Purpose

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

Friday, February 21, 2014

At least 3 key Metro execs leave in shakeup of transit agency managers

http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-executive-staff-metro-20140221,0,747435.story#axzz2u0Wv7y3w

By Laura J. Nelson, February 21, 2014

 leahy

  Metro CEO Art Leahy, left, is overseeing the departures of several key Metro executives.


At least three key executives are expected to leave or have already left the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority after their jobs were eliminated to make the agency less top-heavy, Metro confirmed on Friday.

An ongoing restructuring process will reduce by half the number of Metro employees who report directly to Chief Executive Officer Art Leahy, according to sources who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on personnel issues. Some agency departments have also been merged.

"They're whittling down the number of direct reports," said one official. The official added that although their current positions were eliminated, the outgoing executives could have moved to other agency positions.

The exits are unlikely to change how the agency operates, but they come during a period of rapid change for Metro, which is in the process of spending an estimated $35 billion in revenue from Measure R, the half-cent sales tax Los Angeles County voters approved in 2008.

By the end of this year, five rail lines in Los Angeles County will be under construction simultaneously. That includes the Downtown Regional Connector, which received a promise of $670 million in federal grants Thursday; and the first phase of the Wilshire Boulevard subway, which is expected to receive a $1.25-billion federal grant later this spring.

Doug Failing, Metro's executive director of highway programs, has left the agency, according to spokesman Marc Littman. Failing oversaw engineering and construction for Metro's highway projects, and served as the spokesman for "Carmageddon," the full closure of the 405 Freeway in 2011. Until he joined Metro in 2009, Failing supervised Caltrans District 7, which includes Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

A new position has been created that will oversee engineering and construction for highway and transit projects, including Failing's responsibilities, according to Metro documents. Bryan Pennington, who had supervised transit projects, will be promoted to fill that role, sources said.

Michelle Lopes Caldwell, Metro's chief administrative services officer, has already left the agency, Littman said. She had worked for Metro and its predecessor agency, the Southern California Rapid Transit District, for more than 30 years.

Roger Moliere, Metro's executive director in charge of real estate, is leaving within two weeks, Littman said. Moliere supervised private developments on Metro land that include the W Hotel near the Hollywood/Vine Red Line station.

Terry Matsumoto, the agency's chief financial officer, is expected to leave, according to sources. Matsumoto oversees accounting, debt, investments, pension and employee benefits.

Chief executive Leahy has asked K.N. Murthy, formerly Metro's executive director of transit project delivery, to remain at the agency, but he will not keep his current title, sources familiar with Murthy's situation said.

The agency has seen essentially a full turnover of executive-level staff in the past two years. Chief Operating Officer Frank Alejandro left his position last fall, and Metro's deputy chief executive officer Paul Taylor retired last month. Taylor's position has been filled by Lindy Lee, formerly the chief deputy director of Caltrans District 7.

In a report presented to the Metro board in October, a consulting firm wrote that changes to the agency's structure and work flow could help create "true cultural change."

"As with any improvement effort, some changes will be rapid and highly visible," the report said. "... While there will be skeptics, we hope that people will give it serious consideration and time to see how the changes being implemented will work." 

Bev Hills Using Petty Bureaucracy to Hold Up Purple Line Work

http://la.curbed.com/archives/2014/02/bev_hills_is_holding_up_purple_line_work_with_petty_bureaucracy.php

By Neal Broverman, February 21, 2014

 purple_line_la_cienega_stop.jpg

 

Beverly Hills is using petty bureaucratic tactics to hold up construction on the Purple Line extension and its feet dragging could lengthen an already long construction schedule, which has the first phase, from Western to La Cienega opening in nine years. The city council decided last August that all permit requests from Metro related to the subway extension's first phase—which is nowhere near the disputed Century City station or the much-fretted-about Beverly Hills High School—must be passed by the full council instead of just getting a staff approval, which is the normal procedure; staff work five days a week and the city council only gathers monthly. That move is already proving to be a problem as Metro is waiting on two permits related to pre-construction activities (like utility relocation and groundwater and gas sampling). The council refused to grant the permits in January and asked for Metro to come back and provide more explanation on traffic and parking issues related to the construction. Metro did, but by then the council's February agenda was already too full to add a vote on the permits, so maybe they'll grant them at their March 4 meeting.

Beverly Hills's decision to have the city council control permits is an extremely unusual move in the county, where there are several rail lines under construction through several cities. Santa Monica, which is, like Beverly Hills, a small city enveloped by Los Angeles, confirmed that the construction authority building the Expo Line extension does not need to go through the city council for permits. Metro has cooperative agreements with the city and county of Los Angeles that help ease the permitting process along.

