Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Why Are the Goal Posts Moving?

The FTA is really trying to kill rail projects in the United States. So it seems are the folks over at the Sierra Club in Seattle. In Charlotte, the FTA is requiring that the North Corridor LRT be 65% through preliminary engineering before they can enter into preliminary engineering in the federal process. This means that you can do all of the work and they can come in and say they don't like it, which means you might be out of luck and need to spend millions to re-engineer something they don't like. It used to be 30% so the plan could be analyzed earlier. My first question would be if they make BRT projects do the same or if they get special treatment because they are the administrations favorite mode. Another question is why does the FTA have so much power over transit projects but the FHWA just doles out highway money to the states to spend on whatever freeway they like? They pay 80% for freeways and 50% for transit, doesn't seem fair that they have control over where your line goes or define your project by what they think cost effectiveness is (hint: no one's cost effectiveness is the same as theirs except anti transit folks).

I wouldn't have a problem with this if the FTA had more money and was likely to fund more projects. But they don't and they aren't. In fact lately they have been tightening the screws. This year had the least number of projects in the new starts process than any year previous. In the late 90s there were usually around 40 projects in Preliminary Engineering. Today there are 10. Yes 10 projects. Out of all the planned projects (At least 50) that I've listed in the Transit Space Race for expansion in the United States, there are only 10 projects in preliminary engineering. Administrator Simpson claims that the Bush administration has funded more projects than during Clinton, but we know that most of these projects were started during the 90s and they are only now able to start shutting off the money with Secretary Peters at the helm.

This is a direct result of the Bush administration's disdain for transit. And while its likely to get better with a new administration, there is going to be a big fight for the new transportation bill to see where money goes in 2009. The Mary Peters set including Wendell Cox and Ken Orski are saying that there is no need for new rail starts in the United States. They say the rail expansion is over and right now they have the ears of the politicos at the FTA.

Which brings me to Seattle. The Sierra Club all over the United States has really fried my bacon, with the exception of Boston. Those guys are doing a great job, but here in Marin and up in Seattle they don't get it. In Marin like Seattle, the SC is lobbying against the train because it will bring growth. It's coming whether you like it or not. You can let all those people drive all the way into town or you can build a line that allows for TOD and expansion of transit PMT. But in addition, whether you like it or not, parking is big in the FTA models I discussed above which are a large part of the cost effectiveness measure. In fact, I would wager that if the Sierra Club got its wish, there would be no federal money for the extensions in Seattle and the lines would be funded completely by local taxes. I'm not sure that would sit well with folks up there. There are better ways to control growth than not building an important transit line.


ralphgarboushian said...

Don't forget Washington, where the DC Chapter of the Sierra Club is the lead local proponent of rail transit in general and of streetcars specifically. Nobody else here is really pushing for the District to construct the 45-mile network originally proposed b DDOT. I'm not sure what Sierra Club in Seattle, NJ and other places is thinking, but they could not be more wrong. I have to guess that despite being "environmentalists," they,like most Americans, drive everywhere.

ralphgarboushian said...

That said, we do get a lot of push back from some members, mostly form the sixties generation that, despite their supposed progressiveness, are completley wedded to the car. In my experience, they are mostly NIMBYS who want DC to look exactly as it did in the 1970s. Apparently, there is a lot of nostalgia out there for entire blocks covered with surface parking.

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

Ah I forgot about New Jersey. They don't want rail lines because they think they cause sprawl. I'm starting to see a pattern here. I wonder if its just a no growth crowd. There are many enlightened chapters that get it though, so I don't want to paint each one with the same brush.

Morgan said...

I'm in Seattle where, contrary to some recent rumors, we (the Cascade Sierra Club chapter) are pushing for more rail and, in one bridge rebuild, asking that the bridge be designed to not preclude rail capacity in the future. We are also expressing dissatisfaction with certain proposed transit details.

Seems that pushing for what we think is a better proposal, rather than blessing the state's offer, is seen by some as blasphemy or something similar that's worthy of contemptuous, premature and uniformed accusations.

Morgan said...

Goal posts are always going to move as we learn. Remember when we thought we could build our way out of congestion? Remember when we thought that building more lanes freed traffic and reduced pollution. Remember when air pollution didn't include CO2?

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

Morgan you didn't seem to even read my post. The details you are thinking about would kill federal funding for the rail project putting the burden for the extensions solely on the locality. Now as I've said here and on posts at STB, Carless in Seattle, and Orphan R, there are certain rules you have to play by today. Travel demand modeling looks poorly projects that don't have parking(which is the detail you all seem to be opposing, not a minor one in fact), and the FTA calculates cost measures from the ridership figures. I mean as I've written here many times, there are plenty of other cities that want that funding if Seattle doesn't.