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

Monday, August 19, 2013

1 dead, 10 injured in fiery crash on 10 Freeway in Pomona


By Robert J. Lopez, August 19, 2013

The 10 Freeway in Pomona was shut down in all directions Monday night after a fiery crash and explosion involving a big rig and several vehicles that left at least one person dead and about 10 others injured.

The accident was reported about 8:30 p.m. near Towne Avenue after the big rig collided with three to four vehicles, the California Highway Patrol said.

One of the vehicles was smashed under the big rig and exploded in flames, the CHP said.
Television news footage showed flames shooting out of the back side of the big rig.

Victims were taken by helicopter to a hospital, and a second helicopter was on the freeway Monday night as firefighters knocked down the flames, the Los Angeles County Fire Department said.
One witness told The Times that the "truck was on the right side of the road, burning, and occasionally an explosion could be heard."

The CHP said the freeway would be closed for at least four hours. Traffic was jammed for several miles in both directions.

Destination Discount: free Grand Park sunglasses with Metro


By Anna Chen, August 19, 2013


Summer is almost over, but that doesn’t mean the fun has to be. Plenty of activities are still taking place at Grand Park, which also means plenty of chances to get a free pair of sunglasses.

Head to any of the upcoming free events at Grand Park and present your TAP card at the info booth to receive a free pair of stylish shades. The exclusive offer is part of Metro’s Destination Discounts program. Go Metro to participating locations and events and you’ll save on admission, get discounts on meals, and receive free gifts.

Thursday: Chill after work at Grand Park’s Out of Office concert; bring a picnic dinner, join a lawn game or just sit and relax. This week features the Colburn Summer Concert Band. The event takes place from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Saturday morning: Cool off at the splash pad and join in on a special fun activity! This week’s surprise activity features the Mobile Mural Lab, which will be in town from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Saturday evening: Enjoy a movie at the park with food trucks and live performances. This week’s flick is Sleepless in Seattle. Door open at 5:30 p.m. and the movie starts around 8:30 p.m.

Sunday: Don’t miss the last Sunday Session of the summer, bringing the best in electronic music performance. This week features The Leverage Agency Showcase with Acid Pauli and many others. The all day events starts at 2 p.m. and continues until 10 p.m.

Grand Park is served by the Red/Purple Line Civic Center Station and by Bus 10 and 81 to Hill/Temple. For more routes and connections, use Trip Planner.

Update on federal transportation dollars at risk because of state pension reform


By Steve Hymon, August 19, 2013

Some readers may have been following a difficult issue for Metro in recent weeks. The U.S. Department of Labor has indicated that it believes that pension reform legislation in California (known as PEPRA) violates the collective bargaining rights under federal law of unions representing transit workers. As a result, Metro and other large transit agencies in California may lose billions of dollars in federal grants if the issue isn’t resolved. (Here is a news story and an editorial in the Sacramento Bee).

Obviously, many public officials in California do not agree with the Department of Labor, arguing that states have the right to invoke pension reform and that current federal law — which dates back to the 1960s — was intended to protect the rights of employees of private transit companies that were being converted to government agencies.

Complicating matters, Moody’s has indicated that the threat of losing federal grants could impact the credit rating of transit agencies in California. That, in turn, could impact the ability of agencies to secure federal loans and New Starts money needed to build new rail projects. Here is the update issued Friday by Metro’s government relations team:
Moody’s Places 15 California Transit Agencies Under Review For Downgrade Due to PEPRA/13C Issues

Moody’s Investors Service announced that it had placed under review for downgrade the ratings of 15 California transit agencies. The possible ratings action is prompted by the possibility that the agencies will lose federal grants that on average comprise about 13% of their operating revenue and 40% of their capital funding.

Today, Metro staff fielded calls from the Wall Street Journal about the potential downgrade and the PEPRA/13C issue that gives rise to it. Metro’s largest exposure to negative financial impacts due to the possible downgrade arises from our $1 Billion Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan requests for the Purple Line Extension and the Regional Connector. These loans assume the Secretary of Transportation will grant a waiver that requires a rating of “A” by two rating agencies. A downgrade by either ratings agency would make the waiver impossible.