Beverly Hills spokesperson Therese Kosterman explains the council's decision this way:
"The construction of the Purple Line subway is a long, disruptive process that is unprecedented in the City of Beverly Hills' history. The City Council asked that all construction permits come to them for approval in order to ensure that residents and businesses' interests with regard to construction noise and traffic and parking disruptions are taken into account. While permits are generally not considered by the council, they do approve most street closures for the same reasons, i.e. ensuring the least amount of disturbance for the community."
It doesn't seem like a coincidence, though, that Beverly Hills ands its school district have four lawsuits pending over the placement of the Purple Line's Century City station, which requires tunneling under Beverly Hills High. There are officials like Councilmember Nancy Krasne, who makes no bones that she's sticking it to Metro just to be petty (she's also the one that thought terrorists would use the subway tunnel to blow up BHHS), but you can't heap all the blame on the politicians—they're beholden to their constituents, many of whom read the histrionics and half-truths in the Beverly Hills Courier every day (Metro's The Source blog has to correct them nearly every time they publish a story on the line).

The Courier's publisher, a San Marino man named Clif Smith, has it out for the entire subway project—how could someone hate public transit this much?—and slams politicians in print and online if they don't lock swords against Metro every chance they can. Smith wrote an editorial just yesterday demanding the council deny every permit request from Metro.

Bryan Pennington, Metro's executive director of engineering and construction, says that even if Beverly Hills approves the permits, the process could be very bad news for Purple Line construction:
"We are continuing to work with the City of Beverly Hills to obtain these two outstanding permits. We believe that we have provided the information they are seeking while we continue working to deliver this much needed project as it has been promised to the taxpayers and commuters of greater Los Angeles. Up until last August, we were able to work with Beverly Hills city staff for the permits we needed for street work. We have cooperative agreements with the City of Los Angeles and the County of Los Angeles that allow us to handle permit requests at the staff level. If Beverly Hills continues to require review of all permits by their Council, it could extend the construction schedule.

These agreements are beneficial to all parties concerned. They spell out each parties responsibilities in relation to time frames and expenses. In doing so, they provide certainty and predictability throughout the construction process for Metro, Metro contractors, the city and those who live, work and travel in the construction area. We look forward to working out such an agreement with the City of Beverly Hills so we can all move forward together."

 

 

Los Angeles County Metro restructuring could endanger 710 Freeway extension, activists say

http://www.whittierdailynews.com/general-news/20140221/los-angeles-county-metro-restructuring-could-endanger-710-freeway-extension-activists-say

By Lauren Gold, February 21, 2014

LOS ANGELES>> The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority is in the process of a significant administrative restructuring.

A number of senior staffers have been let go or retired as positions have been removed to streamline the administration of the local transportation agency. Those who have left in recent weeks include former executive director of highway programs Doug Failing, who has been a major player in the 710 Freeway north extension project.

The restructuring was sparked by a board motion by Metro board member Ara Najarian nearly two years ago. Najarian said the board hired a consultant to evaluate the agency, who provided a report about six months ago with recommendations for a new structure.

“It’s an attempt to streamline the upper management of Metro and to make sure we are operating as efficiently as possible,” Najarian said. “We felt that it was getting a little too bureaucratic and at least at the top level we were losing sight of our core mission and our core direction and too much involved in the day to day management of departments and divisions of departments.”

Metro officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

Those who have been following the 710 project closely said they thought Failing’s departure, as well as those of a handful of other 710 tunnel proponents that have also left Metro, could impact the project. Metro is currently studying five options to complete the long fought over 710 extension from Alhambra to Pasadena: “No build,” light rail, bus, traffic management solutions and a freeway tunnel. The draft environmental study is scheduled to be released in the next few months.

“Essentially those proponents that were keeping it alive, a project that was on life support, are gone and hopefully with $40 million spent on an EIR we will be able to come up with an alternative that would actually solve the 65 year old controversy, not inflame it even more which would be the tunnel if it was chosen,” South Pasadena resident and longtime freeway fighter Joanne Nuckols said.

“Essentially those proponents that were keeping it alive, a project that was on life support, are gone and hopefully with $40 million spent on an EIR we will be able to come up with an alternative that would actually solve the 65 year old controversy, not inflame it even more which would be the tunnel if it was chosen,” South Pasadena resident and longtime freeway fighter Joanne Nuckols said.
Najarian said the elimination of some 710 proponents was not intentional and he doesn’t think it will significantly impact the project.

