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Posts from the "Transportation Funding" Category

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CA Transportation Choices Summit Tackles Policy Issues

The California Transportation Choices Summit, held in Sacramento this week, was an opportunity for sustainable transportation and public health advocates to spend the day learning about current state policies and legislation in the works to change them.

Christopher Cabaldon, Mayor of West Sacramento, discusses bike infrastructure on a pre-summit bike tour along the Sacramento River. Photos: Melanie Curry

This year’s summit was titled “2014: A Year of Opportunity.” The “opportunity” comes in the form of new funds from cap-and-trade and current discussions in the legislature about how to spend that money. As Streetsblog has reported, these funds are required to be spent on reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which could include projects that encourage walking, bicycling, and transit.

The annual summit is hosted by TransForm and a long list of partners across the state including ClimatePlan, MoveLA, Circulate San Diego, the Safe Routes to Schools National Partnership, National Resources Defense Council, and the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network. In addition to discussing current policies, the learning day prepared attendees for TransForm’s “Advocacy Day,” in which participants meet with State Assembly members and their staff to talk about the issues that matter most to them and push for legislation.

Summit speakers laid out facts about funding, discussed trade-offs between spending on different programs, and urged everyone to share their personal stories about why their issue is important. “Let’s pull those heart strings,” said Elyse Lowe of Circulate San Diego, “so we can do a better job advocating for good transportation policies.”

Stuart Cohen, executive director of TransForm, created an “applause-o-meter” to gauge summit attendees’ views on trade-offs between funding categories. He asked participants to applaud for the categories of activities they thought were most important: planning; bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure; transportation demand management programs like shuttles, carpool programs, and guaranteed ride home programs; affordable homes near transit; and transit capital and operating costs.

The audience, mostly comprised of savvy transportation advocates, applauded for all of these categories, although there two clear “winners”: affordable homes near transit and transit capital and operating costs. These also were the most expensive categories, according to Cohen’s estimate of how much it would cost to fully fund needs in these areas: $6 billion for transit and $1 to $1.5 billion for housing. Read more…

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Advocates Push for Bike/Ped Funding From CA’s Cap-and-Trade Funds

A coalition of bike and pedestrian advocates are inviting organizations to sign on to a letter [PDF] asking the state legislature to recommend allocating $50 million of the state’s cap-and-trade revenue towards the Active Transportation Program. Currently, none of the $850 million in cap-and-trade funds are allocated specifically for walking and bicycling in this year’s budget.

Photo by Brian W. Knight from the Streetsblog "Kids + Cities Photo Contest, 2013"

Bicycles produce zero greenhouse gas emissions but get zero funds from cap-and-trade. Photo by Brian W. Knight from Streetsblog’s “Kids + Cities Photo Contest, 2013″

Caltrans recently released its first ATP call for projects, and applications are due May 21. Eligible projects support walking and bicycling, and must compete for funding that will be awarded according to a formula in the ATP guidelines, recently adopted by the California Transportation Commission. Applications are expected to request and amount exceeding the program’s current funding levels of $120 million per year.

Revenue from cap-and-trade, the system chosen by California to meet the requirements of the Global Warming Solutions Act, A.B. 32, must be spent on activities and projects that help meet its goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. The governor’s proposed expenditure plan for cap-and-trade funds includes $100 million for the Strategic Growth Council for transit oriented development grants, which may include some bike and pedestrian infrastructure as part of larger projects. However, there is no cap-and-trade money specifically allocated to those modes.

The governor’s plan proposes an allocation of $250 million to high-speed rail, $200 million to the Air Resources Board for low-emission vehicle rebates, and $50 million to Caltrans to improve intercity rail, in addition to $250 million for other projects including energy efficiency, clean energy, and natural resource programs that will help reduce GHG emissions.

Building infrastructure for bicycles and pedestrians, and educating and encouraging people to use these emission-free modes, can reduce vehicle miles traveled and greenhouse gas emissions in the short term. In their letter, advocates argue that bike/ped projects are crucial in meeting the state’s emission reduction goals, though they do not specify what budget line should be reduced to create the $50 million cap-and-trade allocation for active transportation.