Without the waiver, a complete restructuring of the loan proposal now formally before the U.S. Department of Transportation TIFIA Office would be necessary. It is likely that a restructured TIFIA proposal would require up to six months to process and even then it is unknown whether a restructured TIFIA loan proposal could be approved.

Without the TIFIA loans, the underlying financial commitments necessary for a New Starts Full Funding Grant Agreement would not be in place, also jeopardizing those funding agreements. We were also informed that the United States Department of Labor will not issue determinations regarding Section 13C certifications today. We will continue to work with the Governor’s office, legislative leadership and our two Senators on this issue.

State Senator Liu Wants Closed Memo on Agency Roles in SR-710 Made Public


August 13, 2013

State Senator Carol Liu sent this letter August 6 to MTA Chief Executive Officer Art Leahy and Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty

(1) adding to her original request for a copy of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the two agencies to include a request for the “written justification” and the “cooperative agreement” that delegates the authority from Caltrans to LACMTA to prepare the EIR/EIS for the SR-710 study.

(2) also requesting that the MTA Board release to the public the closed County Counsel memo responding to MTA Director/Glendale City Council member Ara Najarian’s motion asking for clarification on the division of authority and responsibility for the SR-710 study.

In the letter, she cites California SB 45 and this 2004 policy memo limiting Caltrans’ delegation of CEQA lead agency status to a local agency.
LiuQuote20130806State Senator Carol Liu sent this letter August 6 to MTA Chief Executive Officer Art Leahy and Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty
(1) adding to her original request for a copy of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the two agencies to include a request for the “written justification” and the “cooperative agreement” that delegates the authority from Caltrans to LACMTA to prepare the EIR/EIS for the SR-710 study.
(2) also requesting that the MTA Board release to the public the closed County Counsel memo responding to MTA Director/Glendale City Council member Ara Najarian’s motion asking for clarification on the division of authority and responsibility for the SR-710 study.
In the letter, she cites California SB 45 and this 2004 policy memo limiting Caltrans’ delegation of CEQA lead agency status to a local agency.
- See more at: http://sunroomdesk.com/2013/08/13/state-senator-liu-wants-closed-memo-on-agency-roles-in-sr-710-made-public/#sthash.8zFWkRN0.dpuf

Pasadena Police To Crackdown On Motorists Texting While Driving


August 19, 2013

 Texting while driving

PASADENA (CBSLA.com) — Pasadena police Monday will crackdown on drivers who are texting or operating a handheld cellphone behind the wheel.

Officials are expected to issue citations in an effort to educate the community about the dangers of cellphone use while driving, according to Pasadena Police Chief Phillip L. Sanchez.

A cellphone violation costs motorists $162, while a subsequent violation is $285.

“We all know that talking on our cellphones while driving is distracting, but that doesn’t stop some people from continuing to do it,” Sanchez told City News Service.   “We hope people realize the danger involved and change their driving habits to help protect themselves, their families and others on the road.”

Police say drivers should put cellphones out of reach or turn them off while behind the wheel.

Bike-Share Is Key to Closing the Cycling Gender Gap


By Sarah Goodyear, August 19, 2013

 Bike-Share Is Key to Closing the Cycling Gender Gap

Do a lot of women ride bicycles in your city? If so, you’ve probably got a healthy bicycling culture where people in general feel safe getting on the bike to ride for transportation and recreation.

The importance of women as an "indicator species" for biking has been known for years. But the United States doesn’t look so great when it comes to this particular statistic. Only 24 percent of bike trip were made by women in the U.S. in 2009, compared with 55 percent in the Netherlands and 49 percent in Germany.

Women Bike, a new initiative from the League of American Bicyclists aims to close the biking gender gap in the U.S. It launched this month with the publication of a report, “Women on a Roll,” [PDF] that puts together the numbers on women biking in a way that hasn’t been done before.

