Transportation

Because being there is what's most important, WPC's Center for Transportation researches and analyzes the best practices for relieving traffic congestion by recapturing a vision of a system based on freedom of movement.

What's New

Train collides with car

June 30, 2009 in Blog

Sound Transit train and car collide in Seattle

According to local transportation policy expert, John Niles, Sound Transit's EIS,,,

...forecast a collision with a vehicle, bike, or pedestrian averaging every 12 days. Most are expected to be minor, but serious injuries and fatalities are not unheard of in other light rail cities, at a rate per passenger mile that exceeds urban car and bus driving/riding.

John has portions of the EIS showing Sound Transit's analysis posted on his website here.

Interestingly, yesterday's collision was caused by a driver crossing the tracks after turning left against a red light. According to the EIS:

A review of the experience of other light rail transit systems indicates that motor vehicles turning left in front of light rail vehicles account for the largest percentage of collisions.

Yet, despite this latest collision !
and according to the EIS, the light rail line will reduce overall accidents along the MLK corridor by about 37%. This is because an at-grade line will separate oncoming traffic and require more signalization. Only time will tell if Sound Transit's estimate is correct....

Update: originally I questioned whether Sound Transit should have installed some sort of audible or visual warning device at each intersection on MLK Way and apparantly, they have. Who knew I had that much influence...now if I can get them to reconsider placing light rail across I-90.

Federal Transportation budget going broke....again

June 25, 2009 in Blog

From AASHTO....

On June 24th Deputy Secretary of Transportation John D. Porcari sent a
letter to the chief executive officers of every state department of
transportation in the country advising them of an impending cash shortfall in
the Highway Trust Fund (HTF). The HTF is the federal funding source for
thousands of state highway projects, which support hundreds of thousands of
jobs, across the country.

The Deputy Secretary's letter put all state DOTs on notice, warning that
instead of sending states overnight reimbursements for transportation
investments, the Federal Highway Administration could begin to ration state
repayments; possibly shifting to weekly or bi-weekly payments in the event that
state reimbursement requests exceed the cash available in the Highway Trust Fund.

Faced with the same crisis ten months ago, Congress transferred resources
from the general fund back into the HTF to prevent a shutdown of the Federal
Highway Program.

Using general fund dollars for the HTF can be dangerous at the federal level. Once the subsidy from the general fund reaches a certain amount, it triggers a provision that forces all future allocations to become subject to the regular budget process. This means transportation funding will have to compete with every other federal program, like defense and health care.

GAO: Gov't lacks strategic high-speed rail plan

June 25, 2009 in Blog

On Tuesday, the GAO testified to Congress on the federal government's plan to expand high speed rail. The GAO's concerns reiterated the same claims made by Randal O'Toole in WPC's most recent study on high speed rail: Why the U.S. and Washington Should Not Build High-Speed Rail.

The Federal Railroad Administration does not have a clear role other
than to distribute the stimulus money, which states are competing
fiercely to obtain, said Susan A. Fleming, director of infrastructure
issues at the Government Accountability Office.

"In our view, it is more of a vision than a strategic plan," Fleming said.

The Transportation Department's deputy secretary, John Porcari, said the agency's plan was "carefully thought out."

Fleming
also said the $8 billion represents only a small fraction of the
estimated costs for starting and enhancing service on federally
authorized high speed rail corridors.

"While the potential
benefits of high-speed rail projects are many, these projects — both
here and abroad — are costly, take years to develop and build, and
require substantial upfront public investment, as well as potentially
long-term operating subsidies," Fleming said.

Read the full AP story: GAO: Gov't lack strategic high-speed rail plan

Why the U.S. and Washington Should Not Build High-Speed Rail

June 23, 2009 in Blog

Washington should apply for its share of federal high-speed rail stimulus funds for safety improvements such as grade crossings and signaling systems, but not for new trains that will obligate taxpayers to pay millions of dollars in annual subsidies, says a new study written by WPC adjunct scholar UntitledRandal O'Toole.

