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Archive for the ‘transportation’ tag

The big sell: Making people care about infrastructure repair

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Waiting for a Rainy Day
Waiting for a Rainy Day

Continuing on the theme of the day, Mary Wisniewski writes:

In comic book movies, transportation infrastructure problems are easy to spot.

Bridges fall. Asphalt shatters. And unless Ironman funds the repairs out of his personal fortune, big public debt issues are ahead.

In real life, damage to roads and rails tends to be gradual, though ultimately just as ruinous to regional well-being.

With a new Illinois capital program delayed as the state goes 11 months without a budget, transit leaders have been sounding the alarm in both Washington, D.C., and Springfield about the dangers of waiting too long to invest in infrastructure. Business, labor and transit leaders will ramp up discussion nationwide Monday for the start of the thrillingly named Infrastructure Week.

It’s a tough sell — roads, buses and trains seem to work just fine until they don’t, and politicians don’t like to raise gas taxes or other user fees. Regional Transportation Authority Executive Director Leanne Redden admits that funding for bridges, signals and tunnels is not a sexy topic, but it’s crucial to keep the system going the way it should.

(click here to continue reading The big sell: Making people care about infrastructure repair – Chicago Tribune.)

Nothing Can Go Wrong With the Blues
Nothing Can Go Wrong With the Blues

Infrastructure is ignored until there is a crisis, alternatively, we could invest in the country and its workers before disaster strikes. Or money gets left unspent because Governor Rauner has a different agenda…

For the Chicago Transit Authority, for example, the lack of state capital funding has meant $1 billion in federal money may get left on the table. The passage of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act last year made federal dollars available, but state matches are needed to access them.

“A capital program would be very helpful, or else those funds could be put at risk,” CTA President Dorval Carter Jr. said. He said the money is needed for projects like the Red and Purple Line modernization, and rail and right of way improvements to prevent slow zones.

CTA needs a total of $13 billion in capital spending over the next decade to get the system in a state of good repair, Carter said.

Metra needs $11.7 billion in capital funding over the next 10 years. Because that’s a tall order, the board has made two programs top priorities — positive train control, a federally mandated computerized system to prevent train collisions, and new or rehabbed rolling stock. That would include 367 new railcars. (The agency currently has funding for 10.)

Some of Metra’s railcars are 63 years old. “They’re eligible for Medicare in a couple of years,” joked Metra CEO Don Orseno ruefully.

Besides new cars and locomotives, Orseno said Metra needs a better maintenance schedule for its old ones. Walking around a big, barnlike rail repair facility on 49th Street last week, Orseno and Metra capital projects manager Lexie Walker showed how cars are stripped down and rebuilt — with new floors, seats, toilets, air conditioning, outlets for plugging in laptops and wheelchairs, plus new wheels and brakes.

The Poem Remained Too Short
The Poem Remained Too Short

What about roads, you ask? They are as neglected, with no positive news forthcoming:

[Illinois] cannot afford to keep up the roads it has now. One of the pressing needs for the Illinois Department of Transportation is a rebuild of the aging and congested Eisenhower Expressway, similar to the reconstruction of the Dan Ryan in 2007, said Peter Skosey, executive vice president of the Metropolitan Planning Council, a nonprofit focused on regional growth.

“Money for that project isn’t even on the radar,” Skosey said.

He noted that no system is going to be in perfect shape all the time — it’s like your house, you want to keep it in a state of at least 90 percent repair, with a few projects on a to-do list. But Illinois’ state of repair is currently below 80 percent and could drop below 60 percent in the next five years, Skosey said.

Skosey noted that closed roads and bridges lead to gridlock, which already costs the region $7 billion a year. On an individual level, bad roads cost the average Illinois driver $400 to $800 a year in car repairs.

Written by Seth Anderson

May 17th, 2016 at 9:10 pm

Oil Industry Begs Court to Block Rail Transport Safety Rules Because of Cost

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All That Meat and No Potatoes
All That Meat and No Potatoes…

Shocking, I know, but Exxon Mobil and Chevron, et al, don’t want to alter their profit streams, asking to be able to continue sending bomb trains throughout the country. The reason? Updating the safety equipment would cost money. What a compelling argument, worthy of a 6th grade debate team. 

The American Petroleum Institute, the industry’s main trade group, petitioned the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to block key provisions of the rules, which were unveiled this month by Anthony Foxx, the transportation secretary. The petition was filed on Monday.

