Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Sitting On The Sideline Collecting Splinters

Today the U.S. Department of Transportation announced the five finalists for its Urban Partnership Program grants. The grants range from $62.9 million to $354 million and average about $170 million

As readers of this blog know all too well (e.g., here, here and here) this region's team of transportation professionals submitted an application for a Program grant. The DOT rejected that application in the first round because it was made up of preliminary concepts rather than a credible plan that satisfied the DOT's requirements, namely a plan that involved some form of highway pricing and would be rolled out in the next couple of years.

Consequently, we can only watch from the sidelines while five other cities with whom the Chicago region competes for business, population, and status tap into millions of new dollars to improve their transportation systems.

The winners are. . .

Florida Department of Transportation: $62.9 million to convert I-95 carpool lanes from Miami to Ft. Lauderdale to tolled lanes. The two tolled lanes in each direction will be dynamically priced to keep traffic moving at a speed of at least 50 miles an hour. Buses, vanpools, motorcycles and registered carpools will be able to use the toll lanes free of charge. The project also includes a regional express bus service that will take advantage of the constant travel speeds in the tolled lanes.

Minneapolis: $133.3 million for high occupancy toll lanes and dynamically priced shoulder lanes for use during rush hour along I-35W. The project also includes accelerated development of a bus rapid transit line, more dedicated bus lanes in downtown Minneapolis, and a flex-time/telecommuting program.

New York: $354.5 million to help implement Mayor Bloomberg's congestion pricing plan for Manhattan. $214 million of this money is going to be used to buy new buses, implement bus rapid transit routes, and for other improvements to the public transit system. The congestion charge will yield at least least several hundred million of dollars in new money for transportation projects annually.

San Francisco: $158.7 million for a package of congestion pricing and other improvements. Plan calls for congestion pricing on approach to Golden Gate Bridge and in the downtown. Other features include bus-priority lanes and intersection controls on major thoroughfares, a real-time parking space availability information system covering city garages, variable pricing for street parking in the downtown, and a new payment card that will allow users to pay for parking, tolls and other transit costs from one account.

Seattle: $138.7 million to implement tolling on the Highway 520 floating bridge. In addition to paying for tolling equipment, a substantial portion of the grant money will be used to purchase new buses for the local transit agency.

All of the proposals have a strong highway pricing component. All of them, most notably New York, San Francisco and Seattle, have strong transit components. There are some very creative ideas in the mix, such as San Francisco's payment card that will allow users to pay for highway and public transit using a single card and account (shades of our region's universal fare card, which came and went yet again this legislative session, with fanfare each time). Florida nicely leverages the steady traffic flow from variably priced toll lanes to improve regional bus service. New York and San Francisco are going to implement bus rapid transit in a congested urban environment akin to the denser areas of Chicago.

This region had all the elements for a winning application. We high levels of traffic congestion. We have both existing toll highways and highways like the Dan Ryan and Kennedy (express lanes) and Stevenson (shoulder lanes) that could easily be tolled. Variable tolling lanes could provide a steady operating operating environment for express buses and van pools throughout the region. The three million I-PASSes in circulation offer a built-in fare collection system. We certainly have transit agencies that could use a fleet of new buses and a big piece of the new revenue generated from the expanded road pricing system.

Yet, the region's transportation team and, to be fair, their politician clients, blew it when it came to the Urban Partnership Program. But never fear. According to the most recent report of the DOT's Value Pricing Program, while other urban regions are implementing a variety of creative transportation strategies that feature highway pricing and increased support for public transit, this region's transportation team is embarked on a study of congestion pricing that is scheduled to be completed in 2010.

Here's the description of what this region is doing instead of implementing congestion pricing initiatives like our urban peers:

The new project will evaluate the feasibility of reducing bottlenecks through a system of priced queue jumps and will assess resulting changes in travel times and delays on the region's expressways. The study will also assess the feasibility of better utilizing electronic toll collection and variable pricing mechanisms to reduce traffic congestion and access the potential of implementing pricing to increase the use of alternate travel modes and enhance the capacity on the region's expressway system. This project could lead to the demonstration of innovative pricing mechanisms to reduce congestion, improve goods movement, and increase the use of alternative transportation modes.

With new congestion pricing projects springing up around the country and the world like mushrooms and other U.S. cities moving from grant application to implementation in the course of 1-2 years is it really necessary for this region to take three years to "assess the feasibility" of congestion pricing that "could lead" to a "demonstration" of congestion pricing sometime after 2010? Haven't London, Stockholm, Singapore, San Diego and now the five winners of the Urban Partnership grants shown that road pricing is "feasible."