“It’s like the revolutionaries, if you take out the chief there is always someone ready to take his spot,” Najarian said. “There are still those in the agency that feel committed to a 710 tunnel despite Doug (Failing) being gone. So our fight against the tunnel continues and it’s not in any way quenched by Doug’s leaving.”

Many others in the community, including the cities of Alhambra, San Gabriel and Monterey Park, have also been pushing for a freeway tunnel, arguing that traffic in their cities coming off the “stub” of the 710 freeway has a negative effect on the community. Assemblyman Ed Chau, D-Monterey Park, and Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina published an editorial in the Pasadena Star-News this week arguing that the tunnel was the right option for the region.

portland: the citizens' priorities for transportation

http://www.humantransit.org/2014/02/portland-a-sustainable-citys-priorities.html

By Jarrett Walker, February 2014

If you respect Portland as a leader when it comes to transit and sustainable urbanism, you should be interested in what its citizens think, not just what its spokespeople and marketers say.  It's the citizens who've demanded most of Portland's most dramatic transformations, and they who have to signal when it's time to take the next step.

So here's what citizens of Portland think about how the city should prioritize its transportation investments, from a statistically valid phone survey (cellphones included) with a margin of error just under 5%.

Screen Shot 2014-02-18 at 2.00.18 PM

Possible investments were ranked on a 1-7 scale where 7 (counter-intuitively) means the highest priority and 1 the lowest.  Dark green on this chart means users chose 7, the highest priority, while light green means 6, blue means 5 etc.   The brown is 4, which means netural, and the red and gray colors  at the right are low priorities.  Click to enlarge and sharpen.  Original report is here and PowerPoint here.

Frequent bus service (slashed in 2009 with major ridership losses resulting) is the top transit service priority, closely followed by more (probably more frequent*) light rail service.   Streetcars, in this supposed national leader of streetcar-revival movement?  Not so much.

Responses to frequent bus and MAX service may be lower than actual because some respondents could have presumed that the survey was solely about things that the City of Portland controls, and transit supply isn't one of them.

On the other hand, there's not much patience for parochialism on the part of Portland's city government.

Screen Shot 2014-02-18 at 2.00.08 PM

People are increasingly seeing the services of regional agencies as something that the City of Portland may need to act on.  Given the list of improvements discussed above, and their relative importance, this response is probably heavily about Portland's relationship to TriMet, the regional agency that controls transit service. (It may also be about the relationship to Oregon's DOT, which still controls some major arterials.)

So for example, it's plausible that transit advocates who are in the 20% that oppose city involvement in "things it doesn't own" would not mention bus and light rail service as City of Portland priorities, even though they support them as investment priorities in general.  Support for these things may thus be even higher than indicated.

So to sum up (and some of this will be more surprising to Portland-admirers than to Portlanders):
  • Less than 40% of Portlanders would assign any priority to expanding the streetcar system further, and only 9% call it a top priority.  
  • By contrast, two thirds (67%) assign a priority to frequent bus service, and 23% call it a top priority.
  • In a separate question, over 70% of respondents said they'd be "more likely" to support a "funding package that improved bus service in areas with substandard service, particularly if the areas are low income." 
  • Most important: more than 3/4 would say that just because the city doesn't control the transit agency doesn't mean that it shouldn't invest in the service that's needed, or lead in funding that investment.
This is actually a very practical view, the only one that ultimately works with transit's underlying math.  Core cities have higher per capita transit demands than their suburbs [see Chapter 10 of my book Human Transit] so they always tend to be underserved -- relative to demand -- by regional transit agencies that aim for some concept of "regional equity."  In many cases, the only solution is for core city voters to step up and vote, for themselves, the additional service that only they know that they need.  This doesn't have to mean breaking up the regional agency, but it does mean giving up on the idea that any service distribution formula that a suburb-dominated region would agree on will meet the core city's expectations for transit, based on the core city's economy and values.

Am I concerned about the low ranking of bus lanes?  Not really surprised.  We would have to get our frequency back (many major Portland bus lines run less frequently than they did in 1982) and put ridership growth back on track.  Then that question would naturally arise in its own time.

