The Dernogalizer

May 8, 2010

Maryland reverses decision to defer $56 million payment to Metro

Filed under: transportation — Matt Dernoga @ 7:10 pm
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It’s good to see that the major pending cuts to Metro services appear to have been addressed, at least for now.  The Washington Post reported yesterday that Maryland chose not to defer its $56 million two-year payment to metro in exchange for better accountