To consolidate, disseminate, and gather information concerning the 710 expansion into our San Rafael neighborhood and into our surrounding neighborhoods. If you have an item that you would like posted on this blog, please e-mail the item to Peggy Drouet at pdrouet@earthlink.net

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Editorial: Too many mayoral debates


February 12, 2013

THERE are so many debates in the Los Angeles mayoral campaign this year, it appears candidates look for ways to keep themselves interested.

At one point in the Los Angeles mayoral candidates' forum in Northridge last week, Wendy Greuel was talking. Down the row of lecterns, Kevin James jotted a note and turned the page so Jan Perry could read it. James and Perry exchanged wry smiles.

Perry later explained to editorial writers that she and James have a bet at each debate on how many times Greuel will mention that she worked for longtime L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley. James was keeping score.

The campaign calendar is jam-packed with debates as never before in an L.A. mayoral race. This must be numbing for the candidates themselves.

More important: It isn't doing a great service to the public either.

According to one published count, Greuel, James, Perry, Eric Garcetti and sometimes Emanuel Pleitez have participated in about 30 debates since late last year, a number that will grow before the March 5 primary election. They've already debated more than the 2012 Republican presidential hopefuls, who matched wits 20 times. And those GOP debates were widely thought to be too many.

This certainly has been too many, as mayoral candidates will say privately.

The main problem is that time the candidates spend sparring with each other - or with a debate moderator - is time taken away from talking with voters and hearing about the concerns of real people. (We'd love to say it's time taken away from campaign fundraising, but nothing probably gets in the way of that.)

Only two mayoral debates so far have been televised. Most are small events put on by interest groups or community organizations that focus questions on particular issues. Because there are so many, the electorate pays little attention, and none is important enough to serve one traditional purpose of such clashes, showing how our would-be leaders perform under pressure.

But candidates rarely turn down invitations. "If everybody else goes, I can't not go," one said.
So the 2013 L.A. Mayoral Candidates Tour drones on.

Last Thursday morning's debate at California State University Northridge, sponsored by the Daily News and the Los Angeles County Business Federation, was the candidates' second in about 15 hours. Then, Sunday, there were two debates.

These exchanges of ideas can be valuable. But candidates must be sure to save time to hear the voters' ideas as well as each other's.

The State of American Passenger Rail is good...
...and getting better


 February 12, 2013

Four years ago, President Obama laid out a bold vision for transforming American passenger rail. Since then, DOT and its partners have been working hard to realize that vision, and this morning I had a chance to update members of the US High Speed Rail Association on our progress.
Through our High-Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail program, the Obama Administration has invested nearly $12 billion in higher performing passenger rail, funding 152 rail projects in 32 states. In 19 states and the District of Columbia, 52 passenger rail projects worth $3.6 billion are currently under construction, or will be soon.

We have 11 projects that are now complete. And those projects are already paying dividends for the American people.
High Speed Rail
Last year, for example, trains on the Chicago-St. Louis and Chicago-Detroit corridors began reaching 110 miles per hour – the fastest speeds outside the Northeast Corridor. In two years, trains will run at that speed throughout most of both routes – cutting trip times on each by close to an hour.
In the Pacific Northwest, we are moving forward with 21 projects that will increase the number of roundtrips and cut trip times.

In the Northeast, new service to Brunswick, Maine, has linked thousands of travelers to Portland and Boston and has attracted millions of dollars in private investment and economic development to Brunswick.
On the Northeast Corridor, we’ve invested more than $3 billion for projects that will:
  • Increase speeds from 135 to 160 miles per hour on critical segments;
  • Improve on-time performance; and
  • Add more seats for passengers so one of the nation’s busiest corridors can accommodate record ridership and revenue levels that should continue to grow.
And this summer, California will break ground on the first rail line in America with trains traveling at more than 200 miles per hour. 

When complete, travelers in the Golden State will be able to escape crippling congestion by boarding a 220-mph train that will whisk them from San Francisco to Los Angeles in less than three hours.
Thanks to hard work by the folks here at DOT and by our partners--like those in the US High Speed Rail Association--the future of passenger rail in America has never been brighter.

We have always known that President Obama’s vision for rail wouldn’t happen overnight. But let's remember that it took 10 different administrations and 28 different sessions of Congress to build--piece by piece--the complex interstate highway system we enjoy today.
So, I think we've done pretty well over the past four years, and I can't wait to see what we achieve in the next four.

But let's also remember that if our children and grandchildren are going to reap the benefits of 21st century passenger rail, we will need a sustained commitment from the federal government and from our states, stakeholders, and the private sector.

