U.S. Highway Trust Fund headed into the red within months


Below is the latest from Metro’s government relations staff on efforts to keep the federal Highway Trust Fund from going into the red; the fund supports road projects and mass transit across the United States. This has been a problem for many years but no solution seems imminent, particularly in an election year.

USDOT Report – Federal Highway Trust Fund Faces Imminent Shortfall

Over the weekend, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) released their latest projection on the solvency of the federal Highway Trust Fund. According to the USDOT, the federal Highway Trust Fund will encounter a shortfall before the end of Fiscal Year 2014.

The main reason the fund has not encountered a shortfall thus far is because MAP-21, the surface transportation bill adopted by Congress in 2012, authorized the transfer of $9.7 billion from the general fund to the federal Highway Trust Fund.

Congress is currently considering a number of options to address the looming shortfall.

Earlier this year, our Board adopted a support position for H.R. 3636 (Blumenauer) that would keep the federal Highway Trust Fund solvent by increasing the federal gas tax by 15 cents over three years and thereafter indexing the gas tax for inflation. For a link to the USDOT report on the federal Highway Trust Fund’s finances, please click here.

Transportation headlines, Tuesday, September 24

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For those who didn’t go to the Paul McCartney show on Hollywood Boulevard last night or watch it on Jimmy Kimmel. Glad to hear some Wings made it into the set! Justin Timberlake gets his turn tonight. For those headed to the show, use the Red Line’s Hollywood/Highland station.

Blue Line earns deadly reputation for suicides (L.A. Times)

After rash of suicides, MTA asks public for help (Daily News)

With suicide by train up, LA appeals for help (Associated Press)

There was lots of coverage by print and electronic media of Metro’s press event Monday about Metro’s attempts to reduce suicides along the Blue Line. Thirty one of the 120 deaths along the Blue Line since 1990 have been suicides, including seven in the past 15 months. Meanwhile, the rate of accidents along the Blue Line has fallen.

From the Times’ story:

Metro has begun to ask the public to help prevent suicides, a rare move for transit organizations, which typically avoid the issue for fear of prompting copycat suicides. The agency has invested millions of dollars in gates intended to keep back cars and pedestrians at busy rail crossings, and signs with a suicide prevention hotline number were recently posted in every station. Coming into certain stations, operators have reduced their speed from 45 mph to 25 mph.

Accidental deaths have decreased this year, which officials say is a sign that the improvements have helped. But stopping people who want to kill themselves is more complicated.


Experts say that it’s too soon to judge whether Blue Line suicides are more than a statistical fluke. Nationally, subway and light-rail suicides peaked in 2011, when 74 people killed themselves, according to federal data. That declined to 55 people in 2012, five of them in Los Angeles.

But the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health said that although the most recent data on local suicides aren’t yet available, anecdotal evidence suggests the Blue Line matches a rising suicide rate countywide.

Psychologists say that the Blue Line’s suicides could be linked to the economy. The working-class area surrounding much of the Blue Line has seen high unemployment and mass home foreclosures.

“The economy has had an impact,” Department of Mental Health psychologist James Cunningham said, “and the fact that it’s starting to turn around doesn’t necessarily mean it’s reached a lot of folks.”

It’s a very tough situation. I think it’s good that Metro chose to talk publicly and frankly about it on Monday. But I’m afraid there are no easy answers on this one.

Dallas commuters can now download their transit tickets on their phones (Wired)

From the story:

Passes purchased on a smartphone can be saved into a “digital wallet” for up to 60 days. Color coding shows how close the pass is to expiration. Soon, those with corporate and student passes will be able to add them to the app, and riders will also be able to purchase special tickets that include admission to events and museums.

Like TriMet in Portland, DART relies on bus conductors and fare inspectors to enforce payment, rather than turnstiles and gates. That makes smartphone payment a lot easier to implement than with automated fare collection. Once a pass is activated on the GoPass app, it displays a countdown timer showing how much time is left on the fare. Riders and fare inspectors alike can instantly know whether a ticket is valid.

