Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Mica Transportation Committee hearings are coming to a neighborhood near you

As we all know by now, John Mica, Republican Congressman from Florida, is the Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.  Apparently, they are going to hold field hearings, going to where the people are.  That means, they are coming to Fresno (closest to us in the Bay Area) February 21,22, or 23rd.

We appreciate the importance of Fresno since it is in the middle of the intended first section of rail to be built for the California High-Speed Rail project.  

Thank you, good colleague and mentor Gary Patton, for this valuable information.

I do have a little problem with seeking to have Congressman Mica hear our critical voices, since the DC.STREETSBLOG.ORG points out that "witnesses must be invited to speak."  I'll try to find out more about that.

A few words about what I think is going on in Washington. The Democrats, following Obama's lead, support the high-speed rail vision although they don't have a clue to how to pay for it.  The Republicans don't want high-speed rail because it is Obama's vision and will cost gobs of money the government doesn't have. 

As you know, Washington talks black and white, but in practice blends extremes.  Both Democrats and Republicans appear to agree that if any high-speed rail is to be built at all, it ought to be in the Northeast Corridor, between Boston and Washington.

There are lots of reasons for that which we will discuss in a future blog entry. If this plan became a decision, it puts a grandiose multi-trillion dollar national fantasy on hold.  This one corridor in the Northeast alone is projected to cost more than $100 billion. We already can predict that whatever they say are to be the costs, we can double or triple that amount.  But, never mind.  

I gather this would mean no HSR funding for any other part of the country.  Will the Republicans find that acceptable? Will the California Democrats, like Feinstein and Boxer? Will we? We'll have to wait and see.

Subject: Federal Transportation Hearings in Fresno & Southern CA

The hearings are coming!  The hearings are coming!  The <http://dc.streetsblog.org/2011/01/28/ti-committee-announces-field-hearing-schedule/>federal transportation hearings that Chairman John Mica is holding across the nation will be touching down in California at the end of the month, specifically in Fresno. 

This bulletin came to me from the “PRO” HSR folks, who will be trying to get their troops out in force. Obviously, Congress Member Mica would be happy to hear some critical voices.


Friday, January 28, 2011
Schedule for Transpo Bill Listening Tour Announced
by Tanya Snyder on January 28, 2011
More committee news…

Field hearings don't have the pomp and circumstance of Washington events, but don't expect to testify unless you're invited. 

Yesterday’s field hearing (Jan.27) of the House Transportation Committee on high-speed rail in New York City wasn’t officially part of the series of field hearings on the reauthorization. The tentative schedule hits small towns, big cities, and suburbs:
•February 14th – West Virginia (Ranking Democrat Nick Rahall’s home state)
•February 17th – Philadelphia area (Republican committee freshmen Patrick Meehan and Lou Barletta are from the area, as is Democratic T&I member Tim Holden)
•February 18th – Rochester, NY (freshman Republican Tom Reed’s district and not too far for some of Richard Hanna’s constituents)
•February 19-20 – Columbus, Ohio, Indianapolis, and suburbs of Chicago (within reach of four Republican members’ districts and one Democrat)
•February 21-23 – Portland, OR; Vancouver, WA; Fresno and Southern California (reaching four Republican districts and two Democrat)

The hearings may be focused on specific topics, which haven’t been announced yet. Witnesses must be invited to speak.


There's a lot of nonsense and political posturing described in this article, below.  You can easily separate the wheat from the chaff.  The central issue, however is critical and we've discussed this already in prior blog entries.  

Will the Northeast corridor be the compromise between the two parties as they clash over high-speed rail?   Please understand that the costs will be mind-blowingly high and there is no funding source identified by anybody, including the President whose vision this is.

Those of us in California should exercise caution in advocating this alternative to funding all the other corridors, including the one in California.  Do we want to be state NIMBYs?  Go ahead and build it, but not in my state? Are we OK  with this plan when this project imposes the same destruction to every village, town and city it passes through between Boston and Washington, just as we fear it here?  

I can't resolve that moral dilemma for you.  My own position is adamant.  No high-speed rail in the US.  Before this century is out, it will be an obsolete technology.  The greatest waste of the greatest amount of money since Napoleon tried and failed to conquer Russia.

Thursday, January 27, 2011
Mica Touts Public-Private Northeast Corridor HSR In Grand Central Hearing
by Noah Kazis on January 27, 2011

Sitting beneath the famous zodiac mural of Grand Central’s main concourse, with the rumble of commuters and trains in the background, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held its first field hearing of the new session this morning. The topic was the future of high-speed rail on the Northeast Corridor.

