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Posts from the "Mary Peters" Category

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Bush DOT Chief Backs Transport Tech Funding


Former Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, who served for eight years in George W. Bush's DOT, sat down with Streetsblog Capitol Hill this week to urge that Congress add a dedicated funding stream of $1 billion each year for transportation technology to the next long-term infrastructure bill.

Since leaving office, Peters has transitioned to private consulting work in her home state of Arizona and joined the board of directors at Aldis, a Tennessee-based traffic management company.

Alids' GridSmart program, a panoramic camera that captures vehicles and pedestrians at intersections and helps "smartly" synchronize traffic signals accordingly (see the above video), would stand to gain if Congress heeds Peters' advice and directly funds transportation technology.

Peters acknowledged that her proposal for the next infrastructure bill would help Aldis, but she described the billion-dollar dedicated funding as an opportunity for states and cities to choose their own high-tech solutions for traffic management. "This is a great application," Peters said of the GridSmart, "but there are others out there."

The House's original version of the 2005 transportation bill, which was recently extended for another month amid political wrangling, included $3 billion over five years for technological upgrades, also known as "intelligent transportation." But that money was removed from the legislation during conference talks with the Senate, Peters noted, leaving states without federal help with modernizing their congestion management.

The annual $1 billion fund Peters is backing would be distributed to states by formula, but state DOTs would have to report back to Washington on how effectively their technological investments were meeting specific performance targets. (For more on Peters' support of a federal role in setting transportation standards, see Part I of the Streetsblog interview.)

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Chicago Loses NYC’s Congestion Pricing Money

chicago_buses.jpgWill Chicago get a second chance at federal funds for better bus service? Photo: celikins/Flickr
Looks like New York legislators aren't the only ones willing to pass up big money for transportation improvements if it means putting a fair price on private auto use.

Back in April, the feds withdrew a $354 million grant to New York City because Albany failed to pass congestion pricing. Chicago would have received $153 million of that for BRT pilot routes, but as Crain's reports, the city failed to hold up its end of the bargain:

The administration this week quietly pulled back a pending ordinance that would have hiked fees and taxes for off-street parking in garages and on surface lots downtown by as much as $8 a day. The measure was supposed to be the stick for a big carrot: a $153-million federal grant announced last spring to begin a pilot express transportation system known as bus rapid transit.

But the measure, which arrived in the wake of large hikes in parking-meter fees, drew strong opposition from business groups. And even if the mayor had put down the opposition, the ordinance was not approved by the Dec. 31 deadline mandated by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

With only a few days left in the Bush era, U.S. DOT Secretary Mary Peters, who initiated the Urban Partnership Agreement to spur initiatives like this, has indicated that she won't cut Chicago any slack. Which means this story could turn into an early test for incoming secretary Ray LaHood. Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley still hopes to get the new parking policy through City Council, and if LaHood continues the urban partnership program, the city may not lose the federal funding after all.

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Gasoline Shortages Fuel Panic and Rage in the South

Here's a disturbing story from the Associated Press on gas shortages in Asheville, North Carolina, where hot-tempered drivers are waiting in long lines to fill up, only to find in some cases that the pumps are tapped. Asks one flustered motorist:

"What's wrong with our government? Why are they letting this happen to us?"

Maybe the saddest thing about that comment is that, months into the current gas price spike and years after Hurricane Katrina caused similar supply interruptions, Washington still isn't talking about how to wean Americans off the stuff. As Atlantans Twitter to find the nearest line and Tennesseans take to the Internet with profanity-laced rants, Senate Republicans this week blocked a spending package that would have boosted funding for overburdened transit systems, while the best US Transportation Secretary Mary Peters can do is a paltry $30 million federal allocation to be split among 15 commuter rail projects.

Video: WorldWide News Today/YouTube

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The U.S. Wants to “Borrow” From Transit to Pay for Highways

U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said yesterday that due to declining gas tax revenues, the Highway Trust Fund would need to borrow money from its mass transit account to pay for road projects. Today's big news story was buried at the bottom of page A17 in the New York Times:

Gasoline tax revenue is falling so fast that the federal government may not be able to meet its commitments to states for road projects already under way, the secretary of transportation said Monday.

