Friday, July 15, 2011

Did you know?

President Eisenhower appropriated $25 billion in 1956 for the Interstate and Defense Highways Act, about $210 billion in today’s dollars.

Status of the next federal transportation program

Last week, U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) outlined a proposed six-year federal transportation program. The plan would spend only the $230 billion the Federal Highway Trust Fund will take in over the period from the 18.4 cent per gallon federal motor fuel tax. That’s much less than the $556 billion White House proposal, and a big cut from the $286 billion, six-year SAFETEA-LU authorization in 2005.

The positives: Six billion is dedicated to the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan program, which could fund $120 billion in transportation projects. Rep. Mica also proposes to streamline government by consolidating or eliminating approximately 70 programs, improving the delivery time of projects, and instituting performance measures.

However, there are significant downsides to the Mica plan. At a time when demands for new and better transportation improvements are at an all-time high, the proposal cuts funding by 35 percent in fiscal year 2012, resulting in a loss of 630,000 jobs next year alone. And while the 80/20 percent split between highway funding and transit is preserved, Mica said rural and suburban areas would receive a greater percentage of the money set aside for transit. That switch, along with less funding overall means Chicago’s already cash-strapped transit agencies would take a huge hit.

Also important for the Chicago region, funds will no longer be set aside for bike and pedestrian projects or inter-city high-speed rail, and the highway program will focus on “Interstate Highways and the National Highway System.” According to Transportation for America, if funds were restricted to routes on the National Highway System, the number of highways states can invest in would drop by 83.5 percent. Then, there’s the added cost of refocusing federal transportation objectives on long-distance travel, instead of urban networks of roads and highways where we know congestion occurs.

If Chairman Mica’s proposal is a starting point to where our federal transportation program is headed, there are two things to consider as the political process moves forward:

  1. With a reduction in funding of this magnitude, performance measures and strategic planning are critical. Every dollar MUST be spent to gain the greatest impact. Precisely because there is a limited supply of federal dollars, we must evaluate potential investments based on their ability to reduce hours spent in traffic, curb emissions, and connect affordable homes and jobs. The criteria should not be about how much is spent, but rather whether each investment gets us closer to our goals.
  2. Every dollar that U.S. taxpayers invest in public transportation generates $6 or more in economic returns. Spending on transportation infrastructure is one of the best investments government can make. Other nations know it; China spends nine percent of gross domestic product on infrastructure and Europe five percent. The House proposal represents 1.5 percent of the United States’ economy. That gets us to the root of the problem: The current funding approach to building America’s transportation system, unchanged since 1993, is unsustainable. As consumers continue to choose fuel-efficient vehicles over gas guzzlers, less frequent trips to the pump will mean even fewer dollars going into the nation’s bankrupt Highway Trust Fund. The country needs a new, reliable revenue source to fund the transportation improvements commuters and employers desperately need. 

The Senate proposal

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said she will propose a two-year, $109 billion transportation bill. The two-year bill would require an infusion of $12 billion to the Highway Trust Fund. Sen. Boxer said, “We spend $12 billion a month in Iraq and Afghanistan, all we are looking for here is $12 billion over two years.” More details of Boxer's plan should surface soon.

The next federal surface transportation bill (familiarly known as T4) offers the best opportunity to change America’s surface transportation policy to improve our global competitiveness, as well as community livability and sustainability. In February MPC submitted testimony to Chairman Mica supporting an approach to the federal bill that is strategic, reduces gridlock and the demand for costly transportation expenditures, makes existing transportation infrastructure more efficient, creates new financing tools, and demonstrates the value of innovative investments.

With the looming Sept. 30 expiration of the last extension (the seventh since SAFETEA-LU expired), it seems an eighth extension may be in the cards. Stay updated on the progress in the House and Senate via MPC’s web site and Talking Transit throughout the summer.


Local News

CTA unveils rapid bus plans. CTA riders who take a Jeffery Boulevard bus on the South Side could see their commutes shortened by up to seven minutes during rush hour, under the proposed rapid bus plans the CTA unveiled Wednesday.

Quinn talks south suburban infrastructure at Chamber luncheon. Gov. Pat Quinn drew a crowd more than double the size of most monthly luncheons of the Chicago Southland Chamber of Commerce Monday, filling a room at the Tinley Park Convention Center with 450 businessmen, businesswomen and public officials. The governor was the Chamber’s guest speaker this month and used the opportunity to talk about infrastructure plans in the south suburbs and the potential to spur economic growth.

