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News & Notes

City at Dusk, Boston (seen from Cambridge), Credit: David Fox

Boston at Dusk. Photo (cc) David Fox for Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism

Bloomberg: Boston Booms as Workers Say No to Suburbs: Real Estate

“In the last 24 months, suburban tech firms have been looking to relocate into town,” said Andrew Hoar, president and co-managing partner at CBRE/New England, a joint venture partner with CBRE. “For many other markets it’s the other way around. The young graduates in this town don’t want to commute.”


The Atlantic Cities: The End of Federal Transportation Funding as We Know It

This month marks 120 years since the federal government got involved in funding road transportation. (Strange as it sounds, bicycle advocates did the bulk of the lobbying.) The original Office of Road Inquiry — today, the Federal Highway Administration — was a line item with a budget of $10,000. That was only enough money to build about three miles of road, and the office wasn’t empowered to build roads anyway, but states fought tooth and nail against giving the feds even this incredibly modest level of transport oversight.

Today the federal transportation program faces perhaps its greatest challenge since that shaky start. The most urgent problem is funding. The Highway Trust Fund that pays for America’s road and rail program is heading straight toward bankruptcy. For two decades politicians have refused to raise the 18.4-cents-per-gallon gas tax that populates the trust, even as it steadily loses purchasing power to inflation and fuel-efficient cars. The public has yet to embrace alternative funding sources — road fares or mileage fees on the user-pay side favored by economists; income taxes on the social welfare end — in part because people (mistakenly) believe they already pay a lot for transportation.

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News & Notes

The Atlantic Cities: What Real Respect for Bicyclists Looks Like

Drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians all compete for space and safety on the streets and roads of the world’s cities and suburbs. It’s a contentious and sometimes ugly coexistence, which is why so many government agencies and advocacy groups periodically mount public-awareness campaigns with messages like “share the road” or “don’t be a jerk” or “respect other road users.”

In the end, those are just words. The ultimate form of respect for any road user is properly designed infrastructure that allows that a person to travel with comfort and safety using their preferred mode. In the United States, it’s clear who gets real respect (and infrastructure spending) on a regular basis. That would be the people driving cars.


The Hill: GOP platform: Cut Amtrak, privatize airport security and focus highway money on roads

The platform approved by Republicans on Tuesday calls for the elimination of funding for Amtrak passenger rail service, private airport security screening and stopping the use of money earmarked for highway construction for other purposes.

The more than 30,000-word document was approved on the first full day of the 2012 GOP convention in Tampa, Fla. It includes many provisions that were pushed by Republicans in the House during recent negotiations over the new $105 billion transportation bill that was approved by lawmakers in June.

Among them are reducing environmental regulations to expedite construction projects and using more money that is earmarked for transportation for road and highway projects, rather than other forms of transportation such as public transit or bicycling and pedestrian programs.


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Fast Lane: Obama Administration says “We Can’t Wait,” tells states to use idle earmarks to improve transportation and put people to work

At DOT, we know that America’s transportation infrastructure is in need of attention, while construction workers across the country remain eager to get back on the job repairing, replacing, and modernizing our roads, rails, and runways.

Over the last decade, Congress has set aside $473 million in transportation funds that were never spent. These idle earmarks have sat on the shelf as our infrastructure continues to age and fall into disrepair, and hundreds of thousands of construction workers look for work. That ends today.

I’m excited to announce that this Administration is freeing up this unspent money and giving it right back to the states so that they can spend it on the infrastructure projects they need most.

As President Obama said today, “My administration will continue to do everything we can to put Americans back to work. We’re not going to let politics stand between construction workers and good jobs repairing our roads and bridges.”

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Politico: Obama offers states $470M for roads, bridges

The Obama administration is making nearly half a billion dollars in unspent highway funds available to states that promise to use the money to create jobs and improve transportation.

A White House official says Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood will announce Friday that more than $470 million will be made immediately available for projects such as repairing crumbling roads and bridges. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the plan has not been publicly announced.

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If we’re going to redesign Providence Station, let’s do it right

Providence Station

Recently, RIDOT received $3 million dollars in Federal high speed rail funds for renovations at Providence Station. Among the items that money is set to be spent on is renovations and repairs to the exterior of the station.

We’ve received plans for those renovations and were less than thrilled.

Providence Station

Click image to enlarge

Providence Station is 26-years-old. Lack of routine maintenance aside, when buildings are approaching their 30th birthday, it often is time for renovations, and those renovations offer a chance to reassess the building, to make changes to bring it into line with conditions that weren’t present when the building was constructed.

In 1986, when Providence Station opened, rail travel was on the wane. Gas cost 93¢ per gallon, the MBTA did not serve Providence, there was no Amtrak Acela service, Capital Center was still on the drawing board, and no one was talking about streetcars in Providence. Basically it was built because cities are supposed to have train stations.

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Barry Schiller: Providence Streetcar on Life Support?

Dark Road

Photo (cc) José Mamona

Barry Schiller, a retired Rhode Island College math professor, is a long-time member of the State Planning Council’s Transportation Advisory Committee. He also was on the RIPTA Board of Directors 1995-1999.

I could be wrong, but it seems to me that prospects for building the proposed College Hill – Hospitals/South Providence streetcar, a $127 million project, are fading.

RIPTA itself has clearly stated they won’t fund the project out of their existing revenue stream, already inadequate for maintaining its bus system. Their initial proposal for the next four year TIP (Transportation Improvement Program) being developed did suggest $2.5 million in FY2013 for the streetcar’s next phase of preliminary engineering an design. This is only about 1/3 the cost, the rest to be paid for by someone else. But since expected capital funds were inadequate for their original plan, RIPTA then modified this proposal to allocate only $1.5 million on streetcar design spread out later over 2014 and 2015. RIPTA understandably does not want to spend any more money on this unless the political process comes up with a funding source to design, build, and operate the streetcar. Indeed it seems there must be a financial plan to do this to get any more Federal dollars for this project. But the city of Providence, its big institutions, local property owners, and the state and Federal governments are all under financial stress and I see little prospect that any of them will step up to pay for the streetcar in any big way.

