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Posts from the "Joe Biden" Category

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Key House Republicans Aren’t Buying Administration HSR Proposal

Vice President Joe Biden’s announcement of a $53 billion infusion for high-speed rail has fallen like a lead balloon on the ears of some key GOP leaders. House Transportation Committee Chair John L. Mica (R-FL) and Railroads Subcommittee Chair Bill Shuster (R-PA) expressed “extreme reservations” about the plan.

Transportation Chair John Mica has "extreme reservations" about the administration's new plan for HSR. Image: Orlando Sentinel

“This is like giving Bernie Madoff another chance at handling your investment portfolio,” Mica said in a statement.

“With the first $10.5 billion in Administration rail grants, we found that 1) the Federal Railroad Administration is neither a capable grant agency, nor should it be involved in the selection of projects, 2) what the Administration touted as high-speed rail ended up as embarrassing snail-speed trains to nowhere, and 3) Amtrak hijacked 76 of the 78 projects, most of them costly and some already rejected by state agencies,” Mica added. “Amtrak’s Soviet-style train system is not the way to provide modern and efficient passenger rail service.”

They say the committee plans to investigate how previous funding decisions were made, charging that rail routes were selected “behind closed doors” as a “political grab bag for the President,” despite “the Administration’s pledges of transparency.”

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result and that is exactly what Vice President Biden offered today,” Shuster said. “Rail projects that are not economically sound will not ‘win the future.’ It just prolongs the inevitable by subsidizing a failed Amtrak monopoly that has never made a profit or even broken even. Government won’t develop American high-speed rail. Private investment and a competitive market will.”

Like we said – don’t count those 53 billion chickens before they’re passed by Congress.

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“Amtrak Joe” Biden, in Philly, Announces a New Plan for High-Speed Rail

The Obama administration is taking its infrastructure push on the road. First stop: Philadelphia, to announce a $53 billion plan to invest in high-speed rail.

"Amtrak Joe" announced the administration's plan for investing in high-speed rail this morning. Photo: Brendan Polmer/CNN

To Vice President Joe Biden, high-speed rail isn’t just another administration initiative. He’s Mr. Amtrak. He gets it. Biden says he’s made 7,900 round trips between Wilmington and Washington on Amtrak. If each of those trips had been reduced by 10 minutes, he says, he would have had 55 more days to spend with his family or working.

So the vice president was a fitting ambassador to travel to Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to announce a six-year plan to build a national high-speed rail network that will, the administration says, reach 80 percent of Americans within 25 years. The plan he outlined today would devote $8 billion to rail development next year.

“In the next 40 years, the United States is expected to increase in population by 100 million people,” Biden said. “Seventy percent of all people in America now live within 50 miles of the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. You know how congested we are now. What happens with 100 million more, a significant portion of them along our coasts?”

Each day, he said, six times more people take a train than an airplane to get between Washington and Philadelphia. And more than twice as many people take the train between New York and Washington than fly. “How many more slots can the Philadelphia airport open?” Biden asked. “Airways can only take so much traffic in the lanes.”

“If you shut down Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor,” Biden said, “you’d have to add seven new lanes to I-95 to accommodate the traffic.” He then went on to cite the cost-benefit analysis of building rail instead of road. The construction cost for an average linear mile of one lane through the city of Philadelphia ranges from $40-50 million. And one new runway, like the one Atlanta just built in its Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, costs $1.3 billion.

“When you talk about the investments we’re making in rail, they pale in comparison to investment you’d have to make in runways or highways,” Biden said. “And that’s before you factor in the environmental benefit of taking cars off the road.”

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Biden Says High-Speed Rail Money Ignored Politics — Was He Right?

During yesterday's Tampa event awarding $8 billion in federal rail grants, Vice President Joe Biden pointed to the two states receiving the biggest share of stimulus money for true high-speed train projects: Florida and California, both run by GOP governors.

100128_biden_obama_ap_465.jpgThe vice president takes the president's coat yesterday. (Photo: AP via Politico)

"We didn't pick this based on politics," Biden concluded to applause. "[W]e're picking the places that make the most sense, have the highest density, are ready to go."

Florida and California's rail bids undoubtedly came the closest to "true" high-speed rail, as seen in China and Europe. The Sunshine State aims to reach maximum speeds of 168 miles per hour (mph) on its Tampa-Orlando link, while the Golden State plans for its ambitious bullet train network to top 200 mph.

