Tagfederal government

Federal funding primer and why projects take so long to construct

Many Chicagoans who ride bikes are in awe (myself included) at how fast the Kinzie Street protected bike lane (the first of its kind in the city) has been designed and constructed in four weeks.

I explain how it’s been possible to do something so fast:

  1. Federally funded projects, like “commuter bicycle parking” (u-rack manufacturing and installation, using CMAQ federal funding) in Chicago, are under the control of the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), which must review and approve every design.  If it takes IDOT six months to tell the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) it does NOT approve and requires revisions, it will take IDOT another six months to review and approve the revised design. I experienced this directly when I was modifying the current bike parking contract. That’s one extra year added to a project based on a cumbersome state review process. Cities and their mayors have been advocating the federal government to give federal aid directly to cities so they can work faster.
  2. All design work must be completed and approved by everyone before a contract can be advertised for competitive bidding. Federal funds generally cannot be used to pay for local city forces, like CDOT crews, to do the work.
  3. Then comes the procurement process…

[This process is nearly the same for all cities.]

While there is room for improvement in the above process, it’s may not be fair to blame the City or CDOT for taking a long time to implement a project like Stony Island (tentatively scheduled for 2014), when Chicago doesn’t have authority over it’s own roads*.

If every project were locally funded – CDOT is funding the project with budgeted but unallocated funds – and approved, we could see a lot more projects like the Kinzie Street protected bike lane happening very fast. It should be obvious, also, that Mayor Emanuel and new CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein are extremely motivated to show their commitment to the transition plan as well as complete this project by the Bike To Work Day Rally on Friday, June 17th.

*This can be interpreted in two ways:

  1. There are roads in the city that are under the jurisdiction of the state providing an additional burden when it comes to modifying them.
  2. The process described above removes from the City authoritative control of its roads when projects modifying those roads are funded in part by the federal government.

Construction on Kinzie Street has been happening at a breakneck pace.

Who wants to give up high-speed rail

UPDATED: 11/16/10 and 11/19/10 to include new reports from Journal-Sentinel about Walker’s campaign contributions and to reorder the timeline (now in chronological order) and news about North Carolina.

The Governors-elect of Wisconsin (Scott Walker) and Ohio (John Kasich) made it clear during their campaigns that they would put an end to current or upcoming high-speed rail construction paid for mostly by competitive grants from the Department of Transportation.

Illinois was the first state to start high-speed rail construction using federal stimulus money. Photo taken just outside of Springfield, right before IDOT announced the first phase of track construction (from Alton to Springfield) is complete and phase two should have begun yesterday, Monday (from Springfield to Lincoln).

Because of their stance, and because Secretary Ray LaHood has made it clear that Wisconsin’s $810 million and Ohio’s $400 can only be used for high-speed rail, the news changes daily. Here’s the latest in the chronology that’s happened in the past two weeks:

LaHood is laying on the pressure that high-speed rail will happen, but perhaps not in Wisconsin, if Walker has his way.

*3C stands for Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Columbus.

Two Amtrak trains waiting to depart Chicago Union Station (CUS) in May 2010. Photo by Eric Pancer.

Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C., is where laws and funding decisions are made that affect our daily lives. We would be smart to pay attention to news that comes from here.

Photo by Jonathan Maus of BikePortland.org. “Gary Fisher telling US DOT Sec. Ray LaHood (and I paraphrase), ‘Look at this turnout… look at all these people here supporting bikes!’ “

Yesterday, Ray LaHood (Secretary of the Department of Transportation), fresh from his “tabletop speech” at the National Bike Summit, announced a big change in federal transportation funding and project selection policy.

The United States DOT says in “Policy Statement on Bicycle and Pedestrian Accommodation Regulations and Recommendations” that the recommended actions were created based on already existing law and regulations.

I hope this policy change has the authority of your mom telling you not to eat cookies because she made them for a neighbor – and if you do get a couple, you’ll see the consequences in the form of a wooden spoon.

Why should we be “Collecting data on walking and biking trips”? Well, we might get the wooden spoon if we don’t, but “Communities that routinely collect walking and bicycling data are able to track trends and prioritize investments to ensure the success of new facilities.”

The document does remind readers that the Secretary (or more likely, his designee, a project reviewer) “has the authority to withhold approval for projects that would negatively impact pedestrians and bicyclists under certain circumstances.”

Found via Active Transportation Alliance. More photos.

Earmarks: Good and bad, put simply

Earmarks are wonderful for the people and organizations for whom they’re designated. It’s a way to bypass normal funding procedures and jumpstart or finish a project. Instead of a bureaucrat in Washington, D.C., and your state capitol analyzing your project for its funding worthiness, you work with your locally elected official to get project funding.

Earmarks also help institutions ineligible for federal funding (for example: many local museums) get projects built for them. Earmarks may mean that your project starts getting federal grants earlier.

What earmarks also do is reduce the amount of money available for formula and Department of Transportation discretionary funding as well as lower the statewide “transportation pot.” It’s also probably immoral to use political instead of objective considerations to decide which projects are funded and which aren’t. 

However, with the right politician and the right group speaking in their ear, earmarks may mean the difference in your town getting that bike lane funded or not, because the state Department of Transportation continues to say no.

In the federal spending bill President Obama plans to sign soon, there are $7.7 billion dollars in earmarks, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense (TCS). This, so far, only includes disclosed earmarks (a handy table listing all earmarks and requesting politicians is downloadable), and the group is searching through the bill text to find the billions more in undisclosed earmarks.

Here I note a couple items of interest to Illinoisans in transportation (download searchable PDF with national table or download Excel spreadsheet from TCS):

  • Alternative Analysis Study for the J-Route Bus Rapid Transit (BTR) Project; $237,500; Rep. Roskam
  • Peoria Regional Airport; $950,000; Sen. Durbin
  • DeKalb/Taylor Municipal Airport, Various Improvements; $1,235,000; Rep. Foster, Sen. Durbin
  • CTA Red line Extension (Alternatives Analysis); $285,000; Rep. Jackson, Sen. Durbin
  • CTA Yellow Line Extension (Alternatives Analysis); $237,500; Rep. Schakowsky, Sen. Durbin
  • CTA Brown Line* (Capital Investment Grant); $30,00,000; Sen. Durbin
  • CTA Circle Line** (Capital Investment Grant); $6,000,000; Sen. Durbin
  • Metra Rock Island 35th St. Station Improvements; $712,500; Rep. Rush
  • Multimodal Center in Normal; $237,500; Rep. Weller
  • Paratransit Vehicles, West Central Mass Transit District; $104,500; Rep. LaHood
  • Replacement Heavy Duty Transit Buses, Madison County Mass Transit District; $475,000; Rep. Costello
  • Replacement of Paratransit Vehicles, Greater Peoria Mass Transit District, Peoria; $380,000; Rep. LaHood

And the list goes on. Click Read More for the notes about the CTA, info on Metra’s share, and BRT. Continue reading

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