Transportation headlines, Tuesday, August 30

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 blog.

Birder uses public transit to reach region’s birding hotspots (KPCC Off-Ramp) 

Fifteen year old Jose Luis Sandoval spent his summer seeking the considerable wildlife that still lives in the region. And he reached many of his favorite locales by public transit. Kevin Ferguson joins him on a recent outing. Nice piece.

Harkin: upgrading infrastructure more important than cutting deficit (Des Moines Register)

Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin didn’t mince words in front of the Register’s editorial board, leading to this news story. The gist of it: Harkin criticizes President Obama for focusing on cutting the federal deficit instead of rebuilding America’s infrastructure. Excerpt:

“We can put people to work, we rebuild the physical infrastructure for the next century, and then when that wheel starts going, the private sector that’s sitting on about $2 trillion right now will start investing again because people will be able to buy what they make,” Harkin told The Des Moines Register’s editorial board. “That takes precedent over deficit reduction.”

The New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has been saying essentially the same thing for the past couple of years, arguing that the federal stimulus package was too timid and too small.

Legislation seeks to lower voter threshold for voter approval of transit taxes (L.A. Streetsblog)

Watching state bills flounder about in Sacramento is probably not your idea of fun, but SB 791 by Sen. Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) is worth monitoring. For one, an amendment to the bill proposes to lower voter approval of transit taxes to a simple majority. It’s currently two-thirds, the reason that the Measure R sales tax increase in L.A. County barely passed in 2008, even with almost 68 percent approval. The bill also (and primarily) seeks to impose a tax on gasoline to raise money for a variety of transportation projects in the state. Of course, uttering the words “gas tax” is usually a political no-no in the best of times and these are, of course, not the economic best of times. In other gas tax news, the federal gas tax is due to expire on Sept. 30 unless Congress approves an extension. If not, the federal Highway Trust Fund goes poof, as does federal funding of many transportation projects.

The Acela. Photo by Night Owl City, via Flickr.

Speeding up trains on the Northeast Corridor (Welcome to the Fast Lane)

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood writes on his blog that most recent $745 million committed to improving the overhead wires that deliver power to Amtrak trains in New Jersey will lead to top speeds of 160 mph on that stretch of busy track. Current top speed is 135 mph. With new trains, Amtrak seeks to top 180 mph.

Getting the reporting right on high-speed rail costs (California High-Speed Rail blog)

If you’re interested in journalism and how it’s made, this is a thoughtful critique of a story in the Fresno Bee about the latest cost estimates for the high-speed rail project. My own two cents: I think given the size of the bullet train project and the cost of urban rail projects in the state, the media is obligated to ask tough questions about the $43-billion price tag for building high-speed rail between Anaheim and San Francisco. At the same time, I think this blog raises good points about fairness and evaluating the truthiness of government critics.