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Light Rail Now! NewsLog

Produced by the Light Rail Now! Publication Team

This news feature provides an ongoing Weblog of particularly significant developments in public transportation and rail transit.

23 September 2011

Oklahoma City:
Streetcar project moves forward as basic route plan is accepted

Oklahoma City — This city's leading-edge commitment to streetcar-type light rail transit has leaped ahead, with the acceptance of a basic initial streetcar route plan.

streetcar On April 5th, according to a recent summary report from Rail Transit Online (posted by the APTA Streetcar and Heritage Trolley website), "Oklahoma City Council accepted an initial recommendation for a downtown streetcar circulator loop connecting MidTown to Bricktown."
[Simulation of streetcar in Bricktown: Keep OKC Moving]

The RTO update goes on to detail that "The project is part of the $777-million third phase of a downtown revitalization program known as MAPS 3 that includes a new convention center, a large park, senior centers and other community amenities."

MAPS program manager Eric Wenger told The Oklahoman daily newspaper that "This represents about four miles [6.4 km] of the five- to six-mile [8-9.6 km] route as part of the MAPS 3 budget."

However, says the summary,

...the proposed alignment could change once the locations of a new intermodal transportation hub and the convention center are selected and after detailed engineering studies are completed. In addition, plans for a makeover of downtown streets, sidewalks and public spaces would be part of the decision.

Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett, also interviewed by The Oklahoman, expressed caution aboit the streetcar planning process: "It's very early in the process, but we do have a lot of overlapping projects and it's nice for staff to have some direction even though the council is not committing itself to any specific route at this time."

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2010/09/23

More on Oklahoma City Public Transport

More on Rail Transit Development...

More on Streetcars...

7 September 2011

They're at it again! Anti-rail extremists push ANOTHER ballot measure to outlaw rail transit

Cincinnati, Ohio — They lost in 2009, but they're baaaack!

Led by extreme-right Tea Party and Road Warrior zealots, an otherwise unlikely coalition of Libertarians and anti-labor fanatics, a couple of somewhat marginal labor unions, a police organization, anti-environmentalists, the Southwest Ohio Green Party, other rightwing activists, the Cincinnati NAACP, and a handful of anti-tax and NIMBY groups have all gotten in some kind of bed (or Xtreme Fighting cage) together to pursue another ballot measure to stop rail transit development in Cincinnati.

Most prominent in the anti-rail campaign is a Tea Party-connected group, COAST (Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes), described by one article as "rabidly mass transit", which has been joined in a very curious and rather contradictory partnership against rail transit with the Cincinnati NAACP (which supposedly represents black Cincinnatians, many of whom are quite dependent on public transport for their basic mobility).

As of mid-August, the rail opponents had collected sufficient signatures (somewhat less than 7,500) on petitions to put a broad and ferociously anti-rail city charter amendment on the Nov. 8th ballot.

Rail supporters (i.e., opponents of the anti-rail measure) are primarily led by a group called Cincinnatians for Progress (CFP), whose main contention is that the proposed charter amendment doesn't target just streetcars, but, through very broad, misleading wording, it would effectively encompass all types of rail transit and even rail passenger proposals.

A small group of anti-progress activists are trying – again – to stop Cincinnati from developing passenger rail. They want a disastrous city charter amendment that would – again – go far beyond their stated intention.

CFP explains what the ballot language of the proposed amendment would actually do:

It would bar anyone – including private parties – from working on any form of rail-based transportation for 10 years. That arbitrary "dead period" would make it illegal for the city to take advantage of new technology and new circumstances, such as the future federal stimulus dollars. Under the language of this proposal, a generation would pass before Cincinnati could hope to see light rail or commuter rail, or even the return of the inclines.

In a more extended scrutiny of the proposed amendment, CFP provides an insightful analysis of the content. This includes the notorious Section 3, which defines a "streetcar system" in a way so broadly as to stipulate a sweeping prohibition of all forms of rail transit:

Section 3. For purposes of this Amendment, (i) the term "Streetcar System" means a system of passenger vehicles operated on rails constructed primarily in existing public rights of way....

Since virtually any rail public transport system must operate on publicly owned or acquired "existing public rights of way" – from public streets to abandoned railway rights-of-way acquired by a public entity to elevated or subway alignments in rights-of-way also acquired for public use – the charter amendment would righteously ban 'em all: light rail, streetcars, regional passenger rail, intercity passenger rail, subways, elevated lines ... you name it!

Somehow, someway, the COAST coalition seems to have contracted a peculiarly obsessive and intriguing case of ferrophobia. Whatever ... maybe they can all deal with it in post-election psychotherapy.

But for Cincinnati voters committed to rational decisionmaking for the city's future, the current path should be as clear as glass: On November 8th, send this proposed crackpot charter amendment to the same place as the first one in 2009 – the trash heap!

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2010/09/07

More on Cincinnati Public Transport

More on Rail Transit Political Campaigns...

More on Policy & Political Issues ...

