Currently viewing the category: "High Speed Rail"

The Florida state Supreme Court released its response to a lawsuit filed eariler in the week alleging Governor Rick Scott exceeded his authority in rejecting high speed rail money. The ruling states:

 The Court has reviewed the petition, response, and reply, has heard oral argument, and has considered the factual allegations and legal arguments. Based on the limited record before the Court and a review of the federal and state law relied on by the parties, the Court has determined that the petitioners have not clearly demonstrated entitlement to …. relief. Accordingly, the emergency petition is hereby denied.

Too bad.  Ray LaHood quickly responded by saying “I know that states across America are enthusiastic about receiving additional support to help bring America’s high-speed rail network to life and deliver all its economic benefits to their citizens.” No kidding.

Earlier in the day governor Rick Scott used ongoing state funding of Tri-Rail as an example of why HSR would leave the state on the hook for ongoing mantinenance of the system once built. Kudos to Politifact for calling bullshit on this one.  

If Scott were on a crusade to end public subsidies for all forms of transportation, that would be one thing. Transportation systems —including roads, buses, ports and trains — more than not require government help.

But Scott is trying to isolate the problem to trains when citing Tri-Rail’s revenue problems as a reason for nixing high-speed rail in Florida. It may be a convenient talking point, but the two systems are hardly alike. In the end, high-speed fail might fail and the projections for ridership might be too rosy. But people shouldn’t use Tri-Rail as evidence any more than they should cite any other form of mass transit. We rate this claim Barely True.

Well said.

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Last week, I had the displeasure of traveling along the entire length of I-4 from Daytona Beach to Tampa. Along the way, I witnessed unbearable traffic, some routine and some the result of a horrific tractor trailer crash just west of Sanford (Note: another crash Sunday backed up traffic for over 5 miles). While not particularly high on the list for the most congested interstates in the US, the Daily Beast, using figures from the National Highway Safety Administration, finds I-4 to be the third deadliest highway in the United States. Take a look at number one on that list – Florida’s own I-95 – another highway slated to have a safer rail alternative, should HSR come to fruition…

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today issued the following statement on High Speed Rail in Florida. 

 This morning I met with Governor Rick Scott to discuss the high speed rail project that will create jobs and economic development for the entire state of Florida. He asked me for additional information about the state’s role in this project, the responsibilities of the Florida Department of Transportation, as well as how the state would be protected from liability. I have decided to give Governor Scott additional time to review the agreement crafted by local officials from Orlando, Tampa, Lakeland and Miami, and to consult with his staff at the state Department of Transportation. He has committed to making a final decision by the end of next week. I feel we owe it to the people of Florida, who have been working to bring high speed rail to their state for the last 20 years, to go the extra mile.

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In a shortsighted and cheap politically motivated move, Governor Rick Scott decided Wednesday that he would reject the $2.4 Billion in funding the state had already received from the US DOT, and in so doing set the state back by over 20,000 jobs. The initial Tampa to Orlando link, an 84 mile spur, would have required a $300M contribution from the state, created an estimated 23,000 jobs, and would have set the foundation for an expanded statewide network of HSR.

While not perfect, we here at Transit Miami have been strong advocates of the Tampa/Orlando HSR route, viewing it as the first step toward creating a viable, sustainable, and long-term alternative to the congested roadways and airports throughout the state. Coupled with smart growth oriented land-use policies and an investment in public transportation, HSR had the potential to reshape the Florida landscape from one of unchecked suburban sprawl and congestion, to livable, multi-modal, communities ready for future population growth and able to co

mpete on a global scale.

Apparently when the Governor said that he wanted to, “Make Florida the Job Creation Model for the Nation”  he was just kidding.

The truth is Scott has zero intention of providing any solutions that could serve as a model for the nation- and he is going to need those 20,000 jobs he just sent to California to dig him out of the hole he is burying himself in. Just look at his latest rhetoric and policies; they imitate those of his Republican colleagues who pledge fiscal responsibility by reducing municipal programs while remaining oblivious to the true ailments of our government or the role it should play in supporting both businesses and the citizenry of the state. How can he  honestly claim that he favors job creation while making decisions that send tens of thousands of high paying construction and engineering jobs to other parts of the country?

