Monthly Archives: November 2010

Water infrastructure spending in Lehigh County

Yesterday, Gov. Rendell announced that the state would be investing $174 million into PA’s water infrastructure across 21 counties. Most of this money is being spent in the form of low-interest loans to the various county entities and water treatment plants, with only $20 million being used in the form of grants.

  • Allentown City received an $8.6 million loan to replace all of the city’s water meters with new units incorporating mobile read technology, enhancing the ability to detect water leaks and allowing the city to manage its water system more efficiently.
  • Allentown City received a $670,000 loan to repair leaks in the Schantz Spring transmission main that are causing costly water losses to the city.
  • Lehigh County Authority received a $1.8 million loan to replace 2,700 outdated water meters and backflow preventers, thus eliminating possible contamination of the water system and improving the operating efficiency of the system.

Where Does Federal Transportation Bill Go From Here?

What a federal transportation bill ultimately looks like — and when (and if) it actually gets done — is a big deal for the Lehigh Valley and regions across the nation. Federal funding has always been central to supporting transportation projects and its offshoots (such as transit-oriented development, complete streets, etc.). The current federal surface transportation — SAFETEA-LU — expired more than a year ago (it’s been extended several times), and until Congress passes a new comprehensive bill, states and localities cannot be sure what the federal transportation funding picture will look like.

This makes it very tough for  transit agencies and departments of transportation to plan. I can say that in almost every discussion of transportation for the Lehigh Valley — whether on passenger rail, bus rapid transit, bike infrastructure, pedestrian safety, or roads — the uncertainty surrounding the federal bill is a constant theme.  You hear it all the time: “We can’t do much until we see what happens at the federal level.”

Given that last week’s election shifted the political landscape Washington, the prospects for Congress moving a new transportation bill are not clear. Fortunately, our friends at Transportation for America held an in-depth briefing call today to lay out where things stand. Some of the highlights:

  • With former Housing Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee Chairman Jim Oberstar losing his seat in Congress last week, the leading advocate for pushing a balanced, forward-thinking transportation bill at a level of $500 billion is out of the picture. T4America Director James Corless notes that a $500B is not going to happen, and that even $400B might not be feasible.
  • T4America indicates that transportation is one of a handful of issues that the White House believes it could get bipartisan support in the next two years. At the same time, Corless notes that the window is really in the next 12 months or so–once you get into late 2011, you’re into the 2012 campaign season, and movement on the bill gets less likely.
  • T4America expects that the new transportation bill will emphasize innovative financing mechanisms, such as public/private partnerships (“P3″s) and a National Infrastructure Bank. Also, principles like accountability and performance measures (which T4A has been pushing) will likely be part of the bill.
  • Although last week’s election results overall seemed to carry a “less public spending” message, T4America pointed to a Center for Transportation Excellence report showing that at the local level, 22 of 30 transportation funding measures passed, totally more than $500 million in investment over five years.

Corless was clear on the fact that more will be known in the coming couple months, as the House leadership is selected and committee chairmanships are assigned. RenewLV will continue to provide updates via this blog and through our website. To follow every detail and development on the federal surface transportation bill, some of our favorite sources are Transportation for America (naturally), The Transport Politic, and Streetsblog Capitol Hill.

Amtrak to Rescue ARC Tunnel Project?

Even though NJ Governor Chris Christie put the kibosh on the ARC tunnel project that would have provided a much-needed transit connection between New Jersey and New York, reports are rumbling that Amtrak is ready to come in and revive the project. Gothamist picked up the story that was reported by Fox NY

Amtrak Vice President Al Engel says they’re talking to NJ Transit about teaming up and finishing the tunnel themselves, and using it for a high-speed rail. However, they stress there is nothing set in stone, so there’s still plenty of time for the abandoned construction space to get turned into an elite street art collection.

There’s that Gothamist humor!

But in all seriousness, is Amtrak trying to establish itself as the transit savior of our time? I also heard rumors (that may or may not be substantiated) that the company is interested in bringing HSR through the Lehigh Valley. Intriguing indeed.

