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

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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America Fast Forward: White House considers expanding TIFIA loans as transportation bill deadline looms

America Fast ForwardA recent article in the Wall Street Journal reveals that the White House is changing course when it comes to the federal surface transportation funding bill. Obama is now calling for a road-construction bill that would put people to work immediately and get existing infrastructure projects underway. This represents a change from previous plans for developing a national infrastructure bank – a plan that would take years before it actually began to fund projects.

The new plan from the White house and Democrats is to pass a two-year, $109 billion bill but as we’ve discussed before House Republicans have different ideas:

The plan is likely to run into opposition elsewhere in Congress, however. House Republicans are pushing a six-year, $230 billion bill. Their plan would reduce transportation spending by about a third from existing levels, as it relies only on funds generated by the current 18.4-cents-a-gallon federal gas tax.

So there’s the possibility for another stalemate over the bill once Congress returns from August recess. There is one idea that seems to have bipartisan support, and that’s an expansion of the Transportation Infrastructure and Innovative Finance Act (TIFIA) which is the backbone of Mayor Villaraigosa and Metro’s American Fast Forward plan (previously known as the 30/10 Initiative).

TIFIA provides low cost loans, guarantees and credit lines to eligible projects. Project eligibility is weighted by a number of factors including economic significance, quality of life improvements, public-private partnerships and environmental sustainability.

TIFIA’s annually funding is currently $122 million but proposals for expansion from both the House and Senate would raise funding to $1 billion and modify requirements so that more projects would be eligible.

Metro has received a $548 million TIFIA loan for the Crenshaw/LAW light rail line and expects to receive a $640.8 million loan for the Westside Subway Extension.

This is all starting to matter because the clock is ticking: the deadline for passing the new transportation bill or extending the current bill is September 30 (Congress returns to work on September 6) . If a new bill isn’t passed or the current bill extended it would mean the shutdown the entire federal funding program for highways and transit – an outcome that would put the recent FAA shutdown to shame.

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.


Staff report on impacts of U.S. House transportation bill proposal

I wanted to point readers to a Metro staff report from earlier this month that looks at the six-year federal transportation spending bill being floated by Republicans in the House of Representatives.

And it doesn’t paint a very pretty picture of what the bill would do to Metro: big-time spending cuts. If Metro were to lose 30 percent of its federal funding for the next six years, here are the $1.44 billion in cuts it would have to make to its capital spending:

•Cut $240 million in operating funds.
•Cut $260 million in bus purchases.
•Cut $70 million in rail vehicle purchases.
•Cut $70 million in paratransit vehicle purchases.
*Cut $400 million in rail system repairs.
•Cut $400 million in highway improvement projects.

It’s a tough issue because the bill, as proposed by Rep. John Mica (R-Florida) does include some provisions needed for America Fast Forward — the changes in law Metro is seeking to accelerate the building of Measure R transit projects.

It’s also worth noting that the bill has an uphill battle. Republicans may control the House, but Senates are in the majority in the Senate and a Democrat is occupying the White House and there’s this little election thing next year. The cuts shown above wouldn’t just hit Metro hard, they would also impact spending plans by many other big transit agencies in urban areas, where voters often lean toward Democrats.

U.S. Senate transportation bill includes America Fast Forward provisions

The crafting of the next federal transportation spending bill is finally underway after literally years of delay due mostly to partisan politics.

The U.S. House version of the bill was released earlier this month with elements of America Fast Forward, which would enshrine in federal law the kind of federal loans and financing that Metro needs to accelerate the construction of Measure R transit projects.

And now the Senate’s bill is starting to take shape, with similar good news: America Fast Forward made the cut, although this isn’t surprising considering that Senator Barbara Boxer has a big hand in shaping the Senate’s version of the bill and has also been an ardent supporter of AFF.

A word of warning: between the House and Senate bills, there still is not everything that Metro needs for AFF to work to its full extent.

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America Fast Forward: Linking the Seattle region with light rail transit

A Central Link light rail train at Beacon Hill station. Photo by Flickr user ishell.

If friends ever try that to claim you can’t have a successful transit system without rails in the ground, just nod politely and tell them to visit Seattle. The Emerald City didn’t have an inch of modern rail transit until a starter streetcar line opened in 2007 and a light rail line debuted in 2009. As for that short monorail of theirs, it’s mainly a tourist attraction with pretty meager ridership.

Seattle’s transit bread and butter has been its robust network of buses. Thanks to those buses, the city can tout the fact that nearly 18 percent of all commuting trips are by transit. In that category Seattle ranks 14th nationally, ahead of several rail-served cities such as, for example, Oakland. That East Bay city has eight BART stations connecting it to San Francisco.

That’s not to knock rail transit — far from it. The increased capacity rail provides can make it a sound investment in very busy corridors. And that’s where Seattle region is targeting its transit investments.
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