President Obama makes case for more investment in transportation

Here is the description of President Obama’s speech to Congress tonight from Metro’s government relations staff:

Moments ago, President Obama delivered remarks before a joint session of Congress in which he outlined his plan to jumpstart America’s economy. The President’s plan, delivered with the national unemployment rate standing at 9.1%, encourages Congress to enact a series of tax cuts and increase investment in our nation’s infrastructure, among other initiatives. Specifically, the President encouraged added investment in roads, bridges and transit projects. Our agency’s chair, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, was present at the joint session of Congress at the invitation of President Obama.

The President remarked this evening that, “The purpose of the American Jobs Act is simple: to put more people back to work and more money in the pockets of those who are working. It will create more jobs for construction workers, more jobs for teachers, more jobs for veterans, and more jobs for the long-term unemployed. It will provide a tax break for companies who hire new workers, and it will cut payroll taxes in half for every working American and every small business. It will provide a jolt to an economy that has stalled, and give companies confidence that if they invest and hire, there will be customers for their products and services. You should pass this jobs plan right away.”

Our agency will continue working with the Obama Administration and Congress to ensure that any legislation adopted to jumpstart our economy serves to advance our Board-approved legislative program.

Here is the description of the transportation aspects of the President’s jobs plan from the White House website:

Making an Immediate Investment in Our Roads, Rails and Airports: The President’s plan includes $50 billion in immediate investments for highways, transit, rail and aviation, helping to modernize an infrastructure that now receives a grade of “D” from the American Society of Civil Engineers and putting hundreds of thousands of construction workers back on the job. The President’s plan includes investments to improve our airports, support NextGen Air Traffic Modernization efforts, and resources for the TIGER and TIFIA programs, which target competitive dollars to innovative multi-modal infrastructure programs. It will also take special steps to enhance infrastructure-related job training opportunities for individuals from underrepresented groups and ensure that small businesses can compete for infrastructure contracts.The President will work administratively to speed infrastructure investment through a recently issued Presidential Memorandum developed with his Jobs Council directingdepartments and agencies to identify high impact, job-creating infrastructure projects that can be expedited in a transparent manner through outstanding review and permitting processes. The call for greater infrastructure investment has been joined by leaders from AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka to U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue.

Establishing a National Infrastructure Bank:The President is calling for Congress to pass a National Infrastructure Bank capitalized with $10 billion, in order to leverage private and public capital and to invest in a broad range of infrastructure projects of nationaland regional significance, without earmarks or traditional political influence. The Bank would be based on the model Senators Kerry and Hutchison have championed while building on legislation by Senators Rockefeller and Lautenberg and the work of long-time infrastructure bank champions like Rosa DeLauro and the input of the President’s Jobs Council.

I think the bottom line here folks is that there is no immediate victory for Metro or any of the agency’s particular projects. However, I think it’s also fair to say that President Obama seems to recognize there is a more pressing need for the type of investment in infrastructure, given all the (rightful) attention on unemployment in the United States.

That’s encouraging, especially given this agency’s repeated calls for Congress to enact the America Fast Forward program to allow for more federal loans and financing to help build Measure R projects now, not years from now.

As usual, follow-through from the White House and the willingness of Congress to go along remains to be seen.

photo credit: http://www.whitehouse.gov

President Obama calls on Congress to pass transportation spending bill

 

As many of you know, a multiyear federal transportation bill was last approved by Congress in 2005. The followup to that bill should have been signed into law in 2009 but Congress has never been able to agree on the size and scope of the bill. So nothing has happened.

With the national economy still sputtering and job creation at the forefront of the national conversation these days, President Barack Obama this morning called on Congress to finally get a new transportation bill to his desk. See the above video.

There are outlines of such a bill that have been produced in recent weeks by the House and Senate — albeit starkly different versions. Metro is keeping an eye on the bill because the agency is hoping the bill will make the America Fast Forward the law of the land.

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Gold Line Foothill Extension construction update

Here is the latest news from Foothill Extension Construction Authority CEO Habib Balian:

Equipment is being mobilized this week for the upcoming foundation work on the I-210 Bridge. As you can see from the images, a large drill rig and crane have been trucked in and are being assembled on the south side of the eastbound I-210 Freeway. This is the location of the first of three 110 foot deep, 11 foot in diameter foundations to be drilled over the next four weeks. The other two are located in the center median of the freeway.