IDOT and Washington Park Chamber Host Summer Engineering Academy: Program Encourages Interested High School Students to Explore Professional Opportunities in Transportation Industry. The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) and the Washington Park Chamber of Commerce are teaming up to host the 2011 Summer Engineering Academy in Chicago.

Sign makers' loss is victory for taxpayer. Among Pat Quinn’s first — and best — acts after becoming governor was to remove the name of his predecessor, Rod Blagojevich, from various signs across the state. What made it among the best is that he didn’t replace Blagojevich’s name with his own.

Chicago can look west for transit card model: Bay Area commuters use Clipper for buses, trains. Chicago-area transit riders can look to the San Francisco area to see how a single fare card can be used on myriad systems. In the Bay Area, the Clipper card can be used to pay fares and transfer among most buses, commuter trains, streetcars, ferries and even the famous cable cars — on no fewer than seven transit systems.

Illinois orders back-seat passengers to buckle up. Since Barbara Wenk's mother died after being ejected from the back seat of a car in 2001, Wenk has always made it a point to buckle up in the back, even when going on quick trips across town. Now everyone in Illinois will be required to buckle up in the rear seats of private vehicles under a new law signed Monday by Gov. Pat Quinn.

Our Opinion: Hanson study must be key to rail choice. Springfield can’t complain that its concerns about expansion of rail traffic aren’t getting serious attention. On Saturday, Federal Railroad Administration Administrator Joseph Szabo came to Springfield and met with local officials who are concerned about both the impact of a high-speed rail proposal on the city and the process by which those concerns may figure into a final decision.

Smartphone thefts boost CTA robbery rate, Chicago police say. The robbery rate is running higher this year on the Chicago Transit Authority system, new data show, and police link the crime increase to "Apple picking" by young thugs stealing smartphones from passengers. 

Transit reform really just transit features. Governor Quinn’s office issued a press release last Thursday calling House Bill 3597 “major transit reform legislation.” What he signed into law today was not reform, but a package of new, “cool” features that the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), Metra, and Pace – collectively called the service boards – are now required by law to implement. 

Emergency doctor: Zero-tolerance for distracted driving. Working in the busy Level 1 Trauma Center at Advocate Condell Medical Center, pediatric emergency physician Dr. Charles Nozicka has treated scores of accident victims resulting from distracted driving. Nozicka says it’s heartbreaking to see the devastating effects especially on teens. The busy summer driving season heightens the threat.

National News

Road to Recovery: Transforming America’s Transportation. Unaccountable spending is undermining America’s long-term strategic priorities and the nation’s infrastructure is crumbling. Failure to reform the transportation system risks deepening the United States’ dependence on oil, eroding economic competitiveness, and increasing climate disruption.

Pedestrian Alert Noises Coming To Hybrid And Electric Cars, Needed Or Not. If you like the idea of hybrid or electric cars that whir silently down the road without the noise of an engine exploding gasoline thousands of times each minute, you'd better act fast.

Black women take their place in D.C.’s bike lanes. Veronica Davis bikes almost everywhere, except to church on Sundays. She’s a member and frequent user of Capital Bikeshare and has testified before the D.C. Council in favor of more bike lanes in Southeast Washington, where she lives and owns a small business. Yet some people pause and look again when they see her gliding along on two wheels. “Mommy, look at the black lady on the bike!” a little girl squealed one day as Davis rode past the Potomac Gardens housing project.

Infrastructure improvements require knowledge of our economic history of the past century: making america competitive in a global economy. The knowledge of our country’s history and past accomplishments as an economic power is the equivalent of the recollection of our life’s studies and experiences. If you are over 60 years of age, you have lived through the golden years of the industrial manufacturing complex when we owned and conquered the economic world.

Transportation Missing From NJ’s Environmental Plans. One reason to oppose the Christie administration’s plan to pull the state out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) cap and-trade program is that this removes a source of funding for sustainable land use and transportation planning.

CG/LA Infrastructure Releases the Top 100 Strategic Infrastructure Projects. CG/LA Infrastructure LLC, the world leader in infrastructure project identification and branding, announced today the release of the Top 100 North America Strategic Infrastructure Projects. The total estimated value of these projects is $220 billion with a potential to create 3.3 million direct jobs, and as many as 10 million total jobs, over the coming 4.5 years.

Baker Awarded New Orleans Rail Gateway Contract by Louisiana DOTD. Michael Baker Jr., Inc., a unit of Michael Baker Corporation, announced today that it has been awarded a three-year, $4.8 million rail/roadway engineering and environmental services contract by the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) for the New Orleans Rail Gateway (NORG), the fourth largest rail gateway in the nation.

