Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Bills to Divert SunRail Funding Earmark Money to TBARTA and Adds New Bureaucracy

All state taxpayers were put on the hook to pay for SunRail's operating and maintenance costs for the first 7 years. Since SunRail ridership is so dismally low and farebox only covers 5% of its operating costs while state taxpayers are subsidizing 95%, thankfully the state funding of SunRail ends in 2021.

It's 2018 and the food fight over where those rail dollars will go has officially begun. 

Bills filed this legislative session diverts $60 million of state rail monies beginning in 2021, grows government by creating another transportation bureaucracy and provides earmarks for TBARTA and Miami-Dade County.

The original sponsor of the House bill is Rep. Avila from Miami-Dade but the champion sponsors of both bills in the State House and Senate are from Tampa Bay - Rep. Jamie Grant and Sen. Dana Young. However, no one seems to know the genesis of the original bill.

The bills are HB535 and SB1200. They earmark $25 million to Miami Dade County and $25 million to TBARTA  if there is a one for one local or private match - not including any federal funds. The earmarks have no sunset or end date so they must go into perpetuity.
HB535/SB1200 earmarks $25 million 
of state funding for TBARTA  
TBARTA was unnecessary when it was created in 2007 as a regional transportation authority. TBARTA is more unnecessary as another transit authority paid for on the backs of taxpayers. TBARTA was repurposed to a transit authority last year when transit ridership has been decreasing in Tampa Bay and nationwide, record auto sales is occurring as more people are buying cars and traditional transit is being disrupted. And taxpayers are already paying for their local transit agency. 

The Eye had numerous posts about the unscrupulous politics last year used by special interests and then powerful Sen. Jack Latvala to ram the TBARTA bill thru. Latvala resigned in December last year amid allegations of sexual harassment and the recommendation that a criminal investigation be conducted regarding the abusive use of his powerPerhaps that TBARTA bill forcing another transit agency on taxpayers should be reconsidered - not funded. 

HB535/SB1200 grows government by creating a new transportation bureaucracy, Alternative Transportation Authority, within FDOT. FDOT already includes their 7 Districts, the Turnpike enterprise, Transportation for the Disadvantaged and the Florida Rail Enterprise.
FDOT Org Chart w/new authority
(Click to enlarge)

"Alternative transportation systems" in the bills is defined as:
For purposes of this section, the term “alternative transportation system” means a system of infrastructure, appurtenances, and technology designed to move the greatest number of people in the least amount of time. The term includes, but is not limited to, autonomous vehicles as defined in s. 316.003 and transportation network companies as defined in s 627.748. The term does not include other traditional uses of a roadway system for conveyance.
Missing is cost-effectiveness, congestion relief, ability to more efficiently use our existing infrastructure or provide the ability to reduce travel times for the most amount of people. AV vehicles will use roadways like traditional vehicles today so the last sentence of the definition is not clear.

What is good in the bills is they repeal Subsection 5 of Statute 341.303 that funded rail projects out of the Florida Rail Enterprise. The Florida Rail Enterprise was established in 2009 when the Obama Admin was doling out the HSR debt dollars that Governor Scott thankfully rejected. (Actually voters/taxpayers rejected the bullet train in 2004.) 

Over and over again we find that once bureaucracies are created, it's almost impossible to get rid of them. HSR was rejected but the bureaucracy remains. Bureaucracies need sunset dates!

Unfortunately, these bills do not eliminate the Florida Rail Enterprise but re-divert money from it that has been paying for SunRail since 2014. The local municipalities in Central Florida, who still have no dedicated long term funding source for SunRail, must begin picking up their own tab beginning in fiscal year 2021-2022. 

So the food fight over what is being called "found" money has begun. It's not really "found" money because everyone knew the state funding of SunRail thankfully had a sunset date. 

Beginning in fiscal year 2021-2022 when the state stops paying to operate SunRail, these bills change where the funds for the Transportation Regional Incentive Program, TRIP, (who knew…) are allocated. $60 million of Florida Rail Enterprise money will be diverted earmarked as follows: $25 million dollars on a matching basis to TBARTA, $25 million to Miami-Dade County and $10 million that can be allocated throughout the state based on county requests.

Was TBARTA or FDOT consulted? One would assume the entities specifically impacted would have been. When we inquired to both FDOT and TBARTA, we were told they had not been engaged and did not know about the bills until they were filed. 

The only funding TBARTA requested this legislative session is a million dollars to create their Transit Development Plan as required by the State legislature. HB2451 was submitted by Rep. Joe Gruters for that specific appropriation this year.

Eligibility to receive TRIP funds requires partners that form a regional transportation area and requires those partners meet certain criteria to be eligible to receive those funds. Does the TRIP criteria still apply to the $60 million diverted from SunRail? If so, how can $25 million be earmarked to Miami-Dade or any funds go to a single county?

Bills HB535/SB1200, as currently written, are flawed. They create more bureaucracy, lack an end or sunset date, appear to duplicate some of what is already in place and have accountability issues. 

