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Georgia Transportation Panel Will Unveil Recommendations

Transportation Panel Will Unveil Recommendations                Today … Here’s What They Are

By Dick Pettys
InsiderAdvantage Georgia

(1/30/08) Torn between those who argue for a statewide sales tax increase to fund transportation needs and those who want a regional, local option approach, a special committee that spent the summer hearing from Georgians will recommend both today in a report to be unveiled at a Capitol news conference.

The report of the Joint Study Committee on Transportation Funding                will recommend:

* Allowing citizens to vote on a Constitutional amendment ranging from one that is revenue-neutral, in which the increasingly undependable 7.5 cents per gallon tax is replaced with an  equivalent sales and use tax, to one that generates a larger amount of money through an additional 1 percent sales tax on all goods and services.

* Allowing counties to join as a region to hold a referendum to pass a maximum one-cent sales tax for transportation projects.

The report points out that committee members did not agree on all aspects of the recommendations, as apparently made clear by the panel‚s decision to recommend both and not choose between them. But it says that „a general consensus in principle was reached by the overall committee as a whole.‰

Regardless of whether there was absolute unanimity, the report is important because it constitutes the first time in many years that a group of this importance (it was co-chaired by the House and Senate transportation committee chairman) has endorsed a new funding mechanism for transportation.

The report includes a host of other recommendations, including:

* Creation of a state infrastructure bank, already proposed by Gov. Sonny Perdue, to provide loans and credit enhancements to local governments for transportation facilities. The committee report suggests such loans and credits also should be made available to private entities.

* Increased use of the design-build approach, in which one contractor is responsible for a particular project from start to finish, as opposed to having one firm design the project and another build it. The idea is that design-build produces cost and time efficiencies.

* Approval every five years by the General Assembly of a statewide transportation plan, and inclusion within the plan of mass transit programs.

* Support for construction of a MagLev train like those in operation in Germany and Shanghai,  from Hartsfield-Jackson Airport to Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport.

* Serious consideration of converting existing high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes to high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes to allow faster travel for those who want to pay a little more, and to generate the funds for that and other projects.

* Redefining the roles and lines of authority of the multiplicity of state and regional areas that have responsibility for transportation in an effort to make sense of the alphabet soup and allow the agencies to better do their jobs.

Signing the report from the Senate were Sen. Jeff Mullis, the co-chairman, Sen. Chip Pearson, Sen. Doug Stoner, Sen. Tommie Williams and Sen. Valencia Seay. Signing for the House were Rep. Vance Smith, the co-chairman, Rep. James Mills, Rep. Jay Shaw, Rep. Donna Sheldon and Rep. Mark Hamilton.

=== End ===


Filed under: Passenger Rail Politics, Regional USA Passenger Rail, United States High Speed Rail

Cincinnati Union Station Diamond Anniversary

We at TFA  despise nostalgia.

It must have been those too few occasions when I arrived aboard the Pan American that provoked me to add this festive note. Yes, the grandest of all rail passenger terminals – a living work of art is having a special birthday.

In the spirit of modern rail transportation, which includes both “corridor” service and overnight trains, it is worthwhile to remember that portion of our American birthright which has been stolen by greedy highway and airport special interests.

A Cincinnati rail passenger hub would occupy the center of a vibrant region with service extending to the Midwest, east coast and southern cities. Check out links at your right for The Ohio Hub and the Midwest High Speed Rail Association.

Here is a calendar of events and the entire report runs in the Cincinnati Enquirer.

March 29-30: Diamond Jubilee Kick-Off Weekend includes performances by the Singing Trainmen, High Steel tours into the rafters above the rotunda, opening of an exhibit on the terminal and its history, collection of oral histories, screenings of the 1981 WCET documentary “Died Young,” activities for kids and the time capsule opening ceremony (March 30).

April 14: Organist Gerre Hancock and the May Festival Chorus perform.

May 23: Free Friday gets you into all museums 4-8 p.m. except for the Omnimax and “Bodies” exhibit.

June 6: Union Terminal in the 1940s recreates the heyday with a comprehensive tour that includes a visit to the outdoor train platforms, ornate offices of the terminal’s president, a look at the USO and other amenities that would have been offered soldiers, an interpreted visit to the World War II exhibit, presentations in Newsreel Theater and a 1940s style lunch from a ’40s menu.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, Regional USA Passenger Rail

Advocates gather to promote Sunset route

Progressive Railroading carries a report on efforts to revitalize the Sunset route. It is probably the first priority for improving the national Amtrak system. In fact, it is not too much to suggest that there is no national system without the Sunset. Nonetheless, the Bush administration works behind the scene to eliminate this essential piece of the grid.

Yesterday, the Sunset Marketing and Revitalization Team (SMART) held its first formal meeting at New Orleans’ Union Passenger Rail Terminal. Formed last year, the grassroots passenger-rail advocacy group aims to improve and expand passenger-rail service along the Gulf Coast. The organization is patterned after the Texas Eagle Marketing and Performance Organization, which was formed a decade ago to restore and improve Amtrak’s Texas Eagle service.

SMART’s first mission: to get Amtrak to reinstate Sunset Limited service from New Orleans to Orlando. In 2005, Amtrak truncated the route, which originally ran from Los Angeles to Orlando, at New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The railroad didn’t resume service to Orlando after the lines were restored by CSX Transportation.