What are your thoughts on Amtrak’s interest in the ARC project?

For more on RenewLV’s work on transportation, visit our Sustainable Transportation Initiative page.

Green Drinks Tomorrow: Tom Kerr on Energy-Efficiency Opportunities in Allentown

The popular Green Drinks Lehigh Valley speaker series continues tomorrow at Allentown Brew Works. This month’s speaker is Tom Kerr from Allentown’s Office of Sustainability, discussing how Allentown residents, nonprofits and businesses can benefit from energy-efficiency programs and projects made possible by the federal American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. Tom will also discuss Allentown’s plans to create a sustainability office for the city.

You can get full details from the Green Drinks Lehigh Valley webpage. This free event is open to the public and begins at 5:30pm.

Team PA’s Annual Report Stresses Work on Municipal Consolidation

Team PA put out their Annual Report recently and, in it, they highlight the hard work toward passing a municipal consolidation bill this year, SB 1429. The report states:

Sometimes, collaboration is necessary for survival. For some of Pennsylvania’s small or struggling municipalities, merging or consolidation is the only road to fiscal health and the return to a growing, vibrant community. Yet it used to be nearly impossible to do. Team PA convened 20 organizations to help distressed municipal governments by devising a better way to voluntarily consolidate or merge their services. Six months – and a few close calls later – a successful bill was signed into law by the governor, providing a new, easy, and more direct merger and consolidation process.

Just another step to success in PA’s municipal government system. Thanks, Team PA.

Education, Innovation and Entrepreneurship: Nov 19 at Bridgeworks

In its landmark study on boosting Pennsylvania’s economic competitiveness (Back to Prosperity), the Brookings Institution highlighted the importance of providing educational opportunities that lay the groundwork for innovation and entrepreneurship. Creating a culture of entrepreneurship is key to helping revitalize older core communities in the Lehigh Valley and across Pennsylvania. Further, creating an economic culture in which new ideas and firms can flourish would help Pennsylvania reverse the “brain drain” that sees many younger, educated workers leave the state.

For RenewLV’s next brown-bag session, we’re pleased to be partnering with the Allentown Economic Development Corporation to hold a panel discussion on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education and its importance for cultivating innovation, entrepreneurship and a vibrant regional economy. The expert panel includes:

Steve Melnick, Vice President of Entrepreneurial Development, Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation
Kelly Rosario, STEM Director, Allentown School District
Troy Thrash, Executive Director and CEO, DaVinci Science Center
Todd Watkins, Director, Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity & Innovation, Lehigh University

This session will feature brief presentations from each of the panelists, followed by time for Q&A and discussion.

Please join us on Friday, November 19, from 12:00 to 1:30pm at AEDC’s Bridgeworks Enterprise Center, 905 Harrison Street in Allentown. Please note that a light lunch will be provided, thanks to support provided by the Enterprise Zone Program of the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.

I hope to see you on the 19th at Bridgeworks. If you plan to attend, please RSVP by emailing sbliss@renewlv.org or calling 484-893-1060.

Externalities, Hidden Costs and Transit Reform

Reforming our current(primarily highway based) transit mode is the smart thing to do, but it’s not a bad thing to have more information on the true costs of the current highway mode of transportation.

Here’s an article that’s been working its way across the internet(I originally found it via Streetsblog.net, who found it through a pro-bike blog) by Todd Litman of Planetizen. He writes:

Housing and transport expenses exceed the recommended limits (33% for housing and 20% for transport, or 45% combined) for the two lowest income quintiles (40% of the U.S. population). Since zero-vehicle households spend relatively little on transport, transportation inaffordability is even worse than this graph indicates for the 77.5% of these lower-income households that own motor vehicles. In other words, “affordable automobile dependency” is an oxymoron: You can have affordable transportation or you can have automobile dependency, but it is impossible to have both, and efforts to make driving “affordable” simply shift the costs to other economic sectors, such as government, businesses, or housing.

He makes his argument from too many angles for me to introduce in a short post, so rather than just continue copying and pasting snippets from the article, I will just highly recommend reading it.

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