Congress votes again to extend federal transportation bill

Below is the update from Metro’s government relations staff. This is the ninth extension of the previous multi-year federal transportation bill, which was signed into law by President Bush in 2005 and expired originally in 2009. The update:

A few moments ago, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a 90-day extension of the current Surface Transportation Authorization (H.R. 4281) on a 266 to 158 vote. H.R. 4281 will now be sent over to the U.S. Senate. This extension, though free of policy changes, was looked unfavorably upon by the U.S. Senate, which called on the House to pass their Surface Transportation Re-authorization Bill (MAP-21) that passed the Senate earlier in March. The current extension, and accompanying gas taxes, expires on Sunday, April 1, 2012.

The two-year bipartisan bill approved by the Senate — known as MAP-21 — includes provisions of Metro’s America Fast Forward plan to expand a federal loan program for major transportation projects. Whether House Republicans will ever consider the bill remains to be seen.

 

UPDATE, 2:45 p.m.: The Senate has agreed to the extension. Update from Metro government relations:

The U.S. Senate has passed the 90-day surface transportation authorization extension by unanimous consent. The extension, as passed by the House hours ago, will now move to the President’s desk for his signature. This new extension (the ninth such extension since SAFETEA-LU originally expired on September 30, 2009) will expire on June 30, 2012.

Our agency will continue to closely monitor the surface transportation bills in both the House and Senate.

Transit advocacy group discusses Measure R extension

The activist group Move LA held its “L.A. on the Verge’ event at Union Station on Friday, with a big focus on transportation funding.

The group is headed by former Santa Monica Mayor Denny Zane, who clearly let the hundreds in attendance know his position: the Measure R sales tax increase that expires in 2039 should be extended by voters.

Such an extension could accomplish two things, according to Zane: 1) It could help accelerate the building of the 12 Measure R transit projects if Congress doesn’t fully adopt the America Fast Forward plan (and they’re not likely to), and; 2) It may help finance additional transit and highway projects beyond the original Measure R package approved by Los Angeles County voters in 2008.

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New Federal Transportation Authorization bill will be delayed — again

The update from Metro’s government relations staff is below. The agency has been pushing for America Fast Forward legislation — to use government loans and financing to accelerate the building of transit and road projects — to be included in the bill.

A new multi-year bill was supposed to be passed by Congress two years ago. Fighting between Democrats and Republicans has delayed it, leading to several short-term renewals of the existing bill, which covered spending through fiscal year 2009 and was signed by President Bush in Aug. 2005.

The bill is also a chance for the federal government to lay out its transportation spending priorities for the next several years. For example, if the federal government wanted to greatly expand spending on transit, the multi-year bill would be the place to do it.

The update:

Despite a sustained effort by public transportation agencies, many Members of Congress, and a broad coalition of private sector organizations, Congress is poised to move consideration of a new federal transportation authorization bill to 2012. Efforts to reauthorize the previous surface transportation bill (SAFETEA-LU) in 2011 effectively ended this afternoon in Washington, DC when the Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, John Mica (R-FL) announced that the legislative schedule next month would not permit him to move forward with a new transportation bill. The current extension of SAFETEA-LU is slated to expire on March 31, 2012. Our agency will continue to work diligently with Chairman Mica, Chairman Boxer of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and members of the Los Angeles County Congressional Delegation to ensure that our Board-approved legislative program is advanced in any transportation authorization bill considered by the second session of the 112th Congress in 2012.

What's happening at other transit agencies?

A Portland MAX light rail train pulls into the station. Photo by Flickr user camknows.

This weekly post features news from other transit agencies and planners from around the world. Did we miss a good story? Let us know in the comments.

Under pressure from riders, TriMet promises to consider longer transfer times (Portland, Ore.)

A coalition of transit riders in Portland has won a small victory in its effort to extend transfer times to three hours from the current one-and-a-half hour window. The group successfully convinced the transit agency’s board of governors to study the feasibility of a three-hour transfer on TriMet’s bus and light rail lines. Advocates view extended transfers as a way of assuaging the effects of recession-induced service cuts, which have led to longer waits. While the board endorsed the study, it doesn’t look like they’re actively supportive of the transfer extension. Joseph Rose of Oregon Live reports that “TriMet considers the idea an epic policy shift that could cost more than it’s worth.”

Line of the Week: MAX Green Line (Portland, Ore.)

With Portland on the brain, here’s a quick review of the MAX Green Line from local blogger Jung Gatoona. Be sure to check out the time lapse video of the route and admire all the bus and transit only lanes.

