Sunday, December 03, 2006

Light Rail & Traffic Congestion

The assumption is that light rail helps with traffic congestion, but a recent book (2005) by Robert Bruegmann: Sprawl: A Compact History, offers another perspective:

“[V]oters were promised that the Portland light rail system, the crown jewel in the Portland planning system, would relieve highway congestion, strengthen downtown, and help in the creation of new high-density mixed-use centers around the metropolitan area. However, despite billions of dollars in construction costs, much of it subsidized by federal funding, the percentage of Portland area residents taking public transportation has continued to decline. With transit use accounting for less than 2 percent of all trips in the region, it remains a fairly negligible factor in the vast majority of the metropolitan area.

“Critics further charge that the light rail system, like virtually every rail system in American in the last several decades, not only came in heavily over budget and failed to live up to ridership projections but also siphoned off scarce transportation dollars from all other transportation modes, particularly the more heavily used, more flexible, and more cost-effective buses. They also point to its slow speed and the fact that it was designed as a way to take commuters in and out of downtown, which houses a continually declining percentage of the jobs in the metropolitan area. Finally, they charge, as the population has grown and the region has failed to keep up with the building of new roads, roadway congestion has gotten much worse even on the highways that parallel the new light rail lines.” (pp. 212-213)

RT's racing to finish line
Extension set to open Friday at the Amtrak depot has been bedeviled by freak spring rains and subterranean surprises including Indian artifacts and unmapped utilities.
By Tony Bizjak - Bee Staff WriterPublished 12:00 am PST Sunday, December 3, 2006

Sacramento Regional Transit head Beverly Scott keeps a small bottle of Vatican holy water front and center on her desk. Lately she's been dabbing a finger into it more often.

Scott says her team needs any extra help it can get.

After stumbling over surprise underground discoveries of unmapped utilities and the remains of an American Indian village, her agency is racing to meet a fast-approaching deadline Friday for a new light rail line to the downtown Amtrak depot.

"This is one of those projects where every day if you wanted to say 'uncle,' you could," the RT executive said. But, "as an agency, your word is your bond. You need to keep your word."

Hit with freakish late-spring rains and the underground discoveries, the rail project already has gone over budget and is months behind RT's initial hoped-for opening date.

If her team makes its deadline, it will only be because RT has let everything drop except the basic opening-day necessities. Other work, including a third station, will be finished in the coming months, officials say.

Scott acknowledged her agency initially was "perhaps naive" about complications of working on downtown streets. Although light rail started with a new downtown line in 1987, RT's recent light rail extensions have mostly followed existing railroad right-of-ways beyond downtown.

The worst delays were caused by underground utilities not noted on maps -- sewer and drainage systems, lines for water, gas, electricity and telephone, Internet and fiber-optic lines -- which had to be moved or reconstructed away from the tracks.

Workers also continue to find buried artifacts from a former American Indian village.

Even last week, as RT conducted test runs of light rail trains on the new line, workers on H Street hand-sifted dirt for artifacts, such as bone fragments, as monitors representing American Indians stood watch.

RT executive Scott said she doesn't expect workers to run into any "insurmountable" problems in the coming days.

Scott nevertheless has marked Monday as the day for a final "go" or "no-go" decision on opening the line on Friday.