Falling in step with his Republican counterparts in Wisconsin, New Jersey, and Ohio, Governor Scott’s latest decision has shown Floridians that his policies add nothing of value to our state and perpetuate the ideological thinking of the GOP on transportation infrastructure. The traditional GOP economic lens, likely employed by Gov Scott when analyzing the cost-benefit of transit is apparent in this report by the South Florida Business Journal which notes that “…that the state subsidizes Tri-Rail $34.6 million a year, while passenger revenue covers only $10.4 million of the $64 million annual operating budget.” Comparatively, we spend tens of billions of dollars on highway construction and maintenance of which only a fraction of that amount come from user fees and tax. The economic boogeyman conservatives use against transit projects ignore the facts – we spend more than 4 times what we bring in from car user fees and taxes on highway projects, with diminishing returns on those investments on the land-use and development side.

Despite Scott’s self proclaimed “keen business sense,”  his myopic focus on the economics of the initial HSR phase illustrates a clear lack of vision. HSR is intended to be built out over multiple phases, with a second phase connecting Orlando with Miami. The economic vitality of the system is hinged on the completion of the network as a whole and not just the 84 mile segment linking Tampa and Orlando. Duh.

If a cornerstone of the Governor’s agenda is truly  job creation then transit should be high on his list of priorities. Public transportation systems are not only more efficient, and cost effective than highways, their construction creates more jobs than highway construction projects -to say nothing of the increased tax base and investment that occurs because of the land-use patterns that accompany transit.  Here are some other important facts for our Tea Party inspired governor (and republican legislature) to ponder regarding investment in HSR:

  • A recent report from the Smart Growth Alliance (SGA), a national coalition of state and local organizations working for smart growth across the country, analyzed the effect of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) on job creation. The SGA report concludes that for every ARRA dollar spent on public transportation (e.g. HSR), it yielded 70% more job hours than ARRA dollar spent on highways.
  • In analyzing the effect of HSR on the local economy, the Florida Department of  Transportation noted that in addition to the 10,000 direct construction related jobs to be created between 2012 and 2014, the project would have created 23,000 job-years of direct construction jobs and more than 48,000 job-years of work through both direct and spin-off employment during the four-year construction period. FDOT further estimates the system would employ approximately 600 people once operation starts and another 500 indirectly on an on-going basis.
  • The Economic Development Research Group, in a report to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), notes that the national rate “…can vary from of 24,000 to 41,000 jobs per billion dollars of spending…” The report attributes the broad range to the disparity of jobs created as a result of capital investments in vehicles and facilities vs. spending on transit system operations.
  • The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) even touts the benefits of HSR, noting that $87.2B is lost annually due to congestion in the United States, equating to 4.2B hours of lost productivity, and an additional $41B is lost annually due to air traffic congestion.

The economic impact of this decision reaches beyond the current economic climate. Consider the upcoming oil crisis and how defunt our transportation network will be without alternatives.  If we thought that the housing bubble and banking crisis was bad for our economy, what do you think is going to happen to our society when gas prices hit $5 , $6, $7 / gallon? Forget about the near ‘depression’ we just avoided – the bedlam that will result will be unlike anything any of us have ever experienced.

The inverse relationship between gas prices and consumer confidence shouldn’t come as surprise given how dependent the average Floridian has become on oil (and by extension a vehicle) for transportation. Given this relationship, where consumers have few alternatives, oil becomes a further inelastic commodity – further restricting our ability to compete in the global economy. It is not a question of if – but when the shit hits the proverbial fan we will have shortsighted and lackluster leaders like Governor Rick Scott to thank. We leave you with this food for thought from Shell Energy (not traditionally a bastion of tree-hugging liberals) from their 2011 report  ”Shell Energy Scenarios to 2050: An Era of Volatile Transitions

In broad-brush terms, natural innovation and competition could spur improvements in energy efficiency to moderate underlying demand by about 20% over this time. Ordinary rates of supply growth — taking into account technological, geological, competitive, financial and political realities — could naturally boost energy production by about 50%. But this still leaves a gap between business as- usual supply and business-as-usual demand of around 400 exajoules/year – the size of the whole industry in 2000. This gap – this Zone of Uncertainty – will have to be bridged by some combination of extraordinary demand moderation and extraordinary production acceleration.