Together, we have made great progress, but we have miles to go--this is no time to ease off the

 For the video "High Speed Rail Summit 2013":


What the Future of American Train Travel Will Actually Look Like

 High speed trains to nowhere





By Brian Merchant, February 12, 2013

Last week, plenty of folks went nuts over this nice little piece of design fiction—a map of an imaginary future United States where every high-speed rail line proposed in recent years got built. It’s fun to imagine zipping around the nation, Eurail-style, on low-carbon bullet trains, so the map went viral. “This would be awesome!” went the Facebook comment that appeared numerous times in my feed.

And, yeah, it would. But it’s not going to happen, not anytime soon, anyway. Sorry. The only line on that map that’s getting built is the California line, and it’ll be a decade before it’s anywhere close to being done.

As such, perhaps it’s better to focus on which train lines we actually could and should build
next—let’s look at the near and plausible future of rail as opposed to the distant utopian one. To do so, it’s handy to compare, as the Atlantic did, current train ridership …

With current population density.

As you can see, most rail is concentrated in just three population centers: The East Coast corridor, Chicago and the urban Midwest, and California. Others are vastly underserved.
Here’s Henry Grabar with the takeaway:
Texas, for example, has three of America's ten largest cities: Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio. But the inexplicable lack of a direct rail connection between Houston and Dallas makes the state look, on Hicks' map, emptier than Missouri. In fact, the nation's second-largest state had only 465,000 riders in 2012. Missouri, meanwhile, had 739,000.
Ohio, though crossed by regional routes on its northern and southern borders, has no train at all connecting the state's major cities. It has one-fifth the passenger train traffic of neighboring Michigan … the juxtaposition indicates some areas (Ohio, Texas) ripe for additional rail travel. It also makes it clear why the Obama administration has tried to garner support for a high-speed rail proposal in Florida, whose population density ought to make it the East Coast mirror of the Seattle-Portland line.
So, the primo candidates for new rail lines are Texas, Florida, and Ohio—the former two being booming population centers with fast-growing, increasingly dense cities. But the lack of rail connections in, say, Texas, is far from “inexplicable,” as Grabar claims. Remember, trains are currently, if weirdly, highly politicized. Trains, really just the fancy high-speed ones, are liberal anti-freedom toys, according to the conservative commentariat. And despite shifting demographic trends, Texas is still deep red—if the Republican party hates government-backed trains, Texas hates government-backed trains.

Obama, you’ll recall, tried to stimulate the depressed job markets in Ohio and Florida by allocating funding for high speed rail projects—and the Republican governors of each rejected the funding outright. Obama didn’t even try for Texas. But trains are coming anyway.

Because there are other ways that rail get built, of course. Private investors are currently financing a $1 billion rail line between Orlando and Tampa. It won’t be high speed—it’ll top out at 100 mph—but it will be convenient and functional. And, if the projections pan out, it will turn a healthy profit. Meanwhile, Japanese investors are funding a high-speed bullet train line between Houston and Dallas. It’s currently slated to be completed in 2020, if the state’s government can ever decide on how to route it, and where it will stop in between. And it's privately funded, so it's all cool with rightwing voters there. Oregon and Washington, meanwhile, are examining ways to build or improve higher-speed rail between Seattle and Portland. In reality, projects like these, of about this size, will likely mark the future of rail travel in the U.S., not flashy $100 billion 500-mile mega-lines.

As the economy recovers, expect both government and private corporations to take a renewed interest in rail. After all, gas prices are projected to continue to rise, traffic congestion is projected to worsen, and come on, even conservatives can admit that train is a rather pleasant way to travel. That's why Amtrak keeps breaking its ridership records, like clockwork, every year now.

Meanwhile, the bulk of the $10 billion allotted for rail in the 2009 stimulus bill remains on the table,
and most of it will go to smaller rail improvement projects—tunnel expansions, speed upgrades—that are not politically controversial and could help renew interest in rail lines. Even many Republican congressmen, like Florida’s John Mica, support more funding more inter-city rail lines. They’re just against the big, high speed lines that might serve to drag their perilously sensible positions supporting government projects too far into the spotlight. So, think new stops on extant rail lines, slightly faster travel times, and newer, nicer train cars. That stuff is absolutely going to happen.

So. Here’s more or less the portrait that's emerging of near-future American passenger train travel, highly tentative though it is:
  • One flashy, big-deal high-tech, high speed rail line across California
  • A few smaller but important rail segments between major population centers.
  • Piecemeal inter-city rail expansion and improvement, much of it of the low-speed variety.
Plot all that on a map, and you’ve got a reasonable projection for what rail travel will actually look like in America’s foreseeable future. It won't, in other words, look a whole hell of a lot different than this:

Just a few additional and spruced-up routes—and more and more people making use of the whole thing.