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Los Angeles has the best transit access in the nation? Survey says yes!

L.A.'s transit coverage. All that dark blue? Transit access.

L.A.'s transit coverage. All that dark blue? Transit access. Click for interactive map.

A study from the Brookings Institute (PDF here) reveals that Angelenos without a car have the best access to public transportation in the nation – even beating out the New York City metropolitan area. We mentioned the report last week in Thursday’s Transportation Headlines post, since then stories have popped up in the major media outlets, here’s some choice headlines and quotes:

Car-loving L.A. may actually be a public-transit paradise (L.A. Times):

The car-loving L.A region -– whose public transit system is often treated like Rodney Dangerfield — ranked second to Honolulu as offering transit-dependent residents the best access to buses and trains, according to a report by the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. 

Los Angeles Public Transit Access Top Among Major Metropolitan Areas, Besting Even New York (Huffington Post):

Adie Tomer, the author of the report, said he wasn’t surprised by the findings, despite “that classic archetype L.A. residents have to deal with all the time — that L.A. is the capital of car culture.”

“The reality is, it’s also really good transit culture too when it comes to the ability to get on a bus,” Tomer said. 

Mapping The Urban Places Where No Transit Goes (Fast Company):

Some regions are worse than others. In the Atlanta area, for example, there are 37,634 people without access to a car or nearby public transportation, and only 68.5% of the population is covered by public transportation services. But in the Los Angeles area, 99.1% of residents have access to public transportation (though judging by the city’s clogged highways, it seems that not enough people take advantage of it). 

 

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APTA report highlights current funding challenges for transit agencies

The American Public Transportation Association — a member-based advocacy organization — has released a report [PDF] this month that highlights some of the challenges facing transit agencies around the country. The report crunches data from a survey of transit agencies that APTA conducted in the spring of 2011. While the funding picture is better for most agencies than it was at the bottom of the recession, the report shows that many agencies aren’t out of the woods yet:

Even with the improved revenue picture, many agencies are still facing challenging budget situations. Over one-third (35%) of agencies are projecting a budget shortfall in the coming budget year. Of those, more than one in ten (16%) had shortfalls of over ten percent, and half of those expected shortfalls of over 20%. The total shortfall predicted by responding agencies was over $600 million.

Large transit agencies saw decreases in funding more often than smaller ones. Graph via APTA.

More so than smaller agencies, large transit operators across the U.S. — those like Metro with over 25 million annual boardings — have been particularly vulnerable to cutbacks in funding from local and state sources. The report doesn’t offer an explanation for the discrepancy, but it does describe how agencies have responded to funding cuts, namely: service reductions, fare increases and agency layoffs or hiring freezes.

The conclusion of the APTA report notes that the funding cuts come at a particularly important moment for public transit in the U.S.:

Transit agencies face future challenges, as rising gas prices are expected to drive public transit ridership. Agencies are currently experiencing instability in their funding sources during a time when they are expected to serve an increasing ridership.

If there’s a silver lining in Los Angeles County, the 20 percent of Measure R funds that were dedicated to bus operations has been a stabilizing force. Among others things, that funding suspended “a scheduled July 1, 2009 Metro fare increase for one year and [froze] all Metro Student, Senior, Disabled and Medicare fares through June 30, 2013,” according to the Measure R Expenditure Plan [PDF].

To help grasp just how many cities have seen their transit service cut over the last few years, Transportation for America has an excellent interactive map.

 

News blast from the Foothill Extension construction team

Here’s the latest news on a key Measure R project, the Gold Line Foothill Extension, from the project’s public affairs team. Follow the jump to see videos about the project’s public art component and for info about some upcoming community events.

Contract Award – Next Steps

Following the July 27, 2011 $486 million contract award to Foothill Transit Constructors – A Kiewit Parsons Joint Venture to design and build the Foothill Extension from Pasadena to Azusa, the Construction Authority and the selected team will now move towards executing the contract and beginning design work on the 11.5-mile project. Construction is expected to begin in Summer 2012 and wrap up in 2015; however a more detailed schedule will be developed in the coming months.

I-210 Gold Line Bridge/IFS Construction Update:

Construction over the last few months has gone smoothly on the I-210 Gold Line Bridge. The construction sites on both medians of the eastbound I-210 Freeway have been readied, and work on the temporary retaining wall being built along the center median is nearing completion (see photos below). Work will soon begin on the bridge’s foundations, including three, 110-foot deep foundations.