The secretary, Mary E. Peters, said the short-term solution would be for the Highway Trust Fund’s highway account to borrow money from the fund’s mass transit account, a step that would balance the accounts as highway travel declines and use of mass transit increases.

Meanwhile, America's historically underfunded transit systems are also struggling with rising fuel prices and record demand. No word yet on how taking money away from transit to pay for highways fits in to George W. Bush's plan to end America's oil addiction but maybe time for Americans to take a good, hard look in the mirror and ask ourselves what kind of nation do we want to be?

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U.S. DOT Launches Official, Horribly-Named “Blog”

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Secretary Peters leans on a hog... in the fast lane.

On Tuesday, U.S. DOT unveiled "Fast Lane," a blog-type website supposedly authored by Transportation Secretary Mary Peters. Whoever came up with the name, however, didn't do much to elevate the perception of Peters among transit and bike advocates, with whom she has a mixed record at best. Maybe it's too much to ask for a blog called "On Track" or "Bike Lane," but to acknowledge only drivers gets this PR effort off on the wrong foot. May we suggest re-branding and -- taking a page from the Tri-State Transportation Campaign -- going with a mode-neutral name based on mobility?

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Chicago Gets NYC’s Congestion Pricing Money

The New York State Assembly is doing a great job... for the people of Chicago.

Remember the $354.5 million federal grant that New York City was going to get to implement congestion pricing before the deal collapsed in Albany? US DOT Secretary Mary Peters announced today that Chicago will receive $153 million of New York City's money for the creation of a new bus rapid transit network, the installation of variable rate parking meters and a few other items.

City Room has the story and the Chicago Tribune also reports:

Federal and city officials announced today an ambitious plan to get more commuters out of their cars by freeing CTA buses from traffic congestion and speeding the ride to and from work in Chicago.

Lanes dedicated to buses-only will be created on four major city corridors that were not immediately identified. One could be Lake Shore Drive.

In addition, buses will make fewer stops-four to five blocks apart. Kiosks will be installed at the bus stops to enable passengers to pre-pay their fares and board quickly once the bus arrives.

Technology will be added to some traffic signals to extend green lights for buses running behind schedule, much like the signal-priority equipment that gives the green to ambulances and fire trucks, officials said. Pace has experimented with the technology on Harlem Avenue in the suburbs.

The plan also calls for new parking meters downtown that would charge more during rush-hour to discourage people from driving there.

Another component of the plan involves creating fees for on-street truck-loading zones downtown.

Last week Peters also announced that Los Angeles would receive $213 million for new HOT lanes

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Two Ways to Tell the Story of Congestion Pricing

This Monday the Washington Post ran a long feature on page A1, "Letting the Market Drive Transportation," about the Bush administration's attempts to shift financing for roads from the gas tax to user fees, and starve transit in the process. The cast of characters includes a pair of conservative ideologues, Tyler Duvall and D.J. Gribbin, high up in U.S. DOT, as well as Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, who earned the enmity of alternative transportation advocates last summer when she said bikes aren't transportation.

The article tells how this troika came up with the plan to seed pricing in five pilot cities, and delves into their ulterior motives:

For Gribbin, Duvall and Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, the goal is not just to combat congestion but to upend the traditional way transportation projects are funded in this country. They believe that tolls paid by motorists, not tax dollars, should be used to construct and maintain roads.

They and other political appointees have spent the latter part of President Bush's two terms laboring behind the scenes to shrink the federal role in road-building and public transportation.

On the face of it, the story meshes with some of the anti-pricing arguments New Yorkers have been hearing, especially from Representative Anthony Weiner, who has called pricing a conservative ploy to de-fund federal support for transit projects. That position has drawn ridicule from Mayor Bloomberg as he stumps for pricing, captured in the Observer's account of yesterday's Crain's New York Business Breakfast Forum:

“I have nothing against any one congressman [but] that is one of the stupider things I’ve ever heard said. Forget the fact that he’s one of the congressmen who’s supposed to get the money for us. The Democrats control -- his party controls Congress -- what’s he talking about? Number two, by that argument, we should cut all the taxes, which some people would like, and then just sit here and wait to give us all the money back.

