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Transportation

Obama’s Fast Train to Sprawl

Harvard economist Edward Glaeser is skeptical about high-speed rail as an economic stimulus strategy. The Obama administration has laid out a plan for investing in corridors around the country, including the Vancouver, BC to Eugene, OR stretch in the Pacific Northwest, a route pushed by groups such as the Discovery Institute's Cascadia Center. Indeed, so happy about the president's proposals is Cascadia's executive director Bruce Agnew that he told me recently that Obama is "the best president for rail since Lincoln."

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Idaho Senator, Mayor Are Working On The Railroad

Is this train bound for Boise? Under the boiling sun on the sizzling cement platform at the historic Boise Train Depot, U.S. Senator Mike Crapo and Boise Mayor Dave Bieter announced the probable return of Amtrak to Boise. Speaking to a crowd which included lots of guys in railroad hats, the announcement from Crapo that “we’re working to reestablish the old Pioneer Route” brought sincere cheers, and they weren’t the staged kind often heard at these kind of events. A preliminary analysis from J. L. Patterson Associates, a transportation engineering firm in California, should be ready this week, and “we expect a positive evaluation from the report,” said Crapo.

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Boise’s Vista Interchange Project Includes Beautification

Having once written that Boise’s Vista Boulevard, a main artery into the city from the interstate, was a “tasteless trail of trashiness,” I’m happy to hear that the Vista Interchange project broke ground this morning. In a press release, Governor Otter said, “For thousands of people a day, the Vista Interchange is the Treasure Valley’s gateway to commerce. It provides a primary link from Idaho’s largest airport to our largest metropolitan area. It’s the first part of Idaho that many people see on the ground, so it plays an important role in our efforts to attract and retain quality employers who provide the kinds of careers our people need.” Anybody who follows Idaho politics knows that Otter is a madly enthusiastic road-builder, and has spent a lot of political capital fighting for the money he thinks is needed. There is a backlog of road and bridge repair and new construction of over $240 million dollars in the state, and the past two legislative sessions have been mighty power struggles between the governor and the legislature to allocate money to address it.

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Report: Western States Spending Too Much Stimulus on New Roads

A report out this week from the national Smart Growth America group takes a look at where transportation stimulus money is going on the state level and it found that in most cases, especially in the West, states are spending too much on new roads and not enough on maintenance and repair of existing infrastructure or on public transportation options. The report is exhaustive, and you can read the whole thing here, but two main points from the group are these: Not enough money is being spent on repair and maintenance: "Despite a multi-trillion dollar backlog of road and bridge repairs, states committed almost a third of ARRA STP money -- $6.6 billion -- to new capacity road and bridge projects rather than to repair and other preservation projects" Not enough money is being spent on public transportation: "By allocating few funds (3.7%) to public and non-motorized transportation, states made less progress on modernization, rapid job creation, enhancing public transporation, long-term economic growth, reducing greenhouse gases, oil dependence and providing low cost transportation choices," the report states. Read on to see the report's findings on how specific Western states rank in the group's assessment.

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Idaho Task Force Will Consider Transportation Impasse

After a miserable legislative session dominated by fruitless disagreements over transportation issues, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has appointed a 15-member task force to consider how to resolve them. The task force was a provision of the agreement between Otter and legislative leadership which finally ended the second-longest legislative session in state history. Lt. Gov. Brad Little will preside over the group, and meetings, starting in August, will be open to the public. The governor’s press release describes the groups goals as “developing recommendations by December 2010 for sustainable road and bridge funding for the next 20 years. Task force members will study everything from fuel tax increases and registration fees to truck fees, targeted transportation-related sales taxes and other alternatives.” A state budget backlog now over $100 million and possibly several times that is needed for road and bridge repairs and maintenance and road improvements. The governor and the state legislature have disagreed over the best way to raise the money for several years, with Otter favoring a gas tax and the legislature firmly opposed. The Republican-dominated legislature is so opposed to fuel taxes that they have established a different task force to determine by the 2010 legislative session whether the share of funding from the state’s 25-cents-per-gallon fuel tax that now goes to the Idaho State Police and the Department of Parks and Recreation should be replaced with some other form of user fee.

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Doing Density Right

Stand in the shadow of any giant residential megablock in Seattle and you can't help but wonder: Isn't there a better way to do this? The reality of massive buildings now being auctioned off at fire-sale prices seems proof that bigness alone is neither necessary nor a sufficient condition for successful development in Seattle. Developers have long crowed — and local politicians have cowed to — the notion that "we can't make money in Seattle unless we build six-story buildings." After a round of developer-driven up-zoning we now behold the post-bubble result: fleets of full-block behemoths standing half-empty, unsold, even half-built. What will we make of this enforced economic pause? Will we carve out urban and mental space in which to think about growing smartly and sustainably instead of just bigger and faster? Or will we simply wait for the banks to resume shoveling debt so the bulldozers can resume shoving dirt? A few blocks from the lively Cal Anderson Park on Capitol Hill is a place that could change our thinking about Seattle urban density.

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Adjusted Development: Saving the World with Sustainable Growth

Why should towns in the West change the way they grow? And why should planners design healthier, greener communities? Because if they don’t, they’ll suffer and fail. Dire as that answer sounds, it's sparked something worth celebrating: a planning revolution and a move to sustainability across the West, according to land-use and green planning expert Christopher Duerksen.

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The Travel Less Roaded

If life is a highway, we’re in trouble--unless we start making highways safer for wildlife, wildlands and the planet. Simply put, America’s ever-expanding web of streets and freeways is a noxious force that threatens to "pave over the landscape.” So says Division Street, a beautifully filmed and notable new documentary premiering Thursday, June 11, at the Roxy Theater in Missoula. The 7 p.m. showing will be followed by a panel discussion featuring filmmaker-producer Eric Bendick and officials from Transportation for America and American Wildlands.

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Transportation Director: Montana Is Ready To Spend Stimulus Money

The Montana Department of Transportation is receiving $211 million extra dollars from the federal government through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for projects this year, says MDT director Jim Lynch. On a typical year Montana can expect about $300 million for transportation projects from the federal government. With the extra ARRA money, the state will have more than $500 million to spend this year. “(Congress) wanted to get it out into the states and out into contractors hands as quickly as possible,” he said. The ARRA is largely misunderstood by the general public, Lynch said. At its heart, it's about jobs

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Missoula Demands Its Share of Transportation Dollars

Missoula officials, long aggrieved at what they consider unfair apportionment of state transportation funds, have approved a strongly worded resolution demanding that the city and county get a fair shake, both on new federal funds flowing from the economic stimulus program and on existing state and federal highway programs. The resolution, approved by the city-county Transportation Policy Coordinating Committee on Tuesday and printed in full below, details major imbalances in the way the state allocates transportation funding. While greater Missoula accounts for some 8.5% of the state's population, it is projected to receive just 2.6% of all state and fedeeral transportation funds over the next 25 years. Further, Missoula residents receive only 5-7 cents of benefit for every dollar of state gas tax paid in Missoula. The resolution comes as state, local and federal officials debate how to spend an anticipated $300 million in federal transportation funds that will flow from the national economic stimulus plan. City officials were furious that the initial state project wish-list included only a single Missoula project - about $3 million for the Scott St. overpass - out of some $1.5 billion in projects statewide that were cited as stimulus program priorities.

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