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Transcript of LaHood press conference

Here’s the full transcript of President-elect Barack Obama’s press conference introducing his new Secretary of Transportation (and others). We’ve clipped the important bits:

We have a task before us to rebuild America. As a nation, we need to continue to be the world leader in infrastructure development, Amtrak, mass transit, light rail, air travel, and our roads and bridges all play a vital role in our economy and our well-being as a nation.

We cannot stand by our infrastructure ages and crumbles. We must pursue solid policies that allow our states and communities to address their transportation needs. We have a tremendous opportunity before us to rebuild our infrastructure and reinvigorate our economy, and I look forward to the challenge.

A hallmark of my career has been my work with our local and state leaders as we have improved the infrastructure of Illinois. I’ve served on the House Transportation and infrastructure committee as we reauthorize the Federal Highway Bill. I understand first hand what good infrastructure and transportation means to communities, and understand it is the local folks who know best their transportation needs. We’ll bring that same approach to the Department of Transportation.

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Ray LaHood, our nation's new transportation secretary

The transit blogosphere has been buzzing over the last 24 hours since word leaked that President-elect Barack Obama had decided on his Secretary of Transportation nominee. We now know that man is Ray LaHood, a moderate Republican Congressman from Illinois.

Basically, moderate is the word to emphasize here. LaHood, while as fiscally conservative as his downstate constituents, has been on record supporting state-subsidized Amtrak service (Illinois has the fastest-growing network of state-sponsored trains) and is part of a Congressional Bike Caucus. He’s even uttered the phrase Complete Streets without rolling his eyes.

The Overhead Wire has a nice recap of various viewpoints on this selection ranging from good (knows the appropriations system) to bad (basic left-wing conspiracy theorists).

Of course, anything is better than Mary Peters, the current Secretary who was tasked with carrying out the Bush Administration’s starvation diet for all modes except highways (and even those were being pushed towards tolling, congestion pricing, and HOT lanes). Peters is universally reviled amongst transportation advocates, as is our current President.

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Transportation forums this week

Planners are required to involve local residents in the discussion about transportation funding. Until recently, that funding in KC has been spent almost exclusively on highways. Why? Because you literally haven’t spoken up about alternatives. Redeem yourself by attending one of the five transportation forums and demand transportation diversity as part of the public record. It’s kinda like voting!

Kudos to MARC for adding transit information for each location!

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Northland Chamber endorses light rail

The Northland Regional Chamber of Commerce and Northland Neighborhoods Inc. have both endorsed the November light rail ballot proposal.

Previously, the Northland Chamber had insisted on Vivion Road as the northern terminus before offering an endorsement. The segment between Waterworks Park and Vivion Road is expected to be the most expensive segment on the route (over $100 million).

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Round-up: This week in light rail

Local:

National:

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Round-up: This week in light rail

Local:

National:

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Dedicated ROW: The Rock Island Corridor

Lee’s Summit has joined a coalition of governments interested in buying the 8.5-mile Rock Island corridor — owned by Union Pacific since Rock Island was dismantled by court order in 1980 — for the purposes of redeveloping it for transit use. About $2 million is needed to purchase the right of way, which might come in the form of an earmark from Missouri Sen. Kit Bond as early as next session.

The route connects Lee’s Summit to Kansas City via Raytown and was referenced in Mayor Funkhouser’s draft regional plan as a potential commuter rail line. It’s unclear whether UP wants to run freight on the now inactive line when it’s rehabbed, an approach that would complicate light rail’s potential in the corridor. Commuter rail may make more sense for transit planners since the line continues south to terminate in Pleasant Hill — a distance most would agree it too far to be practical for light rail.

So why the fuss over an abandoned rail line? Well, Kansas City doesn’t have many (all are active and “congested”). Most of geography is now developed, leaving little option for light rail outside of city streets (acquiring private property is expensive, time consuming, and generates a lot of opposition). Many cities with abandoned rail lines turn them over to use as bike trails, which never get converted back to mass transit.

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Sorting through the Council's intentions

In addition to ordinance 080693 that will put the light rail sales tax on the ballot, the Council is managing a second piece of legislation that contains more detailed intentions (but as a Resolution, it’s non-binding). Here’s a recap what 080694 contains:

Section 1: Restates the proposed route. Similar details were added to the ballot language via committee substitute this week to firm up support from the east side (they’ve seen the “bait and switch” before).

