On Friday, the Federal Railroad Administration issued a record of decision that cleared the way for construction to begin on the 114-mile section of the California high-speed rail project between Fresno and Bakersfield. In 2012, the FRA issued a record decision for the 60-mile segment between Fresno and Merced. Together, these two decisions permit the California High-Speed Rail Authority to move forward building the project's full "initial construction segment" between Merced and Bakersfield, a 174-mile stretch through the Central Valley that will eventually be the spine of the 800-mile statewide high-speed rail system connecting the Los Angeles and San Francisco regions in less than three hours, and extensions to San Diego and Sacramento.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority was created in 1996. The record of decision for the tier 1 program-level environmental review for the full statewide system was issued in 2005. The ROD for the first tier 2 project-level environmental review for the segment between Merced and Fresno was issued in 2012 and now the second tier 2 project-level for the segment between Fresno and Bakersfield has been issued thus completing the federally-required NEPA work for the project's initial construction segment.

Upon completion of the initial construction segment, the Authority estimates the new intercity rail operations between Merced and the San Fernando Valley, which are planned to commence in 2022, will generate sufficient ridership and revenue to attract private-sector capital to assist in financing later expansions of the system. In the first year, this new service will allow the state to avoid more than 130,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide from being spewed into the atmosphere - the equivalent of taking more than 23,000 personal vehicles off the road. The multi-billion dollar will also create thousands of jobs and help better connect fast-growing communities in the Central Valley to the major economic centers of Los Angeles and San Francisco.

More after the jump...

usdot.jpgThe MAP-21 Reauthorization Roundup is a collection of news stories regarding the reauthorization of the surface transportation legislation, MAP-21, which expires on October 1st, 2014. This roundup of articles is especially salient due to the ongoing crisis regarding the Highway Trust Fund, which is expected to run dry this year (see the U.S. DOT's Highway Trust Fund Ticker).


MAP-21 Reauthorization Roundup

US chamber of commerce backs gas tax hike to fund highways
The Columbian | Laura Litvan | February 12

US business, labor leaders urge congress to raise gas tax
Chicago Tribune | Eric Beech | February 12

Understanding the highway trust fund and the perils of inaction
Center for American Progress | Kevin DeGood | February 20

Foxx: highway trust fund 'on track to bounce checks before FY 2015
Better Roads | Amanda Bayhi | February 21

The national infrastructure bank: a cure-all for america's woes?
Georgetown Public Policy Review | Dennis Lytton | February 26

Obama proposes $302 billion, 4-year reauthorization bill, announces availability of $600 million in TIGER grants
Better Roads | Amanda Bayhi | February 26

Camp proposal would fund transportation, waterways infrastructure
E&E Daily | Nick Juliano and Annie Snider | February 27

Obama budget seeks new spending, new taxes to boost economy, tame debt

Washington Post | Zachary Goldfarb | March 4

Transportation reauthorization funding mechanism may be settled
Planetizen | Irvin Dawid | March 6

Funding shortage could delay U.S. road, rail projects this summer
Reuters | Elvina Nawaguna | March 12

Photo: MTA / Kevin Ortiz

The New Haven Line needs such substantial repair work that at the current pace of investment it will take two decades to restore the line to full operating capacity, a new study by Regional Plan Association found. An analysis by RPA determined that $3.6 billion will be needed beyond what is currently budgeted to modernize the rail line, the busiest in the U.S.

Infrastructure on the 60-mile stretch of track between New York and Connecticut has been allowed to deteriorate, largely due to decades of underinvestment in critical repairs and upgrades. Delaying the repair work significantly raises the risk of unplanned outages and limits the line’s capacity to accommodate growing ridership. 

The New Haven Line carries 125,000 passengers every day on the Metro-North commuter line and on Amtrak trains between Boston and New York and plays a vital role in the economic life of the Northeast. The line's owners, the states of Connecticut and New York, have made significant progress improving the rail infrastructure they inherited in the 1970s in poor physical condition, despite major funding constraints. But funding shortfalls have forced both states to defer long overdue capital investment necessary to protect the line's operations and passengers.

The age-related problems that plague the line can be felt by passengers nearly every day. Five movable rail bridges, all well beyond their replacement age, get stuck open several times a week, delaying train traffic and causing ripple effects up and down the line. This year, the line suffered two major outages, including a derailment and collision in May that injured 76 people and an electrical outage in September that disrupted service on the line for more than two weeks.

RPA’s study, Getting Back on Track: Unlocking the Full Potential of the New Haven Line, documents the key issues affecting the rail line and outlines critical capital investments necessary for the line to function as a reliable, four-track railroad. RPA researchers found that an additional $3.6 billion is needed to repair or replace aging and obsolete infrastructure, beyond the $1 billion already budgeted by the state of Connecticut for this work.

“The New Haven Line supports the biggest and most diverse economy in the country, yet this crucial piece of infrastructure is no longer up to the task,” said RPA President Robert D. Yaro. “If we don’t maintain our vital infrastructure, we will be subjecting a generation of commuters and long-distance travelers to relentless, disruptive repair work and jeopardizing the growth and prosperity of our region,” he said. 

Expediting construction would mean disruptions to service in the short term, but would get the line back to its full, four-track capacity far sooner. This would allow the line to accommodate anticipated population growth and economic development along the New York-to-New Haven corridor. The upgrades also are crucial to accommodating passengers transferring from the region’s branch lines, including from the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield commuter line, which is expected to begin service in 2016.

The study outlines an emergency action plan for the rail line to address major needed improvements, including: upgrades to power and signal systems; repairs to tracks and station platforms; and rehabilitation or replacement of the five movable bridges that are a source of continued service disruptions.