Six Things of Note From Tuesday's Mayoral Debate in Highland Park

 The four candidates played it safe, but there were moments where each made efforts to establish themselves from the field. 

By David Fonseca, February 12, 2013

It should come as no surprise that all four candidates in attendance took stands against the extension of the 710 Freeeway through Northeast Los Angeles (Sylvia Plummer).
Hundreds of locals filled Ramona Hall on Tuesday night to see four of the five candidates vying to be Los Angeles' next mayor participate in a forum hosted by the Northeast Coalition.
Current City Council Representatives Eric Garcetti and Jan Perry squared off against radio host/lawyer Kevin James and businessman Emanuel Pleitez in a mostly cordial affair moderated by journalist Patt Morrison. City Controller and candidate Wendy Greuel had a commitment in San Francisco, Morrison told the audience.
While it was a mostly predictable stop along the road to election, there were six things worth noting from Tuesday's forum.

The candidates defined their respective roles:

Councilmembers Eric Garcetti and Jan Perry leaned on their accomplishments while Emanuel Peitez and Kevin James tried to establish themselves as the fiery outsiders.

While the candidates agreed on almost every issue, Pleitez and James often chastised the council members for their failure to follow through on issues like pension reform while in office. This led to a heated exchange, where Garcetti declared that pension reform was about working "behind the scenes" to make changes and not "macho grandstanding." Pleitez took issue with those comments, saying Garcetti had failed to uphold the public trust as a member of the city council.

The candidates stood united on important local issues …

It should come as no surprise that all four candidates in attendance took stands against the extension of the 710 Freeeway through Northeast Los Angeles and in favor of the reopening of the Southwest Museum.

Each attempted to make their own sort of political hay in stating their support of the Southwest Museum. Garcetti referred to his first visit to the museum as a youth as a "right of passage." Perry said she would reach out philanthropists to find funding to reopen and operate the historic museum. James leaned on his legal experience and called out the Autry for failing to follow the terms of the contract that granted them possession of the Southwest Museum's collection. Pleitez asked why, if Perry and Garcetti supported the reopening of the Southwest Museum, they hadn't done anything about it while on the city council.

… and on Measure A:

All four candidates opposed the proposed sales tax increase. James and Perry pointed out that they signed the opposition argument against the sales tax, Garcetti reminded voters that he voted against placing it on the March ballot, Pleitez called it a "band aid to bad problems at City Hall."

Eric Garcetti took a stand against Wal-Mart:

Moderator Patt Morrison lobbed a steady stream of softballs at the candidates throughout the two hour forum, but a question regarding the potential permitting of a Wal-Mart superstore in Chinatown challenged the candidates to balance their stances on growth and development against their support of local business and workers' rights. Pleitez and James argued that, given the city's current revenue picture, it wasn't wise to "antagonize" any particular business, regardless of their global reputation. Perry, who represents Downtown and South Los Angeles on the city council, said it should be up to the locals to decide the value of the superstore.

Garcetti stood out on this issue, saying he would welcome any big box store to Los Angeles that could prove their business would bring have an overall net positive impact on jobs. "We don't have any of those stores in this town, because they can't prove that."

Wendy Greuel was out of town, and she paid for it:

Greuel hasn't been a total no-show in Northeast LA; she visited firefighters at LAFD's Highland Park Station 12 last month and was at the unveiling of the York Boulevard parklet. But she wasn't on hand Tuesday night, and Pleitez and James both took the opportunity to jab at the city controller in her absence. Had she been on hand, Greuel may have been able to distinguish herself from her opponents by calling on her efforts to find "waste, fraud and corruption" in the city's budget. Instead, the other candidates were able to call out her failure to do so.

Northeast LA represented:

Ramona Hall was packed, with the more than 200 seats filled and many more audience community members standing along the walls of the hall. The community certainly made a statement to the mayoral candidates that they plan to make their voices heard in the coming years.
Report on Pasadena City Council Meeting

From Sylvia Plummer, February 13, 2013

Agenda Item 7 was adopted with the exception that studies made by METRO during the EIR will not be made/duplicated by the City of Pasadena.  The methods used by Metro, would be the same used by the city and too costly. 

Pasadena Department of Transportation will report back in two months with recommendations for additional studies and cost. 

Pasadena Sun Article:

Item 7 as stated on the Agenda:  Additional Studies for the SR-710.  It is recommended that the City Council direct staff to seek collaboration with the neighboring cities in the SR-710 corridor to monitor, comment and possibly engage in independent studies to ensure the full and accurate assessment of impacts related to the proposed SR-710 project alternative.  

