During this time of economic uncertainty and record federal deficits, many question why America should invest aggressively in infrastructure. The answer is simple: 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.
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Is spending an extra half hour a day with your kids worth $5 or $10 in extra tolls?
That's just one question people who drive to work will face as governments try to tame the time-sucking commutes in America's big cities.
The average commuter lost 34 hours—nearly a full work week—because of traffic congestion in 2009, and as the economy recovers, traffic tie-ups will likely increase. Tied for worst: Chicago and Washington, D.C., where drivers idle for an average of 70 hours a year in traffic jams, according to the latest Urban Mobility Report from the Texas Transportation Institute.
Congestion, particularly in the largest cities, has increased steadily as families moved farther from downtown areas, office parks sprang up in formerly rural areas, and government spending for roads and mass transit lagged behind the growth in population.
Washington Governor Christine Gregoire has announced that two of the bids for the deep-bored tunnel to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct have come in "at or below the contract price limit," according to a statement released by the governor's office. A link to the full statement is on Cascadia Center's blog, Cascadia Prospectus. The Washington State Department of Transportation has released a new video of the tunnel.
Blaine could be the next stop on the map for commuter train traffic as soon as 2012 if the results of a study by a public transportation advocacy group are favorable.
Speaking during a regularly scheduled Blaine City Council meeting Monday, mayor Bonnie Onyon announced that the Seattle-based non-profit group Cascadia Center is working with the Whatcom Council of Governments (COG), Burlington Northern/ Santa Fe and the Washington State Department of Transportation to conduct a feasibility study of a commuter train from Everett to the Canadian border. ...
Cascadia Center policy director Bruce Agnew, who is working to coordinate the study, said the decision comes after state legislators approved $500,000 of federal economic recovery funds to be used for public transportation improvements.
He said $300,000 of those funds will go to the continuation of the International Mobility and Trade Corridor project (IMTC), an international coalition of business and goverment entities that work to promote improvement to Whatcom County’s four border crossings.
"The eyes of the world’s tunneling community are on Seattle,” said Martin Herrenknecht, president of a worldwide company building tunneling machines, speaking at the North America Tunneling Conference in Portland this week.
Herrenknecht spoke in glowing terms of the opportunity for the Alaskan Way Viaduct deep bore tunnel to advance the U.S. into the major leagues with Europe and Asia in tunnel technology. Tunnel boring machines, he and other presenters said, are steadily increasing in diameter with better ground control and now safely excavate in all types of soil, rock or groundwater conditions.
BEIJING — Nearly 150 years after American railroads brought in thousands of Chinese laborers to build rail lines across the West, China is poised once again to play a role in American rail construction. But this time, it would be an entirely different role: supplying the technology, equipment and engineers to build high-speed rail lines.
The Chinese government has signed cooperation agreements with the State of California and General Electric to help build such lines. The agreements, both of which are preliminary, show China’s desire to become a big exporter and licensor of bullet trains traveling 215 miles an hour, an environmentally friendly technology in which China has raced past the United States in the last few years.
“We are the most advanced in many fields, and we are willing to share with the United States,” Zheng Jian, the chief planner and director of high-speed rail at China’s railway ministry, said.
Three members of the Bellevue City Council were all ears Wednesday night when a California rails-and-trails advocacy group told how they mustered voter support for a 70-mile commuter rail line through Marin and Sonoma counties -- complete with a bike trail along the entire route.
Why are rails-with-trails so interesting to Eastsiders? Because the Port of Seattle last year purchased the BNSF Railwayrail corridor, which runs through the Eastside from Renton to Woodinville, and on to the town of Snohomish in Snohomish County.
There's a $50 million chunk of voter-approved money in the Sound Transit budget that could be used in partnership with a private firm to help get a commuter train running on the BNSF corridor.
The Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce had the list on contractors interested in the tunnel project. WSDOT posted it on the Web site for the Alaskan Way Viaduct and Seawall Replacement project.
According to the article, the list includes:
Seattle Tunneling Group, which is made up of S.A. Healy Co., of Lombard, Ill.; Spain's FCC Construction, S.A.; Parsons Transportation Group, which has a Seattle office; and London-based Halcrow Inc., which has an office in Vancouver, B.C.
VTS JV, which is composed of Vinci Construction Grand Projects, a French company; Traylor Bros. Inc., of Evansville, Ind.; and Skanska USA and Arup, both of which have Seattle offices.
