Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Tonight's State of the Union address expected to include a significant discussion on infrastructure

Although I wrote a couple pieces:

-- "Trump Administration Infrastructure Program Priority List: Part One, the list," January 2017
-- "Time Magazine focused coverage on US Infrastructure needs: Cover date, April 10, 2017," March 2017

I still haven't finished my follow up to earlier pieces about the Trump infrastructure plan.
Spread on ideal highway construction, Fortune Magazine, August 1936
Spread on ideal methods for highway design, Fortune Magazine, August 1936

Partly this is because at least in the sustainable transportation arena (transit mostly, but other projects too) there are so many "ideal" projects that if realized would have extra-normal positive economic impact, but these projects aren't in the "constrained long range transportation plans" already approved at the regional scale.

Projects I'd put on such a list might include:

-- the Gateway project building new tunnels between New Jersey and Penn Station, New York City
-- connecting North and South Stations in Boston ("Massachusetts awards $1.5M contract to study North South Rail Link," Boston Business Journal
-- expanding the Long Bridge railroad bridge between DC and Virginia and merging the MARC Penn and VRE Fredericksburg lines ("A new backbone for the regional transit system: merging the MARC Penn and VRE Fredericksburg Lines")
-- extending the 7 Subway line from NYC to Secaucus, New Jersey ("New York subway extension to N.J. may not be dead after all," Newark Star-Ledger)
-- adding a third track to the Brunswick Line between DC and West Virginia to enable 7 day/week bi-directional service on the MARC railroad line
-- facilitating the extension of the MARC Perryville line to Newark, Delaware
-- railroad service from Baltimore to Annapolis and from DC to Annapolis
-- a national program to install high quality bike parking hubs at airports, railroad, and other transit stations
-- adding intra-city train service on the LIRR and Metro-North in New York City as discussed in the Transport Politic blog
-- expansion and realization of various Connecticut and Massachusetts rail programs ("CTrail: How New Haven to Springfield line will work, cost to build it," Springfield Republican; "East-west passenger service urged among state rail priorities," Worcester Telegram)
-- remaking the Metra Electric line in Chicago as a form of intra-city rapid rail transit ("Idea to convert Metra Electric to rapid-transit line draws mayor's interest," Chicago Tribune)
-- developing a 21st century bus transit system for the Detroit metropolitan area (I've been meaning to write about this)
-- new 21st century design forward light rail vehicles for the Baltimore Light Rail line along with a subway and light rail expansion program
-- more funding to realize more quickly California High Speed Rail and other HSR initiatives across the country
-- expansion of MARTA subway in Greater Atlanta
-- accelerated signal upgrades for the NYC Subway ("Key to Improving Subway Service in New York? Modern Signals," New York Times)
-- rail transit in Orange County, California
-- the gondola between Rosslyn and Georgetown ("Here’s the latest with the Georgetown-Rosslyn gondola," Washington Business Journal)
-- proposals to provide rail transit connections between Staten Island and New Jersey ("MTA plans to study New Jersey rail service to Staten Island," AP)
-- massive investment and improvement in New Jersey Transit
-- etc.

And it would be easy to come up with a list five times longer, not even getting into waterway and ports projects, utility projects, or broadband.

The model for transit expansion at the center city and metropolitan scale would be France, as well as Bilbao, and the tight integration between railroad and subway services in London, Paris, and many German cities.

Amtrak.  And a specific program to fund investment and expansion in Amtrak nationally not limited to the Northeast corridor, a real 21st century railroad program.  The Spanish and Chinese HSR programs and rail in Japan would be models.

-- The Case for Business Investment in High-Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail

Parks, public lands, museums, federal facilities.  A separate funding initiative could invest in national parks and public lands ("Everglades National Park falling apart with $88 million maintenance backlog," Miami Herald), national museums--including the development of national museums outside of DC, and certain federal facilities such as a new headquarters for the FBI ("GSA may keep FBI headquarters at Hoover Building site," Washington Business Journal). 