There are other interesting nuggets in this survey.  Portlanders' overwhelming obession with pedestrian safety is heartening, especially since this is a crucial transit improvement.  (This may also signal a shared concern for East Portland, the disadvantaged "inner ring suburbia" within city limits that has poor pedestrian infrastructure, inadequate transit frequency, and most of the city's pedestrian fatalities.)  Portland cycling advocates, and their national admirers, may be disappointed in the ranking of "safe bike routes."  Sadly, cycling is polarizing here as it is everywhere.  Although 55% give some priority to "safer bike routes" and cycling is the only mode whose share of work trips is clearly growing, opposition and disinterest are also higher on cycling than for the main transit service investments.
  
But when it comes to transit, there are some clear signals here, not just for Portland but for any city that hopes to replicate its achievements.

*This question should have been more specific.  The response says "MAX light rail service" which could mean either geographic expansion or more frequency.  The frequencies on MAX have been cut substantially in the last five years, so at least some of this response is probably about frequency.

Bill to Add Two More Members to the Metro Board of Directors

See "Bill would add two members to Metro Board of Directors." http://thesource.metro.net/2014/02/21/transportation-headlines-friday-february-21/

 By Steve Hymon, February 21, 2014


The bill was introduced by Assemblyman Chris Holden, whose district includes Pasadena, Altadena and other parts of the northern San Gabriel Valley. The bill proposes adding two voting members to the Metro Board of Directors, bringing the total to 15 -- and those two members would be appointed respectively by the Speaker of the Assembly and the Senate Rules Committee.
That's a radical departure from the current practice with every Board member either being someone who was elected by voters in parts of Los Angeles County or appointed by someone who was elected by voters in our area. In other words, the bill (as written now) could allow elected officials from outside Southern California to choose who sits on the Metro Board.
By law, the Metro Board is comprised of each of the five County Supervisors, the Mayor of Los Angeles and his three appointees and one City Council member or Mayor from four subregions in the county.
So what's this really about? The very same issue discussed in the above item about tensions between core urban areas and suburbs when it comes to transit service and where to build projects. An example: the proposed Gold Line extension to Montclair that is in Metro's long-range plan and is currently unfunded (along with other projects), which some in the San Gabriel Valley have alleged is the result of the the Board being too L.A.-centric.
Is it? The city of L.A. has its four members on the Board in addition to representation from the five County Supervisors who all have part of the city of L.A. in their districts. Each of the five supervisors also has other cities in their districts, meaning they have to consider a lot of different and often competing interests.
City of Los Angeles officials have long countered that the current arrangement makes sense, given that Los Angeles tends to have the heaviest population densities and transit use in L.A. County. Others counter back that the city has about 38.5 percent of the county's population, meaning 62.5 percent of Los Angeles County residents are not living in the nation's second-largest city but are helping pay for transit service there.
We'll see if the bill gets any traction and whether the Metro Board takes a position on it. I'm guessing the bill will also attract the interest of other transit agencies who have a view one way or the other whether the Legislature should be involved in selecting their Board members. One thing to keep in mind is that transit agency boards don't just make decisions involving what gets built transit-wise -- they also choose contractors and approve of labor contracts and under state law, the Assembly and Senate could potentially gain a say in those matters.

Safe Streets Champion Bill de Blasio Was Caught in a Speeding Car

http://www.theatlanticcities.com/commute/2014/02/safe-streets-champion-bill-de-blasio-was-caught-speeding-car/8466/

By Arit John, February 21, 2014


Safe Streets Champion Bill de Blasio Was Caught in a Speeding Car



Bill de Blasio's caravan should have gotten a speeding ticket yesterday, according to the mayor's new plan to cut down on pedestrian deaths. CBS News reported that the mayor's driver was speeding 10-15 miles per hour above the speed limit on Thursday night, as well as driving past stop signs and failing to signal lane changes. According to CBS, if a police officer had pulled over de Blasio's driver, he would have gotten enough points to have his license suspended.

On Tuesday, de Blasio outlined his Vision Zero plan, which aims to bring the number of pedestrian-vehicle incidents down to zero by cracking down on reckless driving and "expand[ing] enforcement against dangerous moving violations like speeding." The plan also proposes reducing the speed limit in New York City to 25 miles-per-hour and pausing the meters of taxi drivers who are speeding. "We've put a very bold plan before you, and we want the public to know we’re are holding ourselves to this standard," de Blasio said Tuesday. It's a pretty awkward situation.

