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California governor threatens withholding of transportation funds in favor of housing

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California governor threatens withholding of transportation funds in favor of housing
A homeless man sits at his tent along the Interstate 110 freeway in downtown Los Angeles. California Gov. Gavin Newsom, outlined his plans in his proposed budget announced Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019, to spend $1.75 billion on housing in a state that is woefully short on units and $500 million on homelessness. He's proposing to withhold state transportation dollars from local governments that won't build its share of housing, possibly setting up a budget fight with cities and counties. (Associated Press: RICHARD VOGEL)

By KATHLEEN RONAYNE and JANIE HAR

SACRAMENTO, Calif  — California Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed a $1.75 billion plan for housing Thursday and threatened to withhold transportation money from local governments that don’t build their fair share, declaring he’s not playing “small ball” on California’s crisis.

The new Democratic governor also proposed spending $500 million for regions to build emergency shelters, navigation centers and other supportive housing to battle the state’s growing number of homeless.

“Homelessness is not a local concern in a few big urban centers, it’s not just a regional concern in urban metros, it is a statewide concern,” Newsom said. “Everybody has an obligation to step up and step in and do their job.”

Newsom announced his plans as part of a $144 billion state budget proposal, his first major spending plan as governor. Legislators still have a say over the budget, which must be finalized by June.

Newsom is a former mayor of San Francisco, and he acknowledged that local leaders might not like the strings he’s attached to the housing budget. For example, the governor wants to tie transportation money from a recent hike in gas and vehicle taxes to more affordable housing.

“To me, transportation is housing, housing is transportation,” he said, adding that if local governments are “not hitting your goals, I don’t know why you’re getting the money.”

California is in the throes of a housing crisis, with far fewer units than needed to house the state’s nearly 40 million people and rising rents. Newsom wants to build 3.5 million new units, saying past goals weren’t ambitious enough. When housing is taken into account, California has the nation’s highest poverty rate, and it also has more homeless people than any other state.

The Democratic mayors of San Francisco and Los Angeles, both cities dealing with visible homeless populations and high rents, welcomed leadership from the state. Mayors of larger cities have pleaded for help from Sacramento as they absorb fallout from the housing shortage.

But Darby Kernan of the California State Association of Counties said tying gas and vehicle fee hikes to housing money isn’t the right idea. Opponents of the fee hikes tried unsuccessfully to repeal them last November, and Kernan said her organization doesn’t want to give the public a reason to question the tax hike.

She also said withholding money from counties isn’t fair.

“We can do all of the steps there are to plan for units, but we don’t build the units,” she said” “That is private industry, and so threatening to withhold our critical transportation dollars for something we don’t actually do, that is concerning.”

Newsom also said he wants to streamline the review process for new homeless shelters under the California Environmental Quality Act, noting that the Legislature will waive the act’s requirements for flashier projects such as sports stadiums. Reforming the massive environmental law is a tricky political topic that Newsom’s indicated he wants to engage on.

“I know it’s also controversial, but seriously, if you can create CEQA waivers to expedite stadium projects, and we do all the time, we sure as hell should be able to do that for 130,000 souls that are out on the damn streets and sidewalks in this state,” he said.

Kathryn Phillips, director of Sierra Club California, said the organization generally opposes “jamming” reviews through the court system. But she said that addressing homelessness doesn’t have the “luxury of time” that building a new sports stadium has.

The issues of housing and homelessness are deeply related in an expensive state where two-thirds of renters pay more than $1,500 a month for shelter, says Paul Tepper, executive director of the Western Center on Law And Poverty, which works on behalf of poor Californians.

In San Francisco and other similarly pricey California cities, renters can easily pay more than $3,000 a month for a one-bedroom apartment. Some low-wage workers sleep in their cars or mobile homes because they can’t afford anything near work.

“There is this enormous need for housing, and it is particularly acute for poor people,” Tepper said.

Har reported from San Francisco.

