Federal Transportation Funding Part 1: Need(less)-based Funding?

As the Federal Highway Trust Fund inches closer to bankruptcy and the Obama Administration’s transportation funding plan remains a work in progress with MAP-21 expiring at the end of FY 2014, the reality remains that the nation’s infrastructure is in pretty bad shape.

With money tight and needs large, prioritization is key. But, unfortunately, that’s not how things get done in Washington. Once the gas tax and other funds are collected by the federal government, they are deposited in the Highway Trust Fund. The Fund is then split into the Highway Account and Mass Transit Account.

Source: National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission, Final Report - Volume III: Section 4 - Public Sessions and Outreach Meetings

Source: National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission, Final Report – Volume III: Section 4 – Public Sessions and Outreach Meetings/ transportationfortomorrow.com

This funding breakdown highlights that only a small percentage of the two largest transportation funding pots go to mass transit funding, a key component of mobility in large metro areas. Even less goes toward infrastructure for walking and biking — the kind of infrastructure that’s integral for creating livable cities where people want to live – even though recent data show that these transportation modes are gaining users while vehicle miles traveled declines or is steady. Once the funds are generated, they are then seemingly arbitrarily distributed throughout the country, with distribution breakdowns based on apparent but not actual need based criteria.

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NYS Thruway Authority Board Must Address TZB Task Force Recommendations

The NYS Thruway Authority was a key member of the Mass Transit Task Force, but the NYSTA Board is still yet to formally address the group’s recommendations.

On Thursday, the New York State Thruway Authority Board of Directors held its first meeting since the New NY Bridge Mass Transit Task Force issued its final [...]

Report Highlights the Need for Smarter Infrastructure Planning and Spending in New York City

caution-ahead-cufNews that the region’s transit ridership is growing coincided with a report this month that offers a sobering reminder of the challenges facing New York City’s critical infrastructure. In its latest report, Caution Ahead, the Center for an Urban Future reminds New York City residents, businesses and elected officials of the ugly truth: that New York City’s transportation infrastructure is old, and it needs help:

  • 30.4 percent of NYC roads are in “fair” or “poor” condition, up from 15.7 percent in 2000
  • 51 percent of highways are rated “fair” or “poor” in 2012 compared to 38 percent in 2008
  • 162 of the City’s 1445 bridges – or 11 percent – were structurally deficient

Below ground, the situation is just as dire. New York’s subway is over 100 years old, and the equipment that allows for sequencing of trains isn’t much younger. This system of signals covers 728 miles, 269 of which have exceeded their 50-year useful life. New signals aren’t exactly as sexy an investment as something like new train cars would be, but they are critically important nonetheless. If you’ve ever wondered why some lines don’t have countdown clocks, and why some seem to run on time while others seem to be constantly delayed, these signals are invariably a contributing factor. The subway is so old that even the 13 repair shops built to service these signals and other subway equipment on average were built almost 90 years ago. Continuing to rely on these antiquated facilities simply makes maintaining equipment more costly.

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The Region’s Freeways Without Futures

Earlier this month, Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) released its 2014 Freeways Without Futures report, which lists the top opportunities in North America for replacing aging urban highways with boulevards or avenues that connect with local street networks.

2014 Freeways Without Futures

2012 Freeways Without Futures 

I-10/Claiborne Overpass, New Orleans 

I-81, Syracuse, NY

Gardiner Expressway, Toronto

Route 5/Skyway, Buffalo, NY

Inner Loop, Rochester, NY

I-70, St. Louis

I-280, San Francisco

I-375, Detroit

Terminal Island Freeway, Long Beach

Aetna Viaduct, Hartford, CT

I-10/Claiborne Overpass, New Orleans

I-895/Sheridan Expressway, Bronx, NYC

Route 34/Oak Street Connector, New Haven, CT

Route 5/Skyway, Buffalo, NY

I-395/Overtown Expressway, Miami

I-70, St. Louis

West Shoreway, Cleveland

I-490/Inner Loop, Rochester, NY

I-81, Syracuse, NY

Gardiner Expressway, Toronto

Although the list includes freeways throughout North America, 40 percent of the list is made up of opportunities in New York and Connecticut (show in bold). Three of the projects in particular (highlighted in red) also showed up on the 2012 list.

Connecticut has a newcomer in Hartford’s Aetna Viaduct, which the local government has explored alternatives for, but has eliminated the boulevard option. As planning continues to move forward, officials should consider how they can encourage Interstate 84 users to switch modes to alleviate traffic and expand the potential alternatives to include a roadway that is more appropriate for downtown Hartford’s urban landscape. Mode shift in central Connecticut will be a more realistic goal after the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield rail corridor is completed, and especially after the CTfastrak BRT system — which has six stations along I-84 near the viaduct – opens in 2015.

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New Federal Regulations Could Actually Speed Up Transportation Projects

One local project that could be expedited under a new exclusion is the Metro-North Harlem Line third track extension from Crestwood to North White Plains. | Photo: Peter Ehrlich

One project that could be expedited under a new exclusion is the Metro-North Harlem Line third track extension from Crestwood to North White Plains. | Photo: Peter Ehrlich/Flickr

Two federal regulations included in MAP-21 will take effect this week, and they could have a significant impact on how transportation projects are planned. The regulations, one concerning Federal Highway Administration projects and the other related to Federal Transit Administration projects, could fast-track federally-funded projects by streamlining the environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Under NEPA, major Federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment require preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement to analyze, among other things, the environmental impact of the proposed action, unavoidable adverse environmental effects and potential project alternatives.