National parks face a maintenance backlog of many billions of dollars.  From the Miami Herald article:
The massive repair backlog is nothing new — the Everglades’ to-do list totaled $58 million under the Obama administration. But the Trump administration’s approach to the nation’s wild lands, from shrinking monuments and clearing the way for drilling and mining, to slashing spending in a proposed budget, is setting off alarms. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke wants to cut the National Parks Service budget by nearly $300 million and eliminate more than 1,200 jobs — meaning 90 percent of the nation’s parks would lose staff.

Rather than ask Congress to address the $11.3 billion national maintenance backlog, the administration is also proposing doubling entrance fees at 17 popular parks during their five busiest months, angering park advocates who say the plan could backfire if higher costs drive away visitors. The administration has also ditched the nation’s efforts to address climate change, an issue especially critical to South Florida’s parks. ...

It’s been more than a half century since the U.S. gave its national parks a facelift with the $1 billion Mission 66 project. ... With more than a half century since the last makeover — triggered by public outrage over deteriorating conditions — Pew’s Director for the Restore America's Parks project, Marcia Argust, said the problem is caused mostly by unreliable funding.
State of the Union address.  Tonight's State of the Union "Presidential" Address is supposed to tout infrastructure investment quite heavily, in advance of a more formal proposal expected to be released next month.

According to various reports ("Trump expected to tout infrastructure plan this week, but funding remains murky," Chicago Tribune; "White House plan would reduce environmental requirements for infrastructure projects," Washington Post) and a leaked document ("Scoop: Read the draft White House infrastructure ," Axios)

-- the proposal calls for $1 trillion in spending
-- but with a maximum of 20% of the cost being borne by the federal government, with heavy reliance on the private sector and local sources
-- reductions in environmental and other regulatory review requirements
-- 25% directed to rural projects
-- no more than 10% of the total spent in any one state
-- a possible increase in the federal gas tax
-- expansion in the ability to toll existing roads.

The Trump Administration doesn't favor federal investment in local transit.  In this year's budget discussions, the Trump Administration has already argued that transit should be a local funding responsibility, even though projects typically exceed the capacity of local jurisdictions and states to fund.

From the Chicago Tribune:
The office of U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, said if Trump’s proposed cuts to other transportation programs over the next 10 years are added onto the proposed $200 billion in the infrastructure plan, the result is a negative $144.9 billion.

“It’s a bit of a scam,” said Dan Cantor, national chair of the Working Families Party, a third party allied with progressive Democrats. “It’s not a real plan to directly invest public money into worthwhile projects that create good jobs. Instead, it will hand over infrastructure to private interests and make believe that’s the cheap way to do it. You pay later with tolls and fees.”
Gas tax.  Generally, the Republican Party has been against raising the gas tax, and that is likely to be the case even if now the US Chamber of Commerce is calling for an increase ("U.S. Chamber of Commerce to push Trump, Congress to raise the gas tax," Washington Post). California raised the state gas tax to fund projects across the state and the State Republican Party there is gearing up to make that a 2018 election issue ("Group aims to repeal California gas tax hike on November 2018 ballot," Los Angeles Times). It seems unlikely that the Republican controlled House and Senate will be willing to increase the federal tax in advance of this year's elections, where trends so far seem to be against the incumbents.

Environmental review.  The program also calls for relaxing of environmental and other regulatory review. While I agree that the current processes are too long and can be onerous, there is still significant value in such review, although I can see the need for significant changes.

From the Post:
Keith Benes, an environmental consultant who played a key role in overseeing TransCanada's permit application for the Keystone XL pipeline as a State Department attorney-adviser, said in an interview that the document highlights some significant problems in the current system. But in almost every instance, he noted, it simply eliminates a legal requirement that delays federal approval for projects.

Trump Administration urban bias. Another problem with the current government is that it appears to be biased against center cities and robust metropolitan areas, at least in terms of transportation policy and changes in federal tax law, which significantly reduce the value of the deduction for state and local taxes.

But as Brookings Institution ("Metropolitan Revolution book review") and others point out, metropolitan areas drive the US economy.

The International Downtown Association just released a report on the value of investing in the central cores of metropolitan areas, The Value of U.S. Downtowns and Center Cities (Executive Summary).

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