This week, the US DOT released the FY11 Budget, a $79 Billion package best summarized by three key agency priorities: improving transportation safety, investing for the future, and promoting livable communities (this last point is significant, we’ll come back to it in a minute). $10.8 billion (7.3%) of the budget is dedicated to transit projects alone. Some cities, particularly Denver, Honolulu, Hartford, San Francisco, and St. Paul-Minneapolis came out as the big winners with new full funding grant agreements, a pivotal step in the FTA’s New Starts funding process.
While this is all great news - if you take some time to look through the budget you’ll notice our very own, Orange Line Phase 2: North Corridor Metrorail Extension stuck in federal funding limbo. This September, MDT will have their final chance to prove their financial aptitude to the FTA. As our colleagues over at Streetsblog pointed out, Miami, Boston, and Sacramento face an uphill battle over the coming year in achieving FTA approval.
Now, the important question here is: Why haven’t our local leaders figured out how the federal funding process works? While the Orange Line Phase 2: North Corridor Metrorail Extension is a noble project, serving a community that could certainly use some improved transit connectivity, the ugly truth is that it won’t garner the ridership necessary to warrant a $1.3 billion investment. Perhaps our local leaders don’t have the political courage to suggest such a notion. Perhaps it would be far more convenient (politically speaking) if the project dies as a result of the FTA rather than our own missteps. While our local leaders continue to advocate for projects that will never stand a chance in the federal appropriations process, we, the constituents, are affected by the ineffective transportation alternatives available. We all suffer. Our economy suffers. The longterm economic viability and sustainability of our community suffers.
Onto the livability objectives - the USDOT, partnering with the EPA and HUD, have embarked upon an ambitious livable community initiative aimed at integrating efficient transportation with healthy, affordable housing solutions. The livable communities initiative will emphasize integrated development around public transportation and will provide greater funding to communities that enhance accessibility, particularly through non-motorized means.
Since metrorail’s inception in the mid 80’s, what have we accomplished? Most recently, the opening of the I-95 HOT lanes has allowed for expanded BRT-like service between Miami and Ft. Lauderdale. However this project is partially marred by the fact that (vehicular) capacity was expanded on the corridor to begin with, leading to overall improved travel times (initially) due to the added capacity. The South Miami-Dade Busway, our only other major transportation capital improvement project, has shown some promising success. However, recent attempts at bringing HOT lanes to this corridor, in an effort to “alleviate” congestion along US-1 would prove disastrous and would certainly undermine the new federal goals of encouraging livability.
We’ll leave you with a few points for discussion before we continue this series next week. We invite our readers to use the comment section to continue this important discussion:
- When Miami-Dade’s bid for the Orange Line Phase 2: North Corridor Metrorail Extension inevitably fails later this year, what position should the county ultimately take? What alternative makes the most sense?
- The County has admitted that it will not be unable to deliver on the promises made in the PTP - what should be done?
- If the county proposed a new, viable alternative to the PTP with reduced service but actually achievable objectives, would you support it? What routes would be critical in such a plan?
Now you’re probably asking, what’s the MUTCD? The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices sets the standards for striping, signage, and signalization across the country. If a traffic control feature you want is not in there, you’ll have a hard time getting it installed on your road. The US Department of Transportation just released a long awaited new version of this manual that comes with some changes that many complete streets advocates will welcome. Hit up the press release here, and if you really want to delve into it, read the actual manual at FHWA’s website.
Until now, some new pedestrian and bicycle features have been experimental and difficult to install since they weren’t in the old 2003 MUTCD. Here are some of the additions to the roadway designer’s palette in the new manual:
- Shared lane use markings, or “sharrows.” These are like bike lane markings in the middle of the traffic lane, for lower speed areas where bicycle lanes don’t fit. That’s one in the picture next to on-street parking.
- “Bicycles may use full lane” sign, for use with or without sharrows. It’s a white regulatory sign, which carries more weight with police.
- “HAWK” signals. These are hybrid signals designed for mid-block crosswalks. These will be easier to install than regular signals since they don’t require as much vehicle traffic or pedestrian traffic.
States have two years to adopt the 2009 MUTCD. It may take a few months before Florida adopts it, but projects that are being designed now (to be constructed once we adopt the new MUTCD) may start incorporating them. We hope designers will use the new pedestrian and bicycle features as soon as possible.