But was Biden right to say that yesterday's rail awards made no distinction between states with Democratic governors and states run by Republicans -- who could tout their role in snagging employment-rich train funding during future campaign seasons? At the request of a reader, Streetsblog Capitol Hill crunched the numbers ...

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Biden on Stimulus Aid to Cities: ‘We’re Trying … It’s Imperfect’

Vice President Joe Biden acknowledged today that the White House's economic recovery push has created stumbling blocks for cities hoping to take advantage of the stimulus, but he defended the administration's efforts to take a more holistic view of transportation, housing, and other urban concerns.

Biden_stimulus.jpgVice President Joe Biden (Photo: PolitiFact.com)

After a speech touting the $787 billion stimulus law's 200th day of activity, Biden took questions from audience members at the Brookings Institution.

Amy Liu, deputy director of Brookings' metro policy program, asked how the Obama administration could be more flexible to help cities that are trying to improve "across jurisdictional lines" using transit, broadband, and electricity modernization. Biden began by comparing the stimulus law to the COPS community-policing grants that he helped create as a senior senator:

We had a big fight when we were writing the COPS program, and I insisted that it not go to governors, it not go to the states, [that] ... at a local level, you apply for the grant. That's what we wanted to do for an awful lot of what was done in this [stimulus] legislation.

The fact is, the Congress, in its wisdom, decided that the governors should have a bigger input. I'm not -- they may be right, but I'm just telling you where I come from ...

Congress' decision to route stimulus money through governors has sparked open confrontations between urban mayors and governors over how to distribute funds to the most needy areas. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was particularly direct in urging that the stimulus provide direct aid to cities, bypassing the politicization that often dominates decision-making in state capitals. 

While expressing subtle sympathy for mayors and others who backed direct stimulus help for cities, Biden vowed that the administration would keep working on a system for distributing urban grants based on the overall health of cities -- which includes transportation, energy, and housing needs.

"We're trying to marry these things together," he said. "Now, it's imperfect, because we don't have an overall piece of legislation out there that's called, you know -- urban policy ABCD."

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Is the Obama Administration Poised to Push Transit?

While President Barack Obama promoted wind power and cap-and-trade legislation, VP Joe Biden spent Earth Day talking up transit. Public radio's "The Takeaway" reports that Biden held a presser at a bus maintenance facility in Landover, Maryland, to tout a $300 million investment in hybrid buses and other municipal vehicles as part of the federal stimulus package. Said Biden:

This program, the Clean Cities program, is in its 15th year. Already it's saved two billion gallons of petroleum used since its inception. And now, it's time to ramp it up. Ramp it up in a big way. We know it works.

As reporter Andrea Bernstein points out, this is not breaking news. What's interesting, she says, is the seemingly intensifying focus of the White House on transit as the fight over the next round of federal transportation spending approaches.

I would say that up to now there has been mostly disappointment among people who care about mass transit in the Obama administration. People felt that the recovery act only had $8 billion dollars, now that's $8 billion but it's $8 billion out of $800 billion, so that's 1% and that's all the money for transit, and they were saying that isn't enough money, it doesn't show a real commitment, you can't really change things with that.

So when they begin to see the administration talking about high speed rail, when they begin to see the administration talking about mass transit going as Joe Biden did yesterday to a transit station for his Earth Day thing, they're thinking ok, so maybe this administration is going to put serious muscle behind this. As a reauthorization fight comes up, speaking to a lobbyist from NRDC who has expressed great disappointment up to now, and he said you know, I think things may be beginning to turn.

So what do you think? Are you seeing evidence of an emerging, pro-transit agenda from DC these days? Could Biden's enthusiasm over buses and Ray LaHood's cyclist pledge be part and parcel of a preemptive push to shake up the asphalt-loaded federal funding formula -- or is the admin simply playing to an attention-starved constituency?

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Obama and Biden Plan Whistle-Stop Inauguration Tour

Looks like the new administration is sending better signals with its inauguration plans than with its most recent White House appointment. TPM has more on the rail-friendly gesture and its traffic-mitigating impact:

The Presidential Inaugural Committee has hit on a novel way of reducing the pressure that the enormous crowd expected to show up on Inauguration Day will put on Washington: Have Barack Obama take a pre-inaugural railroad tour that will allow people to show up to view him and Joe Biden at multiple locations.