Supply will struggle to keep pace with demand. By the end of the coming decade, growth in the production of easily accessible oil and gas will not match the projected rate of demand growth. While abundant coal exists in many parts of the world, transportation difficulties and environmental degradation ultimately pose limits to its growth. Meanwhile, alternative energy sources such as biofuels may become a much more significant part of the energy mix — but there is no “silver bullet” that will completely resolve supply-demand tensions.

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By now, we’re sure most of you have heard that Gov Rick Scott has killed the Florida HSR project linking Tampa and Orlando. While we put the finishing touches on our official response and reaction to the Governor’s (imprudent) decision – we’d like to hear your thoughts…

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Florida’s efforts to develop a statewide passenger rail network received a boost earlier this month with a $118M commitment by the FDOT for a potential Miami – Jacksonville Amtrak connection. Estimated at $268M, the MIA – JAX connection would enable trains to travel along the Florida East Coast (FEC) Railroad at speeds of up to 90MPH. This critical route would provide a direct rail link to many east coast downtowns including St. Augustine, Daytona Beach, Melbourne, Vero Beach, and Fort Pierce. The map below (obtained from the service development plan submitted in August 2010) depicts the anticipated stations serviced by the new route.

This latest attempt to receive matching funds from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is actually the third such from FDOT which previously filed requests for Federal support under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) in June 2009 and again last year as part of the High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail (HSIPR) Program. On both occasions, the MIA – Jax route took a backseat to the “shovel ready” Tampa – Orlando HSR, which now has $2.3B in funding commitments from the FRA.

The third time might just be the charm. The $118M proposed by the state amounts to a 45% match for the project, a marked departure from the $250M request submitted to the FRA in August. The funds are slated to come from the State Transportation Trust Fund in the 2013-2014 budget year. Senator Bill Nelson has already expressed emphatic support for the project, vowing to work with local officials throughout the corridor to identify funding for the project. US Representative John Mica, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, also expressed support for the project provided that it makes economic sense.

Current estimations predict that an estimated 865,000 trips will be made during the train’s first year of service.

For more information on the proposed service, Please visit the FDOT Florida East Coast Corridor – Amtrak Service High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail (HSIPR) application – August 2010

 

With so much hoopla surrounding the recent Republican backlash against HSR  and the lingering questions about whether Florida Governor Rick Scott will accept federal money for HSR (despite a recent visit by the Japanese Foreign Minister who advocated stongly on behalf of Japanese rail comanies) I found this discussion about the possibile origins of the backlash said it all:

I’d attribute part of the commentary to a real technocratic frustration with the sorry state of American transportation infrastructure, the sorry state of America’s transportation planning and funding mechanisms, and the sorry state of the Congress that should be trying to fix the problems. But the bulk of the passion can probably be chalked up to the fact that high-speed rail has become a culture war issue. And that’s unfortunate. It also feeds back into the frustration among technocrats, who see the debate over HSR as providing another telling example of an important issue, the merits of which are wholly obscured by identity politics.

from the Online Economic Editor for the Economist, Ryan Avent on his blog The Bellows

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Happy new year blogosphere! Transit Miami is back and better than ever with a tough agenda on the way for 2011. While we are excited about the coming year we didn’t want to move on without looking back at the top 5 events (in our opinion) which rocked our local planning and transportation world in 2010.