You would think that having been beaten badly in the Urban Partnership contest the local team would have regrouped and redoubled their efforts to help this region catch up to its competitor urban regions when it comes to transportation. Yet, here is what the FHWA reports on our transportation team's effort on the above-mentioned congestion pricing feasibility study:

April - June 2007 Update: The project was awarded funds in April 2007. The scope of work was revised and a project kick off meeting will be scheduled soon.

Three months and not even a kick off meeting? From reading the Moving Beyond Congestion materials we all thought this region was in a state of "crisis" when it comes to congestion and public transit funding. Yet, it takes the same transportation team over three months to hold a kick off meeting on a transportation tool--congestion pricing--that not only has the cachet of being the cool transportation technique of the moment but also may just work.

Our region's transportation team's leisurely response to a "crisis" of its own declaration is puzzling and disturbing. I apologize to readers for being so cranky about this, but our region's loss of an Urban Partnership Program grant seems emblematic of a major problem with the caliber of our region's team of transportation professionals. If our transportation professionals are so skittish and/or seemingly uninterested in congestion pricing then it is not surprising that their political clients and the public at large are too. That is a shame, because congestion pricing might have been a key element of a transit funding and reform package in this region, just as it has been in London, Stockholm and now five U.S. cites and presumably more urban regions between now and 2010, when this region completes its study of the "feasibility" of congestion pricing.

Go team!

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ok, maybe a new "team" is indicated. So where do you start, top, middle or bottom? Specifically, what needs to happen to put the changes in motion?

Anonymous said...

Jeez, Mike, stop stop stop being so MPC. MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC MPC

pc said...

SF Bay link:
http://www.mtc.ca.gov/planning/UPP/

Moderator said...

Anonymous 9:53--

I've said it before and I'll say again. This blog has no connection to the Metropolitan Planning Council or its staff.

To its credit the MPC has publicly discussed congestion pricing as a transportation option for this region:

http://www.metroplanning.org/ourwork/articleDetail.asp?pageID=2&objectID=4007&categoryID=1

In addition, it has taken a serious look at public-private partnerships as a way to accelerate capital investment in regional transportation projects:

http://www.metroplanning.org/ourwork/articleDetail.asp?pageID=2&objectID=3325&categoryID=1

The revenue stream from road pricing, of course, is what makes PPPs possible.

Both articles were authored by Kit Hodge. She is leaving Chicago soon for San Francisco, which just won an Urban Partnership grant for a project that includes congestion pricing in the downtown area.

Maybe her move is unrelated to this area's backwardness when it comes to transportation, or maybe it is a reflection of the fact that Chicago offers an inhospitable environment for creative transportation professionals.

Anonymous said...

In connection with the Minneapolis proposal, isn't that the same I-35W where the bridge collapsed? Steve Chapman (prior comment) was right.

Anonymous said...

moderator seems to know a fair amount about MPC's work

Anonymous said...

There is a poster to this blog who has advocated a call for a new state constitutional convention. Along these lines, I am coming to believe that these problems we are having with transportation planning and funding are directly related to our structure of government.

I'm sure everyone knows about the magnitude of separate governmental units in the Chicago metro area. With 1200 separate local government units and 215 cities and villages, Chicago has about 50% more governmental units than New York and Los Angeles metro combined.

Given this political background, it is no wonder why transportation planning and funding is haphazard at best. This is especially true considering that many of these new ideas, such as peak tolls, involve cross subsidies. Why would anyone think that the Illinois Tollway Authority would be willing to raise tolls on its roads, which carries much political risk, just to use that money to fund some other agency? Why would the city want to implement CBD congestion pricing given the risk that, if the tolls send business away to suburban areas such as OakBrook, the city would see none of the revenues? With so many separate units of governments, there is no way to effectively share costs and risks, and hence no incentive to undertake bold initiatives which might change distributions of wealth.

So for those advocates of mass transit, new ideas to relieve congestion, and transit-oriented development, maybe the effort should be spent on true political reform rather than the yearly push for more money. Now I have no idea if this means a new state constitutional convention, but it does certainly seem that something must be done about our backwards, feudal political structure here in Chicago, if any kind of comprehensive ideas are to take root.

pc said...

yes, it's the same I-35W, but the bridge was "north" of downtown and the UPP projects are south of downtown. well south, in fact -- starting about 30 blocks south.

the SF funds will also go principally into one corridor, Doyle Dr. (101) through the Presidio, a good portion of which is elevated structure which needs repair.

looks like another element of winning proposals was the ability to pull things off ASAP. Boulder Pike in Denver would've required years of construction. Of course, the Kennedy and Ryan are ready to go.

jackonthebus said...

3:42: I think the calls for the constitutional convention were more based on the gridlock in state government, and how it is not representative of the electorate, with the recall being the first thing on the agenda.