 The Two Sides of the Federal Transpo Debate: Reformers and Devolutionists

 Devolution or reform is a key federal transportation issue facing Congress.

Insights into Devolving Federal Transportation


By Larry Ehl, February 12, 2013


Most transportation interests dismiss the idea of devolving the federal transportation program to states as crazy talk, unworthy of study. Devolution is the type of sea change idea that many find hard to take seriously and analyze, and easy to dismiss. But like most sea change ideas, devolution is backed by some pretty smart and thoughtful people. That doesn’t mean they’re right, but it could mean we should pay some attention to the arguments – if only to better prepare the counter arguments.

Here are some insights into the devolution arguments, with links to learn more if you’re interested. Also, some regions aren’t waiting for the debate to be settled, they are addressing funding challenges on their own.  See the bottom half of our story, Should Feds End Role in Transportation Funding and Policy?

A “green” argument for devolution

It won’t surprise you that the strongest proponents of devolution are libertarian and right-of-center writers and think tanks. It probably would surprise you to learn that a prominent “greenie” is also talking up devolution. Rohit Aggarwala has led the development and implementation of PlaNYC, New York’s long-term sustainability plan, and also advises the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, an organization of the mayors of world’s largest cities working on combating and adapting to climate change.

Aggarwala recently wrote “Want Better Roads? Kill the Gas Tax,” for Bloomberg.com. He argues:

“A strong, smart, well-funded federal program would be great. But if Congress can’t pass one now, it should just get itself out of the way, by eliminating the federal gas tax entirely and cutting Washington’s role in surface transportation. It would be a big change, but it would streamline government. And it would probably lead to more investment in infrastructure and greener transportation policies.

“. . . .The basic reason the present system isn’t working is that there is no longer a consensus in Congress on what a national transportation program should be. . . . Absent a grand policy, earmarks kept every congressman invested in a big transportation bill; but these are no more.
“. . . .Eliminating the federal role would enhance state autonomy and streamline decision making. What’s more exciting is that it would also lead to more and better spending on transportation.

“. . . .Getting rid of the tax would force a serious discussion in each state about how, and how much, to fund roads and transit. States could choose to reimpose the same tax, or they could set a different rate based on their desired level of transportation spending. They could choose to raise other kinds of revenue to pay for roads and transit — such as sales taxes, property taxes, local taxes or tolls. Or they could simply reduce their transportation spending.

Aggarwala suggests devolution could be fairly easy, and offers one of the most detailed blueprint to devolution yet:

“The gas tax and all programs it funds would sunset, perhaps after a few years to allow states time to adjust. This would amount to a $29 billion annual federal tax cut, plus a reduction in the federal deficit of roughly $10 billion per year, because the trust funds would stop overspending. Some 4,000 federal jobs could be trimmed.” **

And it could be good politics for the Obama administration. The President could take a page from Ronald Reagan’s “new federalism” which supports “tax cuts, deficit reductions and smaller government — when these things make sense. It would force 30 Republican governors to wrestle with the question of how to fund their own highway spending. And it would be good policy, consistent with Obama’s support for the environment and for rebuilding U.S. infrastructure.”
Initially, I was skeptical of Aggarwala’s notion that devolution might lead to increased investment and greener transportation. Many of the investment decisions would be made by state legislatures, which in most states mirror Congressional attitudes (and political deadlock) about transportation investment and modes. But the more I think about it, his notion may work in a number of states. In fact, there are perhaps a record number of states considering transportation investment proposals this year. Many proposals are focused on highway maintenance and operations. The degree to which the proposals address transit, bike-ped and complete streets programs and projects is debatable.

What do market-based thinkers, libertarians and conservatives argue?

One of the most frequent criticisms is that federal labor and environmental regulations increase project costs beyond the value of the federal funds. A second frequent complaint is that federal regulations also impose one-size-fits-all solutions on the states, even though the states have diverse needs.

Perhaps the best and shortest argument comes from Gabriel Roth (bio) of The Independent Institute. Responding to a May 2012 National Journal Q & A about the federal role in transportation, Roth wrote:
“1. The purpose of federal financing — completion of the Interstate Highway System — has been virtually achieved, and it is difficult to identify other advantages from federal financing.
2. The disadvantages of federal financing — increased costs and intrusive regulation — are evident and substantial.
3. Congress, unable to increase the taxes dedicated to roads, seeks to use general funds to finance some of the transportation expenditures it considers necessary, thus abandoning the US traditional “user pays” principle for roads.
4. Congress keeps deferring long-term road legislation and substituting short-term-extensions of previous (2005) legislation, thus hindering long-term planning of transportation projects.
5. New methods to pay for road use — such as mileage-based user fees to replace fuel taxes — are more likely to succeed as a result of innovations sought by different states, than if imposed by a federal government seeking a “one size fits all” solution.” (Click here for Roth’s complete response).