As it turns out, the New York Police Department handles de Blasio's transportation. The department said in a statement that, in fewer words, said the driver probably didn't do anything wrong:
At certain times, under certain conditions, this training may include the use of techniques such as maintaining speed with the general flow of traffic, and may sometimes include tactics to safely keep two or more police vehicles together in formation when crossing intersections.
The mayor's team said safety questions should be directed to the police department.
It seems like de Blasio is brushing this off as a non-issue, which he shouldn't. While a police officer driving "recklessly" to keep the mayor safe could be seen as less dangerous that a careless driver, it still has a "do as I say, not as I do" vibe to it. Typical limousine liberal!

Audit: Long Beach port commissioners skirted travel expense rules

http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-long-beach-audit-harbor-travel-20140221,0,7826336.story#axzz2tyD9N55J

By Christine Mai-Duc, February 21, 2014

Port of Long Beach


























 The port of Long Beach is the nation's second-busiest. A city audit released Thursday reveals that some commissioners who oversee the Port of Long Beach were improperly reimbursed for some international travel expenses.

A city audit released Thursday reveals that the Port of Long Beach spent thousands of dollars subsidizing the travel of spouses who accompanied harbor commissioners on trips to Tokyo, Paris and Montreal despite city restrictions that ban such reimbursements.

The audit, which targeted five of the most expensive trips in the last two years, found that commissioners were able to get around restrictions by booking “companion tickets” which billed the spouse’s flight as “free” but actually built in the cost, sometimes more than doubling the original fare.

As a result, the city spent $24,000 subsidizing spousal travel during three trips alone. Airfare for one commissioner and his wife during a trip to Amsterdam; Marseilles, France; and Paris was $15,000.

Varying itineraries also contributed to sky-high airfare costs. On one trip to Amsterdam, two commissioners paid about $15,000 each, more than double, to arrive one day earlier than the rest of the contingent.

Other questionable expenses identified by the city audit include airport transportation -- at more than $500 per trip -- and reimbursement for a single commissioner’s $200 dinner, more than triple the daily expense cap on meals.

Auditors also said that confirming that business actually occurred during certain legs was difficult due to poor record-keeping and a lack of centralization for travel planning. Harbor Commission travel costs topped $1.2 million for 12 trips over the last two fiscal years.

The report comes three months after the Long Beach City Council ousted former board President Thomas Fields, who had clashed with Mayor Bob Foster in recent years, most notably over the commission’s port-related travel expenses and a failed bid to relocate harbor headquarters to downtown Long Beach.

“Mr. Fields has been immune to suggestions or advice and is often dismissive,” Foster said in an address to the council in November. “I have no confidence that he can lead the port.”

In September, the City Council capped travel expenses for each commissioner at $40,000 annually.
Following Foster’s critiques about the harbor’s international travel expenses on Field’s watch, city Auditor Laura Doud initiated a review of each of the commissioner’s travel costs between October 2011 and June 2013. Of the commissioners whose expenses were reviewed, three remain on the commission.

The report targeted five of the most expensive international trips out of the 12 that commissioners attended over roughly two years.

Part of the problem, Doud says, is commissioners are allowed to book their own itineraries and hotel rooms, with little coordination.

Doud says centralizing all travel arrangements for harbor commissioners and staff would help increase oversight and keep costs lower.

“These are public funds. As leaders, we need to show that we are good stewards of public money,” Doud said.

The current harbor president, Doug Drummond, could not be reached for comment.

In addition to the inconsistencies in travel arrangements, commissioners received hundreds of dollars in reimbursements for expenses during extended personal stays abroad, and expenses paid to foreign trade representatives were not clearly itemized.

In one particular case, a trade representative was reimbursed for $887 in expenses labeled “transportation.” All eight receipts submitted were written in Korean, and gave no explanation of what was purchased.

Port of L.A. aims to compete with rivals, boost container, cruise ship, export and cargo businesses

http://www.dailynews.com/business/20140221/port-of-la-aims-to-compete-with-rivals-boost-container-cruise-ship-export-and-cargo-businesses

By Donna Littlejohn, February 21, 2014

Facing future competition from ports as close as Mexico, Port of Los Angeles officials on Thursday outlined business strategies they said would be needed to ensure the port retains and expands its role as a global shipping hub.

The strategies outlined at the regular Board of Harbor Commissioners meeting included focusing on new customer and shipping alliances as well as partnerships with terminals.

The port’s objectives include:

• Grow container business by 3 percent annually.
• Increase the cruise ship passenger count by 15 percent over three years.
• Increase export business, with a goal of converting 75 businesses that can export goods by 2017.
• Increase cargo support revenues and rentals such as trucking, warehouses, rail, tugs and barges by 10 percent.

“This has been a long time in the making,” said David Mathewson, director of planning and economic development, about the strategy outline presented to commissioners.