"There’s been a lack of collective knowledge on key data points," says Carolyn Szczepanski, director of communications for Women Bike. "We’re really trying to position ourselves as a hub of information."

The data in the report shows a lot of pent-up desire for biking among women. Among the statistics:
  • 82 percent of women have a positive view of bicyclists.
  • From 2003 to 2012, the number of women participating in bicycling rose 20 percent.
  • 60 percent of bicycle owners between the ages of 17 and 28 are women.
So why aren’t more women out there riding? The report focuses on what it calls the "five Cs": comfort, convenience, confidence, consumer products, and community. The numbers show that the lack of sufficient safe bike infrastructure plays a major role in keeping women off the streets. And in places where bike lanes go in, women use them. Local surveys show dramatic increases in female ridership on streets with dedicated cycling facilities:
  • In New Orleans, female ridership went up 115 percent on South Carrollton Street after a bike lane was installed.
  • In Philadelphia, the presence of a bike lane increased female use by 276 percent.
  • In New York in 2011, 15 percent of riders on a street without bike lanes were women, compared with 32 percent on a street with bike lanes.
  • 53 percent of women say they would ride more if there were more bike lanes and paths.
The report also looks at the way that women’s travel patterns tend to differ from men, with women making more trips and more multi-stop trips; the importance of better bike parking and confidence-building resources such as bike repair classes; the need for better consumer service for women at bike shops; and the role that a cycling community can play in getting women out on the bike.

There’s one place where the gender disparity between men and women in cycling is leveling off, and that, tellingly, is bike share.
A 2012 study showed that 43 percent of bike-share members in North America were women. In Washington, D.C., fully 54 percent of Capital Bikeshare members were women in 2012. In Boston, 47 percent of Hubway members are women.

Szczepanski says that makes sense because bike-share programs remove many of the barriers that women commonly cite. The systems make biking easy to access and convenient to multiple destinations. You can ride the bikes in regular clothes. They’re simple to adjust and comfortable to ride. And you feel like you’re part of a community when you’re on a bike-share bike. You also don’t have to deal with the frequently off-putting snobbery and machismo still found at too many bike shops.

Bike-share systems, it turns out, allow Americans a little glimpse of some of the conditions that exist in countries such as Germany and the Netherlands, where the cycling gender gap doesn’t exist. "All of those things are represented in a microcosmic way," says Szczepanski.

More and more cities in the U.S. are getting bike-share. Chicago rolled out its 4,000-bike system this summer and the San Francisco Bay Area will be the next to launch, at the end of August (albeit with a mere 700 bikes). As bike share becomes an integrated mode of transportation around the country – and as bike retailers realize that women represent a huge and underserved market -- the gender balance just might start to shift here in a real and lasting way.

HOT Lanes Are Even More Popular When They're Expensive


By Eric Jaffe, August 19, 2013

HOT Lanes Are Even More Popular When They're Expensive
Everyday, sometimes twice a day, commuters in the increasing number of U.S. metro areas with a HOT lane ask themselves that timeless question: to pay, or not to pay. How they answer depends on the toll price, which charges single-occupancy cars for HOT access based on congestion levels. Logic suggests that as the toll goes up, fewer drivers would fork over the money — for the same reason we sit coach on a plane once we see the price of first-class.

But in Minnesota, at least, HOT lane prices are having the opposite effect. As the cost of HOT lanes on Interstates 394 and 35 went up, more commuters were willing to pay the toll. That's the rather counter-intuitive finding that emerges from recent research by Michael Janson and David Levinson of the University of Minnesota [PDF]:
This positive relationship between price and demand is in contrast with the previously held belief that raising the price would discourage demand.
Janson and Levinson reached their conclusion by studying two years of toll and traffic data on the MnPASS HOT lanes along the I-394 and I-35 corridors. They also conducted a series of experimental price manipulations on the highways — unbeknownst to the public — during which the tolls became higher or lower than usual. The point here was to compare commuter responses during the modified period to normal driving behavior.

Altogether, this data told the researchers that more drivers chose HOT lanes when tolls were high, and conversely that fewer drivers made the switch when tolls were low. (The MnPASS tolls range from a quarter to $8.)

