U.S. House digs into transportation issues
The House of Representatives spent its first full week of work in 2012 focused on transportation issues. On Tuesday, House Republicans released their proposal for a five-year $260 billion highway bill and on Friday, the House passed a new five-year Federal Aviation Administration bill. The two bills have some important implications for Minnesota, not the least of which is a potential for fewer federal dollars to flow into the state. Emil Frankel, who served in President George W. Bush’s Department of Transportation, said the Republicans’ plan to use royalties from expanded domestic oil and gas production was unlikely to bring anywhere near enough money to cover the growing gap between the nation’s infrastructure needs and the revenue the gas tax brings in.
Committee Leaders Unveil Major Transportation & Jobs Bill
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John L. Mica (R-FL) and Members of the Committee unveiled the American Energy & Infrastructure Jobs Act. The initiative is a long overdue infrastructure bill that reforms transportation programs and promotes increased domestic energy production to create American jobs. “This bill will put Americans back to work rebuilding our roads and bridges and developing new sources of low cost energy,” Mica said. “This legislation may be the most important jobs measure to pass Congress this year. “The American Energy & Infrastructure Jobs Act is the largest transportation reform bill since the creation of the Interstate Highway System in 1956,” Mica continued. “This is a five-year bill that reforms our federal transportation programs, cuts the red tape and bureaucracy that delays projects across the country, gives states more flexibility to determine their most critical infrastructure needs, provides states with the long-term stability to undertake major improvements, and encourages private sector participation in helping to finance transportation projects.”
DOT Makes $500 Million Available for Infrastructure Projects
The U.S. Department of Transportation will take applications from states for $500 million in surface transportation projects under a fourth round of its competitive Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program. Previous rounds of TIGER have provided $2.6 billion in grants to 172 “innovative” projects across the country, DOT said in a Tuesday statement announcing the availability of the funds. “Americans are demanding investments in highways, ports, commuter rail, streetcars, buses and high-speed rail,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in the statement. “These kinds of projects not only mean a stronger economic future for the U.S., but jobs for Americans today.”
U.S. Department of Transportation Announces Fourth Round of TIGER Discretionary Grants
The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) announced a much-anticipated fourth round of funding for USDOT’s popular TIGER Discretionary Grants program, totalling $500 million for capital investments in surface transportation infrastructure. Pre-applications must be submitted by Feb. 20, 2012 and final applications must be submitted by March 19, 2012. Previous rounds of competitive TIGER grants were heavily over-subscribed. The last round attracted 848 applications with funding requests for $14.29 billion, while USDOT awarded funds in December 2011 for 46 capital projects totaling $511 million. USDOT did not make many substantive changes in this week’s notice to the TIGER application and selection process as compared to previous TIGER funding rounds. Authorizing legislation for this round allows for an amount not to exceed $175 million of the $500 million total to be used to pay the subsidy and administrative costs for a project receiving credit assistance under the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act of 1998 (TIFIA) program. Applicants for these TIGER TIFIA payments must submit a TIGER application and a separate TIFIA letter of interest.
Now Open for Bids: The Fourth Round of TIGER Grants
Transportation leaders, take your best shot. Applications are being accepted for $500 million in federal funding through the fourth round of U.S. DOT’s TIGER grants. DOT has renewed its commitment to this groundbreaking program, which awards money on a competitive basis to projects that have the potential to make a “significant impact on the nation, a metropolitan area, or region.”This round of funding will include up to $100 million for rail projects, including inter-city projects. In addition, $120 million has been reserved for projects that serve rural communities.
Federal transportation secretary visiting Denver
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is visiting Denver. LaHood plans to view construction of the metro area’s light rail system on Monday afternoon. Gov. John Hickenlooper and Denver mayor Michael Hancock are scheduled to join him. The Regional Transportation District is adding a western line to its light rail system. A $308 million federal funding agreement is helping pay for the work.
Former FAA Administrator Jane Garvey to Keynote Florida Public-Private Partnerships
Jane Garvey, the former head of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, will be the keynote speaker for “Public Private Partnerships (PPP): The Future of Public Construction in Florida,” a workshop for businesses, contractors, investors and government officials. Ms. Garvey has held a number of senior positions across the public and private infrastructure sector in America, most recently serving on the Transition Team for President Barack Obama with a focus on transportation policies and related challenges facing the new Administration. Prior to that, she headed the US Public/Private Partnerships advisory group at JPMorgan, where she advised states on financing strategies to facilitate much needed project delivery for state governments. From 1997 to 2002, Ms. Garvey served as the 14th Administrator of the FAA. Currently Ms. Garvey serves as North American Chair, Meridiam Infrastructure, an investment management company that specializes in PPP projects.