“There is a lot of demand for the ATP program,” said Jeanie Ward-Waller, California Advocacy Organizer for the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, one of the organizations putting together a letter asking the legislature to consider the allocation from cap-and-trade funds. “There are projects that are ready to go, and ready to start reducing emissions in the short term.” Read more…

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Transportation Priorities Jostle for CA’s Cap-and-Trade Revenue

A series of hearings in Sacramento have been revisiting California’s Global Warming Solutions Act, Assembly Bill (A.B.) 32, which calls for a statewide reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) to 1990 levels by 2020. Two recent hearings have opened discussions of Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed spending plan for the revenue received so far from the state’s cap-and-trade program, implemented as part of A.B. 32, and another recent Senate hearing discussed the program’s impacts to date.

Mary Nichols, Chair of the California Air Resources Board, explains cap and trade.

The auction of cap-and-trade credits is producing money for the state, which, under A.B. 32, must be spent on helping further reduce GHG emissions. Last month, Governor Brown released his cap-and-trade expenditure plan for 2014-2015, in which he proposed to spend $850 million in expected revenue from the auctions. Of that, $600 million would be used for transportation-related projects and programs, with the lion’s share of that ($250 million) for high speed rail.

Other transportation categories include $50 million to Caltrans to expand and modernize existing rail; $200 million towards programs that encourage the use of zero-emission vehicles, including trucks, buses, and cars; and $100 million over the next two years to the Strategic Growth Council for Sustainable Communities programs, including plans that encourage compact and infill development near transit.

The governor’s plan does not include any funds for bicycling, walking, or transit other than what would fall under the above categories, even though these transportation modes offer a huge potential savings in GHG emissions.

At a Senate Transportation Committee hearing Wednesday, a long line of public advocacy groups spoke up for reshuffling the cap and trade funds, mostly in the direction of the respective group’s preferred emissions-reduction strategy (better transit, for example, or forest fire prevention given this dry year).

But only a few speakers questioned why so much money was being given to high speed rail. The Legislative Analyst’s report questioned the GHG benefits of California’s planned high speed rail, which would not have any effect on emissions until 2022 at the earliest, and would at best provide a modest contribution to GHG reductions.

“We need to fund GHG reductions in the near term,” said Catherine Phillips of the Sierra Club. “It doesn’t warrant spending 31 percent of the money on high speed rail. Many other programs will get you reductions sooner than will high speed rail.” Read more…

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Sen. Steinberg Proposes Carbon Tax on Gas Instead of Cap-and-Trade

Estimated effect of a carbon tax on sources of United States electrical generation Source: US Energy Information Administration via wikimedia.

Estimated effect of a carbon tax on sources of United States electrical generation Source: US Energy Information Administration via wikimedia.

CA Senator Darrell Steinberg proposed a change yesterday to California’s nascent cap-and-trade program that would replace next year’s cap on fuel emissions with a per-gallon carbon tax. Steinberg called it a “broader, more stable, and more flexible” way to reduce emissions from fuels than cap-and-trade.

His proposal would apply the revenue raised from the tax towards tax relief for poor and middle-income Californians, who would feel the greatest pinch from higher gas prices. That could help defuse anger at having to pay more at the pump, while still discouraging demand for gas. “Under either [program], consumers will pay more at the pump. That’s necessary,” said Steinberg. “If carbon pricing doesn’t sting, we won’t change our habits.”

CA Senate President Pro Temp Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento. Photo: Sacramento Bee

CA Senate President Pro Temp Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento. Photo: Sacramento Bee

Reactions to Steinberg’s proposal so far have been mixed. The Western States Petroleum Association prefers it as “a transparent alternative” to cap-and-trade, and the Environmental Defense Fund criticized what it sees as a mid-stream switch that could “compromise” CA’s emission reduction strategies.

Stuart Cohen, executive director of TransForm, said ”we strongly believe that California is creating an excellent cap-and-trade program that is, and will work, effectively. Yet a carbon tax is an extremely clear and straightforward, and ultimately more predictable, way to approach the fuels sector.”