Over the coming months, intermittent partial and/or full freeway closures of the eastbound I-210 lanes will continue to occur, mostly from Midnight to 5:00 a.m.  Traffic will be detoured along Foothill Boulevard.

Avoid Traffic Delays: Register to receive construction alerts to your cell phone or e-mail at www.foothillextension.org.

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Chambers support America Fast Forward

 

Nice graphic from Metro staff showing that business leaders across the country are supporting America Fast Forward, the federal legislation that would allow Metro and other transit agencies to use federal loans and financing to speed up construction of big projects.

If Metro can persuade Congress to adopt the law as part of its next big transportation spending bill, the agency is hoping to use AFF to accelerate the building of the 12 transit projects — and many worthwhile highway projects — approved as part of 2008′s Measure R sales tax increase.

Problem is, many in Congress aren’t in much of a spending mood these days — even if AFF would cost a lot less than directly funding projects. We posted earlier today that the New York Times editorial board is predicting the debt-ceiling deal approved by Congress earlier this month means gloomy times ahead for states and cities. And KPCC also has a good report showing that it’s going to be politically difficult to secure more federal dollars for transportation without a federal gas tax increase — which is unlikely anytime soon.

At least in the meantime we can see that business leaders across the United States understand the need to jump-start transit construction. Doing so means creating jobs, not to mention transportation infrastructure to help people get to jobs for many decades to come.

 

So where is the transportation funding going to come from?

I posted earlier that the New York Times editorial board certainly seems a gloomy future for cities and states that depend on federal funding. Now, here’s a second media story that focuses on transportation funding — and the news isn’t much better.

As KPCC reporter Kitty Felde explains, the federal gas tax has not increased since 1993. Even in the best of economic times — and 2011 is not — politicians are loathe to raise the gas tax. But without a hike, the federal Highway Trust Fund will be depleted, which is kind of a problem: the Fund is used to pay for transportation projects across the U.S. Excerpt:

China spends 9 percent of its gross domestic product on infrastructure projects; India spends 5 percent. The U.S.? About 2.4 percent of our GDP goes to infrastructure. And as a congressional supercommittee looks for ways to cut $1.5 trillion from the federal deficit, that number is likely to continue to shrink.

With a shrinking highway fund, Republicans in the House of Representatives have proposed a multiyear transportation spending bill with big-time cuts. Meanwhile, Democrats in the Senate — led by California’s Barbara Boxer — have proposed a two-year bill that maintains current funding levels for transportation. Both bills, by the way, include some of the provisions needed for Metro’s America Fast Forward program to become law, allowing the agency to accelerate its building of transit projects funded by the Measure R sales tax increase.

But neither of the bills proposed contains ALL of what’s needed for America Fast Forward. If transportation agencies such as Metro do not get direct funding from the feds, nor can they even borrow and use other federal financing tools, then what happens next?

Two new light rail lines debut in Salt Lake City this week

A round of applause for the Beehive State: Two new light rail lines are officially opening this weekend in the Salt Lake City area, with the Utah Transit Authority saying it’s the first time any region has opened two lines at the same time.

The UTA is also saying that both projects were delivered early and about 20 percent under budget. The Mid-Jordan line is 10.6 miles long and cost $535 million. The West Valley City extension is 5.1 miles long and cost $370.

Taken together, the two lines cost about $57.6 million per mile — which is a very good price compared to most new light rail lines in the nation. Most Metro light rail lines cost much more due to tunnels and bridges needed in a denser urban environment.

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Increasing investment in public transit in California: A how-to from UCLA and Berkeley Law

Passengers buy tickets at NoHo Red Line station. Photo by flickr user sicoactiva.

By now reality is setting in: We need to dramatically increase our investment in transportation infrastructure just to maintain the status quo. But it looks like Congress isn’t willing to do it, at least in the near future.

One might think that we’re sitting pretty in Los Angeles County thanks to Measure R — we’ve definitely got it better than some other regions — but federal largess also plays a big role in getting projects built here. Without it, L.A. and other cities throughout the state are going to have to find new sources of funding to help keep transit running and make down payments on future transit projects.

That’s the issue that a team of researchers from UCLA and Berkeley’s respective environmental law programs tackled in their report, “All Aboard: How California Can Increase Investments in Public Transit” [PDF].

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