Monday | 09 July, 2018 | 11:11 am

Public Service

Written by By Corinna Petry

Above: Bombardier’s Zefiro high-speed trains featuring ECO4 technologies optimize energy use, decrease waste and minimize greenhouse gas emissions.

While certain transit projects speed ahead, much more spending is necessary and could be transformative for North American cities

July 2018 - Millennials, especially the tech-savvy, environmentally conscious ones who have full-time careers in a gig economy, are demanding and receiving dedicated bike lanes, bike sharing programs and fast public transit. But that’s happening only in certain corridors where resourceful residents can compel the political will and scrabble together the funds necessary to make that happen. The divide is clear. In cities where need cannot be met with cash, proposals fail to completion—think Memphis or Detroit. But in growing metropolises like Silicon Valley, Vancouver and Montreal, money is buying rail, stations, bridges, railcars and buses. There’s also a third way, where a state government or multi-city commission announces a “plan” but undercapitalizes it (Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Albuquerque, Raleigh-Durham). Sometimes that’s the result of too few matching federal dollars trickling in as well.

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Siemens will present a new concept for high-speed trains at InnoTrans 2018, a rail technology fair to be held during September in Berlin.

Jeffrey Parker, CEO of the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, has said that “MARTA has effectively managed its local funding source to maintain a state of good repair. But as the population of metro Atlanta surges to 6 million with projections of 8 million by 2040, we must receive funding from the federal government.”

Impacts of backlog

Two studies were released in May, one by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the other by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). The GAO report is largely technical, but states that the Federal Transit Administration has not addressed three statutory provisions concerning the Capital Investment Grants program as part of two transportation funding laws. By not evaluating and scoring eligible projects that need funding, by not identifying interrelated projects to be developed simultaneously, and by not creating a fast-track approval process for transit projects, FTA is basically withholding monies earmarked for public transit improvements.

“If FTA does not implement the outstanding provisions, FTA and project sponsors—that is, local transit agencies—may be missing opportunities to deliver transit projects more efficiently,” the GAO report states.

The new study from APTA concludes that a nationwide $90 billion backlog of public transit modernization needs, combined with decades of under-investment in America’s aging bus and rail public transit infrastructure, has a negative effect on business revenue and results in lost jobs and wages.

“Our failure as a nation to address America’s public transit modernization needs has wide-ranging negative effects because lost time in travel makes a region’s economy less productive,” states APTA President and CEO Paul P. Skoutelas. “Congress has an opportunity in the FY 2019 appropriations process to help address the nation’s aging public transit infrastructure.”

Modernization deficiencies in the nation’s public transit infrastructure result in a decrease of $180 billion in gross national product over six years—$109 billion in household income and 162,000 jobs.

Construction projects worth tens of billions of dollars are in various stages of development reaching well beyond 2025. This bodes well for cities, commuters, employers and the industries that produce and fabricate materials for transit infrastructure. Let’s ride across the map of North America to look at ongoing projects.

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New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority contracted Harold Structures (Tutor Perini) to work on four bridges, 91 catenaries (like the truss here), nine signal bridges and over 100 utility structures, among other projects.

Washington State

Tacoma is in the early scoping phase of a light rail expansion project. City planners don’t expect to start service on the extension until 2030. According to an early project report, “there is not enough transit capacity to serve the corridor’s riders today or in the future.”

Meanwhile, the local system, Sound Transit, broke ground in April on a new light rail operation and maintenance base in Bellevue that will incorporate mixed-use transit oriented development, financed in part by private partners. The site includes a commuter station.

“This facility will propel our regional light rail system from 20 miles today to 58 miles by 2024, with longer and more frequent trains serving more riders,” said Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff. Between 2019 and 2023, the size of Sound Transit’s light rail vehicle fleet is expected to more than triple.


The California State Transportation Agency in April recommended funding of $4.325 billion through fiscal 2023 for commuter rail and zero emission bus capital projects. Twenty-eight projects with combined budgets exceeding $19 billion will receive state funds. When built, the expanded and modernized transit systems should help eliminate over 31.9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from California’s air.

“Right now we have [Union Pacific Railroad] tracks that run through midtown without providing any benefit to the local area,” Sacramento Vice Mayor Steve Hansen said. “By building a new [commuter rail] station, we will now tap into that existing infrastructure, bringing customers to local businesses, giving business travelers access to the Capitol without clogging up our roads, and providing access for residents to reach the Bay Area and Central Valley.”

The Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) is in the midst of a multifaceted growth program that is slated for completion in 2022, in partnership with other local transportation agencies. The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) is spending nearly $4.8 billion to build a regional transit connection that will link together Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco and San Mateo counties.