The nebulous term “Alternative” should not be used in the title of any transportation authority. If the intention is for innovation, then use such terminology as innovative, new technology, advanced technology, etc.

The Florida Rail Enterprise should be eliminated, not just re-divert its funding. Eliminate Statute sections 341.303(5) & (6). This entity appears to either be very inactive and/or not very transparent. There is no federal/state money for HSR, BrightLine HSR is a private enterprise and SunRail has its own Board of Directors.

Let's get rid of an unnecessary bureaucracy if a new one will be created. Novel idea!

The bills duplicate some of what is already in place today in Florida. FDOT already has staff working on innovative transportation solutions. FDOT and Turnpike are partners of SunTrax: http://www.suntraxfl.com

We already have Florida Statute 341.501 High-technology transportation systems; joint project agreement or assistance. That statute provides funding via FS 339.135 by FDOT for high tech transportation projects meeting specific criteria, including it must be implemented within 5 years and it is in the transportation improvement program of any MPO that is within the boundaries of where the project is located. 

Why aren't innovative transportation projects being funded via what has already been put in place?  

We need efficiencies in government not duplication that causes wasteful spending, confusion and convoluted processes. The path of least resistance in government is to add something new, regardless of what is already in place. 

The $60 million being diverted with these bills needs disciplined accountability, clear concise criteria for its use that can be measured, and have a sunset date. No state funding should be earmarked into perpetuity. 

State transportation grants must go thru a competitive process and awarded on merit not be earmarked. The monies awarded should not be used to leverage debt or be used to bail out any local or regional transportation/transit authority. All monies distributed must be used for project design and construction only and prohibited from being used for public outreach, advocacy, education or electioneering. 

The $60 million being diverted from rail comes from Statewide Documentary Stamps Tax revenue. The estimated future doc stamp revenues can be found here. It is a big pot of money that funds the Land Acquisition Trust Fund - the Florida Forever Amendment 1 passed by voters in 2014.

The top third of State Documentary Stamp revenues is lopped off for the Land Acquisition Trust Fund (Florida Forever). The balance, currently over a half billion dollars, goes to the State Treasury with $75 million to the General Fund and the remaining $470 million to the State Transportation Trust Fund. 


The State Transportation Trust Fund funds the TRIP program and Bills HB535/SB1200 will divert $60 million of TRIP funds to earmark $25 million to TBARTA, earmark $25 million to Miami-Dade County and $10 million available to any county in the state for supposedly innovative transportation projects.

TBARTA has no plan, very little staff, and they have not even created their transit development plan. They currently have no staff or skills to operate any major transit system. The $25 million earmarked to TBARTA cannot be used for the recently proposed regional Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project proposed by Jacobs Engineering because it is not innovative or uses new technology.

Earmarking state funding for TBARTA beginning in 2021-2022 today is the cart before the horse and into perpetuity is appalling. 

Eliminating the rail funding is good. But if the state legislature wants to create a new transportation bureaucracy, the hatches must be tightened down. If the state wants to divert rail dollars to innovative transportation, that should include all forms of innovative transportation not just transit.

These bills are flawed and the earmarks must be eliminated. Just because the SunRail earmark expires in 2021 does not mean those funds should simply get earmarked elsewhere and with no end date.  

What about considering getting rid of unnecessary bureaucracies and returning some of our hard earned money back to us?

Let's see bills to repeal TBARTA, eliminate the Florida Rail Enterprise and reduce the state Doc Stamp rate!

Monday, February 12, 2018

San Diego Didn’t Fall for Shady Stadium Deal; Will Tampa?

Reposted by permission of Tampa Bay Beat.

By Jim Bleyer



Fifteen months ago the people and politicians of a major American city stood up to protect their region’s economic health and integrity by rejecting a shakedown from a billionaire owner of a big-league sports franchise.

But the citizens of San Diego had three major advantages over their counterparts in Hillsborough County where special interests are intent on bilking taxpayers to build a new baseball stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays.

—Public funding of a new stadium for the NFL Chargers was put to a referendum with passage requiring a 67 percent supermajority;

—The political will existed to push back against a blackmailing bully, in this case Dean Spanos, scion of real estate magnate Alex Spanos;

—Access to accurate, complete information from the San Diego Union-Tribune which reported all facets of the issue.

San Diegans killed public financing, 57-43 percent, not even a majority let alone the required threshold. The ballot measure asked voters whether they wanted to increase the city’s hotel room tax rate from 12.5% to 16.5%, with the proceeds to fund a new $1.8 billion stadium and convention center. The tax increase was to repay $1.15 billion in bonds, leaving the Chargers and NFL to pay the remaining $650 million.

What’s happened since the ballot defeat? The Chargers moved to a temporary facility in Costa Mesa playing the 2017 season to a fraction of the audience they drew in San Diego. Half the fans rooted for the opposition. The Rays are used to that; the Chargers weren’t. When the Chargers move to a larger, modern stadium in Inglewood for the 2020 season, the facility will be shared with the Los Angeles Rams.

