Doing Right by the Public: PPPs in High-Speed Rail

» As the retrenchment continues in the American public sector, private-sector investors are likely to play an important role in paying for fast train systems.

California Governor Jerry Brown, a longtime supporter of the development of high-speed rail, has not given up on his state’s plans for an extensive network stretching initially from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and then on to Sacramento and San Diego. Despite cost estimate increases, opposition to the line among residents of some affected areas, and a total loss of new federal funding thanks to anti-investment Congressional Republicans, Mr. Brown has made evident in recent weeks his support for the line.

Construction on a segment in the Central Valley between Merced, Fresno, and Bakersfield is still planned to get under way next year. Funding for that initial link is mostly lined up, thanks to state commitments and federal grants resulting from the stimulus of early 2009.

But because

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How significant an opportunity for reducing U.S. construction costs?

Cost per mile for recent American rail capital projects

» Norfolk, Virginia celebrates the opening of a relatively cheap new rail corridor. It’s not as out-of-the-ordinary as we might hope, though.

Last weekend, Norfolk’s Tide light rail line opened to big crowds and lots of excitement in a state that has never before seen modern light rail technology in action. But the project was overbudget and the subject of years of controversy. What was once supposed to be a $232 million line had ballooned in cost to $318.5 million and in the process taken down political leaders who had supported it. Perceived mismanagement delayed consideration of extensions into nearby Virginia Beach. And the scheme’s implementation flaws emboldened conservative activists insistant on playing up the poor performance of government.

The irony of the story, it turns out, is that even at its higher-than-expected cost, the Tide’s construction came in at just $43 million a mile, less than any recently completed or

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In Chicago, a Massive BRT Plan Could be the Best Bet for Inner City Mobility

Chicago BRT

» Chicago’s bus network is already slated for improvements. But what about a huge upgrade?

When he assumed office early this summer, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that he would pursue the construction of a network of bus rapid transit lines in his city — in addition to the extension of the Red Line L and the implementation of a number of bike lanes. A focus on buses in the Windy City is nothing new: The Chicago Transit Authority carries almost a million riders a day on its network, and the city came close in 2008 to establishing a $153 million BRT system paid for by the Bush Administration, before the city’s refusal to implement a downtown congestion charge got in the way.

Newly empowered by the change in leadership, the CTA has moved forward quickly on three proposed corridors — one in the Loop downtown, another along Western

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In Atlanta and Seattle, Hope for Better Transit Through Referendums

Seattle Streetcar

» Recognizing the limitations of federal  aid, local leaders in Atlanta and Seattle propose tax increases or additional fees to improve the quality of their transit networks.

Despite the skepticism about the importance of government spending now enthralling Washington on both sides of the aisle, the perceived value of investing local resources in public facilities such as new transit lines seems only to be ramping up.

Take Atlanta and Seattle, sitting at the helm of the nation’s 9th and 15th-largest metropolitan areas, respectively. In the first, a regional initiative supported by political and business leaders across a ten-county area will advance a 1% sales tax to the ballot next November. Over half of the billions in locally raised funds is proposed to be transferred to transit capital and operational programs. In the second, an enthusiastic mayor is articulating a grand, citywide strategy to bring high-quality transit to his city as quickly as possible. If approved

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Two Light Rail Extensions for Salt Lake, with More on the Way

Salt Lake City TRAX MAX

» An extensive network of rail and bus corridors spreads out across the Wasatch Front.

Much thanks to federal spending, the Salt Lake City metropolitan area practically doubled the size of its TRAX light rail network this weekend, adding two extensions a year early and 20% under budget. Though estimates predict relatively modest ridership on the new lines, the routes provide the city and its suburbs one of the most comprehensive transit systems in the country, with frequent bus and rail corridors spread out in a grid across the immediate urban core.

And with two other light rail extensions, a commuter rail line, a streetcar, and a series of bus rapid transit corridors on the way, the region is far from finished.

After passing a local sales tax increase in 2006 for the UTA transit agency’s $2 billion Frontlines 2015 program, millions of dollars flowed in from Washington as

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The Site / The Fight

by Yonah Freemark

yfreemark (at) thetransportpolitic (dot) com

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