“If this had been offered as a serious proposal seven years ago, we would have thought it was heaven-sent,” he added. “I don’t think it makes sense to reject it outright. It’s certainly worth having the discussion” about cap-and-trade vs. a carbon tax.

John White of the Clean Power Campaign, a coalition of public interest groups working for clean fuels, says his organization has no official stance yet on the proposal. However, he said, “This is a good conversation to have. A carbon tax is a different way to do the same thing. The point of collection is also at the pump, but with cap-and-trade there’s no clear signal except for a higher price, and no predictability of what that price would be.”

Read more…

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Feds Announce Regional Connector Funding, Hint at Purple Line Funding

Mayor Garcetti expresses his enthusiasm for the Regional Connector subway

Mayor Garcetti expresses his enthusiasm for the Regional Connector subway

This morning, local elected officials and federal administrators joined together to announce that Metro’s Regional Connector is now fully funded. The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) is granting $670 million in New Starts funding to the Regional Connector, and also extending a low-interest TIFIA (Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act) loan of $160 million.

A document showing how the Connector is funded can be found at the bottom of this article.

While the Regional Connector announcement had been tipped in this morning’s Los Angeles Times, the surprise announcement is that the FTA hinted that it would also fund the pending request  for $1.2 billion for the Purple Line subway.

Streetsblog frequent readers may be very well aware of the Regional Connector. What follows is a three paragraph summary of the project and its timeline. If you’re already familiar with the project, skip ahead for today’s news, right after the page jump.

The Regional Connector is a $1.4 billion 1.9-mile light rail subway. It will extend from the Little Tokyo Gold Line Station west under 2nd Street to Bunker Hill, then south under Flower Street to the 7th Street Station. What best explains the Regional Connector’s importance is that it’s light rail. Yes – underground light rail. From downtown, Metro has light rail running north (Pasadena Gold Line), south (Blue Line), east (Gold Line Eastside Extension) and west (Expo Line), but there’s no connection in the middle. Today, to get from one of these lines to another, one has to take the heavy rail Red/Purple Line subway.

Regional Connector map - courtesy of Metro

Regional Connector map – courtesy of Metro

The Regional Connector closes downtown’s light rail gap, hence makes a lot of connections a lot easier. When the Connector is complete, today’s 3-4 rail lines consolidate down to just two. There will the combined Gold-Expo line extending from East L.A. to Santa Monica, and the combined Blue-Gold line extending from Long Beach to Azusa.

The Regional Connector was funded under Measure R, with additional monies from State propositions 1A and 1B. Metro proposed a route alignment in 2010Metro released its environmental review documentation in early 2012. Though some downtown and Little Tokyo interests opposed the project due to construction headaches, Metro approved environmental documentation in April 2012. Read more…

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Governor’s Budget Earns High Marks, But Active Transportation Shutout from Cap and Trade Funds

Yesterday, Governor Jerry Brown officially unveiled his budget after days of speculation and leaked reports to newspapers. One of the highlights of the budget is how Brown proposes to spend the “Cap and Trade”* funds. Last year, the state borrowed against these funds to fill a gap in the general operating budget. This year, with $100 million “borrowed” from last year returned, the Cap and Trade allocation was a cool $850 million for projects that will improve air quality through green energy initiatives.*

“This budget makes an important down payment on repairing our aging transportation network, upgrading public transportation and investing in walkable, sustainable communities,” said Stuart Cohen, Executive Director of TransForm and a member of Secretary Kelly’s California Transportation Infrastructure Priorities workgroup.

The Natural Resources Defense Council was similarly excited by the proposed budget. In a post entitled “Carbon Pollution Funds Poised to Deliver on Clean Energy in California” on the Switchboard blog site, Alex Jackson praises the budget for spending Cap and Trade funds in a variety of ways that will reduce pollution and the state’s carbon footprint.

While conversations in the capitol will continue on the best way to maximize the benefits associated with spending cap-and-trade proceeds (and ensure each expenditure comports with legal requirements), the Governor deserves praise for putting forth a budget plan that recognizes the importance of investing cap-and-trade proceeds as a key strategy to keep California on pace toward achieving its long-term climate and clean energy goals.