Meanwhile, life goes on without the Chargers in San Diego. Most citizens are bitter at the Spanos family; a tiny minority actually trek to Charger games. The city is still a hotspot for high-tech innovation, an incubator for Broadway-bound theatre, home of the historic Gaslamp Quarter, culturally diverse and harmonic, an attractive beach and surfing destination and much more.

Despite offering a specific plan that had adequate access, didn’t destroy neighborhoods, and meshed with a convention center, San Diegans saw through the bamboozle of transferring wealth to a billionaire and shot down the proposal by a healthy margin.

The stadium scheme in Tampa has nothing to recommend it. A new playpen doesn’t guarantee Rays owner Stuart Sternberg will spend more than a pittance on payroll, reduce the abominable number of food safety violations, or ditch players coming into their prime to cut costs. It does guarantee to increase the value of the Rays franchise by a half billion. That’s the name of the game.

Look at the above rendering. The combo stadium-convention center in San Diego blends with the neighborhood and has adequate access. The proposed Rays stadium in Ybor City (be,ow) is shoehorned into a unique, celebrated district. Access and parking are difficult if not laughable.

San Diego also had one definitive financing source; Tampa’s revenue origins are uncertain as special interests and their toady politicians are scrambling to cobble together a taxpayer-funded sports subsidy.

As for the plan, San Diego actually had a specific one. The Union-Tribune ran factual balanced accounts about the stadium campaign, its pros and cons. Hillsborough County residents, the few who subscribe anyway, are not as fortunate with the Tampa Bay Times publishing slanted articles and omitting important facts.

The Times is rolling over for Sternberg, real estate interests, and the investors who temporarily bailed it out of bankruptcy.

Politicians love hotel taxes because this levy is the embodiment of taxation without representation. Prancers to the pork barrel polka, such as Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan, look for any means to leverage tax dollars to fund their “legacy.” They abhor referendums that allow the public to interfere with their gifts to special interests. They would find a super majority requirement lethal to their indulgences.

Taxpayers in other cities that paid for stadiums often discover they are still on the hook long after the team departed. In New York when the Giants bolted the Big Apple for New Jersey, taxpayers were still paying off $110 million in debt on the old stadium. St. Louis lost the Rams, but they didn’t lose $144 million in stadium debt the team bequeathed.

Philip K. Porter, Professor of Economics at the University of South Florida, terms sports subsidies as a “transfer of wealth” and competition for funding with more needed municipal services regardless of the revenue source.

Of the 38 metropolitan areas with at least one major professional sports team, Tampa ranks fourth in per capita subsidy, according to Porter. That number will only increase if the Ybor City boondoggle comes to fruition.

His report, “Public Subsidies and the Location and Pricing of Sports,” can be found here.

According to Michael Leeds, an economist at Temple University, “If every sports team in Chicago were to suddenly disappear, the impact on the Chicago economy would be a fraction of 1 percent. A baseball team has about the same impact on a community as a midsize department store.”

Victor Matheson, a sports economist at College of the Holy Cross, is dubious of the economic hype surrounding professional sports facilities.

“A good rule of thumb that economists use is to take what stadium boosters are telling you and move that one decimal place to the left, and that’s usually a good estimate of what you’re going to get,” Matheson says.

Economists say the biggest reason sports teams don’t have much impact is that they don’t ignite new spending. Most people have a limited entertainment budget, so the dollars they shell out for a game is money they would have spent elsewhere such as a restaurant or small businesses where more money would have stayed in the community. Matheson added that instead of drawing people to a neighborhood, games can actually repel them.

That certainly applies to Ybor, one of America’s most storied, culturally significant and eclectic neighborhoods. And how much of the money that absentee owner Sternberg rakes in from his revenue sharing/cheapskate payroll template do you think remains in the Bay area?

When politicians like Hagan and Buckhorn go directly to “how should we fund the stadium” omitting all the intermediate steps and any taxpayer comment let alone vote, they’ve already lubed the public to assume the position that shoveling tax bucks toward a sports facility should be the correct priority. It eliminates discussion of uplifting economically depressed neighborhoods, educating and assisting disenfranchised youth, properly training and retraining law enforcement officers, and addressing infrastructure needs.

Buckhorn and Hagan, abetted in their misinformation campaign by the Tampa Bay Times, obsess with burnishing their legacies, however fleeting, and rewarding their real estate cronies plus Sternberg with hundreds of millions.

Tampa residents are victims of this squeeze play.


Sunday, February 11, 2018

District Rays Candidate Hagan Challenged As His Teflon Wears Thin

Career politicians, especially those who park themselves in the same position for 16 years, know how to work and game the system. 

After 16 too long years, District Rays Candidate Hagan is violating the spirit of term limits and running again for a single district seat he already held. He doesn't care that he's setting a horrible precedent doing what no other commissioner has done in the 34 years of the county charter.