My take on the streetcar at last week’s RIPTA Board meeting is that RIPTA leaders expect to conclude the corridor study by selecting the streetcar as the locally preferred alternative, but then it will likely just sit there until there is a funding mechanism. Further diminishing its prospects is the resignation of Thomas Deller, as Chair of the RIPTA Board of Directors, which removes the foremost streetcar advocate from a position of leadership at RIPTA.

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U.S. Transportation Secretary LaHood announces high speed rail money for New England

Providence Station

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today announced $82.7 million to improve high-speed and intercity passenger rail in Rhode Island, Maine, Connecticut and Vermont. The dollars will provide needed upgrades to the Northeast Corridor, Connecticut’s New Haven – Springfield line, Maine’s Downeaster route and the Vermonter service.

Rhode Island Department of Transportation. $26.2 million for the design and construction of an electrified third track parallel to the Northeast Corridor’s main line, and a new platform for the station in Kingston, RI. The third track will permit faster trains to overtake slower trains, reducing congestion and improving on-time performance on the Northeast Corridor for Amtrak and commuter trains. Throughout the Northeast Corridor from Washington, D.C to Boston, $1.75 billion is being invested to improve service.

Rhode Island Department of Transportation. $3 million for preliminary engineering and environmental reviews for American with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant platforms at the Providence station on the Northeast Corridor. The project also includes improved parking and pedestrian access, station repairs, potential reconfiguration of transit circulation and drop-off facilities, and future tunnel improvements.

Information about funding for projects in Maine, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont at the Federal Railroad Administration website.

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RI receives $1.6 million in grants from the Federal Highway Administration

Interlink

View from the Interlink in Warwick.

Governor Chafee, RIDOT, announce Federal transportation grant award

Governor Lincoln D. Chafee and the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) today announced that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has awarded $1.6 million in grants to Rhode Island for a series of road and bridge projects. The grants are among a nationwide distribution of funds which RIDOT applied for earlier this summer.

The grants include:

  • $847,860 for projects related to transit-oriented development in the area of the train station at the InterLink facility at T.F. Green State Airport.
  • A waiver of the customary 20 percent state match (valued at approximately $600,000) for replacement of the East Shore Expressway Bridge in East Providence.
  • $350,000 for replacement of three structurally deficient bridges in and near the Arcadia Management Area in Exeter.
  • $250,260 for training to help disadvantaged business enterprises prepare to compete for Federal highway contracts.
  • $225,000 to provide additional training to help individuals prepare for careers in highway construction.
  • “I believe that one of the most valuable investments our state can make is in our infrastructure,” Governor Chafee said. “These federal grants will help Rhode Island plan for the future, in addition to strengthening our infrastructure-related construction economy. I am particularly pleased that a significant portion of the funds will go toward further developing Warwick’s Station District. As Mayor and U.S. Senator, I fought to make the InterLink project a reality and I look forward to seeing the advancements and improvements these funds will enable.”

    The largest of the grants for projects near the T.F. Green Station is provided under FHWA’s Transportation, Community, and System Preservation Program. The funds will be used to advance and implement the Warwick Station Development District Master Plan developed by the City of Warwick. The Plan is expected to guide approximately 1.5 million square feet of mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly development. It envisions a highly-visible, mixed-use, transit-oriented growth center within walking distance of a full range of transportation and live/work options. The City is seeking to capitalize on the public investment in multimodal transportation infrastructure by promoting high-value, mixed-use development to attract visitors and business people who use the station and airport while providing a center of opportunity for new development.

    “Having well-developed streets and sidewalks is a key component of integrating the InterLink into the City of Warwick and supporting the District for future development,” RIDOT Director Michael P. Lewis said. “The end result is a better connection between the City, the Airport, the InterLink and the T.F. Green commuter rail station.”

It is great to see RIDOT and the Governor value mixed-use development in the Warwick Station area. Jefferson Boulevard and the areas around the train station and the airport have great potential to be a second city for Rhode Island. It has to be developed to be a place where people want to be, that is scaled to people, not their cars. Otherwise it will be just another soul-sucking office park.

The rest of the Press Release:

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Rhode Island awarded portion of rail money rejected by Florida

Providence Station

ProJo reports today that Rhode Island has been awarded $28 million in funds rejected by Florida. When Florida’s Governor, Rick Scott, rejected $2 billion dollars in high speed rail funding, awarded by the federal government, other states started scrambling to get a piece of it.

Rhode Island’s Senators Reed and Whitehouse applied for funds for 3 projects here. Two of those projects were awarded funding:

Rhode Island – NEC Kingston Track, Platform Improvements – $25 million for design and construction of an additional 1.5 miles of third track in Kingston, RI, so high-speed trains operating at speeds up to 150-mph can pass trains on a high-volume section of the Northeast Corridor.

Rhode Island – NEC Providence Station Improvements – $3 million for preliminary engineering and environmental work to renovate the Providence Station. These upgrades will enhance the passenger experience, keep the station in good working order and improve transit and pedestrian connectivity.

The Kingston project will allow for the commuter rail to be extended from Wickford Juntion, to Kingston, providing a rail stop for URI and allowing connections between its main and Providence campuses. As well as allowing for commuter transit for South County residents.

As for Providence Station, we’ll just talk about that in another post soon.

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