Thursday, December 18, 2014

More on Wisconsin

Another page in the Wisconsin I-94 widening story…..my op-ed piece in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel here.
My previous posting, with map, links to my full report, etc. is here.

I’m sure there is a lot more to follow!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

On Wisconsin…..to a better alternative to freeway widening!

Congrats to Bruce Speight, WISPIRG, and the Coalition for More Responsible Transportation for going nose to nose with Wisconsin DOT over the agency’s proposed widening of I-94 in Milwaukee.  It’s a bad project, out of touch with the times and the place, and deserves to be replaced by something better.
My role has been to offer a real alternative for the something better: “The Rehab/Transit Option: A Better Solution for Milwaukee’s East-West Corridor.”  The Coalition formally launched the option at a City Hall press conference today (links to the press release, the full report, and a map of the transit plan all available on WISPIRG’s website here).
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel story, with video, slide show, and link to paper here.

The two pieces of the proposal are pretty straightforward.  The Rehab part would replace WisDOT’s unnecessary widening with a rehabilitation project.  The Draft Environmental Impact Statement actually concedes that most of the infrastructure, safety, and operational issues on the highway can be addressed through a rehab option.  The Transit piece proposes a new, high-quality, rapid transit system in the corridor that would provide long-term, sustainable mobility, much more in keeping with the needs of a 21st-century city.  At this stage of the game, the transit plan is very much conceptual, with detailed planning and engineering stages needed.  But hopefully the concept plan will show Milwaukee and southeast Wisconsin citizens how major origins and destinations can be better linked by a modern transit system than by an 8-lane (in some places 10-lane) urban freeway!

Monday, December 1, 2014

A Streetcar Named Despair

Alas, those of us who struggle to reignite a sense of purpose and optimism in this country, and especially those of us in the transportation field, took another hit recently with the announcement of the end of the Columbia Pike Streetcar project in Arlington, VA (story here).  County leaders took stock after the re-election of an anti-streetcar member of the county board (his initial election to the board in a special election was considered a fluke – my story here) and threw in the towel.
This was a real setback for smart growth advocates.  Arlington is the poster child for transit-oriented development – at least in the Northeast – and Columbia Pike looked to be an ideal setting for a streetcar that would promote transit, leverage sustainable economic development, and enhance the region’s investment in the Metro system (to which the streetcar would link).

No doubt the streetcar project had issues, being big and complex, and expensive, and perhaps just too heavy a lift for a small jurisdiction (227,000 people).  And when it comes to funding projects like this, the federal government is nowhere to be found, doling out money to only a handful of projects around the country.  At this rate, it will take us a century or more to build the projects that we ought to put in the ground in one generation.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

My congressman was a rocket scientist

Bad news: Rush Holt, New Jersey congressman and scientist, is wrapping up his Capitol Hill career.
Good news: Rush will be the new CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science! (story here)
Now that the Flat Earth Society has a working majority in both houses of Congress, we can only hope that Rush Holt will be able to use his new platform to argue persuasively for science, reason, creativity, and optimism.   This is clearly his platform – including seeing the need for imaginative new thinking in transportation! (see some nice quotes in the linked story)
We continue in this country to spend far too much money on 20th century solutions to 20th century problems and very little on developing and implementing 21st century solutions to 21st century problems.  Let’s hope Rush can give us a boost!

FYI, Rush Holt (who is not now, but has been my congressman) is really a plasma physics guy, not a spaceflight guy, but “My congressman is a rocket scientist” has to be one of the best political bumper stickers of all time!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Latest climate change report: Situation normal, awfuller and awfuller

