Senate passes bipartisan overhaul of highway, transit programs; House urged to act quickly
The Senate voted Wednesday to overhaul transportation programs and keep aid flowing to thousands of construction projects while strengthening highway and auto safety. The 74-22 vote stepped up pressure for quick action by House because the government’s power to collect about $110 million a day in federal gasoline and diesel taxes, the main source of revenue for highway and transit programs, is set to expire March 31. If a final bill isn’t on the president’s desk by then, Congress would have to approve a temporary extension to avoid a shutdown of the programs, including the furlough of Federal Highway Administration employees and the layoff of construction workers. The Senate’s measure would spend $109 billion over about two years. It would increase the amount of money available for states by raising current spending levels to take into account inflation over the past several years. That’s still far short of the dollars that two congressional commissions have said are needed to maintain aging highways, bridges and rail systems while expanding the nation’s transportation network to accommodate population growth between now and 2050.
Use of Public Transit Grew in 2011, Report Indicates
In another indication that more people are getting back to work, Americans took 200 million more rides last year on subways, commuter trains, light-rail systems and public buses than they did the year before, according to a new report by a leading transit association. Americans took 10.4 billion rides on public transportation in 2011 — a billion more than they took in 2000, and the second most since 1957, according to a report being released Monday by the American Public Transportation Association, a nonprofit organization that represents transit systems. The increase in ridership came after the recession contributed to declines in the previous two years.
North Dakota, California and the Oil Boom
While one plays host to a modern-day Gold Rush, the other shuns fossil fuels and wallows in debt. In his speech last week responding to high gas prices, President Barack Obama insisted that “we can’t just drill our way out of” our energy woes. Travel to boomtown USA: Williston, North Dakota. Williston sits atop the Bakken Shale, which will later this year be producing more oil than any other site in the country, surpassing even Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay, the longtime leader in domestic output. This once-sleepy town is what the Gold Rush might have looked like had it happened in the time ofMcDonald’s, Wal-Mart and Home Depot. And the oil rush is making Dakotans rich in a hurry, with farmers and other landowners becoming overnight millionaires from lucrative royalties and leases.
N.D. budget: State watching infrastructure
North Dakota officials are grappling with the gusher of infrastructure needs associated with booming oil development and water management. Although the latest revenue forecast for the current biennium is running 28.5 percent above an earlier prediction, the state confronts big obligations for roads, housing, and water projects,Gov.JackDalrymplesaid. But the state faces significant infrastructure needs in the years ahead,Dalrymplesaid. The state has appropriated $1.2 billion to address infrastructure, housing and safety needs in North Dakota’s Oil Patch in the 2011-13 budget. So far, $391 million has been awarded, with about $806 remaining.
Berg visits Dickinson to address housing concerns the area as result of ongoing oil boom.
North Dakota CongressmanRickBergmet withDickinsoncommunity leaders Tuesday to address housing concerns the area is facing because of an ongoing oil boom. After touring new housing developments in west Dickinson,Bergsat down with city representatives at the Chamber of Commerce to discuss the housing crunch. He saidDickinson’s lack of housing is one of a few issues he is working to improve.“ As I see in western North Dakota, we’ve got three big problems. We’ve got infrastructure problems. We’ve got housing problems. We’ve got safety issues,”Bergsaid.
$700 million for Minnesota transportation passes U.S. Senate
U.S. Sen.Amy Klobuchar announced today (Wednesday, March 14) that more than $700 million for Minnesota transportation and infrastructure has passed the Senate as part of the Surface Transportation legislation. The bill provides critical investments in Minnesota’s roads, bridges, transit, congestion mitigation projects, and freight and mobility improvements. The legislation also includes Klobuchar’s provisions to improve driver safety, such as incentives to prevent texting while driving, implement graduated license programs and improve teen driving safety. Klobuchar also secured the passage of four amendments in the final bill. “This legislation paves the way for critical investments in Minnesota’s roads and bridges, giving a much-needed boost to local economies and helping make our roads safer for families,” Klobuchar said. “The bill also includes my provisions to prevent texting while driving and keep families safe on the road.”
Obama signs bill; work to start this summer
PresidentBarackObamasigned legislation Wednesday, March 14, exempting the proposed St. Croix River bridge from the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and allowing the project to move forward. “I’m just really happy that this has gotten done,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said hours after the signing. “After 30 years of debate and delay, this is long overdue.” The bridge – expected to cost as much as $676 million – will connect Oak Park Heights and St. Joseph, Wis., diverting traffic from the aging Stillwater Lift Bridge. The Minnesota Department of Transportation will build and test sample foundation elements in the river this summer. Construction is expected to start in 2014 and take three years.