But why would costly tolls be popular tolls? Well, Janson and Levinson think that the HOT price may be serving as a proxy for congestion. Since the HOT lanes in Minnesota (and elsewhere) only show drivers the toll charge, as opposed to how much traffic is ahead, drivers may have come to see the toll as "a signal of downstream congestion."

That's a pretty creative solution to the problem of limited information. Thing is, it might not be an accurate one. In fact, the price of HOT lanes may not be a reliable signal of traffic levels at all. For all the money spent on tolls during the period studied by Janson and Levinson, drivers only saved between 1 and 3 minutes on the MnPASS HOT lanes, which run for about 12 miles on I-394 and 16 on I-35:

Don’t expect that hybrid minivan any time soon


By Lisa Hymas, August 16, 2013

 Toyota Estimate Hybrid
 The Toyota Estima Hybrid. The Japanese text translates to “Ha ha, you can’t have one.”

For years, Grist readers have yearned, ached, and virtually begged for a hybrid minivan. Sorry, folks. Keep dreaming.

Toyota has sold its Estima Hybrid minivan (44 mpg) in Japan since 2001, but it has no plans to sell a hybrid or plug-in minivan in the U.S., a spokesperson tells the Chicago Tribune.

Why not? Green-car expert Jim Motovalli explains:
I have brought up the concept of a plug-in hybrid minivan several times to automakers, and they always dismiss it. Their claim: Minivans are big and boxy, and the fuel economy wouldn’t improve that much with a hybrid drivetrain. Plus, they’d be expensive (the Estima is $50,000). Besides, that segment of the market is really not that big, they say.
Tribune writer Robert Duffer speculates that Americans are just too demanding:
We want fuel economy but we want power and the ability to carry a lot of weight. All of these factors would reduce the effectiveness of a hybrid or plug-in on fuel economy. Other speculation on car forums clamoring for the hybrid minivan is that it wouldn’t meet stringent U.S. safety requirements. It would end up weighing about the same as the Toyota Sienna, again reducing the effectiveness of its hybrid gains.
On top of that, “Minivan owners are among the most cost-conscious shoppers, prizing utility and value.” Demanding and cheap.
Plus minivans are totally out now:
According to CNBC in March, minivans are on the decline, making up just three percent of total auto sales. Only 500,000 were sold in 2012. In 2000, there were 1.37 million sold.

Ford and Chevy don’t even make a minivan anymore. … It’s all about the crossover, or CUV, these days. It’s neither minivan nor wagon nor sport utility vehicle, shaking off the stigmas of each into its own hip sub-class. CUVs are more fuel efficient than SUVs, sharper looking than minivans and more versatile in terms of passengers than a wagon.
Car shoppers who want both roominess and efficiency could consider the crossover Ford C-Max Hybrid — “a mini minivan,” as Duffer puts it. Except that Ford just had to lower the car’s fuel-economy numbers this week and send “goodwill” checks to disgruntled customers. D’oh.

Seal Beach leaders continue to oppose 405 widening


By Joe Segura, August 18, 2013

EAL BEACH >> Mayor Gary Miller has signed a city letter officially opposing toll lanes on the 405 Freeway, complaining that the proposed project will impact residents’ quality of life.

The letter, one of a series from the city in the past couple of months, reminds Caltrans, the project’s lead agency, that the city opposes alternative plans that would incorporate pay lanes included in a supplemental environmental impact report on plans to widen the 405.

The central complaint centers on fear that there will be increased gridlock on the freeway, since the additional lanes vanish near the Orange County/Los Angeles County line, thus creating the potential of a bottleneck near the border of Seal Beach and Long Beach.

Miller’s letter emphasizes that the city also has concerns about possible relocation of a soundwall adjacent to the College Park East neighborhood that mutes car noise, and raises issues about air quality and public health.

The mayor also maintains that the supplemental EIR needs to give additional details on the potential traffic concerns.

