Obama’s New $50 Billion Infrastructure Stimulus — Old Wine in New Bottles

President Obama’s new  $50 billion infrastructure initiative — part of his  $447 billion American Jobs Act (AJA) — offered no surprises. It’s almost an exact replica of his FY 2012 budget request which included a  sum of $50 billion for transportation to “jump start” a proposed $556 billion six-year surface transportation reauthorization.

The rhetoric may have changed — Obama avoided using the terms “stimulus” and “infrastructure” in presenting his AJA initiative to Congress — but the substance of the two initiatives is remarkably similar. Both proposals would fund an identical mix of programs (highways, transit, Amtrak, high-speed rail, aviation and the TIFIA credit program) and both would establish a  National Infrastructure Bank. Read More ›

Infrastructure investment could be “economic driver”

Cascadia Center hubs, corridors, gateways.png

In a bi-partisan pitch, former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell (a Democrat) and current Mesa, Ariz., mayor Scott Smith (a Republican), argue in today’s Wall Street Journal for a stronger U.S. investment in transportation infrastructure.

Whether it involves highways, railways, ports, aviation or any other sector, infrastructure is an economic driver that is essential for the long-term creation of quality American jobs.

When it comes to transportation, Washington has been on autopilot for the last half-century. Instead of tackling the hard choices facing our nation and embracing innovations, federal transportation policy still largely adheres to an agenda set by President Eisenhower.

Investments in transportation infrastructure–especially strategic, long-term investments–are investments in the future of the country. And as Rendell and Smith argue, true transportation investments aren’t (or shouldn’t be) a partisan issue.

Building America’s transportation infrastructure has been a national goal since Thomas Jefferson promoted canals and roads and Abraham Lincoln helped forge the Transcontinental Railroad. And still today, there remains a justifiable federal responsibility to address the country’s infrastructure decline. But it must be addressed thoughtfully, and much differently from the past. The sole responsibility can’t be left up to the federal government–from a financing or management perspective. (Indeed, given the current economic outlook, we’re probably well past the days when this made sense–if it ever did.) Instead, infrastructure investments could benefit tremendously, especially in terms of innovation and financing, from public-private cooperation.

Ultimately, despite the economic chaos we find ourselves in, we need infrastructure improvements that will contribute to the long-term economic growth of the country. Hopefully, Messrs. Rendell and Smith aren’t the only ones willing to cross the political aisle to cooperate on this issue.  
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Innovation NewsBrief: Notes from the Annual TRB Meeting

The annual meetings of the Transportation Research Board (TRB) have always been a reliable barometer of the key transportation issues of the day as seen by the transportation community. This year’s meeting–which attracted 10,100 participants and featured over 500 technical sessions and workshops–was no exception. What follows are some impressions from the conference, after listening to some 60 presentations and holding informal conversations with a number of conference speakers and other participants during the 4-day meeting, January 10-13.
The overall impression was one of a pervasive climate of uncertainty about the future. Conference sessions and informal conversations were full of speculations concerning the status of the surface transportation reauthorization, the potential solutions to the funding dilemma, the fate of the climate change legislation, the future direction of the federal high-speed rail program and the impact of the upcoming midterm elections on pending legislation, notably the surface transportation reauthorization and the climate change bill. The outcome of the second job stimulus bill was also a subject of much speculation. The bill, which already has been approved by the House and now awaits action in the Senate, would inject substantial interim funds into the surface transportation program and extend the surface transportation authorization through Sept. 30, 2010. The $154 billion measure would allocate $36.7 billion for highways, transit and Amtrak, credit the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) with $19.5 billion in foregone interest payments and allow the Trust Fund to accrue interest in the future. But, as one congressional source attending the TRB Conference told us, the Senate prospects for the deficit-funded jobs bill appear uncertain.
Senate opponents claim there is plenty of stimulus money still in the pipeline and the bill’s requirement to spend the money within 90 days imposes an unrealistic deadline given the lengthy contracting process involved in infrastructure procurement. Additionally, Senate opponents may be expected to argue that the law establishing TARP requires unspent and repaid funds to be used to pay down the soaring national debt. The prospect of another vote to raise the debt ceiling might further discourage the Senate from redirecting the TARP money.
Secretary LaHood’s address at the TRB Annual Luncheon, announcing revised criteria for New Starts funding, received a generally positive reception from the TRB audience. Under the new policy, proposals for new rail transit projects will be judged by a broader range of factors than in the past. In addition to cost-effectiveness, the criteria will include economic and environmental benefits, land use impact and “livability.” One beneficial effect of the revamped policy should be a wider consideration of streetcars. This was first made possible several years ago when the Bush Administration made streetcars eligible for federal funding under its “Very Small Starts” category (Interim Guidance on Small Starts, July 26, 2006.) As many as 40 U.S. cities are in various stages of considering or planning streetcar projects according to a survey conducted by the Community Streetcar Coalition. As we observed in an earlier NewsBrief, “just as 30 years ago a less costly light rail transit LRT technology began to replace expensive heavy rail systems, so today, streetcars are offering to medium-size cities a more affordable fixed-guideway alternative to light rail systems.” (The Streetcar Makes a Comeback, Innovation NewsBriefs, September 2006.)

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Would Jane Jacobs Have OK’d The Deep-Bore Tunnel?

