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Posts from the "Transportation Funding" Category

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How Can We Invest in Infrastructure Without Raising Taxes?

(Odysseus Bostick is a Los Angeles teacher and former candidate for the Los Angeles City Council. He writes The Bostick Report for CityWatch.)

Our roads are swiss cheese, our sidewalks are like a broken fault line, our bridges are sagging, and our cars are still the most convenient way to get through the mess.

We’ve gotten to the point where our infrastructure problems are so large in scope and the cost to change this is so high that we really can’t pass enough taxes or bonds to cover all of our needs. That’s not to say that passing specific bonds isn’t necessary.

Upcoming ballot measures within the County of Los Angeles aimed at extending Measure R are not just merited, but crucial to ensuring that all the money we’ve already spent on building a basic network of light isn’t wasted. And finishing our rail lines is just Phase One.

The basic structure of a rail transportation system won’t be the cure-all because logistics prevent even a vast network of rail lines from actually getting people to the places they need to go. Clearly, we need micro-networks to cover areas that rail doesn’t reach.

Some of these solutions are small in scope – like bike share programs, walkable/bikeable design, and the like. Others are larger in scope than that, like a streetcar.

The problem is that bonds and tax increases only go so far and funding the build out of our rail network will consume most of those big scope revenue increases. So we are posed with the question of how to fund the smaller scale, “end of the line” public transportation ecosystems so that a user has access to the nooks and crannies not conveniently located at the base of the train station platform?  Read more…

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CalBike Looks Back at This Year’s Legislative Efforts–and Ahead to the Next

Calbike2The California Bicycle Coalition–CalBike–supports local bicycle advocacy efforts to build better bike networks. It does this in part through its work on state legislation that promotes bicycling and via its efforts to increase the amount of funding available for building better bike infrastructure.

We liked their end-of-session legislative wrap-up, focusing on bikes–an important part of Streetsblog’s beat–so we’re reposting it for you here. We edited it slightly for length.

California is poised to become one of the most bike-innovative states in the nation. The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) got a new mission and vision statement this year that is more bicycle friendly, and endorsed progressive street designs. A new State Transportation Agency is shaking up how California traditionally thinks of transportation, and we got to see the first rounds of the Governor’s new “Active Transportation Program.”

While the 2014 legislative session wasn’t ideal in every way, our policymakers took huge steps forward, most importantly with exciting advances toward modern street design. You can find links to exact bill language, fact sheets, and letters to and from lawmakers at the California Bicycle Coalition website here.

We Win Better Bikeways
The California Bicycle Coalition’s main strategy for enabling more people to ride a bike is to get communities to build bicycle-specific infrastructure: networks of paths, protected bike lanes, and calm streets that get people where they need to go, and that are built to be comfortable for anyone ages 8-80. Design rules, outdated laws, and inadequate public investment have been preventing better bikeways for years.

Design rules changed this year. In April, California became the third state to endorse the NACTO Urban Streets Design Guide. “We’re trying to change the mentality of our Department of Transportation,” emphasized Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty. The mere endorsement wasn’t enough, however, as the Caltrans Design Chief made clear a few weeks later, stating flatly that “the standards haven’t changed.”

In September, Caltrans took another step by supporting AB 1193, the Protected Bikeways Act. Authored by Assembly Member Phil Ting and the California Bicycle Coalition’s top priority for the 2014 legislative session, this bill has two primary functions:

  • It removes language from the California Highway Design Manual (guidelines for how to design our streets) that  prohibited engineers and planners from building protected bike lanes — bikeways that have been proven to get more people to ride bikes. AB 1193 also requires Caltrans to set “minimum safety design criteria” for protected bike lanes by January 1, 2016. With new design rules, California has a chance to promote the best designs in the country and become a leader in bikeway design.
  • It allows municipalities to use other guidelines for street design, such as the bike-friendly Urban Bikeway Design Guide produced by the National Association of City Transportation Officials.

In short, Caltrans and our policymakers are responding to the voices of the people calling for a revolution in street design. A vital next step is to advocate for protected bike lanes locally. You can pledge your support here for protected bike lanes so local advocates can find supporters in your area.

More Funding Approved, but Not Much
More funding is essential to building the infrastructure California needs to get more people to ride bikes. It is also key to economic sustainability. Active transportation infrastructure creates more jobs during construction and supports the local economy during its lifetime.

At $129 million, or barely 1 percent of the state’s transportation budget for biking and walking combined, funding for bike infrastructure is paltry at best.

Read more…

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CTC Staff Releases California Active Transportation Program List

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The California Transportation Commission recommended 145 bicycle and pedestrian projects and programs for funding from the new Active Transportation Program, including this pedestrian-cyclist-equestrian bridge over the L.A. River. Image from LARRC

The California Transportation Commission has released a list of recommended projects that could get funding from the state’s Active Transportation Program. The ATP is a new statewide grant program that funds bicycle and pedestrian improvements throughout California. The list is expected to be approved by the full CTC at its August 20 meeting.

Under the ATP, the CTC is preparing to distribute $221 million for projects and programs in two categories: a statewide competition and a separate competition for small rural and urban projects. A third category of funds will be distributed later this year through the state’s largest Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) (more on that below).

The $221 million for the first two categories will be matched by another $207 million in local matching funds, yielding a total of $426 million in bike and pedestrian projects that will get the green light in the first two-year funding round. The 145 successful applications include 124 statewide projects [PDF] and 21 small rural and urban projects [PDF].

Here are the types of projects that would be funded:

  • $57 million in bike projects and plans
  • $119 million for 91 Safe Routes to Schools grants, 81 in the statewide category and 13 in small urban/rural category. Of the 91, 53 include non-infrastructure programs
  • 110 of the projects ($189 million worth) directly benefit disadvantaged communities at least partially

Not surprisingly, the ATP received for more applications than it was able to fund. After all, $207 million is a drop in the bucket compared to the billions available for state highways.

“There was a very high standard for the projects, and unfortunately there were a lot of good projects that just didn’t get funded,” said Jeanie Ward-Waller of Safe Routes to Schools National Partnership, which has been active in educating jurisdictions about funding criteria and how to apply. “There just wasn’t enough money to go around.”

After a quick perusal of the list, we did not see very many of the bike and pedestrian projects L.A. Metro withdrew funds from last spring, but they could still receive funding through the ATP regional categories.

Under that program, $147 million will be distributed among the nine largest California MPOs: Bay Area, Fresno, Sacramento, San Diego, Southern California, San Jose, Stanislaus, Tulare, and Kern regions. The MPOs are required to submit their project funding requests to Caltrans by November. Many of the projects that did not make this first list could still be funded regionally, if they meet the criteria of their MPO and are chosen for the regional list.

Meanwhile, the ATP guidelines are due to be revised next spring, and the revision process will start with a series of public workshops this fall.

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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…