The latest climate change report from the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) scientists is out and has the usual grim warnings.  I read with interest the “summary for policymakers” of the final report.  Unfortunately, it’s a difficult summary (22 pages of dense text and 18 pages of complicated tables and charts) and probably not much use to policymakers.  All the pieces of the 2014 status report can be found here, including a set of “headline statements,” which are a bit easier to follow.
The important takeaways (from my point of view):
·      Yes, things are continuing to get worse.
·      The good news, mitigation works: “Substantial emissions reductions over the next few decades can reduce climate risks in the 21st century and beyond, increase prospects for effective adaptation, reduce the costs and challenges of mitigation in the longer term, and contribute to climate-resilient pathways for sustainable development.”
·      The bad news, it’s still going to get worse: “Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.”
·      The bad stuff that can happen?  “In urban areas, climate change is projected to increase risks for people, assets, economies and ecosystems, including risks from heat stress, storms and extreme precipitation, inland and coastal flooding, landslides, air pollution, drought, water scarcity, sea-level rise, and storm surges.”  (Yowsers!)
·      How urgent is mitigation?  “Delaying additional mitigation to 2030 will substantially increase the challenges associated with limiting warming over the 21st century.”  (How is that looking after Tuesday’s election results?)
Although the document doesn’t offer much for policymakers (I don’t think that was their mandate), it does suggest some guideposts for further policy work.  For instance, they note that mitigation strategies and adaptation strategies can often yield “co-benefits.”  Examples: “(i) improved energy efficiency and cleaner energy sources, leading to reduced emissions of health-damaging climate-altering air pollutants; (ii) reduced energy and water consumption in urban areas through greening cities and recycling water; (iii) sustainable agriculture and forestry; and (iv) protection of ecosystems for carbon storage and other ecosystem services.”  There are also, however, tradeoffs that may need to be made.
There is no attention paid to transportation, other than the barest mention that very large investments in “low carbon electricity supply and energy efficiency” in transportation and other sectors will be vital to any mitigation strategy.  (This fits with my view that electrifying the transportation system is job number one.)
Unfortunately, the chances for an educated public policy debate on climate change in this country are bleak and have become bleaker.  Nevertheless, there is a lot of urgent work to be done, and the latest IPCC report documents both the gravity of the problem and the size of the gap we in the transportation policy world need to close between the facts of climate change and workable, real-world policies and programs.


Monday, November 3, 2014

Taming King of Prussia

King of Prussia – if you don’t know it – is one of those regional supermall/supersprawl sites, in this case 18 miles from center city Philadelphia.   The good news is that small initial steps are being taken to tame the sprawl and make this mess of an area a bit more transit-accessible, walkable, and mixed-use.
A recent panel discussion in Philadelphia (“Crowning the New King of Prussia”) provided an update on key happenings (press story here):
·      A Draft EIS is moving forward for an extension of the Norristown High-Speed Line rapid transit service to King of Prussia,
·      The local municipality, Upper Merion Township, has rezoned a core area for mixed-used development, with real prospects for new residential development (currently the vast majority of the 50,000 people who work in the area commute by car from neighboring towns), and
·      The local business improvement district has committed to ameliorating the “everything looks like a highway” appearance of the place with some landscaping, road diets, and programmed open spaces.
Unfortunately the transit line – if all goes well! – won’t be in revenue service for another 9 years.  SEPTA, the transit agency, now has a good supply of state money from the recent revenue package, but still needs to compete for very scarce federal New Starts money.  We as a nation just plain spend far too little on new transit.  Even when money is available, it takes an excruciatingly long time to plan, design, and build projects, even when they provide enormous environmental and economic benefits.
The panel discussion included direct comparisons with the Tysons redevelopment plans in northern Virginia.  The Tysons complex is twice as big as King of Prussia and the planned redevelopment and Metro extension are far more extensive.  But at least King of Prussia is making a start!

Congrats to PenTrans (Pennsylvanians for Transportation Solutions), who sponsored the program, one of a long series of events they have held to educate opinion leaders and promote sustainable transportation (PenTrans website here; full disclosure: I serve on the PenTrans board).