5. FL High Speed Rail

With the Obama Transportation policy reform in full swing, Florida’s Tampa-Orlando HSR link emerged as a big winner, securing over $2 Billion in federal funds and virtually guaranteeing the initial 84 mile corridor’s completion in 2015. Despite the near 100% funding commitment from the feds, this project almost faced a similar fate as the Ohio and Wisconsin HSR plans which were scrapped by incoming Republican Governors late this year. Incoming Republican Gov Rick Scott has pledged to fully evaluate the fiscal viability of the line and is awaiting a feasibility study due in February before deciding whether to accept the federal funds.(barf )

4. Construction begins on the Port of Miami Tunnel

At the end of 2009, things were starting to look bleak for the $1 Billion Port of Miami Tunnel intended to divert truck traffic out of Miami’s downtown streets and onto the highway. With funding in place, the port tunnel quietly broke ground in the summer of 2010, finally bringing the 20+ year old concept into reality. The 1 mile tunnel will link Dodge and Watson Islands, providing the estimated 7,000 trucks and countless other vehicles which access the port daily with new, direct access; reducing congestion, and eliminating much truck traffic that would otherwise use normal downtown streets to get to I95. The tunnel is expected to be completed in 2014.

 

3. Tragedy on the Rickenbacker Causeway

The year got off to a rough start for South Florida Cyclists with the tragic death of Christophe Le Canne on the Rickenbacker Causeway. Le Canne, a 44 year old local cyclist and photographer was killed by a drunk driver on the morning of January 17. His death struck a nerve in growing cycling community. South Florida cyclists gathered like never before in a massive display of solidarity. With an estimated 2,500 cyclists in attendance, the Christophe Le Canne memorial ride (see video below), while tragic, echoed the collective sentiment of cyclists fed up with the status quo. Transit Miami issued a set of design and policy recommendations for the Rick in 2010, and we will continue to meet with elected officials and stakeholders to make the causeway the multimodal parkway we know it could be.

Christophe Le Canne Memorial Ride from rydel high on Vimeo.

2. FDOT heeds Brickell Community Concerns; more must be done

One of Transit Miami’s big projects this year was the campaign to improve pedestrian and cyclist conditions on Brickell. We organized residents, community groups, business interests, and elected officials to come together to speak with one voice to tell FDOT to make Brickell more pedestrian friendly as they move forward with street redesign and drainage improvement plans. We took field trips with FDOT to show them how unsafe they were desiging the road, and we let them square off with community residents and stakeholders in a meeting that left them looking careless and silly. FDOT eventually agreed to lower the speed limit, add several new crosswalks, and include shared-use arrow (sharrow) markings on the outside lane for cyclists – but more still needs to be done.  We are not going to stop until FDOT designs the street to take into account all users, and more than that, places automotive Level of Service at the bottom of a long list of other more important factors (like pedestrian and cyclist safety).

1. Miami 21

After a tumultuous 4 years of public comment,  hysterics, and misinformation, Miami 21 was officially implemented in 2010. We here at Transit Miami joined forces with the City of Miami in 2006 in full support of the plan, working closely with commissioners and city officials to help promote the virtues of a solid, form-based zoning code. The revolutionary work in Miami hasn’t gone unnoticed; since its adoption in May, Miami 21 has been the recipient of numerous awards including the American Planning Association (APA) Florida Chapter Award of Excellence, the American Architecture Award, and the Driehaus Form-Based Codes Award. The code has its issues, including excessively high parking requirements (championed by NYMBY groups) and a general lack of T4 around town, but these are issues we will continue to address in the coming years. We remain committed partners with the City of Miami Planning Department, and look forward to seeing how the code works with our existing transit investments to help Miami get through its urban growing pains.

Here is to a healthy and prosperous 2011! Cheers from the Transit Miami team.

 

Now that HSR is on its way to reality in Florida, we thought you might want to check out these links relating to the ongoing work building Florida’s Future in High Speed Rail. As many know ex-governor Bush stalled high speed rail until governor Christ revived the plans submitted to the federal government and received funding for Phase I Tampa-Orlando.

High Speed Rail Corridors

Tampa Station Connection

Orlando Connection

Miami Route Evaluation

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In honor of President Obama’s announcement of Florida’s high speed rail grant money, I thought I would share what real high speed rail looks like. This is the JR Maglev, developed by the Japanese Railway company. Reaching maximum speeds of 581 kph -  that’s 361 mph – this isn’t some sissy Amtrack 200 mph stuff. I doubt this is what we’re getting, but getting to Orlando in 1.5 hours is better than three or more.

See you real soon Orlando.