But not everyone was thrilled with the budget. Despite spending the Cap and Trade funds on promoting clean energy, the cleanest forms of transportation, walking and bicycling don’t have their own budget line in the Cap and Trade allocation. True the overall proposed state budget includes a $9 million allocation for the Active Transportation Program, but when it comes to Cap and Trade, bicycle and pedestrian programs will compete for a slice of the $100 million for “Implementing Regional Sustainable Communities Strategies” with housing, planning, land-use, transit oriented development and other worthy livability programs.

“The Transportation Agency has worked productively with statewide walking and biking organizations to create a new Active Transportation Program that is prepared to invest in these modes at a scale never seen before in California,” writes Eric Bruins with the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. “It is disappointing that no cap-and-trade funds are allocated to the ATP, despite everyone’s work to set it up for that purpose.  Hopefully the Legislature will again support walking and biking by directing significant cap-and-trade revenues to the most cost-effective, green transportation modes.” Read more…

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In Battle Over Pensions, Federal Government Lets Unions Hold Transit Hostage

Labor unions weren’t happy when Governor Jerry Brown signed the Public Employees Pension Reform Act of 2012. The law, which applies to government workers across the state, allows government agencies more flexibility in extending the retirement age, increase employee contribution, and halt the practice of “pension spiking” for new employees. A full summary of the legislation is at the bottom of Brown’s press release from last September.

Brown rides on a BYD electric bus in April. Photo:Wall Street Journal

In the battle over pension reform, the federal government has given transit unions a powerful hostage: federal appropriations to transit agencies. U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez decided that the new pension law runs afoul of the 1964 Urban Mass Transportation Act. Perez, and two of California’s more powerful unions, argue the state’s pension laws diminish the collective bargaining rights of unions.

Perez is threatening to withhold federal funds for state transit agencies that follow the state guidelines if and when transit unions object.

The Wall Street Journal argues that Perez is mis-interpreting the act and that Brown and state agencies are operating within the law. California Labor Secretary Marty Morgenstern agrees.

So either the state changes labor law for transit employees, the federal government backs down and sends the $2 billion in grants that were promised, or transit agencies throughout the state lose out on roughly $2 billion in expected, and budgeted, federal funds.

Potentially withheld funds include both capital and operating funds. Los Angeles Metro is first in-line to lose out on funding. The federal government will decide on a $268 million request on Friday. Next in line is the Orange County Transit Agency. Smaller agencies will be hit hard as well. Sacramento’s regional agency could lost $70 million, including funds needed for a new light rail line. Santa Barbara’s Metropolitan Transit District would have to reduce services by 30% and lay off 50 bus drivers without its federal grant.

Thus far, transit unions in the Bay Area have not formally protested to the Department of Labor over the pension plans despite their ongoing strike. While Streetsblog is certainly not privy to the internal negotiations, it’s hard to imagine that the unions aren’t threatening to do so at the bargaining table.

To make the issue more pressing, Moody’s Investor Services is considering downgrading the credit ratings of Metro and other state transit agencies because of the confusion over whether or not they will receive federal funding. A change in credit rating could cost agencies even more, as Moody’s ratings help determine the interest rate agencies will receive on loans that finance most major expansion projects. Read more…

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Obama’s Budget Would Save the Transpo Trust Fund. If Only It Were Real.

The CBO's projection of the HTF transit account's tumble into insolvency, from February 2013. Image: CBO

President Obama’s transportation budget proposal can give you a contact high if you stand too close. The prospect of budget surpluses — in the near-term, at least — is intoxicating. And the source of those surpluses — from Overseas Contingency Operations — is a hallucination.

The Congressional Budget Office, in its invaluable “just-the-facts” way, released its analysis Friday of the implications of the president’s budget proposal for transportation [PDF]. The long and the short of it is this:

  • The fund gets a long-awaited name change to Transportation Trust Fund.
  • Instead of falling into insolvency in fiscal year 2015, the highway account would go broke in 2021. The transit account stays solvent under Obama’s proposal through at least 2023 — the last year the CBO contemplates.
  • A rail account is added to the trust fund for the first time, bringing Amtrak into the fold of the surface transportation program.
The president’s budget actually spends less over the next two years on highways (but not transit) than MAP-21 envisions [PDF], because under his proposal, there would a separate, tremendous infusion of supplemental funds from his fix-it-first initiative, paid for by the general fund. But starting in 2016, the president would spend more — eventually, far more — than the MAP-21 budget allows for.

