of new homes that will generate surplus energy for use by others. (Boston Herald)
Expo Line to Begin Running Test Trains to West LA – LACMTA has announced that it will start testing trains along the Expo line from downtown Los Angeles to Culver City. The $930 million rail line is expected to be a ‘game-changer’ for traffic clogged West Los Angeles. (Los Angeles Times)
EPA Makes Fuel Conversions Easier – The Environmental Protection Agency has revised its guidance on vehicle fuel conversions, making it easier for manufacturers to sell conversion kits. (New York Times)
Obama Administration Says Renewable Initiatives Sparked Boom – According to the Obama administration, accelerated permitting and financial incentives helped fuel a boom in the development of wind, solar and geothermal power on public lands. (The New York Times)
BBI Tax Incentives May Aid Green Projects – Proposed tax incentives in President Obama’s Better Buildings Initiative may fuel improvements in energy efficiencies. (Washington Business Journal)
LEED Lawsuit Amended – A lawsuit filed in October 2010 against the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), originally reported here, has been amended to focus on the claim of false advertising, and is no longer a class action. (BuildingGreen.com)
GOP Challenges Passenger Rail Plan – Leading House Republicans have vowed to fight Obama’s passenger rail plan. (The Wall Street Journal)