“Even with (the project’s) improvements, the main line of the freeway does not have the capacity to accommodate the added traffic arising from the 405 improvement project,” the letter states.
Consultants for the project will be reviewing the letter along with other statements submitted through the supplemental EIR review period.

The project now calls for improvements along the 405, between the 605 Freeway in Los Alamitos and the 55 Freeway in Costa Mesa, requiring that new lanes be added to improve traffic flow.

The Orange County Transportation Authority has formulated three alternatives: widen the corridor by adding one general-purpose lane in each direction between Euclid Street and the 605; add two general-purpose lanes in each direction between Euclid and the 605; or, add one general purpose lane between Euclid and the 605 and one tolled Express Lane in each direction between State Route 73 and State Route 22.

A separate “no build” alternative would have no additional improvements to the 405 Freeway.
Since the release of the environmental impact report, OCTA has authorized analysis of two additional options, known as “Option A” and “Option B,” according to a city staff report. Option A includes transition of the existing car-pool lanes into a high occupancy toll facility with the addition of two general purpose lanes; Option B entails one of the northbound general purpose lanes ending south of Valley View/Bolsa Chica.

Because the proposed project will primarily occur within the Caltrans right-of-way, it is likely that the city lacks any authority over the project. As such, the city may be unable to compel Caltrans or the OCTA to take — or not take — any specific action. If implemented, the city may, however, need to amend its general plan and municipal code to reflect the creation of a substandard right-of-way along Almond Avenue, city planners said.

A preliminary review by Seal Beach’s public works planners concluded that the existing soundwall could require relocation. It now separates the 405 from the College Park East neighborhood, and mostly paralleling Almond Avenue.

As a result, both construction-related and long-term impacts would be expected to significantly and adversely affect the College Park East area.

City planners have met with OCTA officials on multiple occasions to discuss alternate designs, according to a staff report, adding and officials made a trip to Sacramento to inform elected officials of the city’s objections.

Vietnam’s Cities Use Big Data To Ward Off Traffic & Pollution


By Mike Wheatley, August 16, 2013


If you want to see how ‘Smart Cities’ are evolving and taking shape, look no further than the Vietnamese city of Da Nang, which has just signed an agreement with IBM to intelligently manage its water and transportation infrastructure.

Da Nang is one of the few places in the world that’s managed to buck the depressing economic trend of the last few years. As Vietnam’s biggest seaport and fourth largest city in terms of population, Da Nang is also its fastest growing metropolitan sprawl, visibly echoing the rampant growth that took place in many of neighboring China’s cities over the last decade.

But unlike its Chinese friends, local officials are determined to ensure that in Da Nang at least, this rising wealth won’t come at a cost to the local environment. That’s where IBM comes in, using its cutting edge Intelligent Operations Centre technology to ensure the city can avoid the fate of its Chinese cousins that are slowly suffocating on car fumes and battling with various other types of pollution.

IBM’s assistance comes in two key areas. Firstly there’s the software and sensors that’s going to be embedded into Da Nang’s buses, roads and highways, which will allow city planners to synchronize traffic lights and minimize car congestion, whilst getting the most out of its limited public transportation system. Despite having a population of just over one million, there are barely 100 buses ready to whisk residents around the city’s streets. Even so, officials believe that this is enough – if they can manage the buses more efficiently.

To do so, IBM is helping to outfit Da Nang’s traffic control center with the tools it needs to predict and prevent congestion on the city’s roads, and to better coordinate responses to situations caused by adverse weather or road accidents. IBM’s technology allows for data to be aggregated from multiple streams, which city planners can analyze to detect anomalies and control Da Nang’s flow of traffic.

The system will also give the Department of Transport access to real-time information for its 100-strong fleet of buses, allowing them to view details such as the location of each bus, their current speeds and predicted journey times. This data can then be shared with passengers, either through video screens at bus stations or via mobile apps, thereby encouraging more people to use the buses and reduce the number of cars on the road.