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Self driving cars on the way

Self driving cars seemed like science fiction not so long ago….now they seem well on the way.
A story in Popular Science (here) points out that 6 major auto manufacturers have officially put autonomous vehicles in their research and development programs.  And Google continues to dazzle us with what their test cars can do.
But once again Elon Musk and Tesla are way out in front in putting new technology on the road.  Tesla (see story here) says their Autopilot technology is still a long way from actual driverless cars.  But new Model S cars have “forward radar, 12 long range ultrasonic sensors positioned to sense 16 feet around the car in every direction at all speeds, a forward looking camera, and a high precision, digitally controlled electric assist braking system.”  As the software comes online, the Tesla will be able to keep in its lane, change lanes with a tap of the turn signal, slow or speed up to stay within speed limits and keep safe distances, and so on.  Very soon, according to Musk, the Tesla owner will be able to summon the car, which will open the garage and drive up to you, already heated and with your favorite radio station on.
Maybe not self-driving but getting pretty darn close!

And in the transportation world, we still need to figure out how to make this rapidly developing technology work with our infrastructure and regulatory systems.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Wisconsin at a transportation “fork in the road”

Wisconsin has reached a critical crossroads in transportation.  In one direction (continuing the metaphor) lies the way of widening freeways, starving transit, and enabling sprawl.  In the other direction?  Repairing the legacy system, building a real 21st century system, and meeting the real challenges and needs of the future.
Leading the way toward the 21st century solution is WISPIRG, which has put out a series of reports pointing out the changed travel patterns of Wisconsinites (especially Millennials) and advocating that WisDOT take the bundle of money it is planning to spend on four megahighway projects and put it to better use (see their Fork in the Road report here).  One of these projects (full disclosure: I am helping them out on this one) is a major widening – including a double-decker section – of I-94 in Milwaukee.  A real 1980s solution!
Fortunately, WISPIRG is getting traction in their campaign.  See director Bruce Speight’s interview on the state’s top talk show here.

Congrats to Bruce and WISPIRG for providing a much-need “turn signal!”

Monday, September 29, 2014

John Sheridan, RIP

Those of us involved in New Jersey transportation suffered a tough blow this weekend with the tragic death of John Sheridan, former Commissioner of Transportation, and his wife Joyce in a fire at their home.
For me, John was a friend, a mentor, a standard of excellence.  He was one of the most all-round competent people I have ever known, and demonstrated that public service could be a noble, exciting, and rewarding pursuit, despite its many frustrations.
I worked with John very closely on two projects back in the day: a battle with the feds over designated truck routes in the state (doesn’t seem like a big deal today, but was then) and (better known) the birth of the New Jersey Transportation Trust Fund.  One of my contributions to the latter project was to suggest calling it the “New Jersey Transportation Trust Fund” rather than the original working title of “New Jersey Transportation System Improvement, Operations, and Maintenance Fund” – although technically, at least in the minds of some, it wasn’t really a trust fund at all.  John agreed with me.
In these and other projects I was continually impressed with his leadership.  He was always composed and thoughtful, a master of both strategy and tactics, accommodating when he could be, hard-nosed when he had to be, and always a gentleman.

We will miss him.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

And Pennsylvania gets a new EV corridor!

I recently mentioned that New Jersey is getting new Tesla Superchargers for electric vehicles (link here), providing a key north-south network link.  Pennsylvania also has a new EV corridor – from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh – installed this summer (story here).
Pennsylvania’s new corridor was implemented through a public-private partnership, with state funding support for fast chargers operating at Sheetz convenience stores.  The locations (Harrisburg, Mechanicsburg, State College, Altoona, Blairsville) provide fast charging along a corridor parallel to the Pennsylvania Turnpike, which hopefully will have its own fast chargers soon.  The Sheetz chargers use the Chademo design, meaning they work with the Nissan Leaf and other Japanese-design electric vehicles. 