The trade group, which represents companies like Exxon Mobil and Chevron, has long argued that forcing oil producers and shippers to use newer tank cars and replace older models would impose high costs on the industry and lead to a shortfall in tank car capacity.

The petition seeks to block a requirement that older tank cars be retrofitted with new safety features designed to prevent them from spilling oil or rupturing in a derailment. It also challenges a requirement that tank cars be equipped with new electronic braking systems or face operational restrictions.

 

(click here to continue reading Oil Industry Asks Court to Block Rail Transport Safety Rules – NYTimes.com.)

If Exxon Mobil were forced to spend $100,000,000 updating the bomb cars,  ((a number I just pulled out of the air, and probably a lot more than they would actually pay)) would it be a large enough number to reduce their annual profits measurably? In 2014 alone, ExxonMobil reported revenue of $394,105,000,000. Chevron’s reported revenue for 2014 was $211,970, 000,000 by the way. I would hazard a guess their accountants are top notch, and most of the costs of updating bomb trains would be written off as operating expense, right? The oil industry has been making immense, unimaginable profits for decades, or more.

In other words, protesting that updating the rail cars so that they don’t blow up communities and cause fires that last for weeks because updating the rail cars would cost too much is a lame argument. Cries pleading poverty from corporations as wealthy as Chevron is laughable. 

Love Is Letting Go
Love Is Letting Go

Not that the Transportation Department and Barack Obama will listen to me, but my negotiation points would include the tax subsidies the oil and gas industry currently enjoy: fix the bomb trains and you get to keep half of your tax subsidies. 

The oil industry’s lobbyists like to argue that its array of tax write-offs (which allow companies to deduct everything from drilling costs to the declining value of their wells) aren’t any different than other deductions for less publicly reviled companies. Cutting them will discourage new exploration and put jobs at risk, they claim.

Yet, some of the breaks are anachronisms that date back almost to the days of John D. Rockefeller. And in a world of permanently high crude prices, there’s very little rationale for subsidizing the bottom lines of companies like ExxonMobil and BP.   

Make no mistake, either: Those profits are perfectly healthy. Between drilling and refining, Exxon’s U.S. operations alone earned $7.5 billion after taxes in 2012. California-based Occidental Petroleum Corporation, one of the so-called “independent” oil companies and the top oil driller in Texas, raked in $7.1 billion via its oil and gas division. 

(click here to continue reading America’s Most Obvious Tax Reform Idea: Kill the Oil and Gas Subsidies – The Atlantic.)

Written by Seth Anderson

May 13th, 2015 at 9:20 am

Oil Trains Hide in Plain Sight Waiting To Kill Us By Exploding

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You Go Your Way And I'll Go Mine
You Go Your Way And I’ll Go Mine.

Big Government, saving you from an oil tanker blowing up in your neighborhood. What a travesty! Shut it down!

While the existence of this virtual pipeline is obvious to its neighbors—trains are visible from homes, the local commuter rail station, a park and a popular jogging trail—it is officially secret. Delaware Safety and Homeland Security officials contend that publicizing any information about the oil trains parked there would “reveal the State’s vulnerability to terrorist attacks,” according to a letter to The Wall Street Journal.

Finding the locations of oil-filled trains remains difficult, even in states that don’t consider the information top secret. There are no federal or state rules requiring public notice despite several fiery accidents involving oil trains, including one in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, that killed 47 people.

The desire for secrecy seems wrongheaded to some experts. “If you don’t share this information, how are people supposed to know what they are supposed to do when another Lac-Mégantic happens?” asked Denise Krepp, a consultant and former senior counsel to the congressional Homeland Security Committee.

She said more firefighting equipment and training was needed urgently. “We are not prepared,” she said.

In May, federal regulators ordered railroads to tell states about the counties traversed by trains carrying combustible crude oil from the Bakken Shale in North Dakota so local first responders could be notified.

The Journal submitted open-records requests to all 48 contiguous states and the District of Columbia and received at least some information from all but 14: Colorado, Delaware, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont and West Virginia.

Mapping data received from the disclosing states, the Journal found a lot of other cities in the same situation as Newark. On its way to refiners on the East Coast and along the Gulf of Mexico, oil often sits in tank cars in railroad yards outside Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, Penn., and passes through Cleveland, Chicago, Albany, Seattle and a dozen other cities.

(click here to continue reading Oil Trains Hide in Plain Sight – WSJ.)

I’ve been looking for a while to take a photo of one of these oil tankers in Illinois, but haven’t found one yet. Do you have a photo?

