Shifting Gears – Car Automation and Mobility

September 28, 2012

By now you may have heard the recent news out of California regarding autonomous car legislation. California Senate Bill 1298, which lays out the framework for the testing, development and deployment of self-driving vehicles, was signed Tuesday by Governor Jerry Brown.

While the technology will likely take time and effort to mature (Google CEO Sergey Brin predicts widespread availability within five years) it’s easy to envision the benefits offered by an autonomous car, such as increased safety, fuel efficiency, decreased traffic congestion and that block of “down time” for commute productivity which patrons of transit have long enjoyed. Undoubtedly, a perfected driverless car represents the absolute pinnacle of Intelligent Transportation Systems.

However, perhaps the greatest benefit offered would be the promise of increased mobility for individuals whose disabilities currently limit their transportation options. A fully developed driverless car has the potential to help fill the gaps in coverage of some existing human services transportation (HST) services, while also helping to stretch decreasing federal funds (such as the FTA New Freedom and Elderly Transportation programs) for traditional HST services.

DOT Expands Infrastructure Finance Fund

August 10, 2012

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood recently announced the availability of up to $17 billion in loans for critical infrastructure projects across the country as a result of the recently enacted surface transportation bill. Secretary LaHood encouraged states and cities across the country to submit letters of interest for the TIFIA (Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act) program, which provides direct loans, loan guarantees, and standby lines of credit to major infrastructure projects with the potential to create jobs and spur economic development and growth.

The recently enacted surface transportation bill, known as MAP-21, provided $1.7 billion in capital over two years for the TIFIA credit assistance program, up from $120 million in FY 2012, making it the largest transportation infrastructure finance fund in the Department’s history. Each dollar of federal funds can provide approximately $10 in TIFIA credit assistance, meaning $17 billion in loans through TIFIA, which in turn can leverage $20-$30 billion in transportation infrastructure investment. Altogether, the expanded federal loan program could result in up to $50 billion in Federal, state, local and private sector investment for critical transportation projects across the country.

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GDOT Statewide Freight & Logistics Plan Wins National Award

July 24, 2012

The Transportation Planning Excellence Awards Program is a biennial awards program developed by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and co-sponsored by the American Planning Association and the Transportation Research Board. The program provides a unique opportunity to recognize and celebrate the outstanding transportation planning practices performed by planners and decisionmakers in communities across the country.

During the 2012 TPEA program, the Georgia Department of Transportation was recognized for it’s Statewide Freight and Logistics Plan. In close collaboration with Governor Nathan Deal’s office, the Department of Economic Development’s Center of Innovation for Logistics and Cambridge Systematics, Inc., Georgia DOT developed a framework to continue growing the state’s $50 billion per year (in sales) freight industry. Investing $18-$20 billion in logistics improvement projects over the next 40 years will yield the state thousands more jobs and more than $65 billion in new economic output, the study found.

The FHWA lauded the inclusion of private industry input in the planning process via an advisory committee of executive leaders of The Home Depot, Delta Airlines, Georgia Pacific, Coca-Cola, CSX, Norfolk Southern, the Coastal Logistics Group, Southern Freight Inc., the Georgia Ports Authority and Georgia’s Motor Trucking Association.

DOT Launches MAP-21 Websites

July 20, 2012

On July 6, 2012, President Obama signed into law P.L. 112-141, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21). Funding surface transportation programs at over $105 billion for fiscal years  2013 and 2014, MAP-21 is the first long-term highway authorization enacted since 2005. MAP-21 represents a milestone for the U.S. economy – it provides needed funds and, more importantly, it transforms the policy and programmatic framework for investments to guide the growth and development of the country’s vital transportation infrastructure.

To help transportation officials and the public better understand the bill, FHWA has recently launched MAP-21 summary websites. The FTA MAP-21 portal provides an overview of the transit elements of the bill while the FHWA site focuses on highways. Visit today for more information on the programs, policies and requirements of the federal surface transportation planning process.

New Surface Transportation Bill Awaits President’s Signature

July 2, 2012
US Capitol

Credit: Florian Hirzinger

Three years and nine extensions since SAFETEA-LU expired, a new surface transportation bill, dubbed Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) has been approved through conference of the  House and Senate. The measure now  awaits the President’s signature. The 2-year bill is the result of months of congressional negotiation over competing transportation bills, introduced separately in 2011.