19 August 2011

Washington, DC:
First starter lines of proposed citywide streetcar system "taking shape", as city seeks operating contractor

Washington, DC — America's capital – which once had a large, interconnected, efficient, and convenient streetcar network until it was scrapped, largely by government policy and fiat – seems determined to re-install at least a portion of a functional modern streetcar system.

streetcar Last year, the Washington Post reported (14 May 2010) that DC decisionmakers and planners – with the District Department of Transportation (DDoT) taking the lead – were envisioning a new streetcar system stretching 37 miles throughout the city, with an investment cost of $1.5 billion. It's proposed that commercial property owners would be assessed for about a quarter of this funding.
[Photo: DDoT]

This past March, a summary article from Rail Transit Online (posted by the APTA Streetcar and Heritage Trolley website) reported further developments with this relatively sweeping light rail investment proposal:

Washington's Department of Transportation has issued a Request For Information seeking a private-sector company to operate and maintain the planned 37-mi. (59.5 km) streetcar system, the first two short segments of which are scheduled to open during 2012.

Based on the responses received from the RFI, the DDoT plans to issue a Request For Proposals by early summer and select a contractor in August. The RFI seeks answers to numerous questions including whether the city or the contractor should own the cars, if WMATA should manage the vendor and how fares should be collected. DDoT has tentatively determined it wants an initial five-year contract with three five-year options.

As the RTO report also notes, installation of the starter lines of this cityswide system is well under way:

The first two lines are taking shape in Anacostia and along H Street and will use six streetcars, three already on hand that were built in the Czech Republic and three more that will soon be ordered, comprising two conventional units and one that can operate without overhead wires.

DDoT's streetcar program is being managed by a team led by Shiels Obletz Johnsen, HDR Engineering Inc. and ZGF Architects LP, reports RTO.

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2010/08/19

More on Washington, DC Public Transport

More on Rail Transit Development...

More on Streetcars...

17 August 2011

Norfolk (Virginia):
As light rail nears opening, major cost savings are reported mainly from shifting work in-house rather than outsourcing to private contractors

Norfolk, Virginia — With the official opening of this small city's interurban-type 7.4-mile (11.9-km) light rail transit (LRT) line, branded The Tide, now just days away, Hampton Roads Transit [HRT] officials have announced that the total capital investment cost has been shaved by tens of millions of dollars, enough apparently to reinstate at least one major passenger amenity – WiFi.

In a meeting with several dozen Norfolk business leaders (reported in the Norfolk-area Daily Press of July 20th), HRT's chief rail operations officer Jim Price announced that "Within 30 days of opening, the line will have wireless communications" – reversing a previous decision by the agency to leave out WiFi service because of the extra cost.

Price also confirmed that LRT service was definitely scheduled to begin August 19th, providing free rides until paid fares would be required starting Aug. 22nd. HRT is currently projecting initial ridership at about 2,900 rider-trips per day, he said.

Price also affirmed that the system's "full contingent" (fleet) of six electric LRT railcars were ready to maintain a regular schedule, running from Ft. Norfolk in the CBD out eastward to Newtown Road.

Price, who has worked on previous LRT starter lines in Baltimore, Salt Lake City, and Seattle, told the meeting that the experience of those communities influences his perspective that The Tide will make the Norfolk region more desirable.

"It adds transportation value that didn't exist previously. One of the greatest rewards is how it changes communities" Price emphasized.

"In Salt Lake City, no one was going to ride. Now it is probably the most wildly successful system. Main Street became the focus of development."

In further good news, Philip Shucet, HRT president and CEO, has announced that the final bill for installing the LRT starter line now is expected to be reduced by nearly $20 million to no more than $318.5 million, according to an August 16th report in Norflok's Virginian-Pilot daily newspaper.

"The Tide's latest cost-to-complete, set in February 2010, was $338.3 million" recounts the paper, noting that the figure represented a $106 million overrun from when construction began over 3.5 years previously.

Shucet, who according to the paper "was hired a year and a half ago to control spiraling costs and finish construction", attributed the difference to "relentless attention to every dollar going out the door for every single line item. We made an early commitment to spend this money with the realization that it didn't belong to us, and I think it's fair to say we did a good job at that."

Shucet emphasized that most of the capital cost savings were accrued from "doing work within the agency as opposed to hiring high-dollar consultants" (as related by the paper). Shucet also noted that HRT has not needed to access any portion of the budgeted $10 million contingency fund, which was required by the Federal Transit Administration.

"It is wonderful news" Norfolk Mayor Paul Fraim applauded. "We'd hoped all along they'd be able to save a good deal of the contingencies, and HRT under Phil Shucet's direction was able to do that."

Fraim noted that, while the $318.5 million is higher than initially projected, the cost-per-mile of building The Tide comes do just $43 million.

"If it's not the lowest on a per-mile basis of any light rail, it's at the very bottom of the list" he pointed out.

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2010/08/17

More on Norfolk Public Transport

More on Rail Transit Development...

More on Cost, Budget, & Financial Issues...