“Today’s trackage is superior to what existed pre-Katrina, and demand [is] high, yet Amtrak has not restored the service,” said Matthew Melzer, communications associate for SMART founding member the National Association of Railroad Passengers, in a prepared statement.

In fiscal-year 2007, Sunset Limited ridership was up 22.1 percent. Prior to Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans-to-Orlando segment accounted for 28 percent of the route’s miles, but 39 percent of ridership and 41 percent of revenue.

A few random thoughts:

  • Equipment is the most urgent need. This has several consequences, among which are that congress and Amtrak must also believe that improving the Sunset is item one.
  • One reason equipment is such an urgent requirement is that daily service is an absolute necessity. The Sunset must be brought up to the same capacity as other long-distance trains without stealing from existing consists.
  • Amtrak faces severe equipment shortages, of which congress seems somehow to be unaware.  A month or two of the Iraq war would provide enough rolling stock to operate current routes and operate new service.
  • The above items mean that full restoration is years away. This is both a disappointment and an opportunity. Advocates will have plenty of time to develop relationships with community leaders, lawmakers, Amtrak, and Union Pacific.
  • Public-private partnerships to upgrade infrastructure can benefit both the operating lines and Amtrak.
  • UP must be encouraged to improve time keeping. (Any brilliant ideas?)
  • Amtrak is losing crucial supporters in Mississippi and Texas, both Sunset states. Advocates must develoop intelligent and courteous presentations to federal legislative candidates.
  • Running straight through Los Angeles – Orlando is an operational nightmare. Equipment should turn in New Orleans for both directions. There should be a same-day connection, however.

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Politics, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, Regional USA Passenger Rail

When all else fails, lie

But what would you expect from the Bush Administration. They do not hesitate to falsify information that leads us into a bloody war in Iraq, so it is nothing to misrepresent a federal commission report favorable to transit. The National Corridors Initiative site has it all, including the parts that the grown-ups don’t want Congress and the people to read.

WASHINGTON —The back-room editors of the Bush Administration, who apparently take their cue from Soviet-style air-brushing, are it again, and this time the target is one of the giants of the conservative movement in America.
While the media focus was on the Bush Administration’s use of Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters to denounce the bipartisan outcome of the Congressionally-mandated Surface Transportation Commission — which she officially chaired — the National Corridors Initiative has learned that an important pro-light-rail section of the report, written by Commission member Paul Weyrich and adopted by a 9-3 majority vote of the commission, has disappeared from the Commission’s final report.

If true, these actions could lead to Contempt of Congress charges against the Bush Administration employees found responsible for falsely editing — in effect, lying about — the content of the final report of the commission.

Weyrich, who founded the Heritage Foundation and also founded and is chairman of the Free Congress Foundation, has been a leader of the American conservative movement since the days of the Reagan Administration. He is also one of the most knowledgeable and sought after supporters of public transportation especially light rail, in America.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy

Michael Bloomberg, just another wise-guy billionaire

He almost said some of the right words in California over the weekend. Read the AP report here.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who says he’s not a candidate for president, chose electoral vote-rich California Saturday from which to deliver a scorching assessment of Washington for failing to keep up with the need for new airports, roads, water systems and bridges across America.

While China and other nations are investing heavily in ports and high-speed trains “Washington doesn’t have a plan” to address crumbling U.S. infrastructure, Bloomberg said.

That is a long way from an actual commitment. Perhaps he will be more specific, but presidents do not pass legislation, but they can do a lot of harm. Case in point, JimmyCarter.

Bloomberg is a Republican stalking horse designed to split the Hillary vote and elect a clone of GWB. That is how it seems to me.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Politics, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy

David Bear: We must act now to save U.S. train transportation from extinction

The Pittsburgh runs a good analysis piece on the deplorable condition of America’s transportation system, and the obvious solution.

Passenger rail has long been dismissed in this country as a transportation dinosaur.

But with oil at $100 a barrel, increasing gridlock at airports and highways, and growing concern about greenhouse gases, rail service deserves new attention.

In the United States, Pittsburgh ranks among the fortunate few cities that have any daily trains at all. We have three. There’s the eastern Capitol Limited to Washington, D.C., via Cumberland, Md., which departs at 5:45 a.m. and arrives at 1:45 p.m., a seven-hour, 45-minute trip; the western Capitol Limited to Chicago via Cleveland, which departs at 11:55 p.m. and arrives at 8:40 a.m., a nine-hour, 45-minute trip; and the Pennsylvanian to Philadelphia via Harrisburg. It departs at 7:20 a.m., and arrives in Philadelphia at 2:50 p.m., a seven-hour, 30-minute trip.

Want to take a train to any other destination or another time of day? Too bad.

Couple this pitiful paucity of convenience and relatively time-consuming trips with a rollicking ride and reputation for unreliability and indifferent service, and it’s no wonder so few travelers think of taking a train, even to Philadelphia, Washington or Chicago, let alone Buffalo, N.Y., Charleston, W.Va., Columbus, Ohio, or Cincinnati.

Besides everybody knows it’s faster to fly and cheaper (and faster) to drive. But the calculations underlying those anti-rail assumptions must be refigured.

Factor in the time to get to and from airports, to comply with 9/11 security procedures, along with the possibility of schedule delays, and it’s clear air travel is not as expeditious as it once was.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy

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January 2008