Networks are good!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Tesla brings NJ closer to a real EV network

Tesla has reached agreement with the New Jersey Turnpike Authority to install Superchargers at two rest areas on the turnpike, on Tesla’s nickel (story here).  This is a big step forward for those of us trying to encourage the building of fast chargers on major highways, especially in the densely populated Northeast.  Most EV travel is local, and owners can charge up at home overnight or at work during the day.  But when you need to take an EV any distance, you need to recharge.  Conveniently spaced “fast” chargers (as in half an hour, not several hours) can make these longer distance trips doable.
Of course Tesla uses one of three incompatible fast charging systems (head slap), but will make some of their infrastructure available to the other systems.  Tesla is the only group so far really committed to intercity travel.
New Jersey, as a “corridor” state, really needs to be in the game, and the Turnpike is a key link in the whole Northeast Megalopolis transportation system.  Last year saw the first (Nissan and Japanese EV friendly) fast charger to be installed in New Jersey (my posting here).  Let’s hope there are more to come!

BTW, why the long time in approving Tesla’s no-cost deal?  You would have to appreciate byzantine New Jersey politics to understand.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Congrats and Good Luck Jamie Fox!

In a surprise announcement (to put it mildly) New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has just nominated former DOT commissioner Jamie Fox to take his old job back (story here).  Fox is a Democrat with a capital “D” so I don’t think he was on anyone’s short list (or long list for that matter) for the job.  This will keep New Jersey’s political establishment buzzing for a while!
Fox was a fair, thoughtful, and decisive leader at NJDOT, and I have no doubt folks there will be happy to have him back.  Perhaps more importantly for the long run, the fact that he is (1) a Democrat and (2) a consummate political tactician suggests that maybe the governor will put forward a serious plan to get bipartisan support for replenishing the state’s Transportation Trust Fund – which will need a tax increase of some sort.  The Trust Fund is now leveraged to the hilt and by June of next year the revenue going into it will no longer be able to back new bonds or to provide pay-as-you-go funding.
Perhaps coincidentally, the governor’s announcement came two days after a major publicity launch by a coalition, Forward NJ, that has been set up to promote Trust Fund renewal (link here).

Good luck Jamie!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Educated Millennials on the Orange Line

A new real estate study lists the top zip codes for college-educated Millennials.  Where are the top two?......The Arlington, Virginia neighborhoods of Clarendon, Court House, Virginia Square, Ballston, and Rosslyn (Arlington story here).  Do these names sound familiar?  They are also the names of stations on the Metro Orange Line and showcases for successful transit oriented development.  A coincidence?  I think not!

The Redfin Research report (here) doesn’t talk about transportation, but a quick look at the list suggests, unsurprisingly, that Millennials are clustering in areas where they can use non-auto means of getting around (transit, walking, biking).  More evidence that we need to reorient our thinking on urban mobility!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Bike tech in Copenhagen: A lot more than green paint

In most towns in this country we don’t do a very good job of prioritizing bicycle transportation – despite the many benefits of a bigger mode share for bikes.  The bike share systems springing up around the country have been a great success, but the rest of what passes for bike infrastructure usually consists of some green paint and “share the road” signs at best.  (Sharing the road often meaning sharing a potholed free-for-all with 18-wheelers, racing taxi drivers, and drivers talking on cellphones!)

Thanks to Gizmodo (here) for showing us the latest from Copenhagen, where good planning and design really work for bikes.  Some of these solutions are relatively expensive, like bike-only bridges.  Others harness relatively inexpensive technology.  I especially like the “green wave” of LED lights letting bicyclists know they are moving at a pace that will give them a green signal at upcoming traffic lights.  Lots more to do here in the U.S.!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Planning for more money in Pennsylvania!