The Bakken crude contains a lot of butane, making it volatile but useful for mixing with heavier oils or as a refined byproduct, said refinery manager José Dominguez. On a recent afternoon, the refinery was running mostly Bakken oil, along with some diluted crude from Canadian oil sands and a ship’s worth of light sweet oil from Basra, Iraq.

When Norfolk Southern began routing crude trains through Newark, it didn’t notify the local emergency officials. Last March, a year after trains started turning up, Fire Chief A.J. Schall sat down with officials from the railroad and refinery to discuss the crude shipments.

“It shows a lack of communication,” he said. By the summer, Norfolk Southern and PBF paid for Mr. Schall and another local fire chief to fly to Colorado and attend a three-day class on crude-by-rail trains.

(click here to continue reading Oil Trains Hide in Plain Sight – WSJ.)

Ok, problem solved, just fly local officials to Colorado, and give them a cannabis stipend… 

Oh, and in case it isn’t clear, I’m a liberal who believes government is frequently the solution to our nation’s problems which puts me radically at odds to the flame throwers like Ted “Calgary” Cruz who want to shut the government down because they are opposed to some policy or other.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Seth Anderson

December 4th, 2014 at 12:38 am

Illinois Roads, Texas Roads

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Interstate
Illinois Interstate

There seems to be some sort of metaphor here. Compare and contrast, Illinois vs. Texas…

Illinois increases highway speeds:

Drivers tooling through the Illinois countryside will be able to nudge the gas pedal a little harder next year after Gov. Pat Quinn overcame safety concerns and approved legislation Monday that will raise the speed limit on rural interstates to 70 mph.

Dodging a possible veto showdown, Quinn signed the measure despite opposition from the Illinois Department of Transportation, state police and leading roadway safety organizations, who feared increased mayhem on the highways, especially between cars and trucks.

“This limited 5 miles-per-hour increase will bring Illinois’ rural interstate speed limits in line with our neighbors’ and the majority of states across America, while preventing an increase in excessive speeding,” Quinn said in a statement.

The six-county Chicago region — home to some of the nation’s busiest interstates — would be allowed to set lower speed limits under the law, as would two Illinois counties near St. Louis. The speed limit would increase on the Illinois Tollway but also could be kept at current limits on some stretches, according to the governor’s office.

The speed limit in Illinois is 55 mph in metropolitan areas and 65 on rural highways. But on Jan. 1, Illinois will become the 37th state to approve limits of 70 mph or higher since the national speed limit was repealed almost two decades ago.

(click here to continue reading Quinn signs 70 mph speed limit law for Illinois – chicagotribune.com.)

 Steep Road Ahead

Steep Road Ahead

while in some areas of Texas, the conservative mantra of private profit over public services finally yields to reality – the government cannot afford to maintain the roads anymore.

Citing a funding shortfall and the impact of a historic oil drilling boom, Texas Department of Transportation officials on Thursday announced plans to move forward with converting some roads in West and South Texas to gravel.

Approximately 83 miles of asphalt roads will be torn up and converted to “unpaved” roads, TxDOT Deputy Executive Director John Barton said. The speed limits on those roads will probably be reduced to 30 mph.

“We would do these immediately, and I would suspect we would continue to convert other roadway segments as we continue to move forward,” Barton told the Texas Transportation Commission.

All of the affected roads have been so heavily damaged by truck activity related to oil and natural gas exploration that they have become safety hazards, Barton said. The process of converting the roads to gravel can be done quickly but will probably be delayed a few weeks as TxDOT gets permission from the commissioners to lower the speed limits on all of the impacted segments, Barton said.

The impacted roads are in four South Texas counties — Live Oak, Dimmit, LaSalle and Zavala — and two West Texas counties — Reeves and Culberson. The list of impacted roads includes a three-mile stretch of frontage road for Interstate 37 in Live Oak County. Barton said a plant that processes oil and natural gas has dramatically increased the truck traffic on that road.

“Instead of whipping in at 70 miles per hour, they’ll have to move in there at 30 miles per hour,” Barton said.

(click here to continue reading TxDOT Plans to Convert Some Roads to Gravel | The Texas Tribune.)

Illinois is no haven of joy, but at least the IL government isn’t so cowed by corporations they cannot collect enough in taxes to keep roads paved…

The part I cannot understand is why Rick Perry’s friends in the oil industry are allowing this to happen. Won’t slower traffic impact profits? 

