Land Banking: A Tool to Facilitate Equitable TOD

Vacant and abandoned properties present a variety of challenges to municipalities: they degrade the aesthetic appeal of neighborhoods, pose safety risks and lower the value of surrounding properties. Communities burdened by vacant property also miss out on considerable revenue — while local governments face increased maintenance costs. And more often than not, attempts to redevelop these properties are thwarted by complicated tax foreclosure processes.

To help alleviate these headaches, some communities are enacting legislation to create land banks, which would acquire and manage abandoned properties so they can be saved for development and returned to productive uses.

One such productive use that land banks can help cities achieve is equitable transit-oriented development (ETOD). When municipalities establish land banks with the goal of creating ETOD, they’re not simply collecting underutilized land; they’re taking the first steps toward improving access to economic opportunity and housing choice for low-income people.

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Advocates Tour CTfastrak Bus Rapid Transit System

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Representatives from transportation and environmental advocacy organizations (including Tri-State) joined the Connecticut Department of Transportation for a tour of the CTfastrak bus rapid transit (BRT) system on Thursday. The tour was organized by Transit for Connecticut and led by ConnDOT’s Mike Sanders and Maureen Lawrence.

Here are a few photos from Thursday’s tour:

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White House Report: Without Federal Funding, 81,664 Tri-State Jobs May be at Risk

As the clock ticks down on the Highway Trust Fund’s (HTF) solvency and the threat that the US Department of Transportation will slow down and lower reimbursements to state departments of transportation hangs in the air, the National Economic Council and the President’s Council of Economic Advisers have released a new report showing just how [...]

One Region, TSTC-Granted Funds Advance Transit-Oriented Development Throughout the Region

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Municipal grantees of the One Region Funders’ Group and Tri-State’s Transit-Centered Grant Program present TOD project updates at TOD Forum. Left to right: Nicole Chevalier (moderator), Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation; Claire Shulman, Flushing-Willets Point-Corona LDC; David McCarthy, Jonathan Rose Companies; William Long, City of Mount Vernon; Richard Slingerland and Bob Galvin, Village of Mamaroneck; Jonathan Keyes, Town of Babylon. Photo: Kathi Ko

Tri-State and the One Region Funders’ Group assembled Transit-Centered Development Grant Program recipients last month to discuss progress made since the first round of grants to advance TOD were made in 2009.

The value of using philanthropic support to leverage additional investment for transit-oriented development (TOD) is unprecedented. Through two rounds of grant-making in 2009 and 2012, the program awarded $335,000 in funds to 11 municipalities throughout New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. These awards leveraged $135,000 in local contributions, $6.7 million in county and regional funds, $23 million in state grants and loan guarantees, and $4 million in federal funds.

Presentations from the grantees made it clear that these funds are going a long way to undo decades of sprawl. Some notable updates include:

Affordable senior housing coming to Flushing, Queens

The Flushing-Willets Point-Corona LDC received a $14,000 grant in 2011 and used the funds as part of a larger proposal to revamp the LIRR’s Flushing station. Claire Schulman, former Queens Borough President and head of FWPCLDC, announced that the New York City Department of Housing, Preservation and Development is now poised to transform a 43,200 square foot parking lot into as many as 200 units of affordable senior housing.

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NACTO State Transportation Departments Walk the Walk

State transportation departments in Massachusetts and California -- which have adopted NACTO's Urban Street Design Guide -- happen to be located in highly walkable, bikeable, transit-accessible locations. | Image: WalkScore

State DOTs in Massachusetts and California — which have adopted NACTO’s Urban Street Design Guide — happen to be located in highly walkable, bikeable, transit-accessible locations. | Image: WalkScore

As MTR reported earlier this week, Tennessee became the sixth state to formally endorse the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) Urban Street Design Guide.

The NACTO Guide is considered “a blueprint for safe, multi-modal streets,” but 44 states (including New York, New Jersey and Connecticut) still rely on the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ (AASHTO) less progressive design guidelines for urban streets.

That got us thinking: What, if anything do the states that have endorsed the NACTO guide (California, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Tennessee, Utah and Washington) have in common?

Back in March of 2013, we used Walk Score to see if there was any correlation between a state transportation department’s priorities and where the people who staff those departments go to work each day.

Tri-State looked to see if — and to what extent — state departments of transportation lead by example. Specifically, how walkable are the locations of state department of transportation (DOT) headquarters, and what does this tell us about that state’s transportation priorities?

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Connecticut Seeks Bids for I-84 Widening as Number of Structurally Deficient Bridges Continues to Rise

The percent of structurally-deficient bridges in Connecticut has been steadily increasing over the last several years. | FHWA via CTMirror.

Source: Federal Highway Administration National Bridge Inventory (via CTMirror)

The Connecticut Department of Transportation announced yesterday that it is seeking bids for the Interstate 84 widening project in Waterbury. The project, which is based on a 16-year-old environmental assessment, is expected to take five years and cost $400 million, “although the final amount will be determined by the bids received,” according to ConnDOT. 

This announcement couldn’t have been timed more poorly. On Tuesday, the CT Mirror reported that 413 of the state’s 4,218 bridges were structurally deficient as of December 2013, up from 406 in 2012, according to the Federal Highway Administration. In fact, the number of structurally deficient bridges has been on the rise for years.

