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, June 18, 2014

Senators call for 12-cent gas-tax increase to replenish highway fund


By Michael A. Memoli, June 18, 2014

Gas prices
A customer prepares to fuel her vehicle at a Road Ranger gas station in Princeton, Ill. 

As Congress works to approve a short-term infusion of cash to prevent a halt in highway and road construction projects this summer, a pair of senators called Wednesday for raising national fuel taxes by 12 cents a gallon over the next two years as part of a plan to ensure the long-term solvency of the Highway Trust Fund.

 Conceding that it might not be an easy political sell, especially in an election year, Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee and Democrat Chris Murphy of Connecticut called their proposal the most straightforward solution to address shortfalls in what was designed to be a self-sustaining fund for infrastructure projects.

The 18.4-cent-per-gallon tax on gasoline has not been raised for more than two decades, and an increase in vehicle fuel efficiency has led to shrinking revenue for the fund.

The previous two-year transportation bill tapped the Treasury to make up for a projected gap, but the trust fund ran dry faster than anticipated.

The senators' plan would raise the gas tax 6 cents in 2015 and again in 2016, and then provide for future annual increases at the rate of inflation.

 They would seek to couple the increased fuel costs with some form of tax relief, either through permanently extending certain tax breaks that are now renewed annually, or leaving it to congressional tax-writing committees to develop other plans.

"We are sick and tired of Congress talking about fixing our transportation funding shortfall and avoiding specifics simply because the solutions are politically uncomfortable," Murphy said at a news conference announcing the plan. "Money is not going to fall off trees or sprout out of the ground to fill the funding gap."

The  Republican-controlled House is expected to move forward with a plan to replenish the trust fund through early next year using general funds. It also would end postal delivery on Saturdays,  an idea the U.S. Postal Service wants Congress to approve to keep America’s postal service financially stable
The GOP plan essentially calls for using money that could keep the Postal Service afloat if it continues six-day delivery to instead ensure highway and other road projects are funded into next year.

Corker called the House GOP idea a "gimmick."

 "Only in Washington would you take money from one insolvent enterprise to solve another insolvent enterprise," he said.

Other lawmakers in both parties have floated alternative proposals that could keep the Highway Trust Fund secure, including a temporary tax holiday for corporate overseas earnings, or new taxes related to offshore oil drilling.

Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), the departing chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, called for dedicating $126.5 billion to the trust fund as part of a major overhaul of the nation's tax code, enough money to fund highway projects for eight years. The White House has supported a similar idea.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has said he hopes his committee can agree on a solution this month.

Murphy and Corker said they understand that their plan is unlikely to be approved in the short term, particularly with the entire House and a third of the Senate facing elections this fall.
But they said they hoped Congress can adopt the plan next year when lawmakers are likely to consider other tax reform proposals.

Corker also defended his support for raising a tax – typically anathema for Republicans – in part by arguing that continued short-term patches that require more borrowing are even worse. And he said coupling the plan with other tax relief should satisfy conservatives.

Unless a long-term solution is found, he said, “tt the end of the day after playing chicken, both sides will throw their children under the bus and borrow money to make it happen. That to me is not conservative. That to me is not prudent."

The Club For Growth, a leading anti-tax group, was unconvinced.

"This is a $164-billion tax increase, plain and simple," said Chris Chocola, the group's president. "Rather than perpetuate this failed system, Congress should devolve highway funding to the states and let them fund their own infrastructure needs."

Who to Blame for Bertha

Unbelievably, We Still Don't Know What Broke the Tunneling Machine—But We Do Know Who's Responsible


By Dominic Holden, June 18, 2014

 Jan SooHoo on Facebook, June 18, 2014: Note the comments about cost overruns and diversion of traffic due to toll avoidance. Most responsible officials would see Seattle's experience as a huge red flag -- but not Metro! They continue to pursue this nightmare.

 Who to Blame for Bertha

 FEARLESS LEADERS Downtown Seattle Association's Kate Joncas, city council member Tom Rasmussen, Mayor Ed Murray, and a guy playing golf.