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If the Candidates Were Trains…

cantrains.jpg


Image via Caroline McCarthy

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Rail Advocate: Biden Ascension Wouldn’t Necessarily Help Amtrak

1413945294_468a463930.jpgThe Washington Post today has a piece summing up Joe Biden's ties to Amtrak. There's not a lot of new material in the story (Biden takes the train between Delaware and DC, he has a pro-rail record in the Senate, his son serves on the Amtrak board, etc.), but what caught our attention was a quote from David Johnson of the National Association of Railroad Passengers.

Johnson said an Obama-Biden victory wouldn't necessarily translate into an avalanche of federal funds for Amtrak. He noted that Al Gore was a big booster of passenger rail when he was in Congress "and yet some of the biggest cuts in service came during the Clinton-Gore administration." 

In 2000, President Bill Clinton proposed a $989 million funding package for Amtrak. According to the Post, the FY 2008 Amtrak allocation was around $1.3 billion.

Photo: relvax/Flickr

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How Do We Make Clean Transportation Part of the National Discussion?

2807215417_06bdf834c6_o.jpgLike Joe Biden, Barack Obama also mentioned Amtrak in his acceptance speech to the Democratic National Convention, but only in reference to his running mate's preferred mode of transportation.

There were many, many things to be excited about yesterday, but any livable streets advocate anticipating a call to rebuild and expand our nation's transit infrastructure, or for more investment in clean transportation and sustainable urban development, had to be a little disappointed. In fact, as the New York Observer notes, Obama barely mentioned infrastructure at all, and only then to promise "new roads." And as for energy policy:

As President, I will tap our natural gas reserves, invest in clean coal technology, and find ways to safely harness nuclear power. I'll help our auto companies re-tool, so that the fuel-efficient cars of the future are built right here in America. I'll make it easier for the American people to afford these new cars. And I'll invest 150 billion dollars over the next decade in affordable, renewable sources of energy -- wind power and solar power and the next generation of biofuels; an investment that will lead to new industries and five million new jobs that pay well and can't ever be outsourced.

Are biofuels, more roads, and easier paths to car ownership really the "change" this country, or the planet, needs? Not even Al Gore or the "We" campaign, with its ubiquitous ads, mentioned altering development or driving habits.

So as Americans celebrate a long weekend of cheaper gas, we leave you with this: How do we do it? How do we seize the "Obama moment," as this call to action by OurFuture.org terms it, to make clean transportation, livable streets, smart growth and the kinds of issues that we care about a part of the national discussion on climate change and energy policy?

Until Tuesday ... 

Photo: Barack Obama/Flickr

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From Denver: Dems Discuss Funding Woes; Biden Says “Amtrak”

bidenAP.jpgLast night saw what might one day qualify as an historic moment in transportation circles, as vice presidential candidate Joe Biden used the "A"-word during his speech to the Democratic National Convention in Denver. From a transcript of Biden's address, via CNN:

You know, John McCain is my friend. And I know you hear that phrase used all the time in politics. I mean it. John McCain is my friend.

We've traveled the world together. It's a friendship that goes beyond politics. And the personal courage and heroism demonstrated by John still amazes me.

But I profoundly disagree with the direction John wants to take this country, from Afghanistan to Iraq, from Amtrak to veterans.

Meanwhile, earlier in the week, a panel of Democratic pols and economists seemed to agree that new investment in American infrastructure -- including freight and commuter rail -- is sorely needed, but came up short on the subject of funding. Roll Call reports:

They all expressed the need for a private-public partnership, but the question of where to raise federal funding caused anxiety among the elected officials.

One key issue was that the current system for infrastructure funding, implemented in the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956, relies on gas taxes for revenue. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) called any attempt by Congress to raise the gas tax “dead on arrival.”

But Gov. Ed Rendell (D-Pa.) said that with or without the gas tax something had to be done to bridge the funding gap, noting that the $1.6 trillion cited by the ASCE report would only cover maintenance, not new projects.

“When I became governor I had to raise $2.4 billion in taxes,” Rendell said. “When re-election came around — people aren’t stupid — one incumbent lost and she voted against the tax increase.

“This is the time we have to challenge the American people. Folks, you get what you pay for.”

Photo: Associated Press via CNN