 

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The Nation

Backlogs expected as weekly closure of eastbound Tuscarora Tunnel begins Sunday

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Backlogs expected as weekly closure of eastbound tuscarora tunnel begins sunday
All drivers on the Pennsylvania Turnpike are advised to expect delays while the eastbound Tuscarora Tunnel is closed for improvements and modernization. The tunnel will be closed every Sunday night and reopen at noon Friday each week through late June.

HARRISBURG, Pa. – The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission advises motorists traveling in both directions on Interstate 76 to be prepared for an ongoing closure of the eastbound tube of the Tuscarora Tunnel starting at 9 p.m. Sun., Feb. 23, and ending at noon Friday, Feb. 28.

The weekly tunnel closure, which will impact traffic in both directions in Franklin County, will continue until June 26; some schedule modifications may occur due to weather conditions or during holiday periods.

Eastbound traffic will be directed into one lane and then cross over to continue through one lane of the westbound tunnel. Motorists in both directions should be alert for a continuous single-lane traffic pattern approaching the tunnel and bidirectional traffic within the tunnel.

Additionally, no overwidth commercial vehicles will be allowed in the tunnel during bidirectional traffic patterns.

Motorists should be prepared for slow moving or stopped traffic approaching the Tuscarora Tunnel in both directions. Backlogs are expected daily in both directions beginning around mid-day and lasting into the evening hours. The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission has installed a smart work zone as part of this project which monitors current traffic conditions and displays travel times and slow or stopped traffic messages on Portable Changeable Message signs placed in advance of the tunnel in both directions.

Impacted motorists should visit www.511pa.com/tuscarora to view travel alerts and current travel times for the project and to find suggested detour routes.

Drivers are advised to turn on headlights, slow to the posted work-zone speed limit of 40 mph and keep an adequate distance from the vehicle ahead. Never pass inside the tunnel. Drivers who experience car trouble and cannot safely exit the tunnel should stay in the vehicle, put on the hazard lights, dial *11 from a mobile phone and wait for assistance. Tunnel personnel will monitor closed-circuit cameras and send help for disabled vehicles.

The Tuscarora Tunnel is located on I-76 between mileposts 186 and 187, between the Fort Littleton Interchange (Exit 180) and the Willow Hill Interchange (Exit 189) at the Huntingdon and Franklin county lines.

The tunnel crossovers are necessary as part of a four-year $110 million project to improve and modernize the Tuscarora Tunnel. The major tasks to be completed include the removal of ceiling slabs, a new ventilation system, new membrane waterproofing and the replacement of walkways, concrete barriers and the drainage system in the tunnels. Some enhancements have already been completed in the westbound tunnel, such as additional lighting, in-pavement lights and overhead lane-control signs.

The Tuscarora Tunnel eastbound tube opened in 1940 and the westbound tube opened in 1968. The two tunnels were last renovated in the 1980s. For more information about the Tuscarora Tunnel Rehabilitation Project visit www.PATurnpiketunnels.com.

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The Nation

Connecticut governor drops proposal for highway tolls for trucks

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HARTFORD, Conn.  — Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont announced on Wednesday, Feb. 19, that he is dropping his plan for highway tolls for trucks, expressing frustration with legislative leaders who have delayed a vote on the issue.

The Democratic-controlled General Assembly had planned to vote Thursday on the tolls, which were under consideration to fund a wide-ranging transportation improvement plan. But Lamont, also a Democrat, said the Senate informed him that it needed more time, once again.

“I’ve got a Legislature that doesn’t want to make a choice,” Lamont said at a news conference. “I think it’s time to take a pause.”

Tolls on trucks had been projected to raise an estimate $200 million annually. Lamont said he plans for now to generate that money instead through state borrowing to help finance his roughly $19 billion 2030 transportation improvement plan.

“I hate to do it this way. It’s bonding in place of other things that are priorities,” he said. “But right now, there’s no other option on the table.”