Four years ago, politicians told us that building a $4.2 billion underground freeway would be no problem. Even though this freeway would require digging the widest deep-bore tunnel in the world (58 feet), elected leaders said not to worry about it. Even though 90 percent of transportation megaprojects run over budget—tunnels by an average of 34 percent, according to research from Oxford University—the politicians involved insisted this project would never run over budget. This project would not be delayed. This project was the exception.


Bertha, the $80 million drill, broke down underneath downtown Seattle in December 2013. The seals are broken and a central bearing is busted, and the state still doesn't know exactly why. Contractors are planning to attach 86 tons of steel ribs to reinforce Bertha's structure, but a construction official told the Seattle Times this week that they actually "don't know" what problem those ribs will fix. This underscores that the tunnel constitutes an untested, unprecedented technical challenge—Bertha is the widest tunneling machine ever built, and it is attempting to penetrate an infamously complicated mix of waterfront soil, rocks, and seawater. Contractors say they won't have Bertha running again until March 2015, or possibly later: "It is too soon to know if they will meet this milestone," says a state spokesperson. Another spokesperson says he is "skeptical" of that timeline. The tunnel was supposed to open in late 2015, but now the new estimate is November 2016. But who knows.

Costs are racking up. The contractor is now asking for an additional $188 million to cover unexpected expenses, much of which the state refuses to pay, so it looks increasingly likely that the contractor could sue the state—or, if costs rise too much, possibly abandon the project.


Washington State transportation secretary Lynn Peterson recently acknowledged in a radio interview that there is now a "small possibility" the tunnel will never be finished. Prominent Seattle attorney John Ahlers, who specializes in construction disputes, agrees. "It is entirely likely that, at the end of the day, forces will align and the once touted project to improve Seattle's waterfront never becomes a reality," he wrote in a blog post last month.

It's fair to say this may become the biggest debacle in Seattle's transportation history. It's already the most expensive.

Of course, when the tunnel was up for debate four years ago, critics warned of this exact scenario. But the tunnel backers promised they would be accountable. So now that we're here, who is taking responsibility?


The people behind this project—the ones who sponsored legislation to build it, sold it to voters in a glitzy campaign, and told us to trust them—now refuse to take responsibility. So who are they? And what do they say when asked to take responsibility?

Mayor Ed Murray

The primary sponsor

Nobody is more responsible for the deep-bore tunnel than Ed Murray. As a state senator, he was the primary sponsor of a 2009 law to build the tunnel. That law requires charging drivers who use the tunnel a toll. A fee of $1 to $1.25 would cover $200 million of the expenses, according to a tolling commission's recommendations in March. But there's a catch: In order to pay for the toll collection, maintenance, and financing, users must actually pay $1 billion in tolls over three decades. Those tolling rates will also cause an estimated 48,000 vehicles to divert from the tunnel onto downtown streets during daytime hours (not even counting nighttime traffic). That's about half the viaduct's current traffic spilling onto the streets. The toll revenue, if approved next year, could cover a small amount of transit, but the committee warns it won't be nearly enough to solve the problem. The city and state will need more money for "transportation system improvements" on the street grid to mitigate those 48,000 extra cars a day.

Does Murray take responsibility for the troubled megaproject he sponsored? Does he have a plan to mitigate traffic when it's done? Money to do it? Has he met with a single transportation official about these problems since taking office? I asked Murray all these questions. Murray's spokesman said the mayor would "decline" to answer them.

Seattle City Council member Tom Rasmussen

The yes-man

Tom Rasmussen is chair of the Seattle City Council's transportation committee, and he fought hard to pass city legislation to build the tunnel, even though it meant he would be responsible for eventually figuring out how to deal with the tunnel's traffic fallout. At the time, Rasmussen ridiculed tunnel critics who cautioned that the project might have cost overruns, fall behind schedule, or get stuck during construction. For instance, Rasmussen said former mayor Mike McGinn was trying to "create doubt" by bringing up those issues and scolded, "I don't think he is representing the city very well because of his obsessive obsession with this project." Rasmussen is the opposite of obsessed. Asked if he takes any responsibility, has a budget or plan to mitigate traffic, or has even met with a single transportation official this year to develop a plan, Rasmussen ducked the questions. "We are all working to meet our obligations and are committed to the successful completion of the project," he said robotically.