Portland’s regional transit agency also just added an app that allows passengers to buy tickets on their smartphones. Portland, like Dallas, relies on fare inspectors to ensure passengers have purchased tickets.

Study proposes implementing per-mile tolls on U.S. interstate system (Better Roads)

Missed this one last week but worth mentioning: the Reason Foundation has proposed a toll of 3.5 cents per mile for cars and 14 cents per mile for trucks as part of their proposal to better fund and maintain the nation’s 25,000 mile interstate (i.e. freeway) system. The toll would be used instead of the current gas tax, which many people say is unsustainable because of increasing fuel efficiency and Congress’ using the funds for other purposes (such as transit).

The Reason Foundation’s proposal is rooted in some libertarian principals — namely the heaviest users of the interstates would pay the most and the money would only go for interstate upkeep and projects. Tolls would be collected electronically via transponders.

If I’m doing the math right, a drive from L.A. to San Francisco on the interstate would cost about $13. The federal gas tax is 18.4 cents a gallon, meaning a vehicle that gets 25 mpg only pays $2.65 or so in gas taxes.

Understanding the anti-gridlock zone (LADOT)

I think that neatly explains it!

Transportation headlines, Wednesday, July 17

Here is a look at some of the transportation headlines gathered by us and the Metro Library. The full list of headlines is posted on the Library’s Transportation Headlines online newspaper, which you can also access via email subscription (visit the newspaper site) or RSS feed.

First, let’s begin with an excerpt from the Los Angeles Newspaper Group (Daily News, etc.) editorial page, defending a recent opinion piece that cycling is not a viable transportation option in Southern California. Take it away, LANG Editorial Board:

Most of us, unfortunately, face commutes of far longer than a mile or two. It’s a mass sprawl from the desert to the sea, and some of us have either chosen or been forced into commutes that go from one to the other each morning and evening. Bicycling from Desert Hot Springs to Santa Monica and back again each day is not a convenient way to get around, watermelon in tow or not.

Is cycling here not just recreation but a real transit option? Have the creation of bicycle lanes on our roads, education programs to alert motorists or the desire to combat global warming and get some exercise at the same time convinced you to consider a cycling commute?

On the plus side, I’ve read stupider things in newspapers. On the other hand, I don’t recall ever hearing any kind of serious transportation advocate suggest that anyone should be commuting from Desert Hot Springs to Santa Monica whether it be in a car, bike, airplane, etc. So that’s just a really dumb example inserted into the editorial to make cycling advocates look extreme and unreasonable. Great journalism, eh?

Look, people. It’s fair game and it’s important that our press scrutinizes transportation projects of all types to determine whether they will be effective or not. As this blog has written before, not every bike lane is a good one. But it would be nice to see the media acknowledge the main argument for improving bike networks, sidewalks and transit: it’s a way to expand transportation options so that not everyone has to drive everywhere, thereby creating bad traffic. Yes, the same bad traffic editors love to crow about.

The problem is that it’s super easy to suggest thatSouthern California is too sprawling and too complicated for transit or bike lanes to ever work here. Never mind context about other large, sprawling regions where transit or bike networks do work — that’s not important when aiming to serve the lowest common denominator. It’s harder for the same editor to suggest a more nuanced approach, which would be a series of stories about the type of cycling infrastructure that works best and why. That’s the series of articles this region needs. And deserves.

Sermon over.

Is the California PUC foreshadowing the California Supreme Court? (L.A. Streetsblog) 

The Public Utilities Commission last week issued a ruling that, in essence, confirmed its earlier approvals of street crossings for the second phase of the Expo Line. The group Neighbors for Smart Rail has challenged that decision all the way to the California Supreme Court, with a ruling expected soon. The dispute involves the data used to study the impact of the rail crossings on traffic — in particular, whether the data must be current or can reflect future (i.e. worse) traffic decisions. Project supporters are pleased with the PUC upholding its earlier approvals and hope that’s a clue as to what the California Supreme Court will rule. Of course, the project is under construction and the Supreme Court thus far has not shown any inclination to halt work on the rail line.