You are correct in identifying that one of the problems in Illinois is the fragmentation of government units. However, other than constitutionally eliminating home rule powers (and imagine the screaming about that), the only real way would be to provide incentives for governments to merge, instead of fragmenting all over the place and annexing property as they see fit. Considering that in Cook County (outside of the Hanover-Barrington area in the Elgin unified school district), most villages have 3 or 4 elementary school districts, plus a township high school district. Efforts to provide incentives for them to merge have been unsuccessful, even though some of them do not have a sufficient tax base to survive.

Now, maybe one way of doing this would be to implement the plan to divide Cook County into 6 counties according to courthouse municipal districts, but have no further political subdivisions under that. Similarly, there would be one school district for each of the new counties. Then have the new governments agree to conform to a central planning authority, retaining the right to make local zoning decisions consistent with the general plan. On the state level, have one consistent transportation planning and operation authority for the six-county region, covering highways, bus, and rail.

None of this will happen in this state. I doubt that the powers that be will even try getting any support for a constitutional convention (unless Pat Quinn has something up his sleeve and still some influence).

HealthyCity said...

The last time Moderator was on this kick, I said the following:
As far as the quality of the regional "team." There may be truth in what Moderator says, but in the end it is the politician. If you were a talented transportation engineer or urban planner, why would you stick around here if half your ideas go no where and your talent is wasted. So what Moderator sees as a lack of local talent, I see as nothing but a lack of leadership not willing to get that talent. Maybe we're saying the same thing, but it's a part of the equation.

I'll stick by that. In fact, Moderator, you yourself, whoever you are, are proof of this. Whether you're an insider yourself, or a very knowledgable bystander, you clearer know your stuff, you like this issue, and you'd probably be a pretty good member of the regional "team," if you aren't one already. The fact that you've created this anonymous post, to open up a discussion about a public issue that wasn't getting the proper attention has to be seen as evidence that you yourself know that this region isn't working because of the political structures (and media structures) in place--not because the regional transportation team is so mediocre.

The fact that very little, if any, of the "Regional Team" has felt comfortable enough to particpate in this blog in the open, not anonymously, is just further proof of just how silenced they are.

Moderator, you've said many times, Rep. Hamos' bill is mediocre. We know the Governor is mediocre. Madigan may be a brilliant ubber-politician, but on transportation, do we even know what he thinks? The last thing he proposed was a new highway--through the City. Repeat: the Speaker of the House advocated for a new highway. In the City! Jones? I have no idea. Republicans? Who? Why dig so low when looking for medocrity? The only public figure, in my mind, who is at least remotely promoting a new ideas for our urban fabric is Mayor Daley, whether you like it all or not, he's at least doing something. But even he and his folks are a little too tied-up in the local political culture to really break-free as a visionary.

Illinois is a mess and needs to change.

As the poster who advocated the ConCon, I give my kudos to Anon 3:15p for bringing it up. Not to dwell too much on it, but before folks immediately think it's a crazy proposal, everyone should read section b of the current Constitution. The General Assembly in the next year or so is going to have to vote on whether to have a ConCon or not. They have to do so every 20 years, and the last time was 1990.

Possibly, Pat Quinn is the guy to do it, although the last time he monkeyed with the Constitution, things got worse.

Anonymous said...

Daley talks a good game but he either appointed or supported all the hacks and impostors who empowered all the duds. Loop-dee-doo you just 180'd right back where you started.

Justin said...

Jackonthebus said, the only real way would be to provide incentives for governments to merge...

I agree wholeheartedly. Carrots can be just as good as sticks. Some cessation of power or agreement to cooperate might be more realistic than full-scale merging. What if transportation dollars, or bonding authority, etc. from a higher form of government were the "reward" for intergovernmental cooperation? The US DOT encouraged coordination for their recent congestion grants, right?

Just an idea. I'd recommend Orfield's book for more reading on the topic of metropolitan governments. Chicago is featured prominently.

Anonymous said...

The needy applicants can spend schemes, make it the most preferred bank [url=http://www.imodr.on-air.de/wbb//index.php//index.php/index.php?page=User&userID=277]resources[/url] get more info Due to this, they are fees, repaid this quick defaulting in addition to their respective chances of being approved http://test.chla.com.cn/home/bbs/viewthread.php?tid=2221873&extra=

Anonymous said...

well-nigh 1,200 multitude were reported injured by the electrical shock her Piece jogging in central Green -- but reported this two months afterward the fact. [url=http://goblinicpot.sakura.ne.jp/bbs/light.cgi?res=45742]homepage[/url] More Info Let us give an advice ... although Thither are several kiosks and shops that adult female for WABC/Channel 7, is in hot body of water for selling a postiche violation tale to police force, The New York Post reports. http://kocrefugees.com/forum/showthread.php?185745-Sports-Therapy-Fort-Worth-Services-Offered-By-A-Sports-Therapy-Fort-Worth-specialiser&p=257171#post257171