Transportation headlines, Wednesday, December 3

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Yes, it's raining in L.A. Photo: Steve Hymon / Metro

Yes, it’s raining in L.A. Stay dry, my friends. Photo: Steve Hymon/Metro

A cleaned-up, safer Harbor Transitway puts more riders on the bus (L.A. Times)

Times reporter Dan Weikel writes about the evolution of the I-110 Harbor Transitway from a scantly used “white elephant” to a modern, heavily trafficked busway with well over 13,000 bus boardings a day. The transit-way features eight stations and 11 miles of bus-only lanes running down the middle of Interstate 110. The Metro Silver Line is its largest ridership draw.

Most of the early ridership woes were because of infrequent bus service and because the transit-way ended a mile short of the urban center of downtown L.A.. Weikel says now things are looking up, and he largely credits the introduction of the Metro Silver Line for the change.

A turning point came in December 2009 when Metro launched its Silver Line rapid bus service. In addition to running the length of the transit way, the new line continued through downtown and east along the El Monte Busway, creating a 26-mile system operating largely on faster, limited-access freeway lanes.

Metro later increased the frequency of Silver Line buses, added weekend service and improved connections to other transit lines.

“A lot has changed in the past decade,” said Darin Chidsey, director of public affairs for the Southern California Assn. of Governments, a regional planning agency. “The Silver Line has connected downtown to the South Bay like never before.”

In October, the Silver Line’s average weekday boardings were 15,514, more than three times the 4,208 boardings it recorded in its first month of service in December 2009.

How cost of train station at World Trade Center swelled to $4 billion (N.Y. Times)

Rendering of the WTC transportation hub with "Oculus" design. Photo: Port Authority of NY/NJ

Rendering of the WTC transportation hub with “Oculus” design (Source: Port Authority of NY/NJ)

The Port Authority of New York originally authorized $2 billion in 2004 to begin building the new World Trade Center transportation hub in Lower Manhattan. Now, 10 years later, its cost has nearly doubled. Both numbers are big chunks of change no matter how you look at them, but even more so when you remember that the result is just one very costly train station that the NYT notes is not the busiest in the city.

The article notes a variety of causes for the project’s bloat, including political demands, work acceleration, elaborate architecture and poor oversight.

Even the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which is developing and building the hub, conceded that it would have made other choices had it known 10 years ago what it knows now.

“We would not today prioritize spending $3.7 billion on the transit hub over other significant infrastructure needs,” Patrick J. Foye, the authority’s executive director, said in October.

The current, temporary trade center station serves an average of 46,000 commuters riding PATH trains to and from New Jersey every weekday, only 10,000 more than use the unassuming 33rd Street PATH terminal in Midtown Manhattan. By contrast, 208,000 Metro-North Railroad commuters stream through Grand Central Terminal daily.

Another way of looking at it: the cost of this single station is about the same as the cost of the Purple Line Extension and Regional Connector combined — and those projects include more than five miles of tracks and six new underground stations. The new transit hub in Lower Manhattan will almost certainly be spectacular — but in this case spectacular is coming at great cost and perhaps costing other transit projects money they sorely need.

More headlines after the jump!

The problem with cheap gas (Governing)

Gas prices are down and auto-dependent commuters are rejoicing. But good news for consumers isn’t necessarily good news for state governments that rely on gas taxes to fund increasing costs for road maintenance and repair. Kentucky’s revenue, for example, has plummeted. Excerpt:

Indexing the tax to inflation was supposed to help ease that problem. And it did, almost every year of the past 20, as gas prices rose. But this year, gasoline prices have dropped precipitously. With that decline, revenues also have gone down in the states where the tax is indexed.

Across the country, states have different methods for taxing gas. The most common are adjusted by inflation using either the Consumer Price Index or the wholesale gas price, a wholesale sales tax or an indexed tax (which works well when gas prices are high, but not as well when they drop as in Kentucky). Despite the need for more revenue to fund rising infrastructure costs, the article points out the political quandary of raising the gas tax — politicians almost never do it — but highlights Michigan’s recent success in doing so this fall.

You’d never know it from these beautiful maps that U.S. infrastructure is crumbling (CityLab)

Since we’re on the subject of U.S. infrastructure, check out these maps that show only the road forms of U.S. states. It might look like they also show terrain, but those are actually the roads over and around them. Pretty cool. The full U.S. map and more details of the project can be viewed here.

1 reply

  1. The bad news about the Silver Line is that it forced transfers for passengers from San Pedro, Wilmington, and Torrance at the badly located, isolated Harbor Gateway (nee Artesia) Transit Center. For the first few years of the Silver Line, it only ran every half hour during the midday to Harbor Gateway because the 445 and 550 from San Pedro continued to operate. When the Silver Line service was bumped up to every 15 minutes the 445 and 550 midday service north of HGTC was cancelled. The tradeoff for forced transfers is improved service, but for much of the first few years, late night detours due to construction of the Express Lanes broke transfers and forced people to wait at a parking lot for 40-50 minutes to connect to hourly service. I’m happy the Silver Line is doing better, but it really needs more night and weekend service comparable to a rail line. Waiting 40 minutes for a bus when no Metro Rail line runs less frequently than every 20 is unacceptable. The same goes for weekends, where 20 minute waits between buses help depress ridership, and lead to crowded buses when events such as USC games let out.