Metro Atlanta voters warm to mass transit, poll shows

In sprawling Atlanta, voters are warming up to the idea of expanding the city’s mass transit system and improving alternatives to driving. That’s a good sign for the transportation sales tax referendum that will be on the ballot next year. The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that “voters in 10 counties will be asked to approve a 10-year, 1-cent sales tax…expected to raise $7.2 billion.” Here are some more interesting poll numbers from the AJC:

Overwhelmingly, 91 percent of voters said it was important to address the region’s transportation problems to improve its quality of life and economic future. Additionally, 67 percent said the region’s traffic congestion is deteriorating their quality of life. And 82 percent said it was important to do more to encourage everyone to commute to work by bus or train.

RTD seeks private-sector boost (Denver, Colo.)

Denver has a big transit expansion plan called FasTracks and even a dedicated sales tax to fund it. However, like Measure R in L.A. County, the revenues trickle in over time. Denver transit officials are looking for ways to get more revenue up front and thus accelerate a number projects, according to the Denver Business Journal. While America Fast Forward could help Denver in that regard — as I wrote back in March — FasTracks backers are reaching out to the private sector to see if there are opportunities for the vaunted Public-Private Partnership.

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More details on President Obama's jobs plan and its proposals for transportation funding

Metro’s government relations staff wrote the following update on the job creation package proposed by President Barack Obama on Thursday.

My quick take: it appears there will be more transportation money on the table — if Congress approves the package. However, it remains to be seen how much of those funds can be secured by Metro and how much can be applied toward accelerating Measure R transit and road projects.

The update:

White House Details Transportation Spending In American Jobs Act

Embedded as part of the American Jobs Act unveiled by President Obama last night is a proposal to provide $50 billion in immediate federal transportation spending. The proposed funding includes a request for Congress to provide $9 billion for our nation’s transit systems and $27 billion to bolster our nation’s highways. The proposal also includes an initiative, consistent with America Fast Forward, to vastly expand federal support for the Transportation Infrastructure and Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program. Another $10 billion would be used to create a National Infrastructure Bank. To emphasize the importance of his transportation proposals, President Obama stated last night that, “building a world-class transportation system is part of what made us an economic superpower.” Below please find language from a White House fact sheet detailing the transportation spending outlined in the American Jobs Act.

After the jump is a list of transportation funding initiatives in the American Jobs Act.

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Governor Ed Rendell lays out stark choices for America's infrastructure

Former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell was pegged as the lunchtime keynote speaker at Mobility 21 — for good reason. These days, Rendell is one of the leading voices for increased infrastructure investment, serving as one of three co-chairs of the Building America’s Future coalition along with former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and current New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

As attendees nourished themselves on catered lunches, Rendell provided some food for thought on the state of America’s highways, trains, schools and waterworks — and it didn’t go down easy.

Here’s a taste of the statistics and analysis that Rendell offered. They paint a bleak picture of the state of American infrastructure, and according to Rendell, require urgent action by Congress:

  • As recently as 2005, the U.S. topped international rankings for transportation infrastructure quality, but we’ve slipped fast. Today, the World Economic Forum ranks us 15th overall, with lowlights including 32nd place for air transit, 22nd for seaports and 18th for rail infrastructure.
  • Since 1980, the number of cars on the nation’s roads has increased by 104 percent, while total lane-miles have increased by only four percent.
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L.A. Mayor Villaraigosa talks jobs, America Fast Forward at Mobility 21 conference

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa addresses a packed house at Mobility 21

We’re blogging this morning live from the Mobility 21 Conference in downtown Los Angeles, where more than 1,000 public and private sector people in the transportation industry have gathered.

Los Angeles Mayor and Metro Board Chair Antonio Villaraigosa took center stage during the morning’s events with a speech and subsequent news conference calling on President Obama and Congress to invest in the nation’s infrastructure and, specifically, to enact the America Fast Forward legislation to accelerate the construction of Measure R projects through federal loans and other financing.

“Let’s make this as clear as we possibly can,” Villaraigosa said. “Transportation investment equals jobs. It’s a sad commentary on our public debate that such an obvious fact is met with skepticism in Congress.”

The full text of Villaraigosa’s speech is available here [PDF] and following are some highlights:

  • Villaraigosa was pleased to see the expansion of the TIFIA loan program — a pillar of America Fast Forward — make it into both the House and Senate transportation bills. But he didn’t mince words in his support for Senator Barbara Boxer’s bill. Her Senate bill would maintain current levels of funding, whereas the House bill would cut grants by nearly one-third. Above all, it’s imperative that Congress not let the gas tax expire with the current transportation bill on September 30th — millions of jobs are at stake.
  • The mayor emphasized America’s trillions of dollars in unmet infrastructure needs that must be addressed to keep the U.S. competitive on the world economic stage. He noted that China and other developing countries are spending a far greater percentage of GDP on infrastructure than the U.S., which has been coasting along on investments made by our grandparents’ and parents’ generations. Continue reading