The springboard was a five-year plan for port objectives developed in 2012 that stressed the need to grow market share and revenues using such strategies as customer shipping alliances and partnerships, said Mike DiBernardo, director of port business development. The plan presented a blueprint for growth and job creation and also addressed such issues as optimizing land use and strengthening the relationship with surrounding communities.

The Port of Los Angeles leads ports worldwide in container volumes because of its proximity to Asia, a large local market for shipped goods, available warehouses, a chain of distribution centers and a strong labor pool.

 The existing skilled labor workforce in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach handles more than 40 percent of the nation’s inbound containerized trade, according to the report.

But barriers to growth exist, including competition from other ports on both coasts and particularly from the rapid growth of Canadian and Mexican shipping ports on the West Coast, an issue expected to play a significant role in the upcoming labor contract negotiations.

Increasingly, East and Gulf Coast ports are capitalizing on inland connections to move goods by land into the Midwest, a key consumer battleground that has emerged.

Contributing to that trend is a $5.25 billion widening of the Panama Canal that would allow Asian container ships to bypass Los Angeles and Long Beach and move onto ports along the East and Gulf coasts.

“We need to become the most efficient port in the United States,” Commissioner David Arian said. “Six or seven years ago, (the target goal) was to become the cleanest. But now it’s efficiency, that’s what’s going to make the difference.”

Arian said Mexico ports still pose the greatest challenge.

“If they get their stuff together, they’re going to be our main competition, not the Panama Canal,” he said.

Additional strategies outlined Thursday call for offering more incentives and fostering partnerships between shipping companies and individual terminals.

How Driverless Cars Could Save the Government Lots and Lots of Money

http://www.theatlanticcities.com/commute/2014/02/driverless-cars-could-save-government-lots-and-lots-money/8450/

By Eric Jaffe, February 21, 2014

 How Driverless Cars Could Save the Government Lots and Lots of Money




Most of us experience the inefficiencies of America's transportation system every day. Congestion costs us time, poor roads cost us car repair fees, unrealized safety improvements cause hardship, injury and even death. Brookings economist Clifford Winston recently put a number on these inefficiencies — at least $100 billion — and assigned much of the blame to bad government.

What makes the situation so frustrating to Winston and others is that the government (at all levels) has options that could address some of these problems. Proper road pricing could decrease traffic, not to mention generate transportation revenue. Better pavement design could reduce maintenance costs and vehicle damage. Stronger traffic control systems could improve safety on the road.

Limited funding explains some of this inaction. But in a new paper, Winston and Purdue scholar Fred Mannering suggest there's more to it than that. They argue that transportation officials suffer from a bias toward the status quo that doesn't afflict the private sector. Case in point: most of the advances made toward driverless cars have come from the likes of Google and car manufacturers.

For that reason, write Winston and Mannering, if the government waits long enough it won't need to act at all on many of these problems — especially traffic and safety — because driverless cars will go a long way toward resolving them:
Thus driverless car technologies are quite likely to effectively leapfrog most of the existing technologies that the public sector could but has failed to implement to improve highway travel.
When this innovation leapfrogging occurs, the benefits will redound on everyone. Driverless cars will instantly reduce congestion and expand road capacity by enabling more cars to travel closer together in a single lane. Vehicle-to-vehicle communication could bring us closer to a world without car crashes. Roads will also endure less wear and tear as GPS systems direct trucks and heavy vehicles toward more suitable routes.

The Eno Center for Transportation recently estimated the annual economic benefits of autonomous vehicles at roughly $211 billion a year. And that's if only half the existing fleet goes driverless. If 90 percent is converted, the benefits more than double [PDF]:


Adapted from "Preparing a Nation for Autonomous Vehicles" by the Eno Center for Transportation.

If and when that day arrives, many existing transportation inefficiencies will have been addressed without any government action at all.

To be fair, the government is taking steps to make your next drive better. Federal officials recently endorsed connected vehicle technology that should improve highway safety (though the system won't operate at peak efficiency until state and local leaders also invest in intelligent infrastructure). And it's certainly not to say the private sector always gets transportation right. Private road investments, for instance, can go terribly awry.

Winston and Mannering urge the government not to interfere with driverless technology — except, perhaps, to resolve some critical social questions about liability. But it won't be enough for public officials to sit idly by. The emergence of a driverless fleet will only draw more attention to the poor condition of America's roads and its broken transportation funding system. Try as they might, that's one problem public officials can't avoid for too much longer.