U.S. Transportation department executive approved grant days before taking job with rail contractor

By Ralph Vartabedian : latimes – excerpt

A top Obama administration executive at the U.S. Department of Transportation approved a $647-million grant for a California rail project in mid-January and less than two weeks later went to work for a Los Angeles-based contractor involved in the project, The Times has learned.

The grant provides a significant part of the money required to install a $2-billion electrical power system on the Bay Area’s Caltrain commuter rail system, allowing the rail to retire its diesel locomotives.

The power equipment will eventually be used by the state’s bullet train from Los Angeles to San Francisco, making it a critical part of the $64-billion program. The California High-Speed Rail Authority has pledged about $713 million to help install the system, according to state records.

The grant was handled by Carolyn Flowers, the acting chief of the Federal Transit Administration.  Flowers announced the grant approval in a letter, dated Jan. 18,  to congressional leaders. The Times obtained a copy of the letter…

Thirteen days later, Flowers went to work for Aecom, a Los Angeles-based engineering firm. The company news release announcing her hiring says she will head its North American transit practice. Aecom provides program management services to Caltrain for the electrification project, according to Caltrain documents. It was formerly a regional consultant to the high-speed rail project as well.

On Friday, the federal transit agency said it had “deferred” a decision on the grant and said it would look at the matter in the next federal budget cycle. The decision may be an early sign of the Trump administration’s view of the bullet train project. The line is already under construction and will need significant federal funding moving forward.

The delay follows a letter from every Republican member of the California House delegation to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, asking that the grant be put off until an audit of the high-speed rail project is completed.
This is exactly what America hates about Washington, D.C… (more)

Don’t they call this the revolving door?

Carolyn Flowers-letter to congress 
Caltrain and High Speed Rail and FTA funding – Revolving Door Shenanigans

Transit director: ‘Unknown’ if Trump threat to federal funding will hurt Muni, SF streets

By : sfexaminer – excerpt

The recent win of President-elect Donald Trump has sent sanctuary cities into a scramble, with San Francisco agencies asking: Will Trump cut major funds for San Francisco?

The question gained real gravity after Trump pledged to cut funding from sanctuary cities across the U.S., who aim to shield undocumented immigrants from federal agents. Mayor Ed Lee declared last week that San Francisco would remain a sanctuary city.

San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin told his employees in a mass email Wednesday that threats to Muni’s funding are “unknown.”

In the email, which Reiskin sent Wednesday morning as a post-election message to his staff, he outlined potential peril. “We do receive a considerable amount of federal funds as part of our capital budget,” he wrote.

That funding comes in the form of grants disbursed by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, in part, and is the basis for most all of the SFMTA’s capital projects, such as the Central Subway in Chinatown or the proposed Bus Rapid Transit routes on Geneva, Geary and Van Ness avenues… (more)

Good time to write the federal representatives and let them know how you feel about these projects. DOT contacts: TBD

Well, just about any transit project is eligible to apply for Federal funds.

(Quick clarification – the Bay Area gets a lot of “formula” funds for transit.  How they are used are up to MTC and the transit agencies, but, in general, these are all spoken for – if they were transferred for other purposes, such as a major capital project, then that means a whole lot of over-the-hill buses would not be replaced at the ends of their useful life, a lot of rail lines will not be given required maintenance, etc.  In addition to the transit programs – of which 49 USC 5307 is by far the largest – there are also three highway “flexible” funds, with CMAQ and STP being the vast majority.  These can be used for transit, again, pretty much at the option of MTC, but, given the extreme underfunding of Bay Area road maintenance, unlikely to occur.  What we are probably talking about is the Federal discretionary capital grant program for transit, which is mainly 49 USC 5309 “new starts.”)

Since the Obama administration has pretty much changed the rules so that factors like ridership, etc., aren’t really part of the evaluation process any more, so, if the Bay Area made this a high priority, it would likely have a chance.  However, there is only so much money to go around nationally, and there is a limit to how much money any region is going to get, and there is an unlimited amount of other requests for this funding, so the real question is, how far up to the top of the list this will be.

The other interesting factor is that it is getting real questionable how much money for transit programs there is going to be.  With the Republicans controlling both houses, and the D’s not really into the program, there hasn’t been a new transportation authorization bill for quite a while, just short-term extensions and, right now, it is difficult to see how there will be a long-term extension any time soon.  Without that, not a whole lot of money for any new projects.  Not saying impossible, am saying makes it more difficult.

OK, let’s step back and take a wild turn.  Let’s say that the objective is to create a transit system that will carry the most people, get it done the quickest, and do it at the lowest cost to taxpayers.  Not really the way things are done, of course, particularly in the Bay Area, but, just as a thing to think about.  OK, going down that road, the way to go is to run long-haul commuter buses on an I-580 HOT lane from the Central Valley to the existing BART end station.  Such lines can be started within two years (the biggest time-taker is getting the buses delivered, now that the roadway is getting close to completion), there are just about no costs for the right-of-way, and this is the type of transit service that has the highest farebox recovery ratio – over 90% is not at all uncommon, although I’m not going to make that kind of prediction without a lot of study.