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Next Week: Connecticut Complete Streets Roundtable

Save the date for Bike Walk Connecticut‘s first-ever Complete Streets Leadership Roundtable!

On Monday, June 30,  planners, engineers, advocates and public safety officials from communities across the state will gather to exchange ideas and learn about how to make Connecticut’s cities and towns better places for all users of the road.

When:   Monday, June 30 [...]

Connecticut’s $400 Million Question: Replace Norwalk River Rail Bridge or Widen 2.7 Miles of Interstate 84?

Governor Malloy put the widening of I-84 in the state's capital plan, but a fix for the Norwalk River Rail Bridge depends on competitive federal funds. | Photo: Office of Governor Dannel Malloy via WNPR.org

Governor Malloy put the widening of I-84 in the state’s capital plan, but a fix for the Norwalk River Rail Bridge depends on competitive federal funds. | Photo: Office of Governor Dannel Malloy via WNPR.org

The State of Connecticut is demanding federal funding to replace the Norwalk River Railroad Bridge, a Victorian-era swing bridge that has received a great deal of attention after failing to close twice in the last few weeks. When the Walk Bridge, as it’s known in the industry, gets stuck in the open position, rail service shuts down not only on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, but also on the Metro-North New Haven Line. But federal dollars are going to be hard to come by. According to the Connecticut Mirror:

Connecticut is now competing with a dozen states and even Metro-North’s parent, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, for a share of a $3 billion Federal Transit Administration fund created by Congress in the 2012 Hurricane Sandy relief bill. To replace the bridge, the state is seeking $349 million, more than 10 percent of the entire fund.

If the application fails, there is no other ready funding source for a project estimated to cost $465 million in state and federal funding.

While we don’t dispute that federal transit dollars are few and far between, there is one source of funding that exists within Connecticut. It’s just a question of priorities.

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Downtown Hartford’s Future Hinges on Reducing the Oversupply of Parking, Leveraging Investments in Transit

Hartford parking circa 2000. Source: "Losing Hartford, Transportation policy and the decline of an American city"

Downtown Hartford parking circa 2000. Source: “Losing Hartford, Transportation policy and the decline of an American city

The downtown Hartford campus of the University of Connecticut gained final approval this week, a move that UConn President Susan Herbst expects will bolster the city’s economy by attracting “a huge influx of visitors studying and working daily on the new campus.” Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra echoed that sentiment, citing the 2,500 students, faculty and staff that he expects “will generate an infusion of activity” in the capital city.

It was also announced this week that the Double-A New Britain Rock Cats baseball team will also move to downtown Hartford, bringing up to 9,000 fans to a yet-to-be-built stadium on the northern edge of downtown 75 nights each year (and potentially more for concerts and other events).

Minor-league baseball is great entertainment, and it would be lovely to have it in Hartford. Downtown residents and workers could walk to the games… it would undeniably bring more feet to the street and more jobs and tax revenue to the city. Along with a UConn campus opening on Prospect Street in 2017… a top-of-the-line baseball stadium would give Hartford the vibrancy it needs.

Having more people downtown could mean more foot traffic and an economic boost for local businesses. And it’s easy to imagine that “shops, restaurants, a bar or two” and more could spring up near the new stadium, or that new retail and dining establishments geared toward college students might set up shop near the Hartford Times Building, the centerpiece of the new UConn campus.

But in order to revitalize downtown Hartford, the City will need to do more to address a street network that is disjointed and congested largely because of one reason: an oversupply of parking. Unlike nearby mid-sized employment centers like Stamford and White Plains, Hartford isn’t served by frequent inter-city transit, so just about everybody drives to get there. On top of that, many Hartford streets “were progressively re-engineered to accommodate more private vehicles at ever higher speeds” at the expense of the pedestrian and cycling environment, leaving a downtown that suffers from “underpopulated sidewalks [that] appear unwelcoming and even forbidding.”

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Connecticut Senator Murphy Calls on Congress to Enact a “Sensible, Modest Increase” in the Federal Gas Tax

Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy called on Congress to raise the federal gas tax Friday in New Haven. | Photo: Joseph Cutrufo/TSTC

Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy called on Congress to raise the federal gas tax. | Photo: Joseph Cutrufo/TSTC

“For 20 years, Congress has had its head in the sand, pretending that money is going to fall off trees for infrastructure. It’s time to stop pretending.”

That’s what Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told a crowd in New Haven on Friday, where he called on Congress to enact a sensible, modest increase” in the federal gas tax to pay for badly-needed road, rail and bridge maintenance.

The federal gas tax, now 18.4 cents per gallon, hasn’t seen an increase since 1993. Murphy’s proposal calls for 6-cent per gallon increases in 2015 and 2016, which would bring the tax up to where inflation would have taken it over the last two decades.

Senator Murphy’s message was well-received by an audience which included not only transportation advocates and labor unions, but also members of local chambers of commerce. Senator Murphy noted that raising the gas tax has support from a broad constituency, including two groups that don’t tend to find much common ground.

“The U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington supports this, the AFL-CIO supports this,” Murphy said. “Both business and labor understand the imperative of fixing this problem.”

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