The pending transportation bill:

  • Allocates about $109 billion for surface transportation over the next 2 years, mainly through existing motor fuel tax revenues.
  • Consolidates 50+ transportation funding programs into four core programs, which will consist of modified Congestion Mitigation & Air Quality and Surface Transportation Programs along with new National Highway Performance and  Highway Safety Improvement Programs.
  • Establishes a Transportation Alternatives program, which merges existing Safe Routes to Schools, Recreational Trails and Scenic Highways programs.
  • Retains $500,000,000 for competitive grants for Projects of National and Regional Significance.
  • Expands eligibility for projects to receive Categorical Exclusion status in the NEPA process with the aim of streamlining project delivery. CE’s are now possible for projects programmed with less than $5 million in federal funds, projects which rebuild facilities impacted by declared emergency or natural disaster and projects whose extents are wholly within existing right of way.
  • Maintains the 50,000 population threshold for Metropolitan Planning Organization designation.
  • Compels MPOs to adopt an outcome-driven planning approach by integrating performance measures and targets into regional plans.
  • Calls for the TIP to illustrate how programmed transportation projects help achieve MPO targets for system performance.

Full text of the bill may be found here. A final one-week extension of SAFETEA-LU was signed by President Obama last Friday while the new bill  is prepared for signature, which is expected within the week.

TIGER 2012 Awards Announced

June 26, 2012

Last week U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced that 47 transportation projects in 34 states and the District of Columbia will receive a total of almost $500 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) 2012 program.

The TIGER program is a highly competitive program that is able to fund innovative projects difficult or impossible to fund through other federal programs.  In many cases, these grants will serve as the final piece of funding for infrastructure investments totaling $1.7 billion in overall project costs.  These federal funds are being leveraged with money from private sector partners, states, local governments, metropolitan planning organizations and transit agencies.

The grants will fund a wide range of innovative transportation projects in urban and rural areas across the country:

• Of the $500 million in TIGER 2012 funds available for grants, more than $120 million will go to critical projects in rural areas.

• Roughly 35 percent of the funding will go to road and bridge projects, including more than $30 million for the replacement of rural roads and bridges that need improvements to address safety and state of good repair deficiencies.

• 16 percent of the funding will support transit projects like the Wave Streetcar Project in Fort Lauderdale.

• 13 percent of the funding will support high-speed and intercity passenger rail projects like the Raleigh Union Station Project in North Carolina.

• 12 percent will go to freight rail projects, including elements of the CREATE (Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency) program to reduce freight rail congestion in Chicago.

• 12 percent will go to multimodal, bicycle and pedestrian projects like the Main Street to Main Street Multimodal Corridor project connecting Memphis and West Memphis.

• 12 percent will help build port projects like the Outer Harbor Intermodal Terminal at the Port of Oakland.

• Three grants were also directed to tribal governments to create jobs and address critical transportation needs in Indian country.

TIGER projects will also improve accessibility for people with disabilities to health care, education and employment opportunities.

Over the next six months, 27 projects are expected to break ground from the previous three rounds of TIGER.  In addition, work is under way on 64 capital projects across the country.

While none of the Atlanta region’s applicants were selected this round, the City of Atlanta was awarded a $47.6 million dollar grant in 2010 to help implement a Downtown streetcar, which may serve as the potential foundation of a larger Atlanta streetcar system, should voters approve the upcoming Transportation Referendum.

DOT Report Documents Need for Continued Transportation Investment

June 15, 2012

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood recently announced that a new report on the state of America’s transportation infrastructure, 2010 Status of the Nation’s Highways, Bridges and Transit: Conditions and Performance, points to a sizeable gap between current spending and projected levels of investment needed to maintain the nation’s highway and transit systems.

“This report shows how important it is to get started now rebuilding America’s roads, bridges and transit systems.” stated Secretary LaHood.

The Department of Transportation’s Conditions and Performance report projects that $101 billion, plus increases for inflation, would be needed annually over the next 20 years from all levels of government – local, state and federal – to keep the highway system in its current state. It also identifies significant opportunities for investments to improve the current state of highways and bridges that could total up to $170 billion a year. The report shows that in 2008, all levels of government spent a combined total of $91.1 billion on highway capital improvements, a 48.4 percent increase over 2000.

The report also projects that between $20.8 billion and $24.5 billion will be needed annually over the next 20 years to attain a state of good repair for the nation’s transit systems and to accommodate expected transit ridership growth. In contrast, all levels of government combined spent only $16.1 billion on transit capital improvements in 2008. The Obama Administration budget request includes $108 billion over the six years for transit options, a 105 percent increase over the previous authorization levels.

The report further documents the need for a long term source of funding for maintenance and improvement of transportation infrastructure. The last surface transportation bill, SAFETEA-LU, expired in 2009 but has been temporarily extended by congress nine times since then. The current extension provides funding until June 30th, 2012. In the meantime, congress continues to confer on competing House and Senate transportation bills in an effort to produce a new long term transportation reauthorization bill.