GOP pushes 25¢ Twin Cities transit fare hike
GOP legislators are pushing increased fares for metro buses, light-rail and commuter trains, part of a longstanding effort to shift more of the cost of transit from taxpayers to riders. Supporters say a 25-cent hike is justified as gasoline prices rise for motorists, but opponents say the increase would violate a deal that broke the state budget impasse last summer. Sen. Joe Gimse, R-Willmar, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, noted that since the last fare increase in 2008 “virtually everything in everybody’s life has gone up.” Gimse also argued that another fare increase would reduce the dependence of Metro Transit on future state funding.
Light-rail is still best for Southwest
The March 10 article “Critics rail about state money for Southwest light-rail line” repeats questions about how best to serve the booming number of jobs in the southwest part of the Twin Cities.Fortunately, these questions have been answered — a result of a thorough cost-effectiveness analysis.A detailed Southwest Corridor Alternatives Analysis completed in 2008 looked at options for this corridor, including doing nothing, enhanced bus (on existing roads), bus rapid transit (buses on their own right of way), and light rail.Each of these options was considered in addition to numerous highway improvements. The answer was clear: Light-rail transit would be the best and most cost-effective addition to the southwest metro’s transportation system
Critics rail about state money for Southwest light-rail line
The biggest light-rail transit project in the Twin Cities is heading for a bumpy ride. Fans and critics of a line between downtown Minneapolis and the southwest suburbs are on a collision course over spending state funds to build it. “I’m not afraid to stand up to folks who are in love with trains and say, ‘Hold on here just a minute,’” saidRep.MikeBeard, R-Shakopee, chair of the House transportation committee. “It’s going to be a battle,” saidRep.FrankHornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, a major supporter of the Southwest Corridor light-rail project. The $25 million at stake is a fraction of the project’s $1.25 billion cost, but a large step toward the Southwest Corridor becoming a reality. A refusal to commit the money could signal a lack of state support and stall the project, putting it behind others on the waiting list for crucial federal funding.
Highway funding stuck in reverse
Minnesota’s aging roads and bridges are facing a reckoning in Congress. Distracted by partisan battles, lawmakers are struggling to fund upgrades to a decades-old transportation infrastructure that highway engineers say is deteriorating faster than the nation’s ability to keep up. The Senate remains at an impasse, but the House is working on a plan that would actually give Minnesota nearly $50 million less this year compared to last. The prospective cut mostly reflects the GOP-led ban on earmarks, which have provided the state with about $150 million in additional transportation dollars since 2010. Congress relies heavily on the federal gas tax to help fund highway upgrades, but the tax expires at the end of this month. With each passing day, transportation officials across the country are waiting to see whether lawmakers can break the partisan logjam, which has held up a major road bill — in one form or another — for 2 1/2 years.
Rural transit program sees increased ridership
Rural public transit ridership boomed in Zumbrota in 2011, but plans to expand the service to other communities are on hold until funding becomes available. Hiawatha Public Transit ridership in Zumbrota grew from 12,814 in 2010 to 17,333 in 2011, the greatest increase of riders in all of the transit company’s service areas. The Three Rivers Community Action transit program started service in 1995 in the Lake City area after receiving a grant from the Minnesota Department of Transportation. The program’s success led to expansion to Oak Center,Frontenac, Elgin, Plainview, Wabasha,Kellogg, Cannon Falls,Winona, Red Wing, Faribault, Zumbrota, Wanamingo andGoodhue. The Zumbrota service was the last to be included about four years ago, according to Amy Repinski, director of Three Rivers’ transit program .“I’m hoping in the future that service can be expanded to Pine Island, Zumbro Falls and Millville, where there are frequent requests for public transit,” she said. But expansion of the program is subject to funding by the state. MnDot provides 85 percent of the operating cost for the transit service, and bus fares provide the other 15 percent.
The benefits of bringing light rail stations to South LA
Congress memberMaxineWaterswrote a letter urgingArthurLeahy, CEO of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LACMTA), to seek funds for the construction of light rail stations in South Los Angeles. The proposed light rail construction is in Leimert Park and Westchester on the Crenshaw/LAX Transit Corridor. The funds for the light rail stations would come from a TIGER grant – a competitive nationwide grant program that creates jobs by supporting investments in transportation infrastructure.Watershopes to gainLeahy’s support in amending the transportation bill, H.R. 7, which would add one billion dollars in TIGER funds over the next two years in addition to constructing the Crenshaw/LAX Transit Corridor in Leimert Park and Westchester.
National Association of Counties Report
This week NACo is releasing the results from their survey “Fixing It: Infrastructure and the Economy.” According to the survey eighty-six percent of counties report having bridges in poor condition, 91 percent say that the receipt of infrastructure funding would help create jobs, and 51% of counties report experiencing funding cuts of 10-25 percent since 2008.