Finance

Congress set to kill off High Speed Rail funding

Trip to DC_June 2010_003_BWI

The U.S. Congress voted today on a new transportation bill. Included in the bill was language that killed funding for Obama's High Speed Rail program. From AP

The House voted Thursday to kill funds for President Barack Obama's signature high-speed rail program, but the initiative may have some life in it still.

Republican lawmakers are claiming credit for killing the program. But billions of dollars still in the pipeline will ensure work will continue on some projects. And it's still possible money from another transportation grant program can be steered to high-speed trains.

Obama had requested $8 billion in fiscal 2012 for the program and $53 billion over six years.

In light of exisiting questions regarding High Speed Rail in California, the future looks murky indeed. It will be an interesting ride. 

 

Can California Afford High Speed Rail?

On November 1, the California High-Speed Rail Authority released its Draft 2012 Business Plan  showing a final bill of $98.5 billion, twice the previous estimate. The project timeline also was drastically altered, with completion now targeted for 2033 instead of 2020. With the state mired in fiscal woes and the federal government unlikely to approve more than the previously allocated $3 billion grant, finding the funding for the project will present a huge challenge, and the private sector doesn't appear eager to step forward to fill the gap. Opponents argue that the huge cost increase and the decision to begin with a Fresno-to-Bakersfield section make no financial sense, and at least one state senator plans to introduce legislation to scale back the project.

Toll Roads and Border Politics

I-15 between Nevada and Utah

Last week the Arizona DOT filed an application with FHWA to impose a toll on the 29.4 mile stretch of Interstate 15 within Arizona's border, which links Nevada and Utah. Utah Governor Herbert strongly opposes such a move.

"I strongly oppose any plans to levy tolls on Arizona's portion of I-15, or on any portion of I-15," said Governor Herbert.  "Every state pays into the Highway Trust Fund, and every state receives money from the Highway Trust Fund to maintain the segments of the Interstate Highway System inside their respective borders.  Arizona cannot pick and choose which parts of our national interstate network it wants to maintain.  If Arizona has been negligent in its maintenance of I-15, it should not try and foist its responsibility onto highway users or neighboring states who already pay into the system with their own tax dollars."

Jarrett Walker of Human Transit compares this plan to Virginia's plan put a toll on I-95, one of the state's main corridors, and Arizona's proposal to tax a highway on a remote corner of the state. David King discusses the politics involved of tolling roads at borders, linking to David Levinson, director of the NEXUS research group and Transportationist, and his paper "Taxing Foreigners Living Abroad". (The title is inspired by this Monty Python sketch.)

Any sort of tolling or congestion pricing is inherently fraught with politics. A recent volume of the Transportation Research Record focuses on these issues -  v.2221 Revenue, Finance, and Economics. Equity is also an important factor, and TRB recently published the report Equity of Evolving Transportation Finance Mechanisms, which looks at the equity of evolving transportation finance mechanisms, such as tolling. 

CA on the line for bulk of high-speed rail costs?

CA High-Speed Rail Design Concept: Transbay Terminal, San Francisco

The Los Angeles times published an article yesterday about the murky future of federal funding for high-speed rail in the state.

 

"If the federal government and private investors are not going to provide funds, and California is broke, why would it take on an enormous new commitment?" asked Martin Wachs, a Rand Corp. transportation expert and former director of UC Berkeley's Institute of Transportation Studies.

In coming months, Gov. Jerry Brown will decide whether to issue the bonds to launch the project — at a time when the nation and state are attempting to control mounting public debt that has already damaged both their credit ratings.

The bullet train hinges on a huge investment of federal dollars when Washington is intent on cutting the nation's budget. Republicans who control the House of Representatives have already declared new rail construction their "lowest priority."

This week it was also announced that the model and data used for ridership and revenue forecasts were sound. We'll have to wait and see how this progresses. 

Bay Area Infrastructure Report Card: Do we pass?

yay for sunroofs

This week the ASCE's Report Card 2011: Bay Area Infrastructure was released. It's been six years since the last report card was issued, but as Infrastructure USA puts it, there's a lot to be concerned about:

Since the last update of the American Society of Civil Engineer (ASCE)’s Bay Area Infrastructure Report Card in 2005, we have seen several major infrastructure failures: the gas line explosion in San Bruno, California with major loss of life in 2010; wastewater discharges from Marin County into the San Francisco Bay; and a collapse of the Interstate Route 35 Mississippi River Bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota with significant loss of life in 2007. All of these are classic examples of aging infrastructure allowed to perform without sufficiently funded monitoring, rehabilitation, and replacement programs. The 2011 Bay Area Infrastructure Report Card for the San Francisco ASCE Section aims at bringing awareness to, and quantifying the need for, funding to upgrade our area’s essential infrastructure to acceptable levels.

The ASCE San Francisco Section’s Infrastructure Report Card Committee’s reevaluation of the various infrastructure categories in 2011 resulted in an overall grade of “C”, with some of the categories being as desperately low as a “D+”. The Committee has determined that in order to bring all categories up to a grade of “B”, which was deemed the minimum acceptable level, we will need additional annual funding of $2.83 billion.

Of course, given the current economy and the state of the California budget, these improvements might be a long way off. Hopefully there won't be any more disasters in mean time. 

FAA shutdown continues.

In the wake of Congress' failure to pass FAA Reauthorization, the US has entered the fifth day of the FAA shutdown. The economic toll is already being calculated. Secretary LaHood urged Congress to look at the larger implications of the FAA shutdown:

Here are the facts. At a time when unemployment in the construction sector is in the double digits, Congress' inaction has forced the FAA to issue stop-work orders on dozens of control tower construction projects already underway, from Wilkes-Barre to Kalamazoo, from Gulfport to Las Vegas and from Oakland to Palm Springs.

The FAA was also on the verge of selecting contractors to build new towers in Cleveland and Fort Lauderdale. These projects are now at a standstill and could be forfeited altogether if this situation continues too much longer. Even worse, $2.5 billion slated for additional airport construction is sitting idle rather than paying salaries.

Furthermore, Congress' irresponsibility has left the FAA with no choice but to put approximately 4,000 public servants on unpaid leave in 35 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. This includes many of the agency's top engineers, scientists, planners, analysts and program managers.

The ripple effects of this crisis will be more destructive still. Middle-class households won't receive paychecks while their bills mount. Contractors will stop buying supplies. Small-business owners will buy fewer goods.

With our fragile economy teetering, these are blows America simply can't afford.

While Congress hasn't budged on the FAA Reauthorization, nevermind the Debt Ceiling, they are demanding that the airlines stop pocketing extra fares.  

 

LaHood Presses for FAA Reauthorization

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is pushing Congress to extend the FAA's authorization which expires at midnight tonight, July 22. More than $600,000,000 in airport construction projects are at stake, and about 4,000 FAA employees will be furloughed beginning tomorrow. The dispute over FAA's reauthorization mirrors the larger fight over surface transportation reauthorization which has the US Chamber of Congress, usually a staunch ally of the GOP, joining with the AFL-CIO to advocate for greater funding.

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