Transit planners want light rail hub for future expansion
Transit planners in Hennepin County hope to build a new rail hub in downtown Minneapolis before the Central Corridor light rail line is finished. The Interchange, as transit officials call it, would be a terminal for future light rail lines, connecting the Central Corridor and Hiawatha lines with Northstar trains. It would be built on county land near Target Field. County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin said it would be easiest to build now to be finished when the Central Corridor light rail line opens in 2014. “We want to have this Interchange facility open when Central [Corridor] opens up because it’s cheaper and less disruptive to build this facility when you only have to deal with one operating line, Hiawatha, rather than waiting for Central to come as well, McLaughlin said. Project manager Ed Hunter says county commissioners need to act quickly if they want the hub finished in the next two years.
St. Paul Mayor Coleman takes aim at Minneapolis, Target Center funding
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman threw himself headlong into the Minnesota Vikings stadium debate and took aim at neighboring Minneapolis on Tuesday, meeting with Gov. Mark Dayton in private and speaking before business leaders in public about a related “threat on the horizon.” Coleman told a St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon that one aspect of a proposed stadium package – $150 million in public funding to spruce up the Target Center in Minneapolis – would be a “very huge threat” to downtown St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center, home to the Wild, the state’s NHL team.
Economic, ridership concerns could derail Northstar plans for St. Cloud
While increasing ridership is vital to extending the Northstar commuter-rail line to St. Cloud, so is “patience” and understanding that the line is part of a regional rail system, the head of the Northstar Corridor Development Authority said last week. “Everybody expects these projects to be like the Hiawatha [light-rail] line, which was beating 20-year projections in year two,” said Stearns County Commissioner Leigh Lenzmeier, NCDA chairman. “But clearly, Hiawatha is an aberration. Building ridership will simply take a while.” The 41-mile Northstar line runs between Big Lake in Sherburne County and downtown Minneapolis. Ridership has trailed projections for much of the line’s two years of existence, the first year by 20 percent. Lower gas prices, mild winter weather, high unemployment and general newness has kept commuters in their cars and away from the train, Lenzmeier said.
South Sounders share Federal Way’s transit frustration
Some Federal Way-area officials are so unhappy with Sound Transit that they’re contemplating secession from the tri-county transportation agency. There’s no mechanism for such a move, but that’s not stopping them from talking about it. Their pain is our pain – to a point. Sound Transit has determined that sales tax revenues from the South King County sub-area have fallen so steeply that the agency must delay extension of light rail to Federal Way from 2023 to 2034 or later. That delay means that the next light rail leg – to Tacoma – will be delayed as well. Originally projected to be completed by 2029, it’s now looking like sometime in the 2040s. In other words, that short Link light rail line in downtown Tacoma is it for many who are reading this. That’s disappointing for voters who approved an 0.5 percent sales tax hike in 2008 based on the earlier timeline for buildout. However, Pierce County has something Federal Way doesn’t: In addition to express buses, commuters can ride Sounder commuter rail between downtown Tacoma and Seattle with stops in Puyallup, Sumner, Auburn, Kent and Tukwila. In the fall, the line is scheduled to extend south to Lakewood.
A world-class transit system for Baltimore
The corner of Howard and Lombard streets has the potential to be the pulse point of a healthier city and region. This is where the proposed Red Line and the existing Light Rail line will directly connect, addressing two long-standing deficiencies with mass transit in this city: the lack of an east/west rapid transit line and the absence of a direct transfer between rail lines to create a true “system.” Baltimore and Maryland should consider taking this transfer point one step further.If a new arena does rise alongside an expanded Convention Center, as proposed, the current arena and its parking garage should be razed, the area cleared, and the space transformed into a modern, multilevel and multi-modal transit hub. This would be similar to what is being constructed in Silver Spring or, on a grander scale, the existing Port Authority Terminal in New York. The Maryland Transit Administration’s local routes that terminate and/or pass through downtown could be reconfigured to terminate and originate at the facility. The same could be done with the MTA’s commuter and express lines. Giving all lines a common terminal would allow seamless transfers in a comfortable, climate-controlled facility that’s centrally located and easily accessible.