Seattle Tunneling Partners

The contractors who funded the pro-tunnel camp are golfing!

Two of the top donors to the campaign to approve the tunnel were also—wait for it—THE TWO COMPANIES WITH A CONTRACT TO BUILD THE TUNNEL. Funding a campaign to pay yourself to build your own project is the political equivalent of a snake eating its own tail. How did they do it? Seattle Tunneling Partners (STP), which got a $1.1 billion contract for the project, is made up of two corporations, Tutor Perini and Dragados USA. They each gave $25,000 to the Let's Move Forward campaign, election records show.

STP didn't answer questions about whether the company was taking responsibility for the mess, if its campaign tactics pass the smell test, if it would sue the state to collect $188 million that it claims the state owes them for additional costs, or if it would abandon the project. A spokeswoman said on their behalf: "STP will not be providing answers at this time."
Maybe they were too busy playing golf.

As KIRO Radio reported on May 30, several of STP's top project supervisors have been visiting the Interbay Golf Center three to four times a week, after driving there in company vehicles. STP officials told KIRO that we should excuse the midday golfing trips because the supervisors "work extremely hard and serve STP and the tunnel project well."

Kate Joncas

CEO of the business group that donated most to the tunnel campaign

For the past two decades, Kate Joncas has been CEO of the Downtown Seattle Association, a business- and real-estate-oriented group with 550 corporate members. Under Joncas, the organization was the number-one funder of the tunnel campaign, with $32,775 in reported donations. Does she take responsibility for the project she backed but that is now in peril? "I can no longer respond on behalf of DSA," Joncas said in an e-mail. Why not? Because this week Joncas took a $170,000-a-year job as deputy mayor for Ed Murray, who is responsible for the project but, again, also refuses to take responsibility. Nobody else from DSA answered questions about the tunnel, either.

Former governor Chris Gregoire

Cheerleader in chief

Way back in 2008, Governor Chris Gregoire insisted the decrepit viaduct, which has a 9-out-of-100 safety rating in places, was too dangerous for drivers. "It's coming down in 2012. I'm taking it down," Gregoire said. "That's the timeline. I'm not going to fudge on it." But the next year, Gregoire brokered a deal to build the tunnel, which kept the viaduct up at least four years longer (maybe more—we'll see). Was Gregoire worried about what could go wrong during construction? Not really. At a forum held in January 2010, she dismissed tunnel critics who specifically warned the project could experience technical complication and run behind schedule, thereby driving up costs and leading to disputes over who would pay the bills. "There is no indication that we are going to be over budget," Gregoire said. HA-HA-HA.

Christian Sinderman and Dan Nolte

The guys who ran the pro-tunnel campaign

Christian Sinderman was the consultant on the Let's Move Forward campaign, which used its $500,000 budget to sell the tunnel to voters as the fastest way to replace the viaduct (it wasn't) and a way to provide more bus service (it hasn't). As for the claim the tunnel project funded buses, Seattle Transit Blog ran a watchdog piece called "That's a Lie." Does Sinderman take responsibility? No. "I cannot take credit for the good things smart people do following passage of a measure any more than I should be held culpable for delays on highly complex projects," he says. Dan Nolte was the campaign manger. Does he take responsibility? He did not respond to a request for comment.

While holding it in your head that these are the people most responsible for the tunnel, keep in mind that they are responsible for that even bigger impending problem mentioned above. The biggest problem with this tunnel isn't what happens when the drilling machine breaks. The biggest problem will be what happens when the tunnel is finished and working exactly as planned.

