The Site / The Fight

by Yonah Freemark
yfreemark (at) thetransportpolitic (dot) com
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TIFIA Loans Likely Skewed Towards New Road Projects

Tappan Zee Bridge

» Thanks to last year’s transportation authorization legislation and a lack of applications from transit authorities, aid from the TIFIA program is likely to be heavily biased towards roads projects.

In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Obama argued that federal transportation funding in the United States should follow a “fix-it-first” philosophy, where the rebuilding of roads and bridges (and presumably transit lines) with structural deficiencies is prioritized over the construction of new infrastructure. There is a lot to like about this idea: It would maximize the use of our existing resources, and it would ensure that the government isn’t sponsoring an expanded mobility infrastructure before our existing structures are up to date.

Everyone should be able to get behind this idea.

Yet the projects the Administration will begin financing through the TIFIA reduced-interest loan program are likely to take the opposite tact, for the most part supporting new

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The Federal Role in Surface Transportation Funding

» Contesting Washington’s involvement in transport funding could be deeply problematic.

The issue of how or even whether Washington should be involved in the funding of American transportation programs has been of concern for decades. When most travel undertaken is of a local nature — people getting to and from home, work, and leisure — why should the federal government be involved with the financing of new or maintained roads and transit systems?

Like with most expenditures, one clear argument for federal involvement is that using funds derived from nationally produced revenues allows for a more progressive apportionment of overall spending power, since revenues can be redistributed among the population as a whole. This, after all, is how our national social programs work, in health and education, for example. The benefit is obvious: A more equal society in which people all over the country are blessed with the nation’s wealth. The U.S. provides

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Openings and Construction Starts Planned for 2013

2013 Transit Openings

» Construction continues on rapid transit expansion projects around the country.

This year, more than $64.3 billion worth of transit expansion projects will begin construction, continue construction, or enter into service in the United States. It’s a huge investment, much of it the product of extensive state and local spending.

What is evident is that certain cities are investing far more than others. Among American cities, Denver, Honolulu, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington stand out as regions that are currently investing particularly dramatically. Toronto has the biggest investments under way in Canada. These metropolitan areas have invested billions of local dollars in interconnected transit projects that will aid in the creation of more livable, multimodal environments. Dynamic, growing cities require continuous investment in their transit systems.

Yet the federal government also continues to sponsor a number of these investments, contributing half and sometimes more of

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Light Rail to Los Angeles International: A Questionable Proposition?

» New proposals for light rail connections to LAX put in question whether an extension project will offer any major benefits.

Of the nation’s largest cities, Los Angeles is one of the remaining few with no direct rail connection to its airport.* Over the past two decades, L.A. County has expanded its Metro Rail network considerably, but the closest it has gotten to a station at its largest airport — LAX — is a stop about a mile away from terminals on the Green Line light rail service, which does not reach downtown and requires customers to make a connection to a surface bus to get to and from check-in areas.

According to current plans, that will change in the next few decades. Metro dedicated $200 million to a light rail connector in its Measure R spending packaged passed by voters in 2008. The agency began studying potential direct links from its

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Bridging the Fiscal Cliff

» Declining federal expenditures will hit transportation spending hard. How should states and cities keep up their investments?

The Democratic Party’s big wins in last month’s national elections effectively maintained the national status quo, keeping Barack Obama in the White House, Democrats in charge of the U.S. Senate, and Republicans at the helm of the U.S. House. The Democrats have the cities to thank for their success; urban voters not only turned out to vote at high levels, but they made clear their overwhelming preference for the Democratic Party’s government investment program. In matters of transportation, Democrats in power represent a base of voters that benefits uniquely from new spending on transit, pedestrian, and biking infrastructure.

As part of his proposal to respond to the nation’s “fiscal cliff” — a government austerity mechanism imposed by the Congress a year ago — President Obama suggests investing $50 billion immediately in

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