And…..Was Moses Really The Devil?
In Crosscut this morning, Knute Berger channels the spirit of famed urban planner, writer and neighborhood preservationist Jane Jacobs – and sits down with Seattle City Council member Tim Burgess to talk tunnel.
They’re mulling Seattle mayoral candidate Mike McGinn’s call for ditching the planned deep-bore tunnel to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct on State Route 99 in downtown Seattle. Berger’s hook is two-fold. First, Seattle is having its own Jane Jacobs moment in the candidacy of tunnel opponent McGinn, who favors a “surface street” option instead. Second, there’s a new book out by Anthony Flint titled, “Wresting With Moses,” on Jacobs’ battles against the epic, 20th Century infrastructure builder of New York, Robert Moses (pictured, right).
Cast as the genius-villain writ large in Robert Caro’s landmark, 1974 Pulitzer-winning biography “The Power Broker,” Moses is just the kind of guy who like Seattle leaders in 1950 would have supported a noisy, fume-spewing, shadow-casting elevated highway such as our viaduct, and who if transported to 2009, probably would have been all for building the world’s largest diameter single-deep-bored tunnel to replace it. Or a grand bridge across Elliott Bay, instead. The stage set thusly, Berger in his interview draws some astute observations from Council Member Burgess, himself a great fan of Jacobs’ neighborhoods-first activism and scholarship.

…Burgess…says that reading the (Flint) book made him more certain that the deep-bore tunnel was the better option for the waterfront. That seems counter-intuitive, because Jacobs fought against highways. Doesn’t a multi-billion-dollar road project seem more like a Moses boondoggle? Doesn’t the surface option, which would limit vehicle traffic, sound like more like a Jacobs kind of solution?
But Burgess worries that the surface option will be destructive at the street level, especially to the businesses that rely on Highway 99 and waterfront access.

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Puget Sound Transit Mode Share In 2040: 5 Percent

“Getting people out of their cars?” Ain’t really gonna happen here in the four counties of metro Puget Sound. Not to any appreciable degree. Consider the eye-opening figures released in late May for the Puget Sound Regional Council’s “Transportation 2040” Draft Environmental Impact Statement. A five percent mode share for transit in 2040, versus more than 80 percent for the evil auto, even in the rosiest scenario modeled.
There has been little or no discussion of this data in the region’s media or blogosphere, puzzling because our many Greens profess to care so deeply about increasing transit usage to fight greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector. What emerges instead from the data is that the policy response should lead with incentives for cleaner cars and road pricing, the two of which can be coupled. Let’s drill down, starting with a summary of the key data.

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Enrique Peñalosa Featured in The New York Times Magazine

In 2006, Cascadia Center co-sponsored an event, “A New Vision for Developing Transit for Livable Cities,” which featured Enrique Peñalosa. This weekend, the estimable The New York Times Magazine, featured Peñalosa in its “Questions For” column. Q: As a former mayor of Bogotá, Colombia, who won wide praise for making the city a model of enlightened planning, you have lately been hired by officials intent on building world-class cities, especially in Asia and the developing world. What is the first thing you tell them? In developing-world cities, the majority of people don’t have cars, so I will say, when you construct a good sidewalk, you are constructing democracy. A sidewalk is a symbol of equality. When the former Bogotá, Columbia, Read More ›

Central Puget Sound Growth Management: Goals Versus Reality

The gulf between plans for regional urban density and the reality of dreaded “sprawl” is widening in Central Puget Sound, writes former Washington State Secretary of Transportation Doug MacDonald in Crosscut today. The Puget Sound Regional Council is poised tomorrow to approve Vision 2040, its updated growth plan. It predicts another 1.7 million people (the size of metro Portland, Oregon) will move to our four counties between 2000 and 2040. To protect the environment and limit traffic congestion, the elected officials and staff of PSRC propose ways to funnel most new residents to the close-in “metropolitan cities” of Seattle, Bellevue, Everett, Tacoma and Bremerton, plus 14 adjacent “core cities” such as Auburn, Redmond, Federal Way, Lakewood, Tukwila and unincorporated Silverdale. Read More ›

Parking Is A Necessary Evil – For Now

As I’ve said before, I am all about reducing fossil fuel consumption. I’m about to buy a Toyota Yaris (a.k.a. “pea”) for this purpose. I strongly believe in carbon taxes, or a cap and trade program. I say all of this as a preface for what is about to come, because I have shocked more than one person this past week. What is up with the disappearing parking spots? Don’t get me wrong — density is a GOOD thing, and I have a personal vendetta against surface parking lots. But I also am aware of what it takes to create a thriving living environment, to draw people from all parts of our region to participate in the many attractions of Read More ›

State Auditor’s Report Details Congestion-Busting Agenda

A report issued yesterday by Washington State Auditor Brian Sonntag’s office urges the state to more aggressively attack highway congestion, beginning with a formal declaration that congestion is a top transportation policy priority. The Seattle Times reported on the findings today. The transportation performance audit, prepared for Sonntag’s office by Talbot, Korvola & Warwick of Portland, goes on to make more than 20 specific policy recommendations. These include urging that the state legislature should: “empower a single body – either the Department of Transportation or a regional transportation entity for the Puget Sound Region – to allow for a more integrated approach to planning for congestion reduction:” “choose/identify transportation projects based on congestion reduction rather than other agendas;” “implement new Read More ›

Passenger-Only Ferries In Puget Sound Gain Momentum

A flurry of developments suggests passenger-only ferries are gaining momentum in Puget Sound. In recent months there have been seven routes in operation: the state’s Vashon Island to downtown Seattle run; King County’s West Seattle to downtown Seattle water taxi; Kitsap Transit’s Port Orchard to Bremerton foot ferry; and four longer, privately operated routes to the San Juans Islands and Victoria. Now, add another local water taxi, and – it appears – another major regional passenger ferry route. From today through late November, the Electric Boat Company will run reservation-only water taxis connecting neighborhood docks along Seattle’s Lake Union, as KOMO4-TV reports. Here’s the schedule. In addition, the Port of Kingston – in northeast Kitsap County across Puget Sound from Read More ›