The impact of Pennsylvania’s Act 89, raising new transportation revenue from motor fuels, is beginning to be felt.  DVRPC – the Philadelphia area MPO – has just added $10.5 Billion in new investments to their long-range plan (story here)!
The new revenue is split roughly in half between highways and transit.  The transit piece will allow SEPTA (the regional operator) to get a little beyond the massive need for system preservation and actually add a couple of extensions.  One of these, the extension of the Norristown High-Speed Line to the King of Prussia mall complex, could ultimately have real impact on land use and mobility issues (see comparison to Tysons Corner here).  This just scratches the surface of what we really need to do to build a real 21st century transportation system in the next 25 years, but at least it’s a start.
On the highway side, half of the funding will go for bridges.  Pennsylvania has the dubious distinction of leading the nation in structurally deficient bridges, and PennDOT is aggressively moving forward to attack the problem.  The highway side also includes expanded bike/ped funding.
What is noteworthy, as I have mentioned before, is that this revenue growth has been achieved in a state with a Republican governor and legislature.  This should be enough to challenge stereotypes and to encourage vigorous action in other states and even (we have to say “even”) at the federal level.

There are many factors behind Pennsylvania’s step forward, but a major one is leadership.  There were many leaders involved, including Governor Corbett, PennDOT Secretary Schoch, former governor Rendell, and others.  But first prize undoubtedly goes to State Senator John Rafferty, chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, who shepherded the bill from inception to signing.  His explanation for his commitment to the bill?:  transportation is a core function of government, and we need to fix it.  Refreshing.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Washington’s Silver Line Open for Business!

New metro lines don’t open very often in this country, so it’s exciting to have a major addition to one of our most successful systems.  The Washington Metro Silver Line started revenue service on Saturday, with its first weekday operation today (story here).  The route runs through suburban Virginia, linking up with the existing Orange Line to carry passengers into Washington DC.  Ultimately the Silver Line will reach all the way to Dulles Airport (the older, closer-in Reagan National already has a Metro stop) but the big achievement for this segment is bringing rapid transit to Tysons Corner, a massive complex of shopping malls and suburban sprawl.  Both the developers and planners have decided that Tysons Corner needs to have a new lease on life – more mixed-use and more transit accessible.  If it works, this could be an iconic turnaround (watch for upcoming Norristown High Speed Line access to the King of Prussia mall complex in suburban Philadelphia in a few years).
There are some unresolved issues with the Silver Line.  Some of the stations are plunked into low-density areas that need a lot of work before they reach anything like the concentration we see at Ballston or Bethesda or Silver Spring.  More critically, at a system level, the Silver Line essentially serves as a branch of the Orange Line.  Not a problem for most Orange Line riders, but those beyond East Falls Church will find service drastically reduced.  The long-term solution (hopefully medium-term) is a new tunnel under the Potomac, bringing more capacity to the core area and relieving congestion on the Orange and Silver lines (see Greater Greater Washington’s story on the proposed “loop” line here.)

Congratulations to Rich Sarles and company for (so far) a smooth rollout of a major Metro line!


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Good opportunity for TOD in Florence (no, not Italy)

NJ TRANSIT’s River Line light rail service is a bit of an oddity.  Conceived for reasons immersed in New Jersey politics, connecting Trenton and Camden along a 35-mile route, it is more like the “interurban” lines of a century ago than the usual urban light rail. 
The River Line continues to grow in ridership and, after a slow start, is beginning to show signs of encouraging the sustainable economic development we want to see.
The opportunity for the future?  Transit Oriented Development.  And in some locations (thanks to the Center for Neighborhood Development for the term) Cargo Oriented Development.
The photo below shows the Florence River Line station, which is located in the middle of a growing industrial park.  Putting transit and industry together can work (see story here).  The ideal combo?  A planned center with multimodal goods movement, high-tech 21st century manufacturing, road/rail/water accessibility, and transit access.  Oh yes, and electrified local delivery vehicles to further reduce carbon footprint.
It can happen in Florence and Roebling and some other places along the River Line, and at potentially many locations in the northeast and rust belt. 

Don’t expect a branch of the Uffizi to locate here though.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Oldest Potholes Known to Man? (Roman asset management?)