Oregon to tax some motorists by the mile, not the gallon (Governing) 

Under the bill approved by the Legislature, 5,000 volunteers would pay a tax of 1.5 cents per mile driven instead of the state gas tax of 30 cents per gallon. With cars becoming more efficient, gas taxes have dipped and many advocates say that charging by the mile is a better way to raise funds needed for transportation while also taxing people for the road systems that they use — whether in a Prius or Lamborghini. This is just a pilot program in Oregon, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it sticks.

Metro Transit goes high-tech to find free-loading riders (Minneapolis Star-Tribune) 

The agency that runs trains and buses in the Twin Cities says that 99 percent of its rail riders are paying fares according to fare inspections. Now they are going to more closely track fare evasion on some bus routes, asking bus operators to use a computer to track freeloaders. Operators have the option of calling police when someone jumps aboard without paying, but many operators continue driving in an attempt to stay on schedule.



Transportation headlines, Tuesday, June 25

ART OF TRANSIT: Guess the intersection! And after you incorrectly guess, click above to check out the Metro Library's awesome Flickr stream with tons of similar photos of Los Angeles Transit Lines' streetcars. Photo: Alan Weeks.

ART OF TRANSIT: Guess the intersection! And after you incorrectly guess, click above to check out the Metro Library’s awesome Flickr stream with tons of similar photos of Los Angeles Transit Lines’ streetcars. Answer is after the jump. Photo: Alan Weeks.

Obama outlines ambitious plan to cut greenhouse gases (New York Times) 

President Obama, trying to fulfill a campaign promise, explains executive orders he will issue to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases that are blamed for climate change. It’s a relevant issue here, as greenhouse gases are created by the burning of fossil fuels by the transportation sector. Another big culprit is the power industry, which relies on burning coal to generate electricity. The President said he intends to cut emissions from both existing and new power plants while further limiting emissions from heavy trucks.

Of course, we can do our part. Walking, cycling and taking transit — which burns fossil fuels but transports a lot of people in the process — are all good ways to reduce your carbon footprint.

To toll or not: could the feds lift a ban on interstate tolling? (Governing) 

Proponents – including the tolling industry (shocker!) – say that lifting the ban would help pay for highway maintenance and make up for the shrinking revenue generated by the federal gas tax. With Congressional elections always on the cusp of happening, lawmakers have — another shocker! — shown no interest in raising the tax.

Party train to Vegas still looking for a station (L.A. Times) 

The X Train that is supposed to travel between Fullerton and Las Vegas has been delayed while the private venture tries to find a depot on the Vegas end of things. One likely candidate is in North Las Vegas, which is 11 miles from the Strip. Hmm. This train is not to be confused with the proposed XpressWest bullet train that would run between Victorville and Las Vegas. That project is still seeking federal financing.

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Transportation headlines, Wednesday, June 5

Here is a look at some of the transportation headlines gathered by us and the Metro Library. The full list of headlines is posted on the Library’s Headlines blog, which you can also access via email subscription or RSS feed.

Metro Library: Changes are coming to our Transportation Headlines — same great content in a new improved format (Primary Resources) 


The Metro Transportation Library is preparing to move the daily transortation headlines from Blogger to Paper.li. Please see the post to learn more about the new format and receiving it through RSS / Feedburner or email.

Senseless (Bicycling)

The concussion rate from bike accidents in recent years has grown faster than the sport of cycling. Why? This long and excellent magazine article by Bruce Barcott seeks the answer and comes up with some interesting conclusions. Most troubling, to me, is that federal government standards for bike helmets have not changed since 1999 despite considerable research into brain injury prevention since then. Nonetheless, some companies are making progress at creating helmets that can both prevent catastrophic injury and more routine concussions. If you’re interested in cycling, please read.