A direct BART/VTA Light Rail and Caltrain connection will serve major high-tech employers in job-rich Silicon Valley communities.

According to a spokeswoman for the VTA, these projects will spur “sustainable transit-oriented development near stations as these areas are converted to high-density, mixed-use developments of office, commercial and retail space; and high-density housing.”

A host of steel fabricator and erector subcontractors are supplying structures for the Santa Clara VTA project. The spokeswoman sent a list that includes Nucor Corp., Brown-Strauss Co., Truss Works International, BEI Steel, Linden Steel L.P., Olson & Co. Steel, Blue Iron, CMC Rebar and CMC Steel Fabricators Inc., Wade Metal Products, Martin’s Metal Fabrication, Rebar International Inc., WeSTco Iron Works, ASC Steel Deck and Metal Mfg. Co. Inc.

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The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority awarded contracts in May for its $1.3 billion Green Line Light Rail Extension. Construction will begin later this year, with service beginning in 2021. The project includes a new vehicle maintenance facility, a viaduct, six new stations and six bridges.

MBTA is also spending $1.9 billion to improve its Red and Orange Line commuter train service. Nearly 220 Red Line railcars will be replaced and 34 new ones will enter service; 120 Orange Line cars will be replaced and 32 new cars will enter service. A Chinese company is fabricating the railcars, however.

Windy City

The Chicago Transportation Authority (CTA) has been conducting a multi-year modernization program of its infrastructure, including station rebuilds and commuter rail line extensions. In May the CTA said it was close to selecting a contractor to design and build the $2.1 billion first phase of its Red Line/Purple Line modernization program. Many CTA tracks, structures and stations are well past their useful lifespan, and can no longer handle additional trains to meet increasing ridership, which has risen 40 percent in the past 10 years.

Separately, the Chicago Infrastructure Trust on June 14 chose Elon Musk’s The Boring Co. to design, build, provide 100 percent of the financing, operate and maintain an O’Hare Express Loop operating system, to run from the city center to O’Hare International Airport in 12 minutes. Air passenger ridership on the existing CTA Blue Line, which is not an express route, is forecast to grow 75 percent in the next 25 years.


An international consortium that includes Canadian manufacturers won a Cdn $2.8 billion contract to deliver a complete automatic and driverless light metro system, including rolling stock and signaling, operation and maintenance services, for the Réseau express métropolitain (REM) project in Montreal.

Upon completion, REM will be one of the world’s largest automated transit networks, 67 kilometers long with 26 stations and 212 railcars. The project requires the erection of new stations, engineering works, bridges, tunnels, substations and other electrification structures, and the installation of rails. Sixty-five percent of the content is to be produced within the region. The project is expected to cost Cdn $6.3 billion (including the driverless railcars). Construction began in April. Commercial service on the first segment of REM is expected to begin during summer of 2021.

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Crews set beams for the Cedar Viaduct spanning State Route 99 in South Fresno for the California High-Speed Rail Authority.


The province recently budgeted Cdn $11 billion to build a high-speed rail line along the Toronto-Windsor corridor. The project is designed to slash travel times in half along the corridor, reduce carbon emissions and provide ready access to employment opportunities. Electric-powered trains will travel at up to 250 kilometers per hour on a combination of existing track and new dedicated rail corridors.

British Columbia

Details were released in April for a Cdn $7.3 billion investment in Metro Vancouver’s transit and transportation system through its Phase II investment plan. Phase II includes the extension of the Millennium Line and construction of six new SkyTrain stations; construction of the Surrey-Newton-Guildford LRT Line; planning and design for Surrey-Langley rapid transit; 108 new SkyTrain cars, 95 replacement cars for the existing fleet; plus infrastructure modernization.


Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed legislation May 3 that creates the state-level Atlanta-region Transit Link Authority (ATL), which provides a new structure for coordinated transit planning and funding for the 13-county metro Atlanta region.

ATL will develop a regional transit plan and identify and prioritize relevant projects and initiatives. The state budget includes $100 million in bonds but the new law asks the 13 counties to assess taxes of up to 1 percent over 30 years to support transit development. There’s a catch: Taxation is not mandatory. So it remains to be seen whether county governments will raise taxes, giving the ATL the financing it needs.

U.S. commuter rail ridership increased in 18 out of 29 transit systems last year, compared with 2016 but overall ridership fell 0.2 percent, according to APTA. A study by TransitCenter, a New York City-based advocacy group, strongly suggests that greater investment in public transportation infrastructure and operations will ensure a steady increase in ridership over time. MM


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