Under the president’s proposal, both highway and transit spending would decline after 2021, when the surplus money runs out.

Read more…

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This Could Be the Biggest Year Ever for Transit at the Ballot Box

Next month, 19 transit-related measures will come before voters. If the rest of this year is any guide, 16 of them will pass.

The "Transportation Penny" in Richland County, South Carolina will fund some pedestrian improvements, along with roads and transit, if voters approve it November 6. Image: Richland County

Despite a high-profile loss in Atlanta a few months ago, transit referenda have an 86 percent success rate so far this year, according to the Center For Transportation Excellence.

It strikes some as counterintuitive: During an economic downturn, in a virulently anti-tax climate, why are voters deciding time and time again to tax themselves to support transit?

CFTE Director Jason Jordan says the lousy economy is one reason so many of these measures keep popping up — more this year than any other since CTFE started counting in 2000. With states crying poverty and the federal government, for the first time ever, passing a transportation bill that was no bigger than the one that preceded it, local governments have had to take matters into their own hands.

Jordan says the most unique of all of next month’s ballot initiatives is a gas tax measure in Memphis. Almost all the initiatives we see are sales taxes or property taxes, with a handful of bond measures and vehicle fees. Most cities don’t have the authority to raise gas taxes independent of the state — but Memphis does, and it’s trying to increase the tax by one cent to raise $3 million to $6 million for the transit authority. “Here we have an example of communities being pushed to be as creative as possible,” Jordan said.

No other local gas tax measure is on the ballot. Indianapolis has a citywide income tax hike in the works, which will also be novel, but they didn’t make it happen for this year.

Another one to watch is the half-cent sales tax in Orange County, North Carolina, which includes the city of Chapel Hill. If it succeeds, the three counties of the so-called Research Triangle will likely join together to improve their regional transit system. If it fails, the whole thing falls apart.

Read more…

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California Transportation Commission: $538 Billion Needed to Maintain System

To maintain and operate it's transportation infrastructure, California needs a massive investment in the next decade. Photo Caltrans

One of the things I do each year is read the California Transportation Commission Annual Report. I find it a useful snapshot of policy and operation issues for transportation in California. Intriguingly the 2011 Report’s introduction mentions a statewide transportation needs assessment the Commission released late last year. Over 10 years ago the Commission undertook a similar assessment in response to legislation (Senate Resolution 8 [1999]). That document has withstood the test of time and years after it was issued I would see it still being cited in media coverage of transportation funding needs for California.

The rationale for the new assessment is laid out in the introduction:

The goal of this report is to detail what is needed for California’s transportation system and how we can pay for it. The report, therefore, allows transportation agencies and stakeholder groups to provide a consistent message to decision makers on these important subjects.

One of my first thoughts was this effort may have been what the Governor had in mind when he vetoed creation of the Blue Ribbon Committee last year.

Certainly the magnitude of the need and the challenges the state shortfall in transportation investment presents are daunting:

The total cost of all system preservation, system management, and system expansion projects during the ten-year study period is nearly $538.1 billion. Of this total, the cost of system preservation projects (both rehabilitation projects and maintenance costs) during the study period is $341.1 billion. It should be emphasized that the costs for system preservation contained in the report are based on the goal of meeting accepted standards that would bring transportation facilities into a “state of good repair” within the tenyear study period. These goals would lead to higher levels of investment in system preservation than are typically reflected in existing transportation plans and capital improvement programs.

The cost of system management projects and system expansion projects over the same period is estimated at $197 billion.

Quietly the Commission has been reaching out over the past few months to key stakeholders such as Mobility 21 and the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG). In January the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee held an informational hearing

The Associated General Contractors in testimony before the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Transportation expressed support for the assessent’s findings. Read more…