AWV Joint Venture is composed of Omaha, Neb.-based Kiewit Pacific, which has a Seattle office; German-based Bilfinger Berger Ingenieurbau, which has offices in Vancouver and Vancouver, B.C.; and AECOM, which is based in Los Angeles and has Seattle offices.
Seattle Tunnel Partners includes New York-based Dragados USA, whose parent company is ACS of Spain; and HNTB Corp., which is headquartered in Kansas City and has a Bellevue office.
Potential contractors were to submit qualifications by Nov. 16.
Just putting tolls on the Evergreen Point Bridge is not going to cut it. Instead, the region needs to apply tolls all along the 520 corridor and broadly across our highway system. Here's an encouraging progress report.
The four-lane Evergreen Point Floating Bridge across Lake Washington on State Route 520 is a relic of a bygone era, congested and disaster prone. How urgent is the need for a planned six-lane replacement? The Washington State Department of Transportation has gone so far as to graphically model on YouTube how the bridge might buckle under duress, threatening lives and paralyzing the region's highway network.
And is the region stepping up to the challenge? Less than half the funding is secured. The Seattle-side configuration is still being debated. More broadly, the project begs a more comprehensive regional tolling strategy because our bridges and highways are all connected. We can't keep doing transportation mega-projects on a disjointed, one-off basis.
A key to any solution is tolling, and soon. Here and nationwide, 40 years of sizzling growth in vehicle miles traveled has left too many sections of highways, arterial roads, and bridges overburdened, in disrepair, and obsolete in the face of seismic and other hazards. Those ballyhooed federal stimulus funds were a mere drop in the bucket, amounting to less than one-quarter of what a landmark Congressional commission report says is needed annually. The per-gallon gas tax is badly failing at the federal and state levels. The federal gas tax trust fund is bankrupt, and living on bailouts. Even tripling state gas tax contributions to pending mega-projects in Washington state would do little to close wide funding gaps, state data show. A big new federal transportation bill — which may well include the first hike in the U.S. gas tax since 1993 — will help some, but not that much.
The Department of Energy on Wednesday awarded a $99.8 million grant to Phoenix-based Electric Transportation Engineering Corporation (eTec). Part of the grant is slated to go toward the installation of 2,250 charging systems for electric vehicles in the Seattle area, and about 10,000 more in other metropolitan areas across the country including San Diego, Portland, Eugene, Ore., Salem, Ore., Corvallis, Ore., Seattle and in Tennessee and Arizona.
Phoenix-based eTec is partnering with Nissan, which on Aug. 2 introduced its electric vehicle, the LEAF, to roll out the charging stations. Nissan says it plans to pilot its EVs in the same five markets where eTec is installing charging stations and is providing part of the matching funds toward the DOE grant. At least 1,000 LEAFs will be available in Seattle, according to Alex Fryer, a spokesman for Mayor Greg Nickels.
Washington State Rep. Deb Eddy (D-48th) sponsored HB 1481, which passed the legislature in the recently-completed session and has been signed into law.
The bill contains numerous provisions to help accelerate the development of electric vehicle infrastructure and the use of electric vehicles in Washington state.
This "Green Highways" bill's passage in Washington comes as the Seattle and Portland regions and the entire West Coast are stepping up their commitment to planning for electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, and a "smart grid" electrical system that can optimally schedule vehicle charging loads, and add capacity for storage of renewable energy to power green vehicles and much more. Here is HB 1481, as passed by the state legislature. Some highlights follow, here.
Sam Staley, director of urban and land use policy for The Reason Foundation, writes:
Residents of the Puget Sound region hate traffic congestion. The Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue urbanized area ranks among the nation’s most congested places, a result of strong growth, geography and a failure to keep its transportation network on par with the needs of the region’s rising wealth. The Seattle area is on track to match current-day Los Angeles levels of congestion if major upgrades to the road network aren’t implemented now, even with the fall in demand triggered by last summer’s gas prices and the current global recession. The national economy is expected to start turning by the end of the year, and with it will come higher travel demand and congested roads.
....The economic consequences are not just theoretical. Charlotte, N.C.-based transportation analyst David Hartgen estimates that relieving congestion over the next 20 years throughout the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue urbanized area would cost between $5 billion and $10 billion but add as much as $13 billion to the regional economy. The Seattle central business district would see its economy goosed by nearly $5 billion as a result of improved access. Reducing congestion in Seattle could generate new output of over $13 billion. Tax revenues alone could be two to three times the construction costs.