LaHood: expect big announcement from Obama on transportation funding (Governing) 

The outgoing U.S. Secretary of Transportation hints that perhaps the President may have an idea to replace the federal gas tax which funds many projects but has been struggling to keep pace with demand (the tax hasn’t been raised in 20 years and is also taking a hit because cars are more fuel efficient these days). Replace the gas tax with what? Governing speculates that maybe it’s a tax based on how many miles people drive, a solution backed by many transportation experts.

Assembly wants part-time carpool lanes in Southern California (L.A. Times)

A bill that would allow single occupant vehicles to use carpool lanes on parts of the 134 and 210 freeways during non-rush hours sailed through the Assembly last Thursday. Yes, I know that was almost a week ago — but overlooked this one last week and it’s certainly newsworthy. Seems like the next big regional conversation we’ll be having in future years is over management of the HOV lanes. Should they be carpool lanes all the time? Some of the time? Or congestion pricing lanes sometimes or all times?


Transportation headlines, Tuesday, Feb. 26: art of transit, does light rail stop people from driving?, raising the gas tax?

Here is a look at some of the transportation headlines gathered by us and the Metro Library. The full list of headlines is posted on the Library’s Headlines blog, which you can also access via email subscription or RSS feed.

ART OF TRANSIT: A bus on Broadway in downtown Los Angeles. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

ART OF TRANSIT: A bus on Broadway in downtown Los Angeles. There’s a color version after the jump — I like the photo but can’t decide which version I like better. You decide! Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

Does light rail really stop people from driving (The Atlantic Cities) 

A new study in the UK showed little evidence that four different light rail lines (all in Britain) made much of any difference on car ownership rates or the amount of driving. Rail ridership in the light rail corridors did go up, but that mostly seemed to come at the expense of bus ridership. Excerpt:

With that in mind, the work still underscores some important lessons. For starters, it offers a sound piece of advice: cities considering a light rail system should strongly consider whether improving the local bus system would be cheaper and just as effective. It also provides yet another reminder of the irrational love people have for their cars; getting city residents to give up driving often requires more than just offering them a ride.

LA Observed: Traffic, bikes and the 405 (KCRW)

LA Observed Kevin Roderick’s weekly radio segment focuses on the lack of talk about traffic during the mayoral campaign. Voters seem interested, Roderick says, but it’s hard for any prospective mayor to credibly say they can fix traffic — thus the talk instead of providing alternatives to it, i.e. bikes and transit. Good segment.

The case for a higher gas tax (New York Times) 

Valerie J. Karplus, a research scientist in the Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change at M.I.T., uses this op-ed piece to make the case that the only thing that will get Americans to drive less is more expensive gasoline. And by expensive she means a lot more than the current national average of $3.72. Excerpts:

But if our goal is to get Americans to drive less and use more fuel-efficient vehicles, and to reduce air pollution and the emission of greenhouse gases, gas prices need to be even higher. The current federal gasoline tax, 18.4 cents a gallon, has been essentially stable since 1993; in inflation-adjusted terms, it’s fallen by 40 percent since then.

Politicians of both parties understandably fear that raising the gas tax would enrage voters. It certainly wouldn’t make lives easier for struggling families. But the gasoline tax is a tool of energy and transportation policy, not social policy, like the minimum wage.

She argues that President Obama took the easier path by greatly raising the fuel efficiency requirements of new vehicles — something that won’t reduce driving much or raise much money for infrastructure improvements. I do think the new standards, however, have a good chance of greatly reducing air pollution in our region. But if driving greatly increases, then those gains could be for naught.

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Transportation headlines, Tuesday, Feb. 5

Here is a look at some of the transportation headlines gathered by us and the Metro Library. The full list of headlines is posted on the Library’s Headlines blog, which you can also access via email subscription or RSS feed.