Da Nang doesn’t have a traffic problem. Officials hope Big Data can keep it that way

What’s interesting is that today, Da Nang’s traffic problems are nowhere near as bad as they are in most western cities. Traffic congestion is rarely a problem for commuters – but what officials are doing is showing foresight. They understand the city is growing rapidly, and they’re hoping to avoid the need to build the complex rapid transit systems we have in the west, just as many African nations have avoiding building traditional telecommunications infrastructure and instead focused on mobile networks.

IBM’s second responsibility is to modernize Da Nang’s water system to keep up with rising demand. The Da Nang Water Company (DAWCO) plans to use IBM Smarter Cities tech to provide real-time analysis and monitoring of the city’s water supply to help it better manage and detect leaks, and to forecast future demand.

Previously, the company had to collect water samples manually, but by installing sensors throughout each stage of its water treatment process, DAWACO can analyze the water automatically. Managers will be able to keep track of the water’s turbidity, salinity, pH, chlorine and conductivity levels in real-time, receiving alerts and notifications whenever these readings indicate that water quality has changed abruptly.

Best Bus Driver . . . in the world?


By Marcal Eilenstein, August 14, 2013


Capture (Custom)


It’s a well established fact that the British, while fond of cold, dreary days full of foul weather, are ill-equipped to actually drive in them. In fact, their compatriots in Hereford devoted an entire segment to this problem, which included an ingenious use of farm implements and a vile drink called . . . Bovril.

The abandoned cars, people wandering around, and general chaos reminds me of the snow storms in the winter of 2006 in Seattle, when people abandoned their cars on the highway, sometimes in the middle of the road, and walked away. I was on the bus that day, and the 20-mile trip from the office to home that normally took an hour, lasted nearly six. Judging from this video, we really could have used this driver.

From the North Riding in Yorkshire comes a video that make give you a chuckle, or it might make you sigh.

Historic train reopens in scenic California redwoods after tunnel collapse


By Laila Kearney, August 18, 2013

 Handout photo of Engine #45 the "Super Skunk" passing through lush landscape in Mendocino County

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A historic train that has ferried tourists and residents through Northern California redwood forests for generations will resume service on Saturday after a caved-in tunnel derailed the operation earlier this year.

Train owners spent months rebuilding the tunnel, which collapsed under the pressure of a massive rock, forcing the closure of the California Western Railroad, which had run continuously for 128 years, train manager Robert Pinoli said.

"This is living, breathing history," Pinoli said, adding that train staff was excited the popular tourist attraction was ready to roll again.

The train, known as the Skunk Train, operates on 40 miles of railroad that connects Fort Bragg on the Mendocino Coast to the city of Willits, inland in Mendocino County on the highway 101 corridor.
It uses a 1925 M-100 railcruiser, which is believed to be the only such train in use today, in its collection of vintage locomotives, Pinoli said.

The train carries roughly 50,000 passengers each year and generates $20 million in annual tourism spending in Mendocino County, Pinoli said.

Tourism, Mendocino's primary industry, produced $124 million for the county in 2008, according to the most recent study available from the Center for Economic Development at California State University, Chico.

The Skunk Train received its nickname in 1925, when the California Western Railroad began using gas-fueled railcars, instead of steam-powered engines, and potbellied stoves for heat.
The combination of smells from the gas and stoves created an aroma similar to skunk spray, Pinoli said.

"The old timers said that these rail buses were like skunks," Pinoli said, adding, "You could smell them before you could see them because of their pungent odor."

Noted American merchant Charles R. Johnson funded Skunk Train in 1885 to transport logs and carry families and workers who setup logging camps along the railroad route.

The train was operated for many years by a union lumber company and was sold in the 1960s to Arizona-based Kyle Railways. A group of local investors have owned the train since purchasing it in 1996.

Today, residents who live along the remote Skunk Train route still ride the train to and from home, Pinoli said. The train will unload at individual homes and campsites.

"If you can believe it, in 2013, people still depend on this railroad to get in and out of their summer homes or their year-round homes," Pinoli said.