Without getting into a detailed rebuttal, I’ll just note that Roth’s arguments ignore the federal
government’s interest in maintaining the Interstate Highway System, and in facilitating interstate commerce. One of the best briefing papers I’ve seen on this issue is “Fix It First, Expand It Second, Reward It Third: A New Strategy for America’s Highways,” from Brookings’ Matthew Kahn and David Levinson. They propose reforming, not devolving, the federal program. And it’s a fairly realistic proposal as well.

Chris Edwards of the Cato Institute recently published “Infrastructure Investment: A State, Local, and Private Responsibility.” Before I get to a few quibbles I have with Edward’s paper, let’s cut to the chase and learn more about his devolution proposal:

“The best way forward is for the federal government to cut subsidies and reduce its control over the nation’s infrastructure. At the same time, the states should innovate with privatization and PPPs to the full extent possible. State governments would be more likely to make sound infrastructure decisions if they were free of the distortions created by federal spending programs and regulations.

“Privatization holds great promise. Consider, for example, that U.S. airports and seaports are generally owned by governments, but many foreign airports and seaports have been partly or fully privatized. The World Economic Forum rates America’s seaports only 19th in the world, but the world’s second- and third-best seaports— in Singapore and Hong Kong—are private.45

“In sum, rather than increasing federal infrastructure spending—as some policymakers 
are proposing—we should begin devolving federal infrastructure activities to the states. The states should then unleash businesses and entrepreneurs to help America solve its mobility and congestion challenges.”

Edwards begins by acknowledging the need for infrastructure but says the

“important policy issue, however, is who can deliver it most efficiently—the federal government, state and local governments, or the private sector. . . . decades of experience show that when the federal government gets involved in infrastructure, investment often gets bogged down in politics, mismanagement, and cost overruns.”

I’ll quibble with the description of “often.” I think critics on both sides of the political aisle typically find a few truly bad projects and practices, and suddenly “few” becomes “many” or “often.” Edwards’ comments also overlooks the fact that most transportation projects are delivered by private contractors, not government employees. Edwards’ point may be more valid for big, expensive projects – which typically includes federal involvement and can get complicated quickly – than for small and medium size projects.

Edwards notes how other countries are turning to privatization in transportation, and suggests this is where the U.S. should be looking:

“Since 1990 about $900 billion of state-owned assets have been sold in OECD countries, and about 63 percent of the total has been infrastructure assets.

. . . .More than one fifth of infrastructure spending in Britain and Portugal is now through the PPP process, so this has become a normal way of doing business in some countries. Canada is also a leader in using PPP for major infrastructure projects.

. . . .The industry reference guide for infrastructure PPP and privatization is the newsletter Public Works Financing. According to that source, only 1 of the top 38 firms doing transportation PPP and privatization around the world are American. Of 726 transportation projects currently listed in the newsletter, only 28 are in the United States. Canada—a country with one-tenth of our population—has about the same number of PPP deals as we do. In Canada, PPPs account for 10 to 20 percent of all public infrastructure spending.
Nonetheless, a number of U.S. states have moved ahead with PPP and privatization.”

Edwards explains the advantages of privatization:

“a big advantage of devolving infrastructure activities to the states and bringing in private funding is that it would decentralize decisionmaking. When state governments and private firms are spending their own money, they are more likely to make cost-efficient decisions than officials and politicians in Washington, D.C.”

“Another advantage of infrastructure PPP and privatization is the greater efficiency of construction. U.S. and foreign experience indicate that PPP projects are more likely to be completed on-time and on-budget than traditional government contracts. A 2007 Australian study compared 21 PPP projects with 33 traditional projects and found: “PPPs demonstrate clearly superior cost efficiency over traditional procurement . . . PPPs provide superior performance in both the cost and time dimensions, and . . . the PPP advantage increases (in absolute terms) with the size and complexity of projects.”  Studies of  British and U.S. PPPs have found similar positive results.”

Edwards disputes the conventional wisdom that the feds aren’t investing enough, observing that the number of bridges and roads in poor condition is actually declining. My quibble is that results in part from federal and state investment being channeled more towards maintenance and preservation in recent years. It also is counter to a number of reports showing that investment in coming years won’t keep up with the projected costs of projected bridge and road maintenance.