...policymakers need to embrace tolling. This would not be our great-grandfather’s toll booth, but a seamless 21st century “boothless” network. Travelers would be guaranteed free flow travel throughout the region by linking these “priced” lanes into a network called a HOT network. This technology, along with Washington’s pilot program on Highway 167 between Renton and Kent, is now used in places such as San Diego; Orange County, Calif.; Minneapolis and Denver. It allows prices to be set by time of day and traffic volume so that free flow travel is guaranteed 24-7 on the lanes and roads that use it.
...regional policymakers need to embrace private capital. Tolling creates a revenue stream that prioritizes projects based on willingness to pay. It also creates nontax dollars that can leverage private capital to finance new infrastructure. These private funds simply can’t be tapped through traditional tax financing.
"Viaduct Bypass, I-5 Expansion Should Be Linked," Bruce Agnew, Cascadia Center, Puget Sound Business Journal, 8/10/07
"Regional Transport: Much Can Be Done Right Now," Bruce Agnew, Cascadia Center, Puget Sound Business Journal, 11/30/07
OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire and her counterparts in Oregon and California are considering a plan they hope would help transform Interstate 5 from a freeway ruled by gasoline burners to a haven for eco-friendly cars and trucks. The three governors envision a series of alternative fueling stations stretching from the Canadian border to Mexico, creating what has been dubbed a "green freeway." As the plan stands, motorists eventually would be able to pull off at I-5 rest stops for more than a cup of coffee and roadside relief: They also would be able to charge, or swap out, their electric-vehicle batteries or fill their tanks with biodiesel, ethanol, hydrogen or compressed natural gas...It would mark the first time U.S. drivers could travel a long stretch of freeway with easy access to alternative fuel. (More).
(Portland, Ore., Sun. Feb. 22, 2009) ....on Wednesday, (new U.S. D.O.T. Sec. Ray) LaHood...said his agency has submitted a report to the president outlining at least six corridors for possible (high-speed rail) service as well as cost and timeline estimates.....Europe and Asia are far ahead of the United States in the development of high-speed rail....trains that travel at more than 125 mph.
...LaHood acknowledged that a national system of high-speed rail would cost far more than the $8 billion in railroad funds included in the federal economic stimulus package. But he said high-speed rail was Obama's "top transportation priority," so something huge appears to be on the horizon....
Congressional delegations from Oregon and Washington must make sure that the Northwest's vital transportation corridor is not left off any high-speed rail reports being reviewed at the White House.
(Feb. 6, 2009--Bellingham, Wash.) A new bill in Olympia would direct the state Department of Transportation to buy five passenger-only ferries, and it would set aside one of them for service in Northwest Washington. The bill, proposed by Rep. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, would set up the framework for spending $25 million in federal stimulus money for transit to buy high-speed passenger boats. Advocates say that brings their effort to establish a route between Friday Harbor and Bellingham closer to reality. "If the feds come in with the boat, then all of a sudden the economics of the thing start looking pretty positive," said Bruce Agnew, program director at the Seattle-based Cascadia Center, which has studied passenger ferry routes here. He's also a member of the Farmhouse Gang, an informal group of leaders that helped kick-start the bus route between Bellingham and Mount Vernon and now wants the ferry service. More here.
WASHINGTON, D.C. (Jan. 21) - President Barack Obama's nominee to head the Transportation Department said cash-strapped governments should consider giving the private sector a bigger role in rebuilding the nation's aging roads, bridges and other infrastructure, a position that has generated controversy in many states. Speaking at his Senate confirmation hearing, former Republican Rep. Ray LaHood of Illinois said the widening budget deficits at the federal and state levels should lead government officials to take a closer look at allowing private investors to build, operate and maintain new toll roads and bridges....Mr. LaHood's comments on privatization came as a coalition of banks and private-equity firms, including Carlyle Group, Morgan Stanley and Credit Suisse Group, released a report that concluded $180 billion in private capital is available for investment in highways, airports and other transportation infrastructure. (Full story).
SEATTLE, WASH. (Nov. 19, 2008) - When the Puget Sound Regional Council and Sound Transit present their draft feasibility findings for commuter rail cost and ridership estimates this morning in Seattle, they might have some persuading to do. The Cascadia Center of Discovery Institute, which has analyzed the Eastside’s BNSF corridor extensively, says the cost estimates in the draft Phase II Feasibility Report are much higher than necessary to make the corridor operational. See Cascadia's full release and interurban commuter rail comparison chart.