The full study can be viewed here: http://library.rpa.org/pdf/RPA-Getting-Back-on-Track.pdf

Written by Mark Pisano, Senior Fellow at the Price School of Public Policy, Past Executive Director of the Southern California Association of Governments, and Co-Chair of America 2050

2012 Healdsburg Label-02.png
America 2050 convened a seminar in Healdsburg, California of the thought leaders in long-range planning in the United States in March of 2012 to consider next steps for deploying the America 2050 strategy that was developed in 2008, and deferred by the Great Recession and subsequent fiscal de-leveraging that resulted. Participants at the Healdsburg retreat examined demographic shifts that are occurring, such as the aging population and other factors effecting our future; the changes in strategy for infrastructure deployment, including the decentralization, diversification, and distribution - "3-D" approaches; and financing strategies, such as partnerships, that could be used to mobilize the vision contained in the America 2050 Prospectus.

Following the retreat, several papers have been prepared that outline an approach that could be used by regional partners in moving forward with initiatives to support the wealth creating dynamics of the nation's megaregions. It should be noted that these papers are background for developing an operating strategy in this period of transition.

The first paper, Demography as Economic Destiny, is an examination of how the demographic changes that were noted at Healdsburg will be affecting the economy of the country over the next several decades and how these changes are affecting the incomes, expenditures, and taxes paid by individuals. The advantage of the age dividend that was created over the past several decades and that accelerated growth in the past several decades, which was created by the ever-increasing working-age population, is described. Likewise, the age penalty that is resulting from the retirement of Baby Boomers, as well as the smaller growth rates of working-age population of subsequent generations is also described. Using elasticity curves developed from Consumer Expenditures Surveys (CEX), the paper analyzes the growth and tax implications of these changes. The slowness of the recovery and the duration of the economic and financial implications of what we are experiencing are described. Significant findings, such as slowing GDP growth and reduced growth in taxes paid to all levels of government by individuals, as well as slowing growth in income and expenditures, are described.

The final two papers describe the effect that these demographic changes will have on infrastructure deployment and financing. The first paper, 3-D: Infrastructure for California's Future, focuses on how these demographic and taxing implications will effect what infrastructure will be built and how we will finance infrastructure. The basic conclusion is that we will be moving to capture the benefits of the wealth creating effect of infrastructure through use payments. New partnerships and institutions will be created using the principles described in the second paper, which was published in the National Academy of Public Administration's "Memos to National Leaders: Partnerships as Fiscal Policy". Together these papers provide thoughts that will enable regional partners to begin the process of developing new approaches to grow our megaregions and nation.

rpa-common-good-logos.jpg

Common Good and Regional Plan Association (RPA) will co-host a forum on November 21st in Washington, DC, exploring ways to streamline infrastructure approvals. The benefits of greater public and private investment in infrastructure are enormous--job creation, enhanced economic competitiveness, and a greener footprint. First, America has to fix its paralytic legal infrastructure.

Participants will include experts from government, academia, the private sector, and the environmental movement, as well as international regulatory experts, including:

  • Sen. Angus King (I-ME)
  • Tyler Duvall, McKinsey & Company
  • E. Donald Elliott, Yale Law School
  • George Frampton, Jr., Covington & Burling
  • Travers Garvin, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co.
  • Philip K. Howard, Common Good
  • Nick A. Malyshev, OECD
  • Diana Mendes, AECOM
  • Karen Rae, New York State Department of Transportation
  • Lynn Scarlett, The Nature Conservancy
  • Robert D. Yaro, Regional Plan Association

The first panel discussion will address how the environmental review process has become an exercise in "no pebble left unturned," and one where anyone who disagrees with a project can delay it for years, if not spike it altogether. The second panel will focus on jurisdictional overlap among public agencies, and the multitude of steps related to the permitting and approval of infrastructure projects. Both discussions will offer reform proposals.

Background about the event can be found here and the agenda here.

When: Thursday, November 21, 2013
   9:00 AM to 1:00 PM (registration begins at 8:15 AM)
   Discussion begins promptly at 9:00 AM.
   A continental breakfast and lunch will be provided.  

Where: The Pew Charitable Trusts
   901 E Street, NW
   Washington, DC 20004

To RSVP, please e-mail your name, position, affiliation, and contact information to rsvp@commongood.org. All attendees must register before the day of the event. If you have any questions, please contact Andrew Park of Common Good at apark@commongood.org.

Rail freight traffic is expanding throughout North America, particularly to serve ocean ports. Assuring that transportation infrastructure capacity keeps up with demand is important for global trade competitiveness and national economic security.

A key growth area is in the Great Lakes Megaregion, where an industrial heartland route links Montreal, Toronto, Detroit/Windsor and Chicago. About 60% of Port of Montreal container traffic moves inland by rail, mostly to and from markets in Ontario and the U.S. Midwest - a corridor hampered by a bottleneck at the Detroit River, the world's busiest commercial border crossing. A century-old rail tunnel between Detroit and Windsor handles more than 400,000 rail cars each year. The Port of Montreal is doubling container-handling capacity by 2020. The current tunnel can't handle 9' 6" double-stacked container rail cars or Auto-Max vehicle carriers, the most efficient rail shipping modes.

The Continental Rail Gateway (CRG), formed in June 2010, unites Canadian Pacific the Windsor Port Authority and the Borealis Infrastructure investment firm in a replacement rail tunnel venture. The public-private partnership owns the existing tunnel and rail corridor. Project funding calls for $200 million from the partners and $200 million from government sources in each country.