The Post story has already provided fodder for press accounts favorable to Weiner, like this Daily Politics post, which quotes the Queens congressman:

"I'm interested in solutions, not name calling. I respect the Mayor, but I don't think the evidence supports trusting President Bush and his cabinet here. In Washington the Administration tries to cut money to roads and to cut mass transit, and then they come to New York City and say they won't. I'm concerned that New Yorkers will get the short end of the stick." 

On close examination, however, the Post article omits several details that would have led to a different conclusion, namely: There is no inherent connection between pricing and reduced funding for transit.

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Bloomberg Says There’s No Reason Pricing Shouldn’t Pass


Mayor Bloomberg (far, far background) at the Battery Park City Ritz-Carlton this morning

It's now or never for congestion pricing, the MTA, and maybe even the city itself, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said this morning.

Speaking before a sold-out crowd at the Battery Park City Ritz-Carlton, Bloomberg and U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters were the guests of honor at today's Crain's New York Business Breakfast Forum, where the mayor painted a bleak picture for a city transit system without congestion revenues and the $354 million in federal funds that hinge on the adoption of a pricing plan by March 31.

"Refusing those funds is basically saying that there will be next to no MTA capital projects in our immediate future," said Bloomberg. "It's just the truth of the matter. There is no money short of this."

Bloomberg said there are "only four significant issues" left to address in the current pricing plan. As to doubts that revenues will be dedicated to transit, the mayor implied there would be no alternative, other than "a steep increase in fares." The MTA has borrowed all that is "feasible," he said, noting that even with pricing funds, there is a $9 billion gap in the agency's capital plan.

Residential parking zones will guard against park-and-ride problems, Bloomberg said. Responding to criticism of a toll credit for New Jersey car commuters, the mayor cited estimates that indicate the new $8 toll is already reducing peak hour traffic. "So, in a very real sense, there's already a congestion pricing fee for New Jersey drivers," he said, pointing out that the State of New York receives a 50 percent share of Port Authority tolls.

According to Bloomberg, his administration is working with lawmakers on a possible refund for low-income city commuters "that offsets what they'd pay in congestion pricing fees that are over and above the comparable cost of commuting by subway" -- a significant compromise reportedly insisted upon by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. He gave no further details.

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More Mixed Signals on Pricing’s Chances Under Paterson

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"Today is Monday. There is work to be done."

So said David Paterson, who was sworn in as New York's 55th governor just after 1:00 this afternoon. Two Mondays from now, the City Council and state Legislature will need to have adopted a congestion pricing plan if the city is to receive $354 million in federal transportation funds. Opinions on whether the governor will work to make that happen still vary wildly, even among those who've talked to people close to Paterson.

Here is the Daily News, from Friday:

Incoming Gov. David Paterson may have declined to take a stand on congestion pricing Thursday - but members of his inner circle have been lobbying for the proposal.

During his first press conference since Gov. Spitzer resigned in disgrace, Paterson said he needed to delve deeper into details of the plan to charge motorists $8 to drive south of 60th St.

"Although the mayor has not directly discussed congestion pricing with him, it would seem to be a good sign that people very close to the new governor are supportive," a City Hall source said.

Former Deputy Mayor Bill Lynch and former Paterson campaign manager Luther Smith have been pitching the toll scheme as a way to fund mass transit improvements in underserved minority communities.

Smith is president of Lynch's lobbying firm, Bill Lynch Associates, which has been doing pro-pricing outreach for Communities United for Transportation Equity.

Both Lynch and Smith are advising Paterson as he makes the transition to the state's highest office.

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Union Campaign Calls for Mary Peters’ Ouster


We didn't do it.

A web site demanding that US Transportation Secretary Mary Peters lose her post -- www.firemarypeters.com -- is a project of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Angry about the Bush administration's plan to allow trucks from Mexico across the border, the labor org launched the "Fire Mary Peters" campaign last month.

Though Peters took heat from Streetsbloggers last year for claiming that bikes "are not transportation," her department also chose New York as one of five cities to share in a $1.1 billion earmark for congestion pricing projects.