This would have also been the right way to go before BART went over the hill to the Tri-Valley.  Of course, it was never even considered as an option.

– TR, Transit specialist

This pretty much back up what many of us have been saying for some time. The SFMTA and other municipal transit authorities are not in the transportation business, they are in the construction business. They are also in the empire building business. The more the construct the bigger the public debt to the industry grows since the maintenance and operations costs escalate accordingly. This is why many people are saying NO MORE MONEY for the bottomless pit that claim, “if we build it they will come.”

To the desert valley where there is no water?

Lawsuit Halts Work on Mission Bay Loop

By Keith Burbank : Potreroview – excerpt

Last month a California Appeals Court halted work on the Mission Bay Loop project, a Third Street T-line turnaround that’s planned for 18th, 19th and Illinois streets.  The Loop would enable San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) trains traveling south to return downtown once they reach Dogpatch.  As part of the Central Subway project, the Loop is expected to operate during special events and peak travel times. The stay order has residents hopeful that SFMTA will reconsider the Loop’s location, to a point further south.

“We have won a battle and continue to fight to win the war,” said William Schwartz, a member of The Committee for the Reevaluation of the T-Line Loop. The First District Court of Appeal issued a stop work order that will remain in effect until a three-justice panel rules on the committee’s appeal for a preliminary injunction against SFMTA, which could take six months or longer. The injunction would force the agency to postpone work until after a trial.

SFMTA officials have repeatedly insisted that a loop south of the planned location isn’t feasible, citing three reasons: operation of light rail vehicles would be difficult because of steep street grades; parking, loading docks and driveways pose greater conflicts for vehicle operations further south; and SFMTA would face $4 million in additional annual operating costs and a $20 million outlay for new vehicles.  However, according to SFMTA chief spokesman Paul Rose, the agency will start receiving 175 new vehicles next year.  A portion of those will serve the T-Line, calling into question SFMTA’s $20 million new vehicle estimate.  

Dogpatch residents have proposed that the Loop be built at SFMTA’s Muni Metro East facility, located at 25th and Illinois streets.  According to Rose, the layout of the streets south of 23rd Street isn’t favorable for building a loop. 

Dogpatch resident Aaron Gavic raised a number of questions about the Loop in emails to SFMTA’s David Greenway, the Loop’s project manager. In response, Greenway said that by 2019 Dogpatch will have service equivalent to the N-Judah, the agency’s busiest rail line, representing a “significant increase over today’s service levels.” Rose said N-Judah trains are dispatched about every seven minutes during peak travel times; T-Line frequency during peak travel times is roughly every nine minutes.

According to Gavic, SFMTA’s reason for leaving the Potrero Kids at 3rd Street preschool out of the Loop’s environmental impact report is “very concerning.”  SFMTA said the effects of the Loop’s construction and operation on the preschool would be similar to impacts on La Scuola Internazionale di San Francisco, an elementary school located a block north of the planned loop. Potrero Kids at 3rd Street is steps from the planned loop  …

An aide to District 10 Supervisor Malia Cohen said moving the Loop south of the planned location isn’t impossible, but it’d be more expensive and the City may lose $10 million in federal money for the project as a result of delays

A Dogpatch resident posted on Nextdoor that a group is raising money to continue the legal case against SFMTA. Four people have donated $200 to a gofundme.com account at http://www.gofundme.com/move_the_T_Loop. The Dogpatch and Potrero Boosters neighborhood associations have contributed money as well. “I think the whole neighborhood would like to see this thing changed,” said Bill Schwartz, a The Committee for the Reevaluation of the T-Line Loop member, whose name appears on the lawsuit… (more)

Controversial BART tram to Oakland Airport opens, but questions remain

By : sfexaminer – exerpt

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, along with state transportation officials and politicos of all stripes, stood with smiles frozen Friday as they waited for one last politician before finally cutting the ribbon for the new monorail connecting BART to Oakland International Airport.

It was an appropriate stall, analogous to the project’s 30-year holding pattern. The long haul finally concluded Saturday with the inaugural ride of the much-contested driverless tram…

The 3.2-mile connector was proposed decades ago and over the years created much controversy. Now operational, it picks up passengers at the Oakland Coliseum BART station and whisks them on a silky-smooth 8-minute ride to the front of the Oakland International Airport…

The new tram might be a big improvement from the bus shuttle it replaced, but it still has critics.

TransForm, a transportation advocacy group, says the new connector is a boondoggle — too costly with little potential for heavy ridership, and constructed at a time when nearly $5 billion in funding is needed for major systemwide improvements to the BART network.

“This is frankly going to serve 1 percent of the daily ridership,” said Joel Ramos, a community planner with TransForm…

TransForm and others also accused BART of not properly evaluating other projects that would intersect with different communities in and around the airport.

