“Where is rail working? In New England,” Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray told rail professionals at the June 13 General Luncheon, “The Power of Rail as a Foundation for Economic Growth,” during the APTA Rail Conference in Boston. He added: “When people have frequent, reliable transit, they leave their cars at home.”
“We have a vision for safe, reliable, efficient transportation,” Murray continued. “We are investing heavily in rail and transit in Massachusetts,” using more than $319 million in federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds.
In 2009, he said, the state purchased rail rights-of-way to Worcester, Fall River, and New Bedford from CSX. “This agreement will turn the existing infrastructure into a 21st-century solution for transportation problems”—for example, raising the clearance of rebuilt bridges to allow freight trains to carry two containers stacked on top of each other, and restoring passenger rail service to cities that have not had it in decades. “This project benefits not just Massachusetts, but New England as a whole,” Murray explained.
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority also has a major rail project underway: the Fairmount Commuter Rail Line, which will include four new stations in an underserved part of the city. One of the new stations just opened. (See related story.)
“How can these successes work in other parts of the country?” Murray asked. “Rail professionals will have to remember a few basic principles: rail may seem an expensive investment up front, but it’s an investment with long-term benefits; rail operators must set themselves up to deliver high-quality service; rail development must incorporate new technologies to improve service; and multimodal operation and interconnections are necessary.”
Murray then joined a panel of rail experts from a variety of disciplines for a discussion of the concrete connections between rail investment and economic development.
Polly Trottenberg, DOT assistant secretary for transportation policy, noted that both the House and Senate have begun work on surface transportation authorization bills. However, they are likely to propose funding at a substantially lower level than President Obama’s $556 billion over six years: the Senate is considering a $340 billion authorization level while the House is looking at funding between $219 billion and $275 billion.
“How are we going to make our case in the next authorization?” she asked the audience rhetorically. “How can we get a number that meets our needs and lets rail and transit compete?”
Trottenberg also reported on the success of the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program, which created an even playing field for all modes of transportation. “We were able to compete on the merits and make our economic case,” she explained.
Janet F. Kavinoky, vice president of Americans for Transportation Mobility and executive director, congressional and public affairs, for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, provided a business perspective. “You know just how important transit is,” she said, “and the business community knows it too. What we hear from our members is that transit is critically important as a way to promote community development.”
She told conference participants: “We have to go back home—not as transportation professionals but as individuals—and get out the word. It’s time to make it possible, make it real, and let political leaders know what rail can do for them.”
Christopher B. Leinberger, president of Locus, Responsible Real Estate Developers and Investors; founding partner, Arcadia Land Company; and visiting fellow, Brookings Institution, agreed with Kavinoky. “Transportation drives development,” he said. “Rail transit’s time has come: it’s the most important infrastructure investment of the early 21st century.”
Leinberger suggested returning to a bygone model—using real estate development to pay for public transit development, as was the case 100 years ago. “We need to unlock the power of the markets,” he said. “People have a pent-up demand for walkable urban development. Right now, the built environment represents 35 percent of the U.S. economic base, but it’s out on the margins. It’s our responsibility to bring it into the picture.”
Hector C. Rodriguez, interim executive officer, operations administration, for Los Angeles Metro, reported how parts of the city and region that were “ghost towns” at night 20 years ago now burst with nightlife and housing—and it’s all because of the Metro Blue Line light rail and Metro Red Line subway. People who start out opposing transit projects, he said, change their minds when they see the benefits it brings to other neighborhoods.
Joseph M. Giglio, professor, strategic management, with the Graduate School of Business at Northeastern University, laid out the economic importance of rail transit. “Well-managed enterprises know how to configure and coordinate their portfolios of assets,” he said. “Some products will always subsidize others”—and that is equally true of transit investment.
APTA Vice Chair Gary C. Thomas, who presided at the luncheon session, said: “Rail matters more now than it ever has before. We need to present our case at its most compelling and how we can make it even more so.” Thomas is also president/executive director of Dallas Area Rapid Transit, which will host the 2012 APTA Rail Conference.
Justin Augustine III, chief executive officer, New Orleans Regional Transit Authority, and vice president of Veolia Transportation, invited conference participants to attend the 2011 Annual Meeting and EXPO, Oct. 2-5 in New Orleans.
APTA Chair Michael J. Scanlon announced that the Annual Meeting schedule will incorporate opportunities for attendees to help rebuild houses in St. Bernard Parish, where residents are still recovering from the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. “I urge you to look at your schedules and make time to participate,” he said. “I did this last fall and, amid the paint and the drywall and the fun and the laughter, there was also this great sense of—simply put—being helpful.”
Bonnie D. Shepherd, a board member of the American Public Transportation Foundation (APTF), kicked off the event by inviting luncheon guests to make $10 donations to the APTF scholarship fund through a new text messaging campaign.
HNTB Corporation joined APTA in sponsoring the luncheon.
Panelists at the General Luncheon included, from left, Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray; Polly Trottenberg, DOT; Janet F. Kavinoky, Americans for Transportation Mobility; Christopher B. Leinberger, Locus; Joseph M. Giglio, Northeastern University; Hector C. Rodriguez, Los Angeles Metro; and APTA Vice Chair Gary C. Thomas, who presided at the session.
APTF Board Member Bonnie D. Shepherd kicks off its newest program, "APTF Donate by Cell," at the luncheon session.