Section 2: States that the line is intended to be part of regional, multi-modal transportation system. Work is in progress on regional Missouri funding and routes that would connect with the starter line and an early 2009 vote is now possible. That effort merged recently with MARC’s decade-old SmartMoves program, which was previously bus only.

Section 3: Confirms that the KCATA will operate the starter line. Just so there’s no confusion here, even the regional system would allow KCATA to continue operating their existing bus routes, but with new regional oversight.

Section 4: Vaguely states the priority for extensions to the east and south. The starter line was lengthened just this week to head further south. Logical options for heading east include Independence Avenue or the abandoned Rock Island rail line.

Section 5: Encourages the KCATA to complete the Troost BRT project and explore new BRT routes that improve the severely-lacking east-west connections in today’s system (namely along Truman, Linwood, and 39th Street). A BRT line along Prospect is part of the proposed starter line plan and a State Avenue line to Village West is proposed but not yet funded. We hope future BRT lines include off-board ticketing and level boarding, two major amenities missing from MAX that other cities have implemented.

Section 6: States the intention for light rail to serve Union Station.

Section 7: Enhance the pedestrian experience and minimize construction impacts, both areas in which the city has been completely unsuccessful in the past. We hope the Council investigates low- or no-cost loans to help small business owners survive the construction period long enough to benefit from the line’s added traffic. We’ll see if Public Works can figure out how to put pedestrians first at an urban intersection because right now it’s a massive failure (seriously, pushing a button for a walk signal in the heart of downtown?).

Section 8: States the intention to integrate light rail with buses, for which the planning is already in progress. Hopefully some changes will come sooner rather than later (using MAX as the spine).

Section 9: States the intention to avoid double taxation. If a regional tax passes next year, the council has stated they will simply repeal the KCMO-only tax to prevent this scenario.

Section 10: Encourages resolution of the North Kansas City funding question. NKC has already created a Transportation Development District, allowing the city to put it’s own transit tax on the November ballot (pending circuit court approval).

Section 11: States the intention for light rail construction to comply with the city’s requirements for minority- and women-owned business involvement. The last mayor and council gratuitously side-stepped these requirements (and others) for construction of the Sprint Center.

Section 12: Encourages transit-oriented development along the starter line. This doesn’t mean tearing down houses in midtown, but filling in the stretches of empty lots that now litter the starter route. We expect the council to eventually adopt some type of incentive or zoning program to guide such efforts.

Section 13: States the intent to include public art in the station design. Kansas City — widely recognized for high quality public art — backs that up with a requirement that all publicly-funded projects contribute 1% of their construction budget for public art. One of the best-known examples is the Sky Stations installation atop Bartle Hall, now an iconic part of the city’s skyline.

Section 14: States that the starter line should not encroach on Anita Gorman Park, which sits at the northern terminus of the proposed route. The park contains a massive year-round fountain that’s solidly part of the Northland’s identity.

Section 15: States the intent to see all applicable state, federal, and local funding sources for the starter line. Climate change funding from a new administration could help. MoDOT is at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to funding anything except highways, but a new transportation outlook includes a request for $50 million for mass transit. Local funding options might include public-private partnerships or sponsorships for stations and amenities.

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Update to participants

We received this email update from the KCATA today:

LIGHT RAIL UPDATE

Kansas City Council Committee To Take Public Testimony on Light Rail Initiative

Thank you so much for participating in the public process for light rail and transit options.

Last week the Kansas City City Council introduced an ordinance (Ordinance No. 080693) to place on the ballot on November 4, 2008, a light rail proposal which would enact a 3/8-cent sales tax devoted to a light rail system. A companion resolution (Resolution No. 080694) outlining the proposed 12-mile light rail route was also introduced. These documents can be found using the following link: http://cityclerk.kcmo.org/liveweb/common/. Use the ordinance and resolution numbers to search for more information.

The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will be taking public testimony on the Ordinance and Resolution that will put the light rail initiative on the November 4, 2008, ballot this coming Thursday, July 24 and Thursday, July 31 – 10:00 a.m., 10th Floor Committee Room – City Hall – 414 E. 12th Street.

The map on the proposed route can be found using the following link: http://cityclerk.kcmo.org/liveweb/Documents/Document.aspx?q=7GF8PibfD1LM%2b6i7PtOy04LobGtPCcFFTdPI0x8lgtt5OMgahwE2YlQkPrfDMcN2

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Please redirect your "boondoggle" comments to highways

And no, the gas tax doesn’t cover the entire cost. Get the full report here (hat tip to Streetsblog).

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