The complaint was ultimately sustained, and BART lost some federal funding as a result…

Free Muni for Low-Income Youth Gets Reprieve

By Talal Ansari : missionlocal.org – excerpt

When the Municipal Transportation Commission (MTC) narrowly defeated a proposal to fund a pilot project giving free Muni service to 40,000 low-income youth in July, the project’s future looked dim.
But the project was resurrected Wednesday when the MTC board unanimously voted to use $15 million in federal funds to increase the efficiency and ridership on local transit. The SFMTA, which oversees Muni, will receive $6.7 million of the funds, which it can use for the free Muni project.
The SFMTA approved the $9 million free Muni project in April of this year on the condition that it would receive $4 million from the MTC.
Yet hurdles still remain for the 22-month pilot project to see the light of day… (more)

SFpark – Brilliant or Boondoggle?

By John Van Horn : parkingtoday.com – excerpt

Did you know that SFpark, San Francisco’s much ballyhooed new high-tech parking program is a test? It is a multimillion-dollar 18-month-long program that will end in December, and then … who knows?…
The key to this data collection is the sensor, which is a hockey puck-style device located at each space, and therein lies part of the tale. The sensors have been problematic from day one…
SFpark is not self-funding. The SFMTA needs the parking revenue generated in San Francisco to support its various transportation projects. (more)

The author found a a $6 million shortfall in revenue from the city’s garages since SFPark’s programs were initiated in them. We wrote a letter of appreciation to John, who is looking for feedback on SFPark’s operation.
Let’s give him feedback.

Continue reading

Getting our Money’s Worth: Using Value Capture to Fund Transit

wbez.org – excerpt

Even as the economy struggles, our growing regional population is demanding smarter investments to expand and improve transit. Given the scarcity of available public funds, governments are beginning to tap innovative financing tools such as variable parking pricing, public–private partnerships, and value capture around bus and rail stations. Because transportation networks and land values are closely linked, public investments in transportation infrastructure can increase the value of land surrounding these investments, benefiting landowners, developers and governments. This roundtable will explore how value capture and other innovative financing tools can generate revenue to finance transportation operations and future expansion, such as Bus Rapid Transit and upgrades…

Gabriel Metcalf, executive director of San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) and member of the Transbay Joint Powers Authority Board of Directors, will describe how San Francisco is layering several financing tools, including tax increment financing, a special assessment, development impact fees, and a federal Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan, to build the new Transbay Transit Center. The new station will coordinate the Bay Area’s numerous transit systems, increase capacity and accessibility, and create one of the most transportation-rich-neighborhoods in the region. Gabriel will also discuss other innovative financing for transit used in San Francisco including sharing parking meter revenues and the Transit Impact Development Fee…


SFMTA continues to pay for new logos, PR, chest-puffing and spin while they cut Muni service.


Feds bring money for buses not Central Subway…yet

By: Michael Cabanatuan  : SFGate – excerpt

McMillan, former deputy executive director of the Bay Area’s own Metropolitan Transportation Commission, did indeed appear, as scheduled, checkbook in hand, but the beneficiaries of federal generosity did not include the Central Subway, which had expected its funding guarantee months ago.

Instead, McMillan handed out more than $40 million to a handful of big Bay Area transit agencies for “state of good repair investments.” In common English, that means modernization and upkeep improvements…

Someone in Washington is listening to us. Keep those letters and comments coming.

Related articles:

Muni Receives $21.4M in Federal Funds for New Buses, 8x Line Improvementsmore
San Francisco Upgrading Muni Bus Fleet With $21M Grant
Mayor Lee Announces San Francisco Awarded Federal Transportation Funds To Improve Muni
Bay Area wins $40 million in competitive federal transit funds
Bay Area gets over $45M to modernize public transit

Notice the $5 m dollar discrepancy?

Central Subway work starts amid problems

By Michael Cabanatuan : SFGate – excerpt

Noisy, dusty, traffic-tangling construction is under way on the Central Subway, yet uncertainties and challenges continue to dog the $1.6 billion project.

Construction crews are building the staging area on Fourth Street beneath the Interstate 80 skyway, where two tunnel-boring machines will start the excavation of the 1.7-mile subway to Chinatown and debris will be hauled out.

But the Municipal Transportation Agency is still awaiting word on whether – and when – it will get a $942 million federal funding guarantee it’s been awaiting for months, and the House of Representatives’ transportation bill includes an amendment by Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove (Sacramento County), that could take away future funding for the project…

Threatening to sue – But if digging starts before merchants are satisfied, some of them are threatening to sue…

Save Muni wants the transportation agency to stop work at least until federal funding is guaranteed.

“The MTA’s motivation is for public relations: to create a sense of inevitability to get funding,” said Howard Wong, a member of the group. “They’re moving ahead with this to fund their staff rather than protecting taxpayers.”…