ART OF TRANSIT: The subway at the Civic Center/Grand Park Station. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

ART OF TRANSIT: The subway at the Civic Center/Grand Park Station. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

Fare inspections are up, fare infractions are down (Buzzer blog)

The transit agency in Vancouver gave its transit security force the power to levy a $173 fine to fare evaders last fall — previously, they could only ask those who didn’t pay the fare to leave the bus or train. In between September and the end of 2012, about 11,000 tickets were issued and security officers say the pricey penalty seems to have encouraged more people to purchase bus and train fares.

Three committees reject plan to widen 710 north of Long Beach (L.A. Streetsblog)

The I-710 Corridor Project — being overseen by Metro — proposes to improve the flow of traffic between Ocean Boulevard in Long Beach and State Route 60 in East Los Angeles. Among alternatives under study is widening the freeway, an option that the Long Beach City Council I-710 Oversight Committee, Gateway Council of Governments and the Project Committee don’t back; they favor a zero or near zero emissions freight corridor. Here’s the project home page on metro.net.

The federal role in transportation funding (The Transport Politic)

Wonky but excellent post from Yonah Freemark on whether the feds should remain or vacate their role in providing money for local transportation needs. A lot of that money at present comes from the federal gas tax, which is a problem as revenues are declining as Americans drive more fuel efficient vehicles (and in some cases, drive less). This has led some to suggest that it would be better if states simply made their own decisions about how to pay for transportation. But Freemark counters that some states would simply choose not to pay for it (which would devaststate transit agencies) and perhaps it’s best if the feds found a more progressive way to help localities support transportation.

Imagining a world regulated by virtual traffic lights (The Atlantic: Cities)

Scientists at Carnegie Mellon University are designing a system to get rid of all traffic lights. It works like this: As we approach an intersection, our cars transmits data, such as location and speed, to other nearby cars. The virtual system processes this information for all the cars in the area and determines our individual traffic signal. Instead of seeing a red or green light hanging in the intersection, we see it on our windshield and drive or yield  accordingly. Among the advantages: Every intersection with a car now automatically has a traffic light directing it to go or stop. But yes, some of the stops will be virtual, just like they are now.

California gas prices surge (KTLA)

Not that we need the unpleasant reminder but average California gasoline prices jumped 23 cents in the last week, passing $4 a gallon in Los Angeles. The surge follows a year in which U.S. motorists spent a greater percentage of their annual income on gasoline than at any time in the last three decades, the U.S. Energy Department says. Yes, we know there are reasons for this. (There always are.) But maybe it’s time to protest by trying out Metro or any other form of public transit.

Transportation headlines, Friday, Feb. 1

Here is a look at some of the transportation headlines gathered by us and the Metro Library. The full list of headlines is posted on the Library’s Headlines blog, which you can also access via email subscription or RSS feed.

Beijing air pollution. Photo by moemoe223/Flickr

Beijing air pollution. Photo by moemoe223/Flickr

Five trends to watch in China’s urban transportion saga (The City Fix)

China watching has become almost a competitive sport, which probably makes sense since our economies are so intertwined. Where transit issues are concerned, it’s  interesting to track (with a certain amount of jealousy) what China can get done in so little time, with fewer rules and regulations to observe. This two-part post suggests a couple of trends that just might pan out. And yes, a campaign against air pollution, involving an aggressively developing transit program, is on the list. There’s a predicted return to bikes, too — something of an irony, since until rather recently China was a nation of bicycles.

Five China trends — part 2

Biking etc.

Antonio Villaraigosa transportation cheat sheet (Streetsblog)

Will Mayor Villaraigosa get the Secretary of Transportation job? From the vantage point of L.A. news junkies, the quest looks like it could be bumpy. But you might want to check out Damian Newton’s post on Mayor V.’s transportation record. Charlie Sheen aside (and does Washington care about Charlie Sheen?), it’s pretty impressive.

Rethinking the gas tax (Transportation for America)

Suddenly the gas tax is the topic du jour in D.C. That’s not necessarily a bad thing since the per-gallon federal tax is so important to mobility. Major new proposals from all over are examining the tax. Which one will get the nod? Or will it be abandoned as old-fashioned and inept. Find out what some of the options could be and let us know which you think ought to get the green light.

