Posts Tagged: Department of Transportation

Green Tiger

The perennially cash-strapped Chicago Transit Authority will get $2.2 million from the U.S. Dept. of Transportation to purchase two battery-powered buses. The battery-powered buses are the first of its kind in the CTA fleet, reports the Chicago Tribune’s Jon Hilkevitch, though the agency does operate 228 diesel-electric hybrid buses. The money comes from almost $600 million distributed nationally through DOT’s Transportation Investments for Greenhouse Gas and Energy Reduction and Clean Fuels Program, or TIGER.

The TIGER grants are the latest indication of DOT’s focus on global warming. (more…)

Red Line extension plan finally leaving the station

There are several service gaps in the Chicago Transit Authority Map, the regional agency that runs Chicago’s “El” trains. But none is more glaring than the fact that the train’s last South Side station is at 95th street, while the city extends to 130th street.  City planning officials have sought since the 1960′s to extend the Red Line from 95th to 130th street and Chicago Tribune transportation reporter Jon Hilkevitch writes that the project is poised to finally happen. It is CTA’s no. 1 capital improvement proposal and the city has received some of the federal money needed to conduct a nationally required environmental impact study.

Transit officials are hopeful that Congress will fully fund the 1.4 billion extension in the next five-year surface transportation bill. (more…)

Planes, trains, and automobiles

The Springfield State-Journal Register reports that the Dept. of Transportation has provided $9 million to Illinois transit agencies — mostly for airport safety upgrades. (more…)

Chicago’s questionable transit priorities

The Chicago Tribune’s Jon Hilkevitch reports that two federal transportation grants will come Chicago’s way, with the majority of the money helping an already transit-rich downtown. (more…)

High-speed promises

High-speed rail…in Taiwan

The Chicago Tribune’s Jon Hilkevitch reports that Chicago would make $6.1 billion each year and add 42,000 jobs if a high-speed rail passenger service is created in the Midwest over the next 25 years. Hilkevitch’s numbers come from a report prepared on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

The study comes as Transportation Sec. Ray LaHood says that the Obama administration is ready to implement $8 billion in high-speed rail projects funded through the stimulus bill. (more…)

Getting high-speed rail on track

Ray LaHood

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said yesterday that high-speed rail projects funded by the stimulus bill will get started in two weeks. The stimulus bill gave the Dept. of Transportation $8 billion to disburse in high-speed rail funding. DOT gave Illinois $1.13 billion to build a passenger service between Chicago and St. Louis.

Paul Merrion of Crain’s Chicago Business reports that the implementation of high speed rail projects has been delayed because the Obama administration put strict guidelines on freight rail companies. (more…)

A DC plan to help CTA

CTA's Adams/Wabash Station

A group of liberal U.S. Senators want Washington to help fund the Chicago Transit Authority and, in the process, alter the Dept. of Transportation’s relationship with regional transit agencies. Greg Hinz of Crain’s Chicago Business reports that these Senators, which include Dick Durbin of Illinois, want DOT to give $2 billion total to cash-strapped regional agencies including CTA and New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

CTA could use the money. It recently closed a $300 million deficit through 1,000 layoffs and drastically-reduced service. However, since 1995, DOT has funded only capital improvements — for example, the CTA launching the new pink line in 2006. The senators’ proposal would return DOT to its pre-Newt Gingrich/Contract with America days when it played a more direct role in subsidizing urban public transit.

DOT Drug Testing Derailed

The New York Times’ Michael Cooper reports that the Dept. of Transportation has severed ties with the contractor it hired to conduct the analysis of drug tests of employees regulated by the federal agency. Workplance Compliance evidently reviewed drug tests by pilots, train operators and other transportation employees without using a licensed physician to do the reviewing. This relatively minor incident of contracting-gone-bad raises the bigger issue of whether it’s really cheaper for federal agencies to farm out tasks like drug testing to the private sector. The “big government” of more government employees and fewer contractors could mean a more directly accountable government.

Getting What You Pay For: Government Wants More Oversight Of Mass Transit Systems

The idea is simple — since the federal government invests taxpayers’ money in transit systems around the country, it wants to exercise more oversight, particularly on safety issues.  Rachel Swarns reports in the New York Times that federal officials are concerned:  As subway and light rail systems try to cut costs, there is the danger they will skimp on safety standards as well.  The proposal, now being finalized by the Department of Transportation, will require states to prove they have “enough fully-trained staff members to enforce federal safety rules.”  The federal government is ready to invest more in safety, as it is proposing to “cover the costs of salaries and benefits for state employees overseeing standards.”

One problem this new proposal could run into is the great variety of management models used by transit systems around the country.  In the Washington, D.C. region, mass transit is run by WMATA, a regional body whose board is chosen to represent the interests of nine different municipal or county entities.  Understanding Government pointed out the challenges of managing a regional entity this way in a report published last year.  As one expert in Swarns’ article says, “this is a great idea . . . but implementation is going to be extremely difficult.”  We’ll have to wait for the full DOT proposal, but right now, it’s hard to see how this reform would introduce greater uniformity of safety enforcement. -NH

Chicago Public Transit Not Sure Where To Turn For Money

Hang on to your hats — Chicago’s central mass transit system is not being adequately funded. The Chicago Tribunes’ Jon Hilkevitch and Hal Dardick report that the Chicago Transit Authority needs the state government to bail them out — problem is, the state government itself needs a bailout:

The state, struggling against severe budget problems of its own, is considered highly unlikely to grant the CTA its second increase in subsidies in three years to help close a projected $300 million budget deficit next year.

“I would note that the last funding rescue plan that was put together (in 2008) took what, two or three years to do. So it’s not easy,” said Steve Brown, spokesman for Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D- Chicago

As a result, fare hikes, service cuts and employee concessions are all on the table as the CTA looks to balance the 2010 operating budget, said Terry Peterson, who is Mayor Richard Daley’s pick to chair the CTA board.

A couple of things to keep in mind here. First, is that it is an annual rite of passage for CTA to warn of a doomsday scenario where fares are significantly raised and services rapidly curtailed. What happens instead are incremental fare hikes and service cuts and further delays in long-term repairs. So this funding shortfall is not an unprecedented problem.

But — it is unprecedented that the state is so broke they can’t bailout CTA.  Peterson, the new CTA chairman of the board, says he wants to ask for money from Washington. But, as the Trib notes, Washington stopped funding urban transit agencies in the ’90s — the Dept. of Transportation only provides grants for specific projects. Even the stimulus bill didn’t provide money for transit agencies operating budget. Mass transit is another example of the federal government not doing enough to assist in the emergency fiscal situation of state and local government.