Despite widespread opposition, our state legislators are moving forward with a plan that would privatize alligator alley for the next 75 years. The state would “reap” the short term benefits of privatization, gaining about a billion dollars in these “tough economic times” with which to infuse money into our fledgling roadway/transit infrastructure (with a heavy emphasis on roadways…) The Transportation budgetary shortfalls, a national problem as well, is the result of an antiquated, unsustainable gas tax, which has taken a serious hit with the recent hikes in gas prices (combined with the highly subsidized nature all roadways demand.)
The potential lease of Alligator Alley is part of a larger trend toward privatizing major infrastructure assets in the United States.
The federal highway trust fund, which pays for roads, bridge repairs and mass transit, is running multi-billion dollar deficits and on the verge of bankruptcy.
The orgy of Congressional earmarking politics has drained billions from needed construction and maintenance jobs toward lesser priority pork.
Gas taxes haven’t kept pace with inflation. Nobody in Washington was willing to raise taxes when gas was $1.50 or $2 a gallon; they certainly won’t do it when prices are closer to $4.
But $4 a gallon gas has actually accelerated the funding issues. People are driving less. Less gas consumption equals less money for highway construction and mass transit.
”Our approach to funding transportation is broken,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said during a recent visit to South Florida. “It is time for a better approach.”
The privatization of a profitable roadway in Florida is worrisome and extremely short sided. Even more troubling perhaps, is the way in which our government has gone about this privatization plan – holding interest group meetings in places as far away as Orlando. As a planner, I too have had professional difficulties establishing the role of public input when it comes to policy issues, but what can be said when our policymakers not only defy the voice of the overwhelming majority but go so far as to complicate the public involvement process? Could this perhaps be the work of a governor who is trying to make a name for himself on a more national stage?
FDOT will be hosting focus groups on the privatization plan on September 16th and 17th at the Hyatt Bonaventure, 250 Racquet Club Rd., Weston.
Thanks to a tip from one of our dedicated readers, David, it has come to my attention that US Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters will be speaking at the Downtown Miami Hilton Today. The event, A New Transportation Approach For America, is sponsored by the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce and will begin at 12:30 (Click here to register, $75 fee for non-members.) I’m going to try my best to make it there and hope that despite the short notice some of you all can attend. You can find some of the emails SBH has shared with me concerning the subject here.
Like our friend over at Hallandale Beach Blog has noted, we too find it interesting that Mary Peters can make some time out of her busy schedule to speak about transportation in Miami, while FDOT director Stephanie Kopelousos remains MIA in the South Florda region. Kopelousos recently held a transportation summit in Destin Florida to discuss the congestion issues of North Florida. I guess a drive down to Miami would have been to difficult.
Here is what the Halladale Beach Blog has to say:
When federal public transit policy meets South Florida’s notoriously fickle apathy, who wins?
Last Wednesday, I had the chance to drive north along I-95 in Miami-Dade County where I snapped the pictures below of the then incomplete sections of 95 Express, the variable priced road pricing scheme program going into full effect by 2010. Little did I know that just 2 days later, FDOT would be “completing” the first segment of 95 Express and opening the lanes up to the public. Driving, I actually thought to myself “This should make for some interesting conversation on TM.” In fact, had I known this, I likely would have driven north to Palm Beach instead of taking tri-rail this past Friday.
95 Express’ opening day was a disaster. I will tell you why. This is the sort of outcome you should expect when our government blindly throws hundreds of millions of dollars at an unproven concept. Not congestion pricing. We are generally in favor of road pricing policies because of their effectiveness in reducing urban congestion and smog. I am concerned with the urban partnerships program. Essentially, this program threw $1 Billion dollars at five cities to “relieve congestion” in existing rights of ways while combining public transportation with road pricing. Or in the preferred government alliteration speak:
The Department sought applicants to aggressively use four complementary and synergistic strategies (referred to as the “4Ts”) to relieve urban congestion: Tolling, Transit, Telecommuting, and Technology.
Now, how a transportation project can go from conception to construction in just over 1-year’s time is beyond me, this process is sure to be riddled with problems. Note: In August 2007, the Secretary announced five final urban partners: Miami, Minneapolis/St. Paul, New York City, San Francisco, and Seattle.
I predict that most Miami drivers will have no problem mowing down the delineated candlestick markers, just as they managed to do along Dolphin Mall Blvd (see below), or Kendall Dr. (Note: here they raised the delineated markers onto a concrete curb after they had been plowed a few times, encouraging most Hummer sedan drivers to stray away.)
This is likely an issue which we’ll be writing on frequently and is the subject of much controversy (especially now) in South Florida. Before I get to the transit aspect of 95 Express, let’s open this up for some conversation…
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