Pasadena‘s first bicycle boulevard opens (Pasadena Sun)

Pasadena’s bicycle boulevard — only the second in L.A.County, according to the Sun — opened this week, stretching about three-quarters of a mile along Marengo Avenue. It’s  anchored on one end at Orange Grove Boulevard and the other end at Washington Boulevard …  a lovely ride and another opportunity for a little solitude.

Transportation headlines, Tuesday, Jan. 22

Here is a look at some of the transportation headlines gathered by us and the Metro Library. The full list of headlines is posted on the Library’s Headlines blog, which you can also access via email subscription or RSS feed.

What’s Los Angeles like eight years from now, mayoral candidates? (L.A. Times) 

The Times asks five candidates for the mayor of Los Angeles for their vision for the nation’s longest city in the year 2021 — after, presumably, eight years of their leadership. Here are videos of their answers, which include frequent mentions of traffic and transit although specifics are missing (the videos are less than two minutes each). The mayor of Los Angeles gets an automatic seat on the Metro Board of Directors along with three appointees. That, of course, gives the mayor a nice measure of influence, the reason that voters in the city of L.A. who care about Metro should also care about who is the next mayor.

Open thread: big dig alternatives analysis released (L.A. Streetsblog) 

The Alternatives Analysis was released late Friday afternoon for the SR-710 project, which proposes to improve traffic in the area around the 710 gap between Alhambra and Pasadena. Streetsblog looks at the five options: no build, transportation systems management improvements, a bus rapid transit line between downtown L.A. and Pasadena, a light rail line from East L.A. to Pasadena and a freeway tunnel that would close the existing gap.

By the gallon or by the mile? States look for new highway revenue (KCET) 

D.J. Waldie looks at the idea of charging motorists taxes based on the number of miles they drive versus the gas tax. The problem is that tax revenues are declining or have flat-lined because vehicles are getting better fuel mileage. The by-the-mile tax has been talked about for quite some time and probably makes sense. But I think this will happen about the same time the federal government gets rid of the mortgage interest deduction — which is to say it’s an extreme longshot.

Transportation headlines, Thursday, Nov. 29

Here is a look at some of the transportation headlines gathered by us and the Metro Library. The full list of headlines is posted on the Library’s Headlines blog, which you can also access via email subscription or RSS feed.

A streetcar at Eagle Rock and Colorado Boulevard in Eagle Rock in 1955. Photo by Alan Weeks, via Metro Transportation Library & Archive.

Blue, Expo Line delays reflect ongoing problems at rail junction (L.A. Times)

Tuesday night’s major delays on the Blue and Expo Lines were a sign that work is still needed to improve the Washington/Flower junction of the two lines, says this blog post.

Rail plan stirs distrust among black Angelenos (New York Times) 

The article revisits the controversy over the Leimert Park station for the Crenshaw/LAX Line. Many African-Americans want the station funded no matter what, whereas the Metro Board decided earlier this year to build the station only if a contractor can do it within the project’s budget of nearly $1.8 billion. Bids from contractors to build the project are due soon.

Public transportation etiquitte for citizens of Los Angeles (Thought Catalog) 

A short list of suggestions for transit riders, including the stand-to-your-right rule for the escalator.

U.S. motorists on pace to spend record sum on gasoline (L.A. Times) 

The average price of a gallon never reached its all-time high of $4.114 in 2008, but persistantly high prices in 2012 saw Americans cough up $482 million at the pumps.

Shuster won’t rule out raising gas taxes (Business Week) 

New House Transportation Committee Chair Bill Shuster says that he understands new sources of revenue are needed to pay for federal spending on roads and transit and that options looked at include raising the federal gas tax (last raised in 1993), a vehicle miles tax and tolls. See above story to understand why any of those are seen by politically difficult by politicians who believe getting reelected > good public policy.