Austin Capitol From The East Side
Austin Capitol From The Left Side

Steve Benen adds:

The state legislature briefly considered tax increases on energy companies — the companies that have benefited greatly from the energy boom, and which are chiefly responsible for pushing the roads quite literally past the breaking point — but as you might have guessed, those proposals faced stiff political opposition and never gained traction in Austin.

Darlene Meyer, a 77-year-old rancher whose property sits along a state road marked for conversion to gravel, told the Texas Tribune, “Texas used to have the best roads…. I just can’t believe the Department of Transportation is going back to the dark ages.”

…On the one hand, Gov. Rick Perry (R) believes Texas’ economy is amazing, and he’s managed to strike the perfect balance between meeting the public’s needs and keeping the private sector happy. Every other state, the governor assures us, should be following Texas’ lead — after all, thanks to the energy sector, the Lone Star State has plenty of money.

On the other hand, thanks to wear and tear from the oil companies, which have made themselves remarkably rich from Texas’ resources, Texas can no longer afford to pave many of its roads, and will instead transition from pavement to gravel.

(click here to continue reading A different kind of Stone Age – The Maddow Blog.)

Written by Seth Anderson

August 20th, 2013 at 8:15 am

Divvy Bike-sharing Program Off To A Good Start

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Yayyy, got my DivvyBikes key today
Yayyy, got my DivvyBikes key today

Jon Hilkevitch of the Chicago Tribune reports:

The Divvy bike-share service, less than two months old, surpassed the 150,000-trip mark Friday, according to CDOT. About 5,000 annual Divvy members are enrolled, at $75 each, and more than 37,000 24-hour passes have been sold, at $7 each.

More than 458,000 total miles have been logged on individual trips since the service was introduced June 28, and the trips have averaged roughly 18 minutes each in recent days as more docking stations have opened, according to city transportation data.

Also, the three-speed bikes painted “Chicago blue” have logged more than 11,000 miles a day in recent days this month, with some weekend days exceeding 25,000 miles, the data show, based on the start and end points for each trip.

The service, dubbed Divvy to reflect the divide-and-share nature of bike-sharing, is not designed or priced for users to hog the bikes on leisurely, hourslong trips. Customers are supposed to use the bikes for 30 minutes or less on each ride. Riders get unlimited trips lasting up to a half-hour; after that, overtime fees are charged.

While on the one hand calling the public response to the Divvy program “beyond expectations,” city officials have set a high bar for ultimate success.

(click here to continue reading Divvy bike-sharing program, almost 2 months old, getting in gear, data show – chicagotribune.com.)

You Always Have Options
You Always Have Options

I signed my company up for Divvy Bike membership about two weeks ago, wanting to wait until the opening night jitters were worked out, and have been using the bikes for short trips around my office. I’ve taken more than ten rides so far, experiencing only one incident of faulty station – but a Divvy Bikes employee was on hand and took my bike to a different location for me. Also once the station I was planning to use didn’t have any bikes in it, but the next station was less than 2 blocks away. One other minor issue I encountered was that the amount of force you have to use when docking a bike surprised me, and at first I couldn’t get the bike to dock, but eventually a fellow Divvy-rider did it for me. I returned to favor to another rider the next day.

I own a bike of my own, but having a Divvy bike membership encourages brief bike rides; times where I might have taken a cab, or walked, instead I’ll jump on a Divvy bike. Of course, it’s summer right now, and Chicago has been having a beautifully mild season, the real test will be in mid-January. I’d also like to be able to travel farther, this will be possible when more stations are installed. Currently only 160 out of a planned 400 are active, less than half.

Regardless, I’m happy to support the idea of more bikes in Chicago. More bikes on the road means less cars, in general, and also encourages the government to install more bike lanes, which encourages more bikers, and so on. 

Written by Seth Anderson

August 19th, 2013 at 9:16 am

Cable Car Remnants in Chicago

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IBEW 134 is supporting Obama

Interesting. I’ll have to get a better photograph of this place.

Much less well-known is the West Chicago Street Railroad’s (WCSR) former powerhouse, still standing in the West Loop at Washington Street and Jefferson Street. Equipment in this building drove two cables: one that pulled cable cars through the tunnel under the Chicago River along Washington Street and around the downtown and another shorter cable that pulled cars from Washington Street and Jefferson Street to Madison Street and DesPlaines Street.