The report, Why the U.S. and Washington Should Not Build High-Speed Rail makes the following key findings:

∙ Initial funding commits the nation to a program whose eventual costs!
could exceed $1 trillion. This doesn’t count overruns, operating subsidies, and rehabilitation costs.

∙ Outside of the Boston-to-Washington and Philadelphia-to-Harrisburg routes, Amtrak short distance trains lose an average of
$37 per passenger and Amtrak expects the states to cover most of these operating losses.

∙ A hidden cost of rail is that it must be rebuilt about every 30 years. This means construction could leave states obligated to fund billions of dollars in rehabilitation costs.

∙ The fact that American freight railroads are profitable while European passenger lines are not suggests that freight, not passenger, is the highest and best use of a modern railroad in most places.

∙ It is far more cost-effective to save energy by encouraging people to drive more fuel-efficient cars than to build and operate high-speed rail.

∙ Considering the energy required for rail construction, improvements in auto and airline energy ef!
ficiencies, and the high energy cost required to move trains a!
t higher speeds, high speed rail will have little to no environmental benefit.

∙ Upgrading the 280 rail miles in Washington to 110-mph standards would cost nearly $1 billion.

∙ The average Washingtonian will take a round trip on high-speed rail once every 8.5 years.

∙ For every Washingtonian who rides high-speed rail once a month, more than 100 Washington residents will never ride it.

 

The complete report can be viewed online: Why the U.S. and Washington Should Not Build High-Speed Rail

National and local transit ridership falls

June 17, 2009 in Blog

The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) has released its most anticipated quarterly ridership statistics. As I suggested before, transportation analysts have been eagerly waiting for the first quarter reports to see whether the spikes in passenger demand during 2008 would last since fuel prices and employment rates have fallen.

Nationally, overall ridership during the first quarter of 2009 is down 1.17% from the first quarter of 2008.
Heavy Rail is down 1.77%.
Light Rail is up 1.78%.
Commuter Rail is down 3.03%.
Buses are down 1.22%.

Overall, King County is down 1.27%, with bus ridership falling 1.33%.

Bucking the trend is Sound Transit, whose overall ridership is 8.04% higher. But Sound Transit officials shouldn't get too excited because their ridership didn'!
t peak until the last quarter of 2008. Looking at Sound Transit's daily demand in 2009 reveals average weekday boardings have fallen nearly 3% from 2008. This suggests that barring another spike above the average, Sound Transit's ridership will be lower in the next quarterly reports.

As I said before, most agencies ended 2008 with large increases in transit use. The
larger demand placed pressure on budgets and had policymakers calling
for higher taxes to expand service. The larger demand also had some
suggesting that society had fundamentally shifted behavior away from
the personal automobile, which has federal officials calling for
massive spending increases in traditional transit and high speed rail
with the next reauthorization bill.

The early data however, suggests the spike may have been temporary and travel behavior has not fundamentally shifted. Motorists are simply reacting, quite predictably as fuel prices and the economy fluctuate.

Here is APTA's full 2009 1st quarter report.

Expanding High Speed Rail is Wasteful

June 17, 2009 in Publications

This op-ed was published in the Puget Sound Business Journal on June 26, 2009

Imagine boarding a train in Seattle and being swept to Los Angeles in under twelve hours. That is what President Obama wants you to envision as he injects about $13 billion to undertake High-Speed Rail (HSR) improvements across the United States.

National effort to reduce how much people drive similar to WA's plan

June 16, 2009 in Blog

UntitledBelow is a good post from Bob Poole, a national transportation expert from the Reason Foundation, on a national effort to reduce how much people drive. 

We are experiencing the same effort in WA state. Our analysis shows if the state is able to accomplish the first phase of an 18% reduction by 2020, state fuel tax revenues would fall 10%. Believe it or not, every state legislator was surprised by this analysis and didn’t realize the fiscal ramifications of reducing VMT. Interestin!
gly, some policymakers suggested tolls would replace gas taxes. But as I point out in the study and just like fuel taxes, using a revenue source that relies on driving while simultaneously implementing a policy that reduces driving means the state will be in exactly the same fiscal predicament. 