When asked why, after 16 too long years, he is running again, the District Rays Candidate has said he has "things" he wants to complete. Of course! The candidate for District Rays wants to complete his pursuit of a new Rays stadium - that he's been pursuing for most of his 16 too long years as a county commissioner.

But besides a baseball stadium, what are the other "things" Hagan wants to complete? Hagan must have an earth shattering list of things to complete that he feels entitled to egregiously flip flop back to a seat he already held.

The Times even reached out in December to the county commissioners to ask each commissioner about their priorities. They got crickets from the District Rays Candidate Hagan. As the current longest serving commissioner, District Rays Candidate Hagan was the only commissioner who did not respond. Perhaps the holidays kept Hagan from getting his scripted response from his PR confidante in time to respond.


We checked Hagan's campaign website owned by HCP Associates, a professional marketing/PR firm. No list there either or much of anything else - considering Hagan's been in office for 16 years. The District Rays Candidate Hagan's professionally created website is just a shell to collect some donations of at least $100 (the big donors send checks directly) with a small blurb of political gobblygook.

From Candidate Hagan's website
Hagan may consider himself "experienced", but after 16 too long years, he is a career county commissioner who refuses to respect term limits.

Where did that first bullet about standing firm to manage the budget and growth "without increasing taxes" come from? District Rays Candidate Hagan is living in his own alternative universe, echo chamber or the Twilight zone to make such stuff up.

Did Hagan erase or BleachBit his past?


Candidate Rays campaign website also touts he wants to create high-wage, high quality jobs. Well..

In pursuit of a new baseball stadium, Candidate Rays Hagan has stated it could be more than just a ball park, but about creating an entertainment district - more restaurants, retail and fern bars. Are those high wage jobs? Is that what's needed in Ybor?

According to this article from the Economic Research of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis , 86% of economists surveyed stated state and local governments should ELIMINATE subsidies to professional sports franchises. That article also stated:


In a 2017 poll, 83 percent of the economists surveyed agreed that "Providing state and local subsidies to build stadiums for professional sports teams is likely to cost the relevant taxpayers more than any local economic benefits that are generated."
No wonder economists state that...especially when all the shady wheeling and dealing is being done in the dark. And in the case of District Rays Candidate Hagan, he was wheeling and dealing behind closed doors with his campaign donors.

Subsidizing sports stadiums for wealthy sports team owners does not create high wage jobs nor does subsidizing big retailers like Bass Pro. Is creating a place to host bachelorette parties part of Hagan's high wage jobs vision? Who was the local lobbyist for Bass Pro? Surprise! Hagan's cozy, close PR confidante Beth Leytham.

Bass Pro Shops recently sold their Brandon store and two other Bass Pro stores in Florida to Starwood Property Trust for a lease-back arrangement. Hmmm...


Past actions and behaviors are the best indicators of how one will behave and act in the future - not words on a website or some well scripted political rhetoric.

Hagan has been systematically recommending sales tax hikes and cunningly seeking risky financing schemes for years. 
It was Hagan who got Mike Merrill, former county bond/debt manager, his position as County Administrator in 2010 and the two of them have been pushing tax hikes and a baseball stadium ever since.

Something else unprecedented is Hagan has raised almost a HALF MILLION dollars for a single district county commission race, tons of it from those who cannot vote for him. It's not about District 2 for Hagan, it's about keeping his fingers in the county taxpayer cookie jar. 

District Rays Candidate Hagan's campaign donations confirms he must deliver the goods to his special interests donor base. 

After 16 too long years, District Rays Candidate Hagan thinks the county cannot live without him. 

But the so-called "teflon" that District Rays Candidate Hagan thinks still surrounds him has worn thin or perhaps totally worn off.

Republican voters in District 2 can reject Hagan's arrogance and entitlement attitude.

In the August Primary, they should vote for Chris Paradies.  

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Transportation "Conversation" Held in Valrico Heavy With Panel Monologues

Guest Author Shirley Wood 


On Monday Feb. 6, Commissioner Pat Kemp hosted a Community Conversation to discuss options for improving mobility and safety in Brandon. About 50 people filled a room at the event held at the Bloomingdale Library in Valrico from 6-8pm.


The speakers were Kemp and a panel that included:
Jay Collins - AICP Senior Planner, Planning Commission
Sarah McKinley - Principal Planner, MPO 
Steve Feigenbaum, Director of Service Development, HART 
John Lyons, Public Works Director, Hillsborough County 
John Patrick, Transportation Planning Manager, Hillsborough County  
Ed McKinney, Planning and Environment Administrator, FDOT 

A copy of the agenda listing the speakers was the only hand-out for the audience. Maps showing the proposed plans were on an overhead and very difficult to read from the audience.

The meeting started out with each panel member giving a spiel of their area of expertise. There was no opportunity for the public to raise their hands to comment on or ask any questions as each panelist spoke. 