2 August 2011

City officials keep streetcar project moving forward, despite resistance of new anti-rail Ohio governor

Rightwing extremists in the Tea Party movement and Republican Party continue to rev up their attacks on rail passenger and rail transit projects, as part of their ongoing campaign against virtually all forms of public spending on socially beneficial projects.

A case in point is the campaign by Ohio's newly elected (and Tea Party-backed) Republican Governor John Kasich, who has renounced hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding for a proposed intercity rail passenger development program, and has now turned his sights on Cincinnati's plan to start a light rail transit (LRT) streetcar project.

On April 12th, under pressure from the new Kasich administration, Ohio's Transportation Review Advisory Council (TRAC) voted 6-1 to withdraw $52 million already approved for the proposed $128-million Cincinnati streetcar plan.

According to an April 2011 report by Rail Transit Online, posted to the APTA Streetcar and Heritage Trolley website, Kasich and his state Department of Transportation Director, Jerry Wray, "said eliminating the funding will help close Ohio's projected budget deficit."

"Despite evidence to the contrary, Wray contends the streetcar would not be a job creator" says the report.

As the RTO report further reveals, the decision seems not only politically motivated but inherently contradictory:

Politics is not supposed to enter into TRAC's deliberations but streetcar supporters assert that Wray and Kasich have clearly violated that rule; Kasich has been outspoken against the project since before taking office and vowed to stop it. TRAC had previously rated the streetcar 84 on a scale of 100 while a new highway bridge over the Ohio River has a rank of 26. Wray recommended that the TRAC board scrap the streetcar but approve the bridge. There is also a Republican-sponsored amendment in the $7-billion, two-year state transportation bill prohibiting the use of any state or federal money for streetcars.

streetcar Simulation of Cincinnati streetcar. Averaged over 35 years, streetcar project's economic return is projected at 2.7 times greater than investment cost of system.
[Graphic: Cincinnati Streetcar]

In order to keep the project moving, local officials and supporters are now considering shortening the proposed route down to a smaller but still workable segment to fit the funding still available:

Some local officials are now suggesting that the line be truncated to save it. Instead of building the full 4.9 mi. (7.9 km) from the downtown riverfront to the uptown area near the University of Cincinnati, the route would terminate in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. There would be sufficient money from other sources to build the starter segment, and the remainder would be completed when financing becomes available.

"We have to keep our eyes on the prize" city council member and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls explained. "We'll just have to look at ways to reconfigure the route and look at changes in the basic operating model that will still result in a successful project while reducing costs."

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2010/08/02

More on Cincinnati Public Transport

More on Rail Transit Development...

More on Streetcars...

More on Policy & Political Issues ...

28 July 2011

Transit agency narrows route options to three for proposed 2-mile streetcar starter line

Providence, Rhode Island – Planning for an initial light rail streetcar in this New England capital city has continued to plod forward intrepidly, according to a summary report late last year from Rail Transit Online (posted by the APTA Streetcar and Heritage Trolley website):

Three route options have been selected by the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) as finalists for the Core Connector, a proposed two-mile (3.2 km) downtown Providence streetcar circulator. There is little difference between the three; all would use Angell and Exchange streets but take slightly different alignments through Kennedy Plaza and the Jewelry District while still serving Brown University, the convention center, a sports arena and Rhode Island Hospital.

RIPTA is expected to make a final choice in soon, acording to the report.

RIPTA's special projects manager and planner Amy Pettine emphasized that the selection of a starter route " no small task."

"This is visionary and we're excited, but we have a long way to go" she added.

A number of additional key decisions remain, RTO points out, but, if all goes well, there's a chance the starter line could be up and running within four years:

Although a streetcar is the preferred mode of elected officials, RIPTA is still studying alternatives; that decision will be made next spring.

A preliminary estimate puts the connector's capital cost at $76 million, half of which officials hope will come from the federal government. If financing comes through as scheduled, construction could start in the summer of 2013 and be completed 18 months later.

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2010/07/28

More on Providence Public Transport

More on Rail Transit Development...

More on Streetcars...

10 July 2011

Augusta (Georgia):
Streetcar desire still alive

Augusta, Georgia – This small Southern city's plans for a streetcar starter line are "still active", at least, according to a summary report late last year from Rail Transit Online (posted by the APTA Streetcar and Heritage Trolley website).

The city's Downtown Development Authority "is still planning to consider a streetcar circulator nearly a year after completion of a $37,000 feasibility study" says the RTO summary, which quotes authority Executive Director Margaret Woodard: "We've just been working on other issues. It will resurface through committee."

So far, the Augusta study has examined a proposal for a 3.1-mi. (5-km) single-track car line running down Broad, Reynolds, and Seventh streets, with investment cost projected between $22 million and $31 million. A spur costing about $5 million more, along 13th Street, "would link downtown to the University of Georgia's medical campus" says RTO.

As for financing such a project, "The study found that federal grants would probably be unavailable and that funding would have to come entirely from local sources such as sales tax, a tax-increment financing district or a business improvement district."

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2010/07/10

More on Augusta Public Transport

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More on Streetcars...

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