Edwards also notes “the level of federal infrastructure spending tells us nothing about the quality of the spending.” True – but in recent years Congress has eliminated the earmarking system which often funded lower-priority and sometimes unneeded project.  Edwards notes that federal spending is “often far removed from local demands” – yet most earmarks were, for better or worse, designated in direct response to local community requests.

Edwards also notes that “that federal spending is often designed to aid private interests, not the general public interests,” I think “occasionally designed” is probably more accurate than “often” designed.  Critics on either side of the political spectrum typically find a few truly bad projects and practices, and suddenly “few” becomes “many” or “often.” Edwards also notes that “that political power, not sound economics, dominates policy in Washington.” Devolution may limit but won’t solve these two issues. They come into play at the state, regional local level and probably always will.  Moving to a more transparent, performance-based funding system will have the most impact.

** Back in 2007 U.S. Senator Jim DeMint introduced legislation (S. 2823) that would phase-out most of the federal transportation taxes over five years; preserve federal responsibility for interstate highways, transportation facilities on public lands, national transportation research and safety programs, and emergency transportation assistance; and devolve most other surface transportation programs to states.

Reform – Don’t Devolve – Federal Role in Transportation


By Larry Ehl, February 12, 2013


Everyone wants to change the federal government’s role in transportation, and can be grouped into two categories: devolutionists and reformers. Fiscal pressures along with a lack of focus since the interstate highway system was completed drives both groups.

We’ve already looked at some of the devolutionist arguments.  Today we take a quick look at reform arguments from two prominent thinkers in transportation policy. These come from a May 2012 National Journal Q & A with a panel of experts who were asked several questions related to devolution.

Emil H. Frankel, Visiting Scholar at the Bipartisan Policy Center and former USDOT Assistant
Secretary for Transportation Policy under President Bush, is no fan of devolution but does see room for improvement in federal transportation policy:

“There remains an important, if still inadequately defined, federal role in transportation. There are national goals and national purposes in transportation, and some projects are clearly national (to greater or lesser degrees) in scope and impact. . . .What this debate demonstrates, however, is the need to define national goals more precisely, to reform the institutions that plan and program capital investments in the transportation sector, and to focus on performance and outcomes. These reforms are more urgent than ever, in the context of shrinking resources and the need to invest wisely in the more beneficial programs and projects.

“And, if states and localities must do more, than Congress should remove the federal barriers to such state and local initiative and flexibility, such as the prohibition on tolling the Interstate Highway System, and should stop discouraging states and regions from attracting private capital to their transportation investment programs. Instead, the federal government should incentivize and reward those states and localities that do more to attract new sources of public and private investment capital to transportation. Federal funds and programs should, also, be used to leverage these new public and private sources, through the expansion of loan and credit enhancement programs, like TIFIA.” (Read Frankel’s entire essay.)

Robert Puentes of the Brookings Institute also is no fan of devolution or the current federal transportation system:

“So we should put aside the one-dimensional call for “Devolution, baby!” and recognize that a new partnership is already forming. What we need is a new type of federal partnership with state and metropolitan leaders, along with local governments and the private sector that’s in-step with current realities.
The late 20th century model in transportation retained the standard federalism pyramid structure: 
with the federal government providing resources that rain down from the state, to metropolitan, and ultimately the local level. A new 21st century compact should flip the pyramid by challenging our nation’s state and metropolitan leaders to develop deep and innovative visions to solve the most pressing transportation problems.” (Read Puentes’ complete essay.)

One of the best briefing papers I’ve seen on this issue is “Fix It First, Expand It Second, Reward It Third: A New Strategy for America’s Highways,” from Brookings’ Matthew Kahn and David Levinson. They propose reforming, not devolving, the federal program. And it’s a fairly realistic proposal as well.

High-speed rail project waiting on $5.5 billion government loan


By Richard N. Velotta, February 12, 2013



 An artist’s rendering of a train on the XpressWest high-speed rail line, formerly DesertXpress.

The nation’s first privately funded high-speed rail line, which would connect Las Vegas with Southern California, remains in a holding pattern, awaiting a decision on a federal government loan, a representative of the company said today.

Andrew Mack, chief operating officer of XpressWest, told the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority board of directors that his company is still awaiting word on approval of a $5.5 billion loan.

The $6.9 billion train project would link Las Vegas and Victorville, Calif., and, eventually, downtown Los Angeles via Palmdale, Calif.

The Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing loan, overseen by the Federal Railroad Administration, is critical to the XpressWest project. Mack said most RRIF loan applications take an average 19 months to complete. XpressWest filed for the loan in December 2010.
Mack attributed the lengthy wait to the complexity of the project and the amount of due diligence the FRA must complete to approve the loan.

