Monthly Archives: February 2009

10,000 Friends of PA “Principles to Guide Infrastructure Investment”

In December 2008, 10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania released a one-page statement of principles to guide the spending of economic stimulus dollars on infrastructure projects to ensure the limited money is spent wisely and productively.

The principles…
Fix it first.
Promote redevelopment. 
Preserve and improve [public] transit.
Demand accountability. 

A couple of days ago, the Morning Call carried a short story on funds that would be available in the LV to do repair work on local roads and bridges (see “Stimulus Money to Allow Local Bridge, Road Repairs“).  

The principles laid out by 10,000 Friends provides a way to think about the dilemma created by the new availability of infrastructure funds.  The dilemma is that while additional infrastructure funds are/will be available, the goal of using infrastructure projects as part of the stimulus package and as a near-term remedy for employment and housing woes means that “shovel-ready” projects are prioritized for funding.  This seems sensible enough, particularly if a principle purpose of the projects is the direct creation of jobs (the quicker the projects get under way, the quicker people will be employed toward their completion).

Here’s the rub.  Some of the shovel-ready projects will be necessary repairs to existing roads and bridges (see the Morning Call story), BUT plenty of the shovel-ready projects that will receive funding will be new roads (see the Mon-Fayette Expressway) and new sewers of the sort that subsidized the sprawling model of development that contributed to the housing market troubles that gave rise to the broader economic difficulties (insert your own euphemism if you like) the country is currently facing.  It would be a shame if in our haste to “do something to fix this mess”, we invested borrowed (against current and future generations) infrastructure dollars providing life support to an increasingly obsolete model of development.  

U.S. Stimulus Transport Funds to Flow to States: LaHood

By Karen Pierog

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Despite pleas from many U.S. mayors that transportation funding included in the economic recovery bill currently being debated in Congress go directly to cities, most of the money will flow through state agencies, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said on Thursday.

“Our feeling is the best way to get this money out is through state departments of transportation,” LaHood told Midwest-based reporters in a conference call.

The departments, which operate under their respective state governors, have the necessary savvy to move quickly on the so-called shovel-ready projects envisioned by President Barack Obama as a way of creating jobs quickly, he added.

LaHood said smaller communities in particular do not have the ability to “do what the president wants to do — get the money out the door, have people building roads and bridges and infrastructure spring, summer and fall.”

The reauthorization of federal transportation legislation and Department of Transportation/Federal Highway Administration rules that direct federal transportation funding are topics for another day, but the bottom line is that the projects that are shovel-ready were developed under funding structure that significantly favored road/highway, automobile-focussed projects.  Unfortunately, it is questionable how far the stimulus funds will go toward promoting/creating more sustainable transportation infrastructure in PA.

Here is a “Q&A” from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s website dedicated to the stimulus funds (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act):

Question 1: What should local agencies be doing to ensure their projects are “ready to go” as part of the Economic Recovery Program?

Answer 1: In order for a surface transportation infrastructure project to advance for Federal funding, it must be included in the relevant metropolitan Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) or Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP). Therefore, we strongly encourage you to reach out to your Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) or State Department of Transportation (State DOT) to begin work as soon as possible to ensure your projects are included in an approved TIP or STIP, so they are ready and available to advance upon the President signing economic recovery legislation. Please note that transit related projects should be coordinated with the relevant transit operating agency as well as relevant MPOs or State DOTs.

The bottom line is that while the federal government is providing funds, the spending of those funds will be based on priorities set by existing state and local (MPO) project development and funding processes.

 So, the real question for the LV is whether  the LV Planning Commission (our regional Metropolitan Planning Organization – MPO) and LV Transportation Study have shovel-ready sustainable transportation projects at on the books and are only waiting for the funds in order to break ground.

Stimulus Roadblock? . NOW on PBS

Here’s a PBS video focussing on the potential of transit-oriented development as a development pattern that could/should be the model for getting the most bang for OUR infrastructure stimulus buck.

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“Just build something, and fast…” Might Not be the Best Approach

There is certainly a sense of urgency, and rightfully so, surrounding the current economic stimulus efforts.  If spending on infrastructure is to be a key piece of the stimulus efforts, then lets spend the money on fixing existing roads and bridges that have fallen into disrepair and on public transit projects coupled with smart land-use reforms.

Here is an excerpt from a Pittsburg Post-Gazette op-ed on the Mon-Fayette Expressway, a potential target project for federal stimulus funds (here’s the full article)…

Not surprisingly, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., recently suggested that the long-delayed completion of the Mon-Fayette Expressway be put on a list of priorities for the president-elect’s stimulus plan.

So this is our stimulus for the new economy: an “expressway” that will move a shrinking population in more cars for ever longer distances, all in a misguided effort to sustain the past century’s binge of housing tracts and shopping malls.

But if there is one thing we have learned from the recent economic collapse, it is that this old model of debt-driven consumption and resource depletion is no longer sustainable. While spreading out our thinning population more than ever, the Mon-Fayette will plow through walkable communities, historic districts and undeveloped wooded riverbanks.

We might be able to accept the destruction if there were a clear payoff for the future. But the Mon-Fayette is a classic expression of the cheap-energy mindset, oblivious to its long-term impacts on local communities and the wider planet.

“Resilient cities” concept espoused in new book

A recent Architectural Record blog post talks about the concept of “resilient cities,” an ambitious concept presented by Professor of Sustainability Peter Newman of Curtin University, and Professor Tim Beatley of the University of Virginia. According to the blog, they claim:

(the) urban structure has reworked itself around every major wave of technological innovation that society has encountered, beginning with the 1st wave of wielding iron, textiles, waterpower. Tracing this taxonomy, they claim the 6th wave of technological innovation is arriving, born on the backs of sustainability, biomimicry, industrial ecology, and renewable energy among other things. The problem, they argue, is an entrenched system trying to unnaturally extend 4th wave petrochemical forms of consumption and urban design. A resilient city will be carbon neutral, integrated with nature, rely on local ecologies, and allow its residents to use public transportation exclusively.

Heady stuff. But a good read nonetheless.

Reversal of sprawl in Texas

Here’s a fascinating article from Texas Construction about how metropolitan areas of Texas — long known for its excessive sprawl — are discovering smart growth and mixed-use redevelopment of the urban cores. The article discusses the fiscal prudence of such development, indicating that it’s more resistant to economic cycles. Examples from Houston, San Antonio and Austin demonstrate how the movement has been taking hold.