The state predicted in 2011 that the tunnel would cause roughly as much traffic congestion on city streets as simply tearing down the viaduct and doing nothing. Here's why: Roughly half of the 110,000 vehicles a day that have been driving along Highway 99 using the elevated Alaskan Way Viaduct won't use the tunnel. That's according to the state's own environmental impact study on the project. Drivers will avoid the tunnel because toll fees will incentivize using other routes, thereby diverting drivers onto downtown streets, and because the tunnel has zero exits downtown. So the tunnel will be useless for people going downtown.

You remember the downtown traffic clusterfuck last week, the one that was caused by an accident that shut down the viaduct? Prepare for more scenarios like that if we tear down the viaduct, half its traffic gets pushed onto downtown streets, and the street grid isn't revamped to help move traffic around.

Responsible people would never let that happen, right?

When city officials agreed to build this tunnel, they knew full well they needed a plan to mitigate all that diverted traffic—that's part of their responsibility. The city must remake key arterials and provide transit to prevent downtown from getting clogged. Those changes will cost at least tens of millions of dollars and require years of work. But four years later and two years before the tunnel opens, there is still no clear plan to deal with this problem. recommended

El Monte Station outfitted with new art


By Amalia M. Merino, June 18, 2014

 Detail of Martin Durazo's artwork, Vamos Juntos/Juntas

 Detail of Martin Durazo’s artwork, Vamos Juntos/Juntas

El Monte Station is outfitted with four new artworks that celebrate the cultural heritage of the area and examine the way we cross paths in transit.

Artists Martin Durazo, Phung Huynh, Vincent Ramos and Eloy Torrez were selected to create artworks for Metro’s El Monte Station, which opened in fall 2012. Each created four artworks that were translated into aluminum panels for display in four transit bays at the station. The colorful project brings vibrancy and an improved customer experience to the largely concrete and metal modern structure.

The four artists’ statements and project descriptions are provided below to complement your viewing pleasure of their pictured work.

The original transit center, built in the 1970s, was the busiest bus-only station west of the Mississippi. It was demolished to make way for a new two-level station, doubling passenger and bus bay capacities and adding bike storage. Additionally, the station greets passengers with an iconic sculpture by the artist Donald Lipski entitled, Time Piece.

Phung Huynh's artwork, In the Meadow, is informed by the city's rich history through the use of symbolic and metaphoric imagery.
Phung Huynh’s artwork, In the Meadow, is informed by the city’s rich history through the use of symbolic and metaphoric imagery.

In the Meadow by Phung Huynh

“I am familiar with the city of El Monte and its surrounding areas in the San Gabriel Valley. The city’s tranquil yet powerful presence in greater Los Angeles is an exciting subject to explore in public art.” – Phung Huynh

“In the Meadow” pays tribute to El Monte’s rich history through symbolic and metaphoric imagery. The stylized treatment of forms and figures are inspired by Mexican and Chinese cut paper folk art traditions and Japanese woodblock prints, which were meant to honor farm workers. Art panels reflect icons and picturesque elements of El Monte’s past. Some art panels depict picturesque glimpses into El Monte’s idyllic, agrarian past. In another art part panel, a Chinese lion reflects the historic lions in El Monte’s famous Gay’s Lion Farm of the 1920s and 1930s. The powerful image of the lion is also the El Monte High School mascot.

With Vamos Juntos/Juntas, Martin Durazo uses swirling vibrant colors to energetically convey the ever-changing intersection of cultures and environments in the Los Angeles area.
With Vamos Juntos/Juntas, Martin Durazo uses swirling vibrant colors to energetically convey the ever-changing intersection of cultures and environments in the Los Angeles area.

Vamos Juntos/Juntas by Martin Durazo

“This work for El Monte Metro Station is a culmination of the energy and vibrant nature of the cross-section of the community of El Monte and of the greater Metro ridership. Using bright colors intertwined with swooping paint strokes, I mirror the day-to-day power that comes from people on the go. It is the goal of this work to invigorate its viewers and for them to feel that they are part of our robust always on the go culture.” – Martin Durazo

Through the use of swirling vibrant colors such as metallic blue, electric yellows, pinks and silvers, Martin Durazo captures the energy of people traveling. His meaningful use of color includes the use of metallic blue as an ode to the California seashores meeting with the metal of man-made, transportation-based culture. The ground colors reflect the landscape of Southern California.