Once the loan is approved, it will take about a year to begin construction and five years to complete the project, Mack said. Because most of the rail line would be built within the Interstate 15 right-of-way, the construction period would serve as “five years of advertising that the train is coming” to motorists who drive between Southern California and Las Vegas, he said.

Mack’s update to the LVCVA board took top billing at today’s meeting after a presentation on a proposed multimillion-dollar improvement project for the Las Vegas Convention Center was postponed.

Rossi Ralenkotter, president and CEO of the LVCVA, was scheduled to provide details about that project today. But an LVCVA spokeswoman said Ralenkotter is ill and is critical to the presentation, so the matter was removed from today’s agenda.

Last month, Ralenkotter outlined plans to refurbish the Convention Center, build a World Trade
Center facility on the campus and turn a parking lot at the center into a multimodal transportation center.

Officials said the presentation is now tentatively planned for a special meeting on Feb. 26.
“This isn’t a renovation project,” LVCVA board member Charles Bowling said. “It’s securing our future.”

LVCVA officials have said the upgrade is critical to Las Vegas maintaining its 18-year hold on hosting the most major conventions and trade shows in the United State

Membership of Senate’s Primary Transportation Policy Subcommittee Announced


By Larry Ehl, February 12, 2013



 Senators Boxer and Vitter announced the membership of the EPW Transportation Subcommittee. Image – Senate side of Capitol, Architect of the Capitol.


Finally, the membership of the Senate’s primary subcommittee on transportation policy was announced by Senators Barbara Boxer and David Vitter. Here’s the 2013-14 lineup for the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee:

Democratic Members

Max Baucus, Chairman (Montana)
Thomas R. Carper (Delaware)
Frank R. Lautenberg (New Jersey)
Benjamin L. Cardin (Maryland
Bernard Sanders (Vermont)
Tom Udall (New Mexico)
Kirsten Gillibrand (Massachusetts)

Republican Members
John Barrasso, Ranking Member (Wyoming)
James M. Inhofe (Oklahoma)
Jeff Sessions (Alabama)
Mike Crapo (Idaho)
Roger Wicker (Mississippi)
Deb Fischer  (Nebraska)

Gasoline costs take biggest share of household income in three decades


By Ben Geman, February 4, 2013

Trips to the gasoline pump in 2012 and 2008 took their biggest share of U.S. household income in several decades, according to the federal Energy Information Administration (EIA).

The Energy Department’s statistical arm reported Monday that the average household spent $2,912 for gasoline in 2012, which makes up almost 4 percent of pre-tax income, tying 2008 for the highest percentage in roughly 30 years.

Pump prices took center stage in White House races in 2008 and 2012, but gasoline expenditures as a share of household income remain lower they did than the early 1980s, when they were above 5 percent.

Prices last year were elevated enough to push the share of household spending to the highest level in decades even though overall gasoline consumption has been declining for years.

“Efficiency gains have accelerated in recent years, such that total U.S. gasoline consumption fell in 2011 to 134.2 billion gallons, its lowest level since 2001. However, at the same time, EIA's average city retail gasoline price rose 26.1 percent in 2011, and another 3.3 percent in 2012, when it reached $3.70 per gallon. The effect of the higher prices in 2011 and 2012 outweighed the effect of reduced consumption,” EIA reports.

“As a result, expenditures increased to a record annual average of $2,655 per household in 2011, rising to an estimated $2,912 in 2012. The 26.1 percent yearly increase in 2011 was six times greater than the 3.4 percent rise in nominal household income. Additionally, the 3.3 percent estimated gasoline price rise in 2012 outpaced the 2.9 percent estimated increase in income,” the agency said.

Documenting Subway Travel's Most Intimate Moments


By Eric Jaffe, February 13, 2013


Documenting Subway Travel's Most Intimate Moments

Going out on assignment as a videographer for the New York Daily News, Rebecca Davis was on the subway a lot. A lot. A couple hours a day some days. Coming home from shooting the Thanksgiving Day parade in 2011, someone across from her was wearing a turkey hat, and she finally decided to use the time. She put away her intrusive work camera, took out her slim iPhone, and began taking pictures.

During the year 2012, Davis passed the time to the tune of about 3,300 subway iPhone photos, she
says. In the spring she started a Tumblr page to showcase the gallery she called "Commuters" (via Animal New York). Recently the 30-year-old Davis, who's since become a senior multimedia editor at Today.com, arranged many of her commuters into a video flipbook set to the song "Brains" by the Lower Dens.

"It started as a project to pass time while I was on the subway." Davis says. "I really spent a lot of time on the train."