L.A. is Paying Commuters to Use Transit (Sort of)


By Ryan Holeywell, August 16, 2013

If the freeway congestion didn't provide enough incentive, Los Angeles commuters now have another reason to ride transit. They'll get paid to do it. Sort of.

The region's new Metro ExpressLanes are a one-year demonstration program run by L.A. Metro, Caltrans (the California state transportation agency) and other area agencies designed to improve travel options on I-110 and I-10 freeways.

The program is primarily funded by a $210 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. Lots of new bus service was added along the two freeways, and congestion pricing was introduced by converting HOV lanes to HOT lanes. That change gives drivers the option to pay extra in exchange for a faster trip and the chance to whiz by other vehicles. The first part of ExpressLanes, on the I-110, debuted in November, with the I-10 portion launching in February.
During peak periods of increased traffic, the toll is higher to discourage new drivers from entering the HOT lanes, guaranteeing a minimum speed of 45 mph. Tolls range from $0.25 to $1.40 per mile. Supporters have pitched it as a way to reduce congestion, improve travel times, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, though opponents lament that the areas freeways are no longer truly free.

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As part of the project, officials introduced something that may completely unique in the United States. People who choose to ride buses through the corridors get a small reward. For every 32 one-way, peak hour transit trips they take along more than a dozen routes, they earn $5 in toll credits that can be used along the same route.

That might be useful on days when transit customers know they'll need a car at work, or they're running late and don't have time to pay for a bus. Stephanie Wiggins, head of the Metro ExpressLanes program, believes it's likely the only toll road that gives people credits for using transit.
Officials came up with the concept because they believed it might be a way to convince people to try transit and ultimately become "choice" riders. "We all like a discount," Wiggins says. "It's opening up people's eyes."

The system is possible largely because of the technology behind the transit system and the toll roads. Angelinos use an electronic card to pay for transit trips, and they use a transponder in their car for toll trips. To get the credits, customers just have to link enter their transit account number when they sign for a transponder, and the rest is done automatically. "We wanted something to be seamless to the transit rider," Wiggins said. "They wouldn't have to do anything different."

While the reward is low -- it comes out to about 15 cents per trip -- Wiggins believes it's enough to pique people's interest in transit. And, she notes, because multiple transit accounts can be linked to a single toll account, families may see rewards add up more quickly.

Through June 30, nearly 4,000 customers had linked their transit accounts to the toll accounts. Of those, 607 had earned  $3,030 worth of toll credits. Those aren't huge numbers, but Wiggins believes the credits are influencing behavior -- all at very low cost to the agency.

Because ExpressLanes are a federal pilot program, a big part of the project will be analyses to determine what worked and what didn't. As a result, Wiggins says, officials will conduct surveys to determine whether the credits did, in fact, persuade any riders to try transit as she suspects.
If they find that it did, the idea might catch on: she's already fielding calls from transit officials elsewhere who are interested in the concept.

Seattle's 'Bertha' is a not-so-lean tunneling machine

The 'engineering marvel' is drilling a tunnel through downtown that will replace an elevated highway and help redefine the city's waterfront.


By Rick Rojas, August 19, 2013

 "Bertha," a massive machine that will spend the next 14 months drilling a 2-mile tunnel to replace the 60-year-old Alaskan Way Viaduct in Seattle. 

SEATTLE — Lying in an open pit near the heart of the city, the cylindrical mass of machinery looked like a spacecraft that had crash-landed. Or, as one architect described it, a dry-docked ocean liner. Or a skyscraper on its side. One person thought it resembled a giant coffin.

But it was "Bertha," a 7,000-ton, 326-foot-long and 57-foot-tall drilling device, which is playing a central role in a project that will redefine Seattle's waterfront — and perhaps the city itself.

The drill has embarked on a project to bore a 2-mile tunnel beneath the city's downtown and replace an unsightly, 60-year-old double-decker highway that courses along the waterfront, separating the high-rises of downtown from the majestic panorama of the Puget Sound.

The $3-billion project — one of largest public works undertakings in the country — began after a decade of contentious back-and-forth, scores of proposed ideas and a few failed ballots. Since the drilling began in late July, much of the attention has been directed at Bertha, named for the city's first and only female mayor and described by experts as being as sophisticated as it is gargantuan.