There was some question and answer time at the end, but we had to first sit through an hour and a half of old talking points. A lot of transportation jargon was used and many in the audience seemed confused by some of the terms and were seen searching on their phones for the definitions.

Sarah McKinley discussed reverse lanes on Bloomingdale but ended by saying there are too many issues for this to work. Another option discussed was widening Lumsden from 4 lanes to 6 lanes. This would also require widening Lithia Pinecrest and has not been funded yet. She moved on to BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) along Hwy 60, and Oakfield (maybe), and transit circulators (hubs). She said the Planning Commission has recommended acceptance of the last two, BRT and circulators.

Next to speak was Steve Feigenbaum. He started by asking if transit is the solution to the transportation problem (transit was the term used when they were referring to rail). His answer was Yes and No, and said we need to go with TOD (Transit Oriented Development). He then asked the audience how many now use HART buses. NOT ONE PERSON RAISED THEIR HAND. He commented that in a group the size of the audience there should be at least 4 or 5 hands raised. He then mentioned “Mission Max”* was just completed, but this was one of the terms not defined leaving a lot of puzzled faces in the audience. His next topic was the budget shortfall this past year. Ridership is down. He said it is a challenge for “us” to remain relevant, and they hope to do this by adding more routes such as the line planned from FishHawk to MacDill and from Hwy. 60 in Dover to the mall to run every 30 minutes, and a Hyperlink to Riverview.

John Lyons informed the audience that the county has $26 million for resurfacing now. Valrico Rd. will be resurfaced. Also, Bell Shoals resurfacing and widening will begin by this fall. It has cost $25 million for right of way along Bell Shoals.


Ed McKinney started out by telling everyone he was battling the flu- GREAT! A couple joked it was now time to leave! His view of the problem is that we are a growth state, but a low tax state and he sees that as a problem. Of course, they think raising taxes is the answer. He explained that there are three types of roads- city, county and state, but said they don’t expect the general public to understand the difference in a city, county, or state road. Yea, thank goodness we had an “expert” to explain that to us! He said there is the possibility of widening Hwy. 60 from Brandon to Plant City from 4 to 6 lanes, but the biggest problem he sees is a lack of connectivity with Hwy. 60 which is now more of a local road than the highway it was first designed to be. He mentioned a plan to widen Bloomingdale and move local traffic from Hwy 60 to Bloomingdale, making 60 more of a truck route from Brandon to Bartow.

Finally Commissioner Kemp spoke. She began by telling us she has gotten $2.3 million for HART to bring service to Brandon, and says she wants more contributions from countywide funds for transportation. She said that Hillsborough needs more taxes for transportation since compared to surrounding counties, we spend less on transportation. She gave Pinellas as an example. Then she urged everyone to attend the Future Land Use meeting Thurs. Mar. 1 at 6:00 PM. They will vote on increasing the density of the land in Lithia that backs up to FishHawk Trails, which will increase traffic along Lithia Pinecrest Rd. This change to the comprehensive plan passed the last time there was a vote with Commissioners Kemp and White voting against it. She said one more commissioner voting no will kill it, and says the comprehensive land use plan does not need to change outside of the service areas. (As a follow up to this, I called Commissioner White’s office and was told this may not be the case. It may need a super majority, or at least more than 3 voting against this to stop it.)

At this point Commissioner Kemp switched to the topic of ferries. She wants public private partnerships for these and then went off on a tangent about ferries in Staten Island and how we need ferries here too.

Finally it was time for questions from the audience. One question was about protecting agricultural land from developers and Jay Collins answered saying we have to protect property rights of land owners and then said we need to look at encouraging more compact development in the service areas. 

Another gentleman said something as simple as extending the length of turn signals to allow more cars to turn and adding continuous turn lanes was the type of improvements he would like to see since these would have an immediate result. He was told they would look into that, but doubt he is holding his breath.

Next, a question was asked about how they are including social justice in their plan to look at community and not individual needs. This excited the entire panel so each one had to comment on it. Sarah mentioned something called Healthy Cities Initiative** that she said addresses this, but again, did not explain what this is. 

The event was advertised as a "conversation" inviting Brandon and Valrico residents to discuss their concerns about traffic congestion. The first hour or more was mostly a monologue from the so-called experts and central planners. Some in the audience were obviously disappointed as they came expecting much more time for questions and two-way conversation.

Over all it was a very weird meeting. Several left early. People want solutions now, not some plan for rail or transit that won't happen in many of our lifetimes, and won't help our area in east Hillsborough anytime soon. 

------------------------------------------------------------------
Next time let the public speak first to voice their concerns. The bureaucrats and electeds can provide hand-outs of their monologue spiel with their contact information and then they should spend most of the time listening to the public and responding. The public probably knows more about the transportation issues they face everyday than those sitting in the ivory towers.

