Proposed Capital Program Bolsters Transit and Smart Growth in Suffolk County

The proposed 2015-2017 Suffolk County Capital Program includes funding that would help the Ronkonkoma Hub TOD project take another step forward. | Image: Newsday

The proposed 2015-2017 Suffolk County Capital Program includes funding that would help the Ronkonkoma Hub TOD project take another step forward. | Image: Newsday

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone proposed a three-year, $789 million capital program last week, which offers a blueprint of priorities for the second half of his first term in office. Although the bulk of the plan focuses on waste water management needs, advocates for sustainable transportation, smart growth and transit-oriented development have much to be happy about.

In a letter accompanying the 2015-2017 program’s release, County Executive Bellone highlights the need to diversify Suffolk County’s transportation system, saying “we need to make it easier and safer for people to travel around Suffolk County, but we cannot grow our economy by simply adding more cars to the road…creating a system which allows residents to move around without having to get in their automobiles.” Some projects that will help ensure Bellone’s rhetoric becomes reality include:

Transit Oriented Development/Smart Growth: In addition to doubling the Downtown Revitalization Program to $500,000, the Program also includes $2.5 million for infrastructure improvements that support workforce housing in downtowns throughout Suffolk County. The funding is available for sidewalks, sewage treatment plants, landscaping and other projects integral to the success of affordable housing projects. The plan also helps the Ronkonkoma Hub project move forward by including $25 million for sewers to support the 1,450-unit TOD project at the Ronkonkoma LIRR station. “Jumpstart Suffolk” also received $2.5 million to fund projects that support place-making, mixed-use housing development and environmental sustainability.

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Highway Expansion Must Not Supplant Connecticut’s Multi-Modal Progress

Governor Malloy in Waterbury yesterday. | Photo: Waterbury Republican-American

Governor Dan Malloy in Waterbury yesterday. | Photo: Waterbury Republican-American

Governor Dan Malloy announced Connecticut’s five-year transportation capital infrastructure plan for federal fiscal years 2014-2018 yesterday. The plan allocates roughly $4.825 billion for roads and bridges over the five-year period, and $1.565 billion for transit. (Pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure projects are included in the road and bridge category). In fiscal year 2014, $1.8 billion in capital funding will be available for all transportation modes ($1.4 billion for road and bridge projects, and $345 million for transit), an increase over the state’s 2013 Capital Program, which provided a total of approximately $1.6 billion.

The plan lists several pages of transportation investments, including a few high-profile projects like the replacement of the I-84 viaduct in Hartford, the rehabilitation of the Merritt Parkway in Stamford, and upgrades to the New Haven commuter rail line and the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield rail corridor.

The governor made the announcement at a park-and-ride lot in Waterbury, a setting that was meant to highlight a major component of the infrastructure plan: the widening of 2.7-miles of Interstate 84. The project, which ConnDOT first announced in 2013, adds a lane in each direction to Interstate 84 between Exit 23 and 25A in Waterbury, and is expected to cost $400 to $450 million – almost as much as the total amount of federal highway funding Connecticut receives in a single year.

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Mayor de Blasio’s Next 100 Days (and Beyond)

Mayor Bill de Blasio | Photo: cooper.edu

Mayor Bill de Blasio | Photo: cooper.edu

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio mentioned the Vision Zero initiative early in last week’s address marking 100 days since taking office, citing a 26 percent decrease in traffic fatalities during the first quarter of 2014. He also pointed out that his administration has filled nearly 289,000 potholes this year – more than double the potholes filled last year – saying of the new record, “that’s something to be proud of.”

While he has made strides in implementing the Vision Zero program so far, much remains to be done, including identifying how he will fund the implementation of the program. Beyond Vision Zero, here are a few more transportation issues that Tri-State hopes to see tackled in the next 100 days:

Will he make good on his plan for “world class bus rapid transit?” Faster and more efficient bus service is an issue that has been gaining momentum, and better buses were a highlight of candidate de Blasio’s policy book in 2013. In it, he called for allocating funds from the city’s capital budget to “create a citywide Bus Rapid Transit network with more than 20 bus lines… at a fraction of the cost of major subway projects.” Six Select Bus Service routes have been implemented in four boroughs, but to achieve the mayor’s goal, his administration will have to devote considerable resources to the task. In addition, the mayor has yet to outline how he will go beyond SBS, or BRT-lite, and implement full BRT in New York City.

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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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ConnDOT Seeks Federal Funds for Northeast Corridor, Metro-North Resiliency

The Walk Bridge in Norwalk. | Photo: nec-commission.com

The Walk Bridge in Norwalk. | Photo: nec-commission.com

Some major resiliency projects could be on the way for southwestern Connecticut. Governor Dannel Malloy announced this week that the Connecticut Department of Transportation is applying for $600 million in federal transportation funding that would be divided among three key components of the state’s transportation infrastructure:

Walk Bridge Replacement Project  ConnDOT is applying for $349 million to pay for the bulk of the cost of replacing the Walk Bridge in Norwalk. The Walk Bridge is a “balky“ 118-year-old swing bridge on the Northeast Corridor which “has experienced increased deterioration since its construction.” The State would replace the Walk Bridge with “a more resilient bascule bridge.”

New Haven Line communications and signaling  ConnDOT is also seeking $245 million to fund the replacement of communications and signaling equipment on Metro-North’s much-maligned New Haven Line. According to the governor’s press release, the current communications and signaling system is 35 years old and “well past its useful life, with its poor condition exacerbated by winds and flooding.”