"Everybody's watching Seattle," said Douglas B. MacDonald, a former Washington state secretary of transportation, "because this is the trickiest, most ambitious, most technically challenging operation now going on in the world."

The machine, with a five-story diameter, was built in Osaka, Japan, and traveled across the Pacific in 41 pieces before arriving at Seattle's port in April.

"It's the biggest thing that's ever been built of its kind," said Phillip Thompson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Seattle University. "I think it comes close to meeting the standard of an engineering marvel."

It was designed to handle challenges specific to this project, such as the wildly inconsistent soil created by ancient glaciers — clay, sand, silt, cobblestone and boulders up to 3 feet in diameter. Planners also had to consider the route: a path wedged between stadiums and an active port, running below a bustling commercial center.

"That all adds up to having a really, really challenging site," said Linea Laird, the project administrator with the state Department of Transportation.
The project has been difficult since its genesis.

After the highway known as the Alaskan Way Viaduct was damaged in the 2001 Nisqually earthquake, officials decided to replace it, beginning a protracted debate that reached beyond a question of transportation to something larger: a vision for the future of Seattle. As MacDonald put it, the decision would have "50, 100 years' impact on what the waterfront of Seattle will look like."

In all, the list of more than 90 options was whittled down to three: replacing the three-lane Alaskan Way Viaduct with a larger roadway; digging a tunnel from above ground — a so-called cut-and-cover, such as Boston's Big Dig mega-project; or simply putting in a surface street, which would force motorists from their cars and, advocates for this plan hoped, onto public transportation.

As those plans ended up being untenable, officials looked into boring technology, which had gone through significant advancement in recent years. The solution arrived, MacDonald said, like something out of a Greek play — it seemingly came out nowhere. "The machine became the deus ex machina," he said.

Bertha was assembled in the 80-foot-deep pit and will displace 850,000 cubic yards of soil for the double-level, two-lane tunnel running between 60 and 200 feet below the ground. The viaduct will be demolished and replaced with a surface street and public park space.

Vlad Oustimovitch, a Seattle architect who served on an advisory panel, described the machine as allowing the city to have the benefits of a tunnel — opening up acres of land between downtown and the waterfront — without the aches that the Big Dig inflicted on Boston. A cut-and-cover "would be deep abdominal surgery, and this is more like arthroscopic surgery," he said.

The project requires lane closures on the Alaskan Way Viaduct, but officials said other options would have caused more disruption. Some business owners on the waterfront feared the other options would have forced them to close.

In recent months, officials have tried to engage the public on the project. Before the machine went to work, a crowd of hundreds, included the governor, gathered for a send-off. And there was a contest to name her (a boring machine, just like a boat or a muscle car, is almost always a lady). Entries included Aurora Borealis and the Alaskan Way.

"It was very obvious from the beginning that Bertha was going to be the one," said Bob Donegan, who operates a restaurant on the waterfront and was a member of the naming committee. He suspected that many in Seattle didn't know about Bertha Knight Landes, the city's mayor from 1926 to 1928. "I'm going to guess half the population does now because of that machine," he said.
Oustimovitch was among those able to see Bertha up close.

"It has a remarkable amount of hardware on it, and it's really long and complex," he said. "It starts feeling almost like an organism ... always excreting dirt as it moves along, like an earthworm as it moves through the ground."

Bertha has to hold to a rigorous schedule as officials try to have the dig completed by September 2014 and the new roadway opened by 2015. That means the drill has to run two 10-hour shifts a day, five days a week, with another crew working a graveyard shift to handle maintenance. It's expected to advance up to 35 feet each workday.

As she disappears into the earth, Bertha has been keeping in touch through Twitter. She's tweeted pictures of herself, sent a shout-out to other tunneling machines around the country, answered questions from the public and sent updates on her progress. One of her latest came Friday. After "slogging" through fiberglass and concrete, she wrote, "Glad I finally hit soil."