This story from the southwest of England may not actually record the oldest potholes known to man, but it does remind us of how pervasive the Roman roadway network was, and how sophisticated it was in design.  Those of us who are infrastructure aficionados will have no difficulty appreciating the importance of that network in supporting a level of travel, economic wellbeing, and quality of life not seen again in Europe for 1500 years or so after the fall of the Roman Empire.  I suppose one could also draw conclusions about the failure of the Roman roads and their linkage to the fall of the empire, but for now let’s just be reminded of the remarkable story of Roman technology, new chapters of which continue to be revealed by archaeologists on a regular basis. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Mermaids, Penguins, and Pedestrians: KC’s Country Club Plaza

The Country Club Plaza – Kansas City’s classic and elegant shopping district – has some charming pedestrian spaces, with fountains, murals, brick sidewalks, riverside walks, and yes mermaids and penguins (see below).

Unfortunately, as I noted on a recent visit, automobiles rule the streets, and pedestrian signals are so inadequate and confusing that people seem mainly to dart across the pavement whenever and wherever they spot an opening.  Some “complete streets” planning would move the Plaza up a notch in quality of life!  (Also missing: rapid transit. See here.)


Thursday, July 3, 2014

KC Country Club Plaza: Next Train Arrives in ……………….?

Construction has at last begun on a starter segment of the Kansas City streetcar line (website here).  The good news is that at least something approaching modern transit has been started in one of the nation’s largest metros lacking rapid transit.  Unfortunately, it’s not nearly what’s needed and even this half-measure is controversial and may fail (background to controversy here).  And although there are many high-quality activity centers along the route (Union Station, Crown Center, Country Club Plaza, UMKC) the streetrunning cars will only come close to many of them and will travel slowly, in mixed traffic.
Country Club Plaza is a terrific urban, mixed-use, transit-ready destination, but the streetcar will be a critical few blocks away from the center (below).  And who knows when it will come?  It’s not on the starter segment.

At least it’s a start.  Good luck KC!


Monday, June 30, 2014

Solar powered train station in London, why not here?

Electrifying the transportation system (which I believe is both needed and happening) will have lots of pieces to it.  One of these is using solar power where possible to operate train stations and other facilities.  One recent success story is the Blackfriars railway bridge and station in central London.  The bridge over the Thames has been roofed with solar panels as part of a much bigger network upgrade (story here). 

If they can get solar power even in sun-starved London, can’t we do better in the US?