Brandon Corridors and Mixed Use Pilot Project - check out where the central planners are recommending densifying and transit

* HART's Mission Max

**Healthy Cities Initiative is an approach originally initiated by the World Health Organization (WHO).  

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Don't Get Stuck in Hotel California Paying For No Congestion Relief

We posted here that Jacobs Engineering admitted rail costs too much and does too little when they presented their Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) proposal to the TMT a couple of weeks ago.

Graft, waste, fraud and abuse abounds on costly rail projects. That is why they are rail boondoggles that leech off of taxpayers. 

We all know about the CA HSR boondoggle. It is in such a fiscal mess, it most probably will never be completed. But some grandaddies of costly rail projects are in NYC (emphasis mine).
The estimated cost of the Long Island Rail Road project, known as “East Side Access,” has ballooned to $12 billion, or nearly $3.5 billion for each new mile of track — seven times the average elsewhere in the world. The recently completed Second Avenue subway on Manhattan’s Upper East Side and the 2015 extension of the No. 7 line to Hudson Yards also cost far above average, at $2.5 billion and $1.5 billion per mile, respectively.
There is a circle of cronyism and graft between transit officials, consultants, special interests who benefit and politicos.
The vendors that worked on the East Side Access, Second Avenue subway and No. 7 line projects have given a combined $5 million to New York politicians since the projects began in 2000, a Times analysis found.
Both the Second Avenue subway and East Side Access projects hired the same main engineering firm: WSP USA, formerly known as Parsons Brinckerhoff. The firm, which designed some of New York’s original subway, has donated hundreds of thousands to politicians in recent years, and has hired so many transit officials that some in the system refer to it as “the M.T.A. retirement home.”
Parsons Brinckerhoff, who was responsible for Boston's infamous Big Dig boondoggle, keeps changing their name.

According to this CityLab post
In the United States, most recent and in-progress light-rail lines cost more than $100 million per mile. Two light-rail extensions in Minneapolis, the Blue Line Extension and the Southwest LRT, cost $120 million and $130 million per mile, respectively. Dallas’ Orange Line light rail, 14 miles long, cost somewhere between $1.3 billion and $1.8 billion. Portland’s Orange Line cost about $200 million per mile. Houston’s Green and Purple Lines together cost $1.3 billion for about 10 miles of light rail.
And below are more rail astounding costs:

Cost per mile is only one metric to consider regarding transit/rail projects. Ridership is key and must also be considered. The cost per passenger trip must be considered for cost-effectiveness and will reflect whether the asset built will be highly utilized or not. The cost per trip will be lower for more highly utilized assets that are used by more people and for the broadest use. That is why the cost per trip for roads is so much lower when compared to transit, especially costly transit. Roads are highly used and broadly utilized for numerous purposes.

The CityLab article suggests that the capital cost per rider also be considered with transit projects. They estimate the capital costs per rider for rail projects in Europe is between $10K and $25K per rider. They even estimate the extremely costly, fraught with waste and abuse, NYC Second Avenue subway at a capital cost per rider of $25K, due to NYC density and estimated 200K trips per day. 

But CityLab then states that nowhere else outside the NYC density does the capital cost per rider get near the $10K-$25K: 
But in other American cities, there is no hope of balancing high cost with ridership in the same way. Even relatively old cities such as Boston and San Francisco have extensive suburban sprawl, and no neighborhood as dense as the Upper East Side.
Let's take this analysis closer to home. With this latest $1.5 million taxpayer funded transit campaign, Jacobs Engineering had to "create" a transit project with a cost per trip of $8-10. That cost per trip is required by the FTA to meet the MEDIUM rating to enter the federal transit funding pipeline. So of course, costly rail fell out.  

Jacobs started with the capital costs of the expensive taj mahal version of the fixed guideway BRT (from Wesley Chapel to downtown St. Pete) at a cost of  between $2.3 BILLION and $2.9 BILLION. That resulted in a cost per trip of $45, way over the $8-10 range to meet FTA criteria. The taj mahal BRT cost too much and did too little too!

A year later, after spending tons of taxpayer money and ridiculously throwing light rail out as a viable option, Jacobs then "value engineered" the taj mahal BRT project by working backwards. They worked backwards to pigeon hole what could possibly be built with a cost per trip of $8-10. Thru reverse engineering, Jacobs was able to reduce the capital costs of the proposed BRT from billions to about a HALF BILLION ($500 million) to supposedly get to that $10 cost per trip range. 

Jacobs is using the FTA STOPS model released in 2013 that included transit evaluation changes implemented with a 2013 FTA Final Rule. Read the rule for a head spin for how unelected bureaucrats in the DC Swamp, with way too much time on their hands, write and dictate voluminous federal regulations.

For ridership estimates using STOPS, a trip by a transit-dependent individual counts twice, while all other trips count only once.  