Davis's shots capture riders across from her in a voyeuristic style reminiscent of Walker Evans. She was inspired by a project Evans did in the late 1930s eventually published as the book Many Are Called. Evans took 600 photos "using a 35-millimeter Contax hidden beneath his coat, its lens peering out between buttons like a spy, and its subjects as unsuspecting as quarry in a hunter's scope," according to the New York Times.

"I feel that cell phone photography is similar," Davis says, who, like Evans before her, doesn't ask permission before taking a shot, to preserve the moment. (She says no one has ever contacted her with a problem.) "You can surreptitiously take pictures that way and catch people in these very authentic moments. IPhone photography, I felt that was my way to build out the project he'd done, with more modern tools."

This approach enables Davis to document what many consider intimate moments between fellow travelers. Her Tumblr page and video slideshow are full of them. From sloppy kissing to lap-sitting to hand-holding. From furtive and not-so-furtive glances to splayed legs to some dude looking at lingerie ads. Davis says she's interested in the "public-private" culture of the subway (which in the past we've called being "alone together").

"It's a very public space, but you find people having domestic disputes on their cell phone, or cutting their nails, as if no one's around them," she says. "I think a lot is New Yorkers are so used to living in these cramped spaces that we get good at ignoring everyone around us, so people feel they have the liberty to act as if they are in a private space even when they're out in public."

When Davis's unwitting subjects aren't getting intimate, they're looking rather — well, let's say less than happy. Davis prefers to describe the looks as "pensive" or "exhausted." What you're seeing, she says, is "the day on their face." Part of the chilly tone is due no doubt from Davis shooting with the Hipstagram app and using a filter known as the John S. lens that emphasizes blues.

These days, when she's not taking photos on the train, Davis finds herself less inclined to vanish into a music player and more attuned to those around her. "Sometimes I think it's nice to not have ear buds in your ears, and take time to take in that environment on the train," she says. As a journalist and "naturally nosy person" she enjoys thinking about each rider's story — where they're coming from, where they're going.

"Just to have constant things to look at and see, and be entertained by and interested by — there's never a dull moment," she says.


Cities work on 710 coalition


By Daniel Siegal, February 12, 2013

Pasadena on Monday inched toward creating a coalition of cities to launch their own review of a possible tunnel extension to connect the Long Beach (710) and Foothill (210) freeways.

The Pasadena City Council voted unanimously Monday night to have staff begin collaborating with South Pasadena, La CaƱada Flintridge, Sierra Madre and Glendale and return in 60 days with options for studying the project.

Those cities have already initiated efforts to monitor the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority's efforts to connect the 710 from its current terminus in Alhambra to the 210 Freeway in Pasadena.

“Shame on us if we don't take the steps to at least inform ourselves and inform the people of Pasadena on some of the potential impacts,” said Councilman Victor Gordo.

The collaboration could lead to the study of various environmental impacts, correspondence campaigns to elected officials and, possibly, an independent study of the project.

“We're very happy, obviously, to be able to share resources and have more eyes with what's happening with [the MTA] because this is happening at a rapid pace,” said Sergio Gonzalez, city manager of South Pasadena, which staunchly opposes an tunnel connector. “It will certainly help with strength in numbers.”

Due to the voter-approved Measure A in 2001, Pasadena cannot participate in explicit anti-freeway activity, although all of the collaborating cities have already taken public positions against the project.

The MTA has narrowed to five the number of options, including a freeway tunnel, for closing the “710 gap,” and is expected to present a preferred alternative in nine to 12 months. Officials fear they won't be given enough time between now and then to adequately review MTA's findings and weigh in.

Although city officials had originally proposed moving forward with their own study of potential traffic, air-quality and construction impacts, but the City Council decided the costs would be too great to bear alone.

“I'm opposed to spending city of Pasadena funds on work [the MTA] is supposed to be doing,” said Councilwoman Jacque Robinson.

Costs for the study could range from $100,000 for air-quality impacts to more than $1 million to study the safety and cost of a freeway tunnel, Pasadena Transportation Director Fred Dock said.

A handful of anti-710 tunnel activists at the meeting said the council's decision was an important step for Pasadena — constrained by voter will — to possibly take an indirect stance against the freeway extension.

“I'm happy they did it … now they need to start working with other cities to catch up,” Sam Burgess said.

He added that he'd like to see Pasadena allocate staff resources to public outreach to spread awareness of the project's local impact.

No 710 Action Committee member Sylvia Plummer said the decision could mean more mobilization of public opinion against the project.

"[The council is] concerned that the public knows the ramifications of a tunnel," Plummer said. "This is the first time hearing that."