WPC Study: State's Mandate to Reduce Driver Mobility Threatens Revenue for Transportation Projects

 

Is the Goal to Reduce Emissions, Fuel Use or Mobility?

Robert Poole
June 15, 2009, 5:05pm

One of the most troubling ideas gaining a head of steam as we approach reauthorization is that a key transportation performance measure should be reducing vehicle miles traveled —either in total or per capita. The logic behind this idea is that using petroleum fuel is bad, and emi!
tting CO2 is bad, so transportation funding and programs shoul!
d deliberately aim to reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT), in order to advance those other goals.

This idea has been percolating at the Brookings Institution and among any number of environmental groups, and it’s also being heavily promoted by the America 2050 project. But what really caused alarm among transportation people was the release last month by Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) of their Federal Surface Transportation Policy and Planning Act of 2009 (S.1036). The first of its major goals for federal transportation policy is “Reduce national per capita vehicle miles traveled on an annual basis.” It also calls for government-set targets for shifting freight from road to rail.

Putting these idea into legislative language has started to arouse transportation interest groups, as well it should. First out of the box was the American Highway!
Users Alliance, which sent a strong letter of opposition to every member of the Commerce Committt, including Chairman Rockefeller. I’m expecting all sorts of transportation related groups - AAA, ATA, ARTBA, AASHTO, and others - to join in the opposition, once they realize the implications of this proposal.

I’ve written about VMT restrictions at greater length in my May column for Public Works Financing.

Suffice it to say that if the goal is to reduce CO2 or petroleum use, Congress should target those things directly. The idea that reducing Americans’ mobility is a sensible or cost-effective way to reduce greenhouse gases has no empirical support. Indeed, I challenge any proponent of the idea to come up with evidence that it would cost less than the $50/ton of CO2 removed ceiling as a benchmark for “affordable!
” greenhouse gas reduction measures. (My guess is that it would cost !
thousands of dollars per ton.)

Mobility is the purpose of transportation. Its benefits, both for individual well-being and the health of the economy, are enormous.

As we head into reauthorization, our watchword should be: “Reduce CO2, not mobility.”

Why the U.S. and Washington Should Not Build High-Speed Rail

June 6, 2009 in Publications

In February 2009, Congress dedicated $8 billion of stimulus funds to highspeed rail projects. In April, President Obama released his high-speed rail “vision” for America, which includes 8,500 miles that the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) had identified as potential high-speed rail routes in 2001. In June, the FRA announced its criteria for states to apply for high-speed rail grants out of the $8 billion in stimulus funds.

Why the U.S. and Washington Should Not Build High-Speed Rail

June 6, 2009 in Publications

In February 2009, Congress dedicated $8 billion of stimulus funds to high-speed rail projects. In April, President Obama released his high-speed rail “vision” for America, which includes 8,500 miles that the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) had identified as potential high-speed rail routes in 2001.

Tolls and economic consequences

June 2, 2009 in Blog

In today's SeattlePI.com, Aubrey Cohen asks, Will more Washington roads take their toll on drivers? The story focused on widespread tolling and its impact on consumers:

Individual drivers would shrug off tolls "as the cost of living in
modern society, similar to an increase in gas prices," but businesses
would pass the cost on to customers, Ennis wrote. "The overall effect
of extensive tolling will be to depress total economic growth - it
would be like handing everyone in the economy a ten-pound weight to
carry around; it is not enough to stop anyone in their tracks, but it
makes it slightly more difficult to get anything done."

Curb-to-Curb tolling, where motorists pay a toll on all primary and secondary roadways would have a significant economic impact. This would not be a penny increase in the sales tax where the tax burden is the equivalent of a latte a month...curb-to-curb tolling could add another $15-$20 per trip, depending how far you drive. The potential for such a large tax burden begs the question: does tolling replace gas taxes or are tolls in addition to gas taxes?