Below are ridership estimates for Jacobs proposed BRT using STOPS and its weighted FTA guidance. With light rail toxic in Tampa Bay, Jacobs felt compelled to change the term to "urban rail" but it's the same thing. And the 9 mile Tampa-centric CSX project ends up as a top contender in a campaign for regional transit projects that "best serve the region and supports growth"??? 
Weighted Annual Ridership Estimates
Using that weighted model, Jacobs is estimating the proposed BRT's ridership to be 3.6 million annual riders. Extrapolate that annual number backwards and it is about 69K riders per week or about 9800 riders per day. Considering a portion of the riders will be commuters and some portion are transit-dependent riders, the actual number of individual riders could be significantly less - perhaps only about 5K individual riders a day.

Compare that to 200K vehicles a day on Tampa Bay interstates, many vehicles with more than one passenger. 

The populations of Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco is about 3 million with Hillsborough and Pasco growing. 

Now we know why Jacobs annualized the ridership because daily and weekly ridership is so low. 

Going back to the CityLab capital cost per rider, based on estimated ridership and capital costs, what is the capital cost per rider for this project? 
At 9800 riders a day, the capital cost per rider is $45K per rider.
At 5000 riders a day, the capital cost per rider is $90K per rider. 
Is this really a cost-effective project?
How does 5000-9800 riders a day provide any congestion relief to Tampa Bay?

It doesn't. 

The $1.5 million Jacobs effort was not to solve a transportation problem but to pursue a new pot of money. The intention was to "create" a transit project that could meet FTA requirements to enter the "Hotel California" federal transit funding spigot pipeline. 
Where you can never leave once you check in
The Hotel California federal funding spigot is where taxpayers check in but can never check out....."you can never leave"...because the flexibility to change course or eliminate it when a project fails is lost.

There's a critical puzzle piece missing that is required to get thru the doorway to check into Hotel California. That missing piece is a committed long term local funding source. 

The Jacobs effort started out flawed and the result looks flawed.   

This proposed $500 million BRT with no congestion relief looks flawed and not really cost-effective. 

And taxpayers should not get stuck in Hotel California paying for it.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The West Coast public transportation battle heats up

The Tampa Bay Times continues to run with the light-rail solution.





It did not take long for the big rail supporters to get a significant boost from the Tampa Bay Times. Here are a couple of editorials taking the recent Jacobs Engineering recommendations for Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) to task.



The Times has been a staunch light rail and transportation-oriented redevelopment supporter for years.

Quoting from the Too Soon to settle for busses over light rail Editorial:

“But in cementing BRT as its first priority, the recommendation effectively sidelines light rail — despite rail’s standing for years as the most desirable transit option, its potential to spark redevelopment and create jobs and its earlier top ranking.”

And there you have it.

The developers and real estate people have been salivating over light rail and the prospect of ripping up significant portions of the Pasco, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties to build an expensive light-rail system and terminals.

The “redevelopment” comes from retail and residential centers they hope will develop around rail stations and the expected property value boom and associated construction.

Quoting further:

The chairman of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long, summed it up right this month when she told the Tampa Bay Times editorial board she was disappointed in the shift from rail. "I think we need to keep all the options on the table," she said, "while we figure out what the needs are." 

What Janet Long needs is a reality check.

A lot, more money will float around if light rail comes to the area, and big beneficiaries will be the developers and real-estate people who the politicians let get their fingers in the pie on the front end and back end.

BRT is not a “compromise" as the light-rail supporters would have you believe, it is a realistic approach to the regional transportation problem.

And let’s look at the flip side. There is no guarantee that any large-scale public transportation solution will work or be financially viable. In fact, most are not.

In good economic times when employment rates are low, and almost any new car dealer in the area can put you in a car for “0 down, 0 security deposit and no first month’s payment” regardless of your credit; cars will still be the first choice. One only needs to look at current HART and PSTA year over year rider ship statistics to understand.

It would seem to me rather than rip the counties apart by cutting a swath to plant light rail, spending untold billions of dollars to buy land, lay rails and build stations a BRT solution that can flex and grow at a fraction of the cost makes a lot more sense.

It is time for the light-rail touters to step from the train into the light and come to grip with the fact that large-scale light rail is not going to happen.

And that’s a good thing for the region. 

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Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Get Off the Hamster Wheel! Rail Costs Too Much Does Too Little

There was a packed room at PSTA last Friday at the TMA meeting where Jacobs Engineering presented a draft of their regional Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) proposal to TMA members. The TMA members represent the MPO's from Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco but normally also includes FDOT, TBARTA, HART and PSTA - quite a power broker group.

Background: FDOT handed HART $1.5 million in 2016 and said have at it - go hire another consultant for another transit study campaign. The contract awarded Jacobs, thru an RFP in the fall of 2016, required the end game deliverable be a project(s) that can meet criteria to enter the federal funding spigot pipeline - which also requires having a long term committed local funding source....that does not exist today. The Jacobs contract was doled out before the 2016 election when  the expectation was the federal transit gravy train money aka DEBT dollars will continue as it has in the past. Hmmm...That may now be questionable.

At Friday's dog and pony show, Jacobs admitted in public, that proposed rail projects in Tampa Bay cannot meet minimum federal criteria required to pursue federal funding. They admitted rail costs too much and does too little.