As Lamont was talking to reporters, the Senate Democrats issued a statement saying the caucus was “still confident” it will have the necessary number of votes to pass a transportation plan with 12 toll gantries on 18-wheeler trucks only. In a joint statement, Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney, D-New Haven, and Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, said they had only asked for five more days because the senators needed that time to prepare for an anticipated two-day, 30-hour debate over tolls.

“We are prepared to hold a session next week to vote on a bill to make the necessary transportation improvements for Connecticut’s economic development, residents and businesses,” they said.

Minority Republican leaders were doubtful the issue of tolls, which has hounded Lamont and his administration since the former businessman first took office in January 2019, will be resurrected for a vote during this legislative session, which ends in May. But they didn’t rule out the issue returning next year.

“Nothing’s dead in this building,” said Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, of North Haven. “Back up again this session? I might be a little bit surprised. Back up again in 2021, I think you could probably bank on it.”

Some House Democrats expressed disappointment about Lamont’s announcement he’s not going to push ahead with tolls.

“This is crazy — let’s vote on the plan,” tweeted Rep. Steve Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport. “Continuing to kick the can down the road and borrowing even more money 100% on the backs of CT taxpayers is what got us in this mess to start with.”

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ATRI releases annual list of top 100 truck bottlenecks; Atlanta makes list 3 times

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Three different areas of Atlanta made ATRI’s list of most congested bottlenecks. (iStock Photo)

ARLINGTON, Va. — The American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) has released its annual list highlighting the most congested bottlenecks for trucks in America.

The 2020 Top Truck Bottleneck List assesses the level of truck-involved congestion at 300 locations on the national highway system. The analysis, based on truck GPS data from over 1 million heavy duty trucks uses several customized software applications and analysis methods, along with terabytes of data from trucking operations to produce a congestion impact ranking for each location. ATRI’s truck GPS data is also used to support the U.S. DOT’s Freight Mobility Initiative. The bottleneck locations detailed in this latest ATRI list represent the top 100 congested locations, although ATRI continuously monitors more than 300 freight-critical locations.

The intersection of I-95 and State Route 4 in Fort Lee, New Jersey is once again the No. 1 freight bottleneck in the country. The rest of the Top 10 includes:

  1. Atlanta: I-285 at I-85 (North)
  2. Nashville: I-24/I-40 at I-440 (East)
  3. Houston: I-45 at I-69/US 59
  4. Atlanta, GA: I-75 at I-285 (North)
  5. Chicago, IL: I-290 at I-90/I-94
  6. Atlanta, GA: I-20 at I-285 (West)
  7. Cincinnati, OH: I-71 at I-75
  8. Los Angeles, CA: SR 60 at SR 57
  9. Los Angeles, CA: I-710 at I-105

“ATRI’s bottleneck analysis is an important tool for TDOT as we work to maximize the safety and efficiency of our transportation system, and ensure we are making the smartest investments possible,” said Tennessee Department of Transportation Assistant Bureau Chief Freight & Logistics Dan Pallme. “The additional capacity we are providing as part of the ongoing I-440 Reconstruction Project should improve the safety and reliability of this important corridor, which we know is critical to freight movement.”

ATRI’s analysis, which utilized data from 2019, found that the number of locations experiencing significant congestion — with average daily speeds of 45 MPH or less — has increased 92 percent in just five years, far outpacing the 10 percent growth in traffic congestion for that same time period.

“ATA has been beating the drum about the continued degradation of our infrastructure, and thanks to ATRI’s research we can see exactly how decades of ignoring the problem are impacting not just our industry but our economy and commuters everywhere,” said American Trucking Associations President and CEO Chris Spear. “This report should sound the alarm for policymakers that the cost of doing nothing is too high and provide a roadmap of where to target investments to really solve our nation’s mounting infrastructure crisis.”

For access to the full report, including detailed information on each of the 100 top congested locations, please visit ATRI’s website at TruckingResearch.org.

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