What You Missed at America Answers: Fix My Commute

The Washington Post today launched America Answers, a new live event series which brings together a variety of innovators to discuss major national issues. The first in the series, “Fix My Commute,” focused on transportation issues. There were a wide range of topics discussed, from bike lanes and ride-sharing to high speed rail and flying cars. Mobilizing the Region wasn’t able to attend in person, but we were able to watch live online and follow along on Twitter. If you weren’t able to tune in, here’s some of what you missed:

Flying cars

 

Bike lanes

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Gov. Christie Says “Everything Is on the Table,” But NJ’s Transportation Trust Fund Is Still Starving

New Jersey Chris Christie | Photo: AWR Hawkins, Brietbart

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie | Photo: AWR Hawkins, Brietbart

Everything is on the table” is what Governor Christie has repeatedly said about his plan to secure funding for New Jersey’s Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) after his current five-year plan failed pretty much right out of the gate. But what exactly has the legislature put on the table so far? Here is a list of the current bills in Trenton:

A1558 (DeCroce): Authorizes development of public-private partnership transportation demonstration projects.
It would permit the New Jersey Department of Transportation Commissioner to select transportation projects as “demonstration projects” using public-private partnership agreements. Public-private partnerships (P3’s) are generally used to help finance large-scale projects to free up money for other projects.  Pennsylvania is looking to P3’s as part of a larger transportation funding strategy to help reduce the number of its structurally deficient bridges.

A1865 (Lesniak): Increases the motor fuels tax by five cents per year for three years for a total increase of 15 cents.
Currently, the gas tax brings in $520 million to the TTF and the total debt service for FY 2105 was approximately $1.2 billion. This increase would generate approximately $750 million. Citing the NJDOT’s 2013-2022 Statewide Capital Investment Strategy, Assemblyman Rumana recently stated that even an effort to triple the state’s already low gas tax would fall short of the state’s needs.

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MTA’s Capital Plan: A (Partial) Eye Towards Long Island Railroad’s Future

LIRR MTA CPWith 83 million passengers a year, the Long Island Rail Road is the busiest commuter railroad in the nation and the economic engine for Long Island. It is also the nation’s oldest commuter rail system, and as such, the MTA’s proposed 2015-2019 Capital Program allocates nearly 10 percent of total expenditures to the system with a focus on better maintenance of core infrastructure to create a more resilient system

More than 60 percent of the proposed LIRR allocation will go to maintaining the basics—rolling stock, stations, track, communications/signals, power, shops and yards, bridges and viaducts—but the plan also targets service improvements that will get the system ready for its new access point in Manhattan: Grand Central Terminal.

At the moment, Penn Station is the only Manhattan stop for LIRR, and the station is at capacity during crucial points of the day. The completion of East Side Access will provide a much-needed second access point into Grand Central Terminal, enabling increased service opportunities and system redundancy. To get ready for that future day, the Capital Program proposes expanding capacity at Jamaica, a critical transfer station, and adding train storage and track capacity at key locations.

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Rate the Ride: Aaron’s Adventure

Bus riders in Nassau County are facing unrelenting fare increases and unmet service needs, while the County Executive completely reneges on a commitment to help fill the NICE Bus deficit. State legislators ignored pleas from elected officials and advocates for increased county transit funding and let the state’s legislative session end without securing additional funds to support last year’s wildly successful weekend service expansion on [...]

MTA Capital Program Offers Metro-North Riders New Access

mta_cp_mnrMore than 275,000 daily commuters on Metro-North received good news in the MTA’s newly-released 2015-2019 Capital Program: the agency is moving forward with Penn Station Access, a $743 million project which has spent decades on the drafting table. Benefits of Penn Station Access include:

  • a one-seat ride with substantially reduced travel times to Manhattan’s west side for New Haven Line customers
  • expanded job access for Manhattan’s growing west side and more options for New York’s growing population of reverse commuters
  • improved capacity and tri-state connectivity, improving links between Metro-North, LIRR, New Jersey Transit and Amtrak
  • cost-effective use of existing tracks, and no new tunnels
  • four new stations in under-served Bronx neighborhoods expanding transit options and economic and residential development near Co-op City, Morris Park, Parkchester and Hunts Point

This new service can’t begin until after completion of the $10.2 billion East Side Access, which will free up track space at Penn Station. Once complete, it will alleviate congestion at Mott Haven Junction, a system bottleneck where the Hudson, Harlem, and New Haven Lines all converge.

And in addition to service enhancements, the project will also bolster the transportation system’s resiliency for extreme weather events like Superstorm Sandy. Mott Haven Junction, for example, is particularly prone to flooding so increasing redundancy between Manhattan and points north a key fix that can’t be built soon enough.

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Does Nassau County Executive Mangano’s Budget Renege on a NICE Bus Funding Increase?

Photo: Newsday/John Paraskevas

It appears that any additional funding for NICE bus is going to come from a fare hike — not from Nassau County’s budget. | Photo: Newsday/John Paraskevas

Nassau County Legislators are set to hear testimony on County Executive Ed Mangano’s proposed 2015 budget at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, October 1, at the County Legislature in Mineola. Most of the attention surrounding the release of the $2.98 billion budget earlier this month has been centered on the County Executive’s proposed property tax hike. But another issue seems to have gone unmentioned: it appears the County Executive is reneging on his commitment to increase funding for Nassau Inter-County Express (NICE).