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Albany’s Budget Finale: A Big Win for Upstate New York — and a Big Loss for Downstate

Photo: Skip Dickstein/Times Union

Photo: Skip Dickstein/Times Union

This was a tough year for transportation funding. Looking at what was won and lost, Upstate and Downstate, it’s pretty clear the State Senate’s new Transportation Committee Chair hails not from Long Island, but from Monroe County in Upstate New York, and the fact that Governor Cuomo has spent a good portion of his term focusing on Upstate concerns.

$30 Million Diverted from Downstate Transit

Despite an outpouring of support from legislatorsmultiple editorials from the media, and a solid need to improve transit service that was slashed in 2010, transit riders lost to a determined, and powerful, governor. The biggest travesty is not the cumulative effect of last year’s $20 million diversion, and this year’s $30 million diversion, but the fact that there is an outstanding bill of $350 million in MTA state service contract bonds, and it is now clear that the governor wants transit riders to pick up the bill that the State had originally contracted to pay.

$40 Million Increase for Upstate Local Roads

It’s been a tough year for local roads, with a series of snowstorms that turned asphalt into a swiss-cheese obstacle course. The final budget included a $40 million bump in “CHIPs,” funding that will provide much-needed assistance for getting the roads back into shape. Although the request for dedicated funding for pedestrian and bicycling improvements did not make it into the final budget, this $40 million can be used to help make roads safer for these vulnerable users; brighter paint, road diets, improved curbs and sidewalks can all be paid for with CHIPs money.

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Riders Lose: New York State Legislature Fails to Stop Raid on Public Transportation

Statement of the New York League of Conservation Voters, NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign, Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA, Pratt Center for Community Development, Reinvent Albany, Riders Alliance and Tri-State Transportation Campaign on the New York State Legislature’s failure to stop Governor Cuomo’s raid of dedicated transit funds: 

For immediate release – March 29, [...]

Induced Demand Is Everywhere, Even on Staten Island

It’s been said that Staten Island is stylistically stuck in another era, and with news of another multi-million dollar roadway expansion, it’s becoming clear that transportation priorities in the borough are also a few decades old.

Governor Cuomo’s office announced yesterday that Staten Island’s West Shore Expressway will be getting two new ramps and an expanded service road, all of which is intended to reduce congestion for drivers in New York City’s most transit-starved borough:

“New York cannot be a center of commerce if our roads are centers of congestion,” Cuomo said in a statement. “Reducing traffic congestion on the West Shore Expressway, a major artery for Staten Island residents and business, will be good for commuters, good for business and good for our environment.”

induced-demand-loop

The rationale for expanding roadways tends to assume the simple linear view of causation in the relationship between road capacity and congestion (top), ignoring the induced traffic effect (bottom). | Image adapted from Josh Floyd at beyondthisbriefanomaly.org

Not surprisingly, the plan has garnered support from Staten Island’s elected officials, including Borough President James Oddo, who once expressed interest in allowing motorists to use bus lanes, State Senator Andrew Lanza, who was a driving force behind getting toll reductions on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, and one of New York City’s most reliable motorist advocates, Councilmember Vincent Ignizio.

While the $7 million West Shore Expressway makeover was heralded as “great news for Staten Island drivers,” the reduced congestion will be short-lived because it’s impossible to build your way out of congestionStudy after study has shown that greater roadway capacity only leads to more traffic thanks to a phenomenon known as “induced demand.”

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Fair Tolling, and the Media’s Take This Time Around

With the MTA’s upcoming five-year capital plan facing an estimated $10-15 billion hole, the silence from New York State’s elected officials has been deafening. Given that it is an election year for state senators, assembly members and Governor Andrew Cuomo, perhaps this is to be expected. For the most part, all debate is expected to be left until after the next election. But it was refreshing to hear the beginning of the conversation kick off last week.

After three years of quietly listening, shopping the proposal around, tweaking and gaining supporters, Move NY formally launched a draft plan at a forum last Friday that would better balance the tolling system around Manhattan. During the past three years, Move NY’s Alex Matthiessen has actively tried to avoid the spotlight in an attempt to make sure to avoid death-by-media (mis)conceptions. He also made it clear on Friday that he is not looking for people to choose a side yet, telling Streetsblog, “We are not looking for Mayor de Blasio or Governor Cuomo to take a position on this issue.” Of course, a negative word from either of these players could be the kiss of death to the nascent effort.

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What the Port Authority Capital Program is Missing

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Instead of investing in trans-Hudson bus infrastructure, the Port Authority is prioritizing a PATH extension to Newark Liberty International Airport. | Photo: NY Daily News

Citing decreased revenue, five years ago the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey “postponed” a bus garage from its 2007-2016 capital plan period to the next capital program. In transportation parlance, “postponed” is often a euphemism for “not likely to ever happen,” a message delivered again by the PANYNJ in its most recently approved 2014-2023 capital program. The omission was scantly observed except by those paying close attention to the lack of bus parking in and around the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan.

The postponed West Side bus garage, once estimated at $1 billion, would provide indoor parking for hundreds of NJ Transit and private buses, sparing dozens of communities on Manhattan’s West Side from the dominating presence of buses on their residential streets. The projected cost is a seemingly massive impediment to the project — that is until you compare it with other projects with a similar price tag that deliver fewer immediate direct transit benefits. One such project is the PATH extension from Newark Penn Station to Newark Liberty International Airport.

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