Vinvent Ramos pays homage to the rich cultural contribution of the El Monte Legion Stadium, a hotbed of activity in its heyday though El Monte Legion Stadium Nocturne.
Vinvent Ramos pays homage to the rich cultural contribution of the El Monte Legion Stadium, a hotbed of activity in its heyday though El Monte Legion Stadium Nocturne.

El Monte Legion Stadium by Vincent Ramos

“Research shows that when El Monte Legion Stadium was demolished in 1974, it was a truly painful experience for many members of the local community. Almost 40 years later, that loss still resonates as chapters in books, online chat rooms, and whole websites dedicated to preserving the memories associated with this place. This project is a physical extension of those gestures located adjacent to the actual El Monte site.” –Vincent Ramos

Vincent Ramos acknowledges local history by paying homage to the rich cultural contribution of the El Monte Legion Stadium. The stadium was a hot bed of activity in its heyday. At a time of severe racial divide, the live music and sporting events that took place there brought people of all races and colors together from all over Southern California. The artwork focuses on the musicians who played at the stadium and the promoters (radio deejays and TV personalities) who organized and hosted these events.

Eloy Torrez explores our momentary encounters as we cross paths with each other in our daily lives and within the transit environment in The Steps We Take.
Eloy Torrez explores our momentary encounters as we cross paths with each other in our daily lives and within the transit environment in The Steps We Take.

The Steps We Take by Eloy Torrez

“I am interested in the encounters that stir within us curiosities that lead to momentary conversations as we cross paths with each other in our daily lives. Transit stations are the perfect circumstance for these encounters. The passing through, across and over scenarios are what I am attempting to convey to the viewer. The stairs are the foundation used to connect the two levels of passage. They also resemble the lines used in sheet music with figures representing the notes on the stairs. The movement of the stepping feet symbolizes the beat behind the music of voices.” – Eloy Torrez
A series of four art panels depict momentary encounters of people crossing paths in their daily lives. The images visualize the movement, energy and unintentional patterns people create during their travels. These paintings are about the journey, reflecting quiet encounters that significantly contribute to the environmental conditions of commuting.

Moscow Pledges $83 Billion To Fight City's Massive Traffic Jams


June 16, 2014

 Along with improving conditions on public transit, the city has to make travel by car a highly expensive choice, said transportation expert Mikhail Blinkin.

City Hall has pledged to commit 2.9 trillion rubles ($83 billion) through 2020 on resolving Moscow's infamously troublesome transportation issues, which Mayor Sergei Sobyanin has declared the capital's "most acute problem."

About a fifth of Muscovites spend more than three hours a day in transit, an "unacceptable" situation, Deputy Mayor Maxim Liksutov, the head of the city's transportation department, was quoted as saying during a session of the city government last week at which he announced the new spending plan.

The city has only one foolproof way to lessen the burden, Liksutov said: "We must encourage citizens to use public transport for everyday trips and to use their private automobiles more sensibly."

To this end, Moscow will put its transit development program, which previously extended through 2016, into hyperdrive. At the same meeting, Sobyanin reiterated that Moscow will gain 130 kilometers of new subway lines by 2020, on top of the 25 kilometers built since 2011. Meanwhile, as part of the souped-up plan, 400 kilometers of road will be re-built, 240 kilometers of new railroad connections will appear in the city and surrounding regions, and passengers will finally be able to climb aboard the Moscow Ring Railway — a revamped Soviet-era freight line, which will be used to connect suburban trains with the Moscow metro.

Along with improving conditions on public transit, the city has to make travel by car a highly expensive choice, said transportation expert Mikhail Blinkin, who participated in developing the current version of the development plan. "Moscow can never be a happy car-oriented city, like Los Angeles or San Francisco," Blinkin said, adding, "promises of pleasant driving must be completely removed from the city authorities' lexicon." The city made significant progress in this direction with the introduction of paid parking last year but still has a long way to go, he added.

The existing Moscow Metro. The existing Moscow Metro.