In order to help fill a 2014 NICE funding deficit of $3.3 million, Nassau County agreed last spring to increase its funding for the bus system by $1.8 million. This 70 percent increase in funding would bring the County’s total contribution to NICE up to roughly $4.4 million. According to the recently released budget proposal, however, the County’s contribution remains stagnant at $2.5 million a year. Instead, the budget estimates that the system will generate $51.4 million in farebox revenue — a nearly 13 percent increase over NICE’s 2014 farebox revenue estimate of $45.6 million.

How this revenue jump will occur is not outlined in the budget, and seems far-fetched given that NICE annual ridership in 2013 was at a 15 year low, according to the National Transit Database. And through July, ridership is only slightly higher than that of 2013.

What is clear is that the County Executive seems to be trying to get out of his commitment by relying on a 4 percent fare hike anticipated in 2015. A 4 percent fare hike would, according to a Tri-State estimate, raise $1.8 million: the exact amount of revenue that Nassau County committed to providing to NICE.

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MTA Capital Program Highlights Dire Need for Sustainable Funding Sources

MTACPThe New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority recently unveiled its proposed $32 billion 2015-2019 Capital Program, subsequently adopted by the MTA Board at today’s meeting. The proposal is made up of “vital investments” derived from the 2015-2034 Twenty Year Capital Needs Assessment that will “renew, enhance, and expand the MTA network” by “addressing evolving customer needs and expectations, while at the same time reinforcing the importance of investing to keep MTA safe and reliable.”

A significant portion of the proposed plan is dedicated to the completion of large-scale transportation infrastructure projects, including the LIRR Ronkonkoma branch Double Track project, the Metro-North Harmon Shop replacement project, East Side Access and the expansion of the Metro-North New Haven Line to Penn Station. Each of these projects has its own major implications for regional transportation service. For the proposed 2015-2019 Capital Plan to include so many major capital investments sets the stakes a lot higher for this program being approved, and being fully funded.

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NJ Transit Ridership Up Across the Board

Hudson-Bergen Light Rail saw twice as many passengers as Newark and four times that of RiverLine. | Photo: New York Post

Hudson-Bergen Light Rail saw twice as many passengers as Newark and four times that of RiverLine. | Photo: New York Post

New Jersey Transit recently opened its committee meetings to the public, allowing riders greater insight into the agency’s operations and performance stats. Ridership data made available at the August Customer Service Committee meeting has revealed some interesting usage trends across NJ Transit’s operations, highlighting customer needs in several areas.

The most encouraging insight gained from the committee’s report is that total June 2014 ridership across all three modes increased by 4.8 percent compared to June 2013, while statewide vehicle miles traveled (VMT) decreased and gas prices continued to soar. Rail ridership was up 7.3 percent, and the HBLR showed tremendous gains with a 6.9 percent increase in May and 7.4 percent in June, compared to 2013.

With statewide transit ridership increasing at such an encouraging rate, the state would be wise to prioritize a sustainable funding source for transportation projects. Thankfully it seems there is growing momentum to help push this issue in the right direction, though with NJ Transit already dependent on borrowing against its own capital funds to cover growing operating costs, a solution to the state’s transportation funding crisis can’t come soon enough.

Ridership stats across NJ Transit’s three transit modes allowed us to identify three specific transportation infrastructure projects that, if prioritized, could significantly improve and expand existing service for NJ Transit customers.

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Two Reports, Two Angles, Same Message: Infrastructure Needs Unmet in New York State

"Streets that need repair" are identified as the number one problem for NY Voters 50+

“Streets that need repair” are identified as the number one problem for voters in New York State age 50 and over. | Source AARPNY

Back-to-back reports released this week by AARP and the New York State Comptroller take two different approaches to arrive at the same conclusion: New York’s infrastructure needs are not being met.

AARP’s report, 2014 State of the 50+ in New York State, surveyed New Yorkers aged 50 and older to determine their likelihood of staying in New York after retirement, and what factors would impact that decision. The survey revealed that:

  • 60 percent are at least somewhat likely to leave New York after retiring; 27 percent extremely likely
  • 66 percent would be more likely to stay if improvements were made to transportation
  • 80 percent identified “streets that need repair” as a problem in their community
  • 67 percent cited cars not yielding to pedestrians as a problem in their community
  • 52 percent said public transportation was too far away, too limited or too hard to navigate
  • 67 percent said they would “vote for a candidate working on maintaining safe and independent mobility around town”

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Fix-it-First Investment Takes Priority in NJ’s FY 2015 Transportation Capital Program

NJDOT logo colorNew Jersey’s 2015 Transportation Capital Program reveals the state is spending less on unsustainable expansion projects and more on maintenance and preservation. According to Tri-State’s analysis, the FY 2015 Capital Program is dedicating the highest share of funds towards road and bridge maintenance and the lowest percentage of funds to expansion projects in recent memory.

Expansion projects in the 2015 Capital Program comprise only 3 percent of funds and maintenance/preservation projects comprise nearly 32 percent. By comparison, expansion projects made up 10 percent of the 2014 Capital Program funds and maintenance/preservation projects 25 percent; in 2013 expansion projects accounted for about 12 percent of funds and maintenance/preservation projects nearly 30 percent.

In 2015, for every dollar spent on roads or bridges, about 7 cents will go towards expansion while nearly 80 cents will go toward maintaining existing assets. In 2014 and 2013, about 25 cents on every dollar going to road or bridge projects went to expansion, and about 63 cents went to preservation.

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