I took a trip up to Orlando this weekend, and couldn’t help but think of how much more pleasant the trip would have been if I didn’t have to play road warrior to get there. At about 230 miles away, Orlando is not very far in high speed rail talk, considering that the base speed for a train to be considered ‘high speed’ is 125 mph or faster. That would make the trip to Disney almost two hours (allowing for a certain number of stops between here and there).

The future of rail travel within the State of Florida is might look different in ten years if legislators agree to meet this December to revisit state funding of Sun Rail (and Tri Rail).

The battle lies in Atwater’s Senate, where critics twice have defeated SunRail despite well-financed pushes by special interests. The most recent proposal included the state paying $150 million for CSX rail track in Central Florida then paying an additional $496 million for improvements to CSX facilities and to a CSX freight line west of the commuter system. Hundreds of millions more would come from local and federal governments to complete the $1.2 billion project. (Herald)

With the feds ready to give half a billion for the construction of Sun-Rail, and construction set to begin within a year of approval by the state legislature, what are they waiting for??  Regardless of the future of high speed rail in Florida, this is a worthy project that will help produce a modal shift in Central Florida.

Map of Sun Rail

Observers say that funding Sun-Rail and Tri-Rail now is pivotal in order to be taken seriously by the feds for high-speed rail funding (not to mention funding for our own much needed FEC corridor). Local commitments to fund rail and transit projects are vital in securing federal dollars for constructing infrastructure. If the feds don’t see that local officials are going to participate, then why should they try to help? Awards will be made by next December, with construction estimated to begin on the Tampa/Orlando segment  in late 2011.

High Speed Rail Map FloridaOur state representatives need to act quickly to provide a dedicated revenue source for Tri-Rail and commit to funding Sun-Rail. Other issues also remain, such as the exact alignment of the Miami/Orlando route, and the location of stops within the Orlando area (currently including Disney, International Drive and the airport). Disney world currently offers its own free shuttle service from the airport called Magical Express:

Begin your vacation the moment you step off the plane. Bypass baggage claim and avoid the hassle of having to find transportation and drive, as Disney’s Magical Express service transports you from Orlando International Airport to your Walt Disney World Resort hotel, and pick ups and deliver your bags to your room. And when your vacation ends, we’ll transport you and your luggage back to the airport. (Disney)

Disney has signed on to SunRail by donating land, BUT has not made clear whether it will encourage visitors to use the new service because of concerns over potential stops at International Drive (with hundreds of other potential hotels for visitors to go to).

The state, in its $2.5 billion application for federal funding for the high-speed train, does not count on picking up any passengers with Disney or I-Drive stops. They put the potential ridership at 1.9 million to 2.2 million. The I-Drive stop could add 530,000, while Disney could go from none to 2.2 million.

In a perfect world, the Orlando/Miami segment would be scheduled to begin running in 2017, just in time for my son’s 11th birthday. It would be nice to take him up to Orlando in a nice new train! If you support this project, please use the contact info below (or email your state representative) and let our leaders know that high speed rail (and Sun-Rail) are important to the residents of Miami-Dade. (Also contact Commissioner Carlos Gimenez, who recently told me that he didn’t hear anyone in Miami asking for a rail connection to Orlando!)

atwater.jeff.web@flsenate.gov

Charlie.Crist@MyFlorida.com

http://billnelson.senate.gov/contact/email.cfm

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As the USDOT pares down the list of applicants to the final recipients for the $8 billion available for High Speed rail, we hope existing regional, and local connectivity plays a significant role in the final assessment – a decision which certainly wouldn’t bode well for Florida’s proposed Orlando-Tampa connection. The Transport Politic aptly notes the eastern terminus of the proposed Florida HSR is located in the southern exurbs or Orlando – far from the rapidly urbanizing downtown, far from the Lynx BRT, and far from any existing or planned transportation infrastructure. A suburban terminal for the Florida HSR, or any other HSR, would foster more experiences like the one profiled by NPR in this recent expose on one family’s Amtrak journey across North Carolina – stranded in a new city with few affordable mobility alternatives. While HSR could alleviate intraregional travel needs, it would just as easily prove ineffective without comprehensive transit infrastructure, linked to regional and local transit systems in order to make any significant impact on our daily routines.

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