Sound familiar? We know it and taxpayers and voters know it too.  It didn't take spending $1.5 million of taxpayer money to figure it out. It is basic 3rd grade math and common sense.

Jacobs admitted what we've been saying for years. The 2010 Moving Hillsborough Forward rail tax, the 2014 Greenlight Pinellas rail tax and the 2016 crony Go Hillsborough debacle were all costly, flawed bad plans. The rail projects in those plans would not qualify for federal funding.

But Jacobs has known it all along. They were paid $4 MILLION of taxpayer money to do the Alternatives Analysis (AA) for Greenlight Pinellas - that was their plan. Ironically Jacobs, while getting another $1.5 million of taxpayer money, is now admitting how bad and flawed their own Greenlight plan was. (Jacobs also got a take of the $1.3 million Go Hillsborough debacle.)

Jacobs wasted an entire year and gobs of taxpayer money because they started with the same flawed approach used before. Jacobs started with a blank slate and a phony public opinion drive when they knew upfront the end result had to be a project(s) that met federal criteria to try to compete for federal funds.

Suddenly this past November Jacobs decided to use what they call a "value engineering" approach and work backwards from the (mostly cost/ridership) criteria required to get federal funding. In other words, use reverse engineering. They knew what the end result must be so they simply worked backwards.

Why didn't Jacobs start with that approach? How much time, resources and taxpayer money was wasted on phony meetings and meaningless presentations?

To qualify for federal funding, Jacobs stated the cost per trip must be in the $8-10 range. They then had to figure out what could pigeon hole backwards into that cost range. It was not going to be rail.

Finally having cost consciousness about transit projects is refreshing and certainly appreciated.

But what transportation problem is this latest $1.5 million transit campaign solving? We await that answer.

Remember the 2014 AEComm report?  That report also confirmed that rail costs too much, does too little and we do not have the ridership to get federal funding for expensive trains. Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill refused to publicly present the report to the Transportation Policy Leadership Group (PLG) in May 2014.  He even tried to hide it by embedding it in another document.

Now we know why.

May 2014 was precisely the time when all the behind the scenes maneuvering was  being orchestrated to hand a $1.3 million taxpayer funded crony no bid contract to Parsons Brinckerhoff and Beth Leytham in August 2014 - to fund the Go Hillsborough tax hike campaign for rail. Fortunately, they got caught and Go Hillsborough was shut down.

But the local rail cartel is like a cat with nine lives. They are still alive and well, including their local media enabler, who had to immediately pounce after Jacobs proposed BRT not costly rail.

Even as Jacobs admits rail costs too much and does too little, the Times publishes a very poorly written editorial Editorial: Too soon for Tampa Bay to settle for buses over light rail. This whiny opinion piece circles the drain with false rhetoric while slightly relenting the truth.
But in cementing BRT as its first priority, the recommendation effectively sidelines light rail — despite rail’s standing for years as the most desirable transit option, its potential to spark redevelopment and create jobs and its earlier top ranking. 
Outdated, 19th century costly light rail is desirable to crony special interests and developers who will greatly benefit but certainly not by those who will have to pay for it. Rail is not desired by voters who have overwhelmingly defeated rail boondoggles at the ballot box multiple times.

But wait - some of those same special interests financially bailed out the Times last year. No bias there for sure....

The Times prefers to ignore the data, ignore the facts, continue trying to pound a square peg into a round hole and continue whining for costly rail. The Times either does not know basic math or chooses to ignore it. Pathetic.

H/T from one of our readers and fellow blogger, Tom Rask, who recently posted some silly little "facts" the Times conveniently leaves out of their false rail narratives. SunFail's ridership is so low that farebox only recovers 5% of its operating costs and taxpayers are forced to subsidize the other 95%.
HART, PSTA, Pasco Transit, SunRail ridership declines
(click to enlarge)
State taxpayers are also forced to bail out Tri-Rail in South Florida to the tune of tens of millions of dollars every year.  

The Times editorial quotes Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long who told them she was disappointed in the shift from rail.
"I think we need to keep all the options on the table," she said, "while we figure out what the needs are."
Absurd! We know what our transportation needs are. We have spent mega tax bucks studying it for decades.

It is not rail. Voters and taxpayers in Tampa Bay figured out years ago that rail costs too much and does too little. And pursuing costly rail at a time when traditional transit is being disrupted, transit ridership is declining and new technology and innovation is rapidly approaching is even more absurd.

Yet some electeds, the local rail cartel and the whiny Times are stuck in their own hamster wheel with blinders on. They go round and round and round trying to force feed costly rail boondoggles on Tampa Bay taxpayers.
Riding the rail cartel
hamster wheel with blinders
And they keep losing - the folly of being stuck in a hamster wheel with blinders on....

Continuing to do the same thing over and over and over expecting a different outcome is insanity

Who sides with crazy losers?