This former WCSR powerhouse at Jefferson and Washington streets drove the cables that pulled West Side cable cars through the tunnel under the South Branch of the Chicago River and around two downtown loops. It is now the headquarters of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 134. The building was vacated in 1906, and for decades it housed the Chicago Surface Line’s Legal and Accident Investigation Department. Subsequently, it was modified—more substantially, perhaps unalterably, than the NCSR’s powerhouse on LaSalle Street. Several dormers were added at the roofline, the rear portion of the building was extended, and the smokestack was removed. Most significantly, a large stone wall covers much of the first floor. Today, the building serves as headquarters for Local 134 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which also hosts the monthly meeting of the 20th Century Railroad Club.

(click here to continue reading Cable Car Remnants | Forgotten Chicago | History, Architecture, and Infrastructure.)

Update: a better photo

Former Powerhouse of West Chicago Street Railroad

Written by Seth Anderson

December 30th, 2012 at 1:16 pm

Chicago train system: Called the L not the El

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Station hopping shuffler
Station hopping shuffler

Since I was looking for this Chicago Transit Authority citation recently, I’m posting it here so I can find it easier in the future. Proper usage is important, especially if you know there is a proper usage.

As far as I could tell, Grid Chicago didn’t actually make this a blog post, but their Twitter conversation was picked up by a few outlets, including the Chicago Tribune:

You may have wondered, as you climb aboard a CTA train: Are you about to ride the “El” or the “L”?

Grid Chicago, a blog devoted to energy-conscious transit issues in the city, asked on its Twitter feed last week which usage people prefer — the single “L” or the longer “El.”

Among the responses came one from the official CTA Twitter account:

That’s not to say the “El” isn’t used, despite the fact that only parts of the city’s rail system are elevated. Time Out Chicago, a publication devoted to covering arts and entertainment in the city, is among those preferring “El.”

“El” can also be found in some book references. For instance, in his 1947 collection “The Neon Wilderness,” Chicago author Nelson Algren refers repeatedly to the “El.”

“She put her hat on the dresser and sat by the window, looking out at the night-fuming neon all the way down Congress to the El,” Algren writes at one point. Though, in fairness, some credit (blame?) East Coast editors for changing the usage.

(click here to continue reading Chicago train system: Is it the L or the El? – Chicago Tribune.)

I’ve had a few of my photos published by Grid Chicago – they are good people, and have a good mission. Check ’em out…

Written by Seth Anderson

June 30th, 2012 at 9:03 am

Posted in Chicago-esque

Tagged with , , ,

A Terrible Transportation Bill

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Imaginary Anthropology
Imaginary Anthropology

The anti-American Republicans in the House are trying to gut public transit.

Add this to the list of Things I’m Pissed Off About…

The list of outrages coming out of the House is long, but the way the Republicans are trying to hijack the $260 billion transportation bill defies belief. This bill is so uniquely terrible that it might not command a majority when it comes to a floor vote, possibly next week, despite Speaker John Boehner’s imprimatur. But betting on rationality with this crew is always a long shot.

Here is a brief and by no means exhaustive list of the bill’s many defects:

¶It would make financing for mass transit much less certain, and more vulnerable, by ending a 30-year agreement that guaranteed mass transit a one-fifth share of the fuel taxes and other user fees in the highway trust fund. Instead it would compete annually with other programs.

¶It would open nearly all of America’s coastal waters to oil and gas drilling, including environmentally fragile areas that have long been off limits. The ostensible purpose is to raise revenue to help make up what has become an annual shortfall for transportation financing. But it is really just one more attempt to promote the Republicans’ drill-now-drill-everywhere agenda and the interests of their industry patrons.

¶It would demolish significant environmental protections by imposing arbitrary deadlines on legally mandated environmental reviews of proposed road and highway projects, and by ceding to state highway agencies the authority to decide whether such reviews should occur.

Where that $40 billion will come from is also unclear. The idea that oil revenues from increased drilling will provide it is delusional. Even if new leases are rushed through, oil will not begin to flow for years, and neither will the royalties.

In any case, none of this is good news for urban transit systems, including New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which, in 2010 alone, received about $1 billion from the trust fund.

Ray LaHood, the transportation secretary, rightly calls this the “worst transportation bill” he has seen in 35 years of public service. Mr. Boehner is even beginning to hear from budget-conscious conservatives who believe that relying on user fees is the most fiscally responsible way to pay for all transportation programs.

(click here to continue reading A Terrible Transportation Bill – NYTimes.com.)

 

Written by Seth Anderson

February 9th, 2012 at 2:35 pm