CB 12′s Bike Resolution Testifies to Uptown Support for Safer Streets. In the wake of its long-planned bike lane forum, Manhattan Community Board 12 has finalized a resolution calling for a major study of bike infrastructure of Upper Manhattan, available in full above. Overall it’s a strong demonstration of support for the expansion of bikeways in the area.

Connected Vehicle Driver Acceptance Clinics coming soon to a community near you. The charming and heroic stars of Cars 2 and Transformers are not the only talking cars hitting American cities this summer.  At DOT, we call them Connected Vehicles: cars, trucks, buses, and other vehicles fitted with technology that allows them--like their big-screen counterparts--to communicate with each other and with roadway infrastructure like traffic lights, dangerous road segments, and railroad crossings.

Commission Approves New Mobility Fees for Transportation. Pasco County commissioners on Tuesday lowered the price developers will pay for new roads as a way to encourage growth that may eventually bring new jobs.

Chesapeake Unveils Plan to Transform US Transportation Fuels Market. US natural gas producer Chesapeake Energy Corporation has unveiled its plan for an achievable, scalable and affordable pathway toward a transportation future that runs on America’s own abundant supplies of natural gas and oil from deep shale and other unconventional formations.

6 Reasons Driving Has Peaked in U.S. Cities. Americans drove a lot in 2010. Roughly 3 trillion miles, to be more precise. The third-highest total mileage figure in history, to be more precise still. But while vehicles in general continue to rack up mileage, some road researchers have noticed that driving in major cities has reached an unexpected plateau — a phenomenon known as “peak car use.”

Global News

New Study: Should Emissions Debate Be Rich v. Poor Instead of City v. Suburb? Recent research has shown that cities produce lower amounts of greenhouse gas emissions than suburbs do, on a per capita basis. The thinking here, broadly speaking, is that dense residential buildings and public transit systems are more energy efficient than large personal dwellings and private transportation modes.

Atlanta and Paris Airports Form Development Partnership. Atlanta and Paris’ airports are to cooperate in promoting economic development in their respective regions, according to a memorandum of understanding signed at Atlanta City Hall July 1.

Network design for high ridership, a dense city example. How do transit network designers go about their task? Surprisingly little has been written about this.  You can pick up books that appear to cover the "network planning" process and find examples of good and bad networks but rarely a description of how to do the design thinking itself.

Team of drivers from Thailand win battle of the fuel savers at Shell Eco-marathon Asia. Four drivers from Thailand have beaten motorists from four other countries to be crowned the region’s top Shell FuelSave Team.

STEX contract, a model for other PPP projects. State-run Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) said the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEx) joint business and operations agreement it recently signed with Manila North Tollways Corp. (MNTC) is a good example of a Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) contract that leans on the strengths of both the government and private sector to better serve the public.

Budget carrier SpiceJet delays launch of regional operations. Budget carrier SpiceJet will delay the launch of its regional operations by a month as it awaits clearance of $250-million funding from the RBI for its Bombardier Q400 aircraft, said a top official of the company.

Ring road contract will be reworded: Transportation minister. Alberta Transportation Minister Luke Ouellette says the provincial government will reword the contract for a potential new southwest ring road deal with the Tsuu T’ina First Nation to resolve concerns that led band members to reject the initial offer two years ago.

What are the social costs of COEs? For many people, the Certificate of Entitlement (COE) system still holds novelty and controversy, despite having been around for more than 20 years.

Carmakers jump on energy bandwagon as Japan saves power. With the country steeped in power-saving mode, energy generation has become all the rage among Japanese automakers. Nissan Motor Co. on Monday unveiled a new charging system that gets electricity from solar power that can also be stored in the lithium-ion batteries used in its Leaf electric car.

One Big Idea: An Airline-Style Loyalty Program for Public Transit. Stanford's Balaji Prabhakar is one of those computer scientists who has become fascinated by the networks of the physical world. After working for years on cloud computing, Prabhakar has turned his attention not to social networks, but to "societal networks," transportation in particular.

Metropolitan Planning Council
Talking Transit is sponsored by Bombardier

Upcoming events

Aug 18 A Conversation with Charles Fishman, Author of The Big Thirst 11:30 AM–1:30 PM
Sep 26–28 Solutions for Sustainable Communities Conference 8:00 AM–6:00 PM

More events »

Tell us what you think of Talking Transit. Email with feedback in the subject.

To subscribe, visit our website at