Chairman John Mica led the committee’s Republicans towards what appears to be their emerging message on high-speed rail: they’re for it, so long as it’s built through public-private partnerships and largely limited to the dense Boston-Washington corridor.

High-speed rail advocates and some Democrats seem to think the re-prioritization of the Northeast Corridor could be a good thing, though other Democrats remain committed to the Obama administration vision of a nationwide network. Disagreements over the proper roles of the public and private sectors, however, were somewhat more partisan and contentious.

The call to prioritize the Northeast Corridor — and therefore to stop spreading high speed rail dollars across the nation — earned support from across the political spectrum in the hearing, perhaps not surprising given the heavy representation of northeastern representatives.

Pennsylvania Republican Bill Shuster, who chairs the Railroads Subcommittee, called himself a strong rail supporter but attacked the Obama administration’s strategy so far. “There’s no better way to move large numbers of people than passenger rail and high-speed rail,” he said, telling the story of how improved service on Pennsylvania’s Keystone corridor had convinced him to ride the rails instead of driving. But, he continued, Obama “took that stimulus money and spread it too thinly across the nation.” He said that the President’s State of the Union promise to bring high-speed rail to 80 percent of Americans by 2036 was simply unrealistic and that starting on the Northeast Corridor would be smarter.

Across the aisle, New York City Representative Jerry Nadler agreed that high-speed rail spending shouldn’t be too diffuse, though he didn’t specifically criticize past administration spending. Americans need to be able to see something for their money, he argued.

Former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, both witnesses at the hearing in their positions as co-chairs of the infrastructure advocacy organization Building America’s Future, agreed that future rail dollars needed to be more narrowly targeted. “We need to get real,” said Rendell. “The way we’re doing high-speed rail right now in America will amount to nothing.” The small amount that his state received, he argued, “was done just to say that we gave Pennsylvania some money, so that Senator Specter and Casey can’t be too mad.” (The rail dollars were allocated while Arlen Specter was still in office and before he was replaced by arch-conservative Pat Toomey, who is against federal funding for high-speed rail.)

Not everyone agreed that focusing on a few routes, and the Northeast Corridor in particular, makes sense, however. Ranking member Nick Rahall said in his opening statement that a national rail network ought to remain the focus. “After all,” the West Virginia Democrat said,” it was a national vision that led to the creation of the world’s most advanced highway and aviation networks.”

While there is surely a regional divide at work, it wasn’t a pure split. Ohio Republican Bob Gibbs praised his state’s new governor for killing its high-speed rail program but said that it might make more sense in the northeast, where air traffic is snarled with congestion and transit already feeds into rail stations.

Building a high-speed rail line along the Northeast Corridor carries some particular challenges. First, the lack of an environmental impact statement has stalled improvements so far, according to Petra Todorovich of America 2050. That spurred calls from some committee Republicans, including Highways and Transit Subcommittee Chair John Duncan (R-TN), to ease environmental laws.

High-speed rail advocates seemed open to at least speeding up the environmental review process. Todorovich said her group is asking Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to expedite an EIS for the corridor. Rendell agreed that the slow speed of the process will “drive you crazy” and suggested it could be faster.

Additionally, building high-speed rail through eight different states and the District of Columbia requires a high level of political coordination. Todorovich suggested the creation of a new public authority to cross state lanes.

Even as the committee debated where to prioritize high-speed rail, it also tackled the question of how and by whom it should be built. Although Amtrak has a $117 billion plan to build true high-speed rail along the Northeast Corridor by 2040, Mica said that “Amtrak will never be capable of developing the corridor to its full potential.” The complex challenges of building the route, he said, “can only be addressed with the help of private sector expertise.”

Rahall, in contrast, defended Amtrak, which he called “one of America’s greatest assets.” Only now, with increased funding over the last two years, is Amtrak financially stable enough to turn its attention to the kind of big ideas included in its Northeast Corridor Plan.

Rep. Corrine Brown, the Florida Democrat who serves as ranking member on the Railroads Subcommittee, tried to focus attention on Amtrak’s chronic underfunding. “We’ve invested a lot of money in the highway system: $1.3 trillion,” said Brown. 

“Just $6 billion or $7 billion in passenger rail.” And under Bush, she said, “every budget that arrived to Congress was zeroed out for Amtrak.”

Of course, the debates over public-private partnerships and over prioritizing the Northeast Corridor can’t be completely separated. Because the Northeast Corridor already turns a profit and has a large ridership, said United State High Speed Rail Association VP Thomas Hart, it’s the route most attractive to the private sector.