Thursday, June 12, 2014

NASTO Notes 2014

Every year representatives of the state DOTs of the Northeast states (and assorted interested folks like me) gather to hear panels, exchange information, and socialize.  This is the annual meeting of NASTO (Northeast Association of State Transportation Officials), one of four regional groups in the US.  It’s not only a great place to exchange news and views but a great place to get a sense of what’s happening in state transportation circles.  This year’s conference was held in beautiful Portsmouth, NH and hosted by New Hampshire DOT (great job NHDOT folks!).
Some impressions:
Climate Change – This topic may not be taken seriously in some places, but it is a huge concern among Northeast DOTs.  A session on Climate Change Resilience and Sustainability, chaired by Sue Minter of Vermont (where Irene made believers of just about everybody) demonstrated some big advances.  Kate Zyla of Georgetown Climate Center gave an update on the work of the Transportation and Climate Initiative (website here).  If you’re not familiar with TCI, it’s a remarkable collaborative effort of the transportation, energy, and environment agencies of the 11 Northeast states and DC.  (I am not impartial, having a bit of a paternal interest, as I helped facilitate getting the group started a couple of years ago.)  Another remarkable collaborative effort is being undertaken by 50 climate scientists and transportation engineers in the northeast.  Jennifer Jacobs of the University of New Hampshire gave a briefing on the Infrastructure and Climate Network (ICNet, website here) which is sponsoring workshops, webinars, and pilot projects that connect high-level scientific findings on climate change and extreme weather events with practical engineering design guidelines.  Niek Veraart of the Louis Berger Group showcased some innovative new projects for sustainability in Hoboken, NJ, and Staten Island and Long Island. The concern for resiliency in these places, of course, was prompted by the flooding caused by Sandy.  Mike Meyer of Parsons Brinckerhoff gave an update on the new National Climate Assessment and some other new reports that continue to expand our knowledge of the science and the range of possible responses.  At a more practical level, a panel on Storm Coordination demonstrated how seriously the operations and maintenance folks are preparing for future extreme weather events.  A much talked about touchstone for all these discussions was the recent New York Times story reporting on how the Northeast states have managed to reduce emissions and increase economic growth at the same time (here).
Northeast Corridor – Another topic of special interest to the region is the future of the Northeast Corridor rail spine.  Chronically underfunded, stuck in an organizational nightmare, despised by a majority in the House of Representatives – and yet perhaps the biggest key to transportation and economic development in the Northeast.  Mitch Warren, of the Northeast Corridor Commission, set up by Congress to make recommendations for the future, gave an update.  Brett Taylor, of Delaware, gave the perspective of states on the corridor, who continue to invest heavily in improvements from their own resources.  Outlook?  A final report is due this year.  We’ll see what happens.  Rich Davey of Massachusetts gave a peek at one key opportunity.  MassDOT hopes to significantly expand South Station in Boston, with new tracks, more platforms, and significant joint development opportunities.  And Rich says these improvements will speed up service from Back Bay to South Station, the slowest mile on the whole Corridor.
Freight – There was a good panel on freight, but I’ll just mention two key takeaways from the presentation by Louis Renjel of CSX.  First, coal traffic is way down (confirming what looks to be a permanent decline), but the railroad has been able to compensate by increasing intermodal traffic.  Second, CSX is changing its network from a corridor model to a hub-and-spoke model, borrowed from UPS and FedEx.  Both trends are important – and encouraging – for transportation and land use planners.
Funding – Surprisingly, there was little talk of funding problems at this conference.  Why?  I think partially because almost half of the states in the region have gotten funding packages through their legislatures in the past couple of years.  More to do, but still a pretty good track record – and at a time when pundits in Washington say nobody will support gas tax increases!  Speaking of Washington, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen gave a synopsis of the situation in Congress.  She attempted to put a positive spin on the chances for MAP-21 extension, but without any real evidence to give much hope (and this was a day before Eric Cantor went down, which I think makes our chances even worse).  Two Shaheen statements to comment on:  “Failure is not an option.”  Agree completely!  “We need to be creative.”  Half agree.  Yes, we need to be creative to design and build a 21st century transportation system and an appropriate long-term funding system.  No, we don’t need to be creative to solve the immediate (say, 5-year) funding problem.  We just need the votes to raise the bloody gas tax!
Performance management – The DOTs of Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire explained in some detail their work in developing robust performance management systems in their agencies, including much work in agreeing on common performance measures.  The content is too complicated to get into here, but a very important takeaway is the conclusion all three states have come to that good performance management increases confidence in their legislatures and their publics and leads to more investment!
Memorial Bridge – This new lift bridge, connecting New Hampshire and Maine, is the pride and joy of New Hampshire DOT, the lead agency, and they took every opportunity to show off the impressive and innovative engineering achievements in designing and building it.  We can build great things in this country!
Congrats to New Hampshire DOT for a great conference!


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

I-495 Closed in Delaware: Notes from the Department of Redundancy Department

I-495, the interstate bypass of Wilmington, Delaware is closed down now due to a very problematic bridge (story here).
Since I have occasion to travel on this road frequently (the last time being the morning of the day the bridge problem was discovered and the road closed!), I can sympathize with DelDOT’s challenge in getting this heavily traveled roadway (90,000 AADT) back into service.
Fortunately, there are alternatives: I-95 through downtown Wilmington, the New Jersey Turnpike, I-295 (also on the New Jersey side of the river), and lesser roads.  Amtrak and SEPTA also provide excellent service through the area for trips that can be switched to rail.  The trick is to keep travelers informed and direct them to alternatives.  The I-495 problem is a reminder of the importance of redundancy in our systems – not just for natural calamities, but also for all-too-common infrastructure failures.

Good luck to Shailen Bhatt and his team in getting through this!