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NY Senate Majority Coalition Looks to Roll Back Regulations in the Name of Job Creation


The New York State Senate Majority Coalition seeks to eliminate regulations that they believe hinder the state’s economy. Will environmental regulations be eliminated? | Image: NYSenate.gov

Earlier this month, the New York State Senate Majority Coalition issued a report called Public Forums on Regulatory Reform in an effort to engender support for Senate Bill S05166. The bill, if passed, would require Governor Cuomo to repeal at least 1,000 “costly regulations [that] are holding back New York State’s economic growth and job creation.”

Of particular concern to the Majority Coalition is that New York was ranked “second-worst for the cost of doing business,” in a 2013 CNBC report, America’s Top States for Business. Taking this ranking at face value (and without any analysis) the Majority Coalition says it’s “clear that, while many regulations provide benefits well worth their costs, for other regulations this is not the case.”

A closer inspection of the CNBC and Majority Coalition reports, however, reveals that it is anything but clear that the burden of regulations led to this ranking — or that this ranking is even having an impact on the economy. In fact, the CNBC report itself didn’t even consider regulations in its analysis. The cost of doing business was determined using the state and local taxes, including individual income and property taxes, business taxes, gasoline taxes, utility costs, the cost of wages and rental costs for office, commercial and industrial space.

The Coalition’s effort also ignores the fact that, despite the relatively high cost of doing business in New York, the Empire State has the third largest economy and the eighth highest per capita GDP in the nation. Moreover, the unemployment rate is basically in line with historical levels according to the New York State Department of Labor.

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Elected Officials Should Be Improving Transit Service, Not Subsidizing Tolls

Last week, New York State Senator David Carlucci proposed a $250 state tax credit for toll-paying commuters in New York state.

 The state has the nation’s highest tolls and the costs can be “crushing,” Carlucci said. His plan would be the first of its kind in the state.

“If you look at someone’s overall costs of living in the Hudson Valley, for middle-class families a large portion of their income has to go to just getting to work,” Carlucci, D-New City, told The Journal News on Thursday. “We’ve got to work at lowering all of these costs.”

The Senator’s statement, however, does not seem to comport with the facts. According to a recent Thruway Authority report, tolls in the Hudson Valley and in upstate New York are actually quite low compared to what drivers pay on toll roads in other states:

More specifically with respect to Tappan Zee Bridge tolls, a commuter with EZPass pays $3 per day or $720 per year to commute to work. This is significantly lower than the tolls at the Port Authority Hudson River crossings and much lower than what transit commuters must pay, including those in Carlucci’s district:

Commuter Mode

Daily Cost

Yearly Cost

TZB EZPass Car



TAPPAN ZEExpress Bus (TZx)



Metro North (Spring Valley, Nanuet, Pearl River to Midtown)



Coach Bus (Palisades Mall pick-up to Midtown)



Metro North (Suffern, Sloatsburg to Midtown)



(Source: Tri-State Transportation Campaign)
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Emissions from Car-Dependent Suburbs Underscore the Need for Compact, Transit-Oriented Development


Major urban centers appear as green-yellow holes surrounded by rings of red suburbs. | Map:  Environmental Science & Technology

The findings of a recent University of California, Berkeley study serve as yet another stark reminder that the suburban sprawl model of development is unsustainable. The report and corresponding interactive map, compiled by the CoolClimate Network , a division of UC Berkeley’s Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory, calculate the carbon emissions for the average household in almost every United States zip code – with dark green indicating comparatively low emissions, moving up to light green, yellow, orange and then red indicating the highest concentration of emissions.

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Inner Ring Residential Parking Study Cites NYC Sustainability Goals, Then Ignores Them Completely

Map: Inner Ring Residential Parking Study, NYCDCP

Map: Inner Ring Residential Parking Study, NYCDCP

The New York City Department of City Planning’s (DCP) recently-released Inner Ring Residential Parking Study “examines key issues related to determining the appropriate amount of required off-street parking for various neighborhoods.” Just 35 percent of households own a vehicle in the Inner Ring, which is defined as “a collection of transit-rich neighborhoods in Upper Manhattan, the Bronx, Western Queens and Brooklyn,” compared to 46 percent in New York City as a whole and 91 percent in the United States.

The study reiterates the City’s sustainability achievements and goals for the future, giving the impression that the study’s intent is to further those goals. But the recitation is a red herring, distracting from the clear purpose of study: to maintain parking minimums.

A careful reader could identify on the very first page that DCP was masking its intention for this study where it quotes a statement from Donald Shoup‘s “The High Cost of Free Parking”:  “There is no intrinsically ‘correct’ amount of parking that should be required for a new development.”

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South Bronx Needs Cuomo, de Blasio to Move Sheridan Transformation Project Forward

Image: Sheridan Expressway-Hunts Point Land Use and Transportation Study (SEHP)

A broad coalition of elected officials, business owners and advocates gathered on Tuesday in the shadow of the Bruckner Expressway to call on Governor Andrew Cuomo, the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) and Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio to move the Sheridan Expressway project forward. The coalition included Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, representatives from Hunts Point businesses Baldor, Jetro and Down East Seafood, plus The Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance and Tri-State.

Despite the snow and cold temperatures, the group came together in anticipation of the release of a final Sheridan Expressway-Hunts Point Study report from the outgoing Bloomberg administration. The report, The Sheridan Expressway Study: Reconnecting the Neighborhoods Around the Sheridan Expressway and Improving Access to Hunts Point, released last Tuesday, includes a long list of recommended improvements for the entire community, including:

  • conversion of the at-grade Sheridan Expressway into a boulevard that includes three new crossing across the roadway that provide new access to the waterfront and
  • construction of ramps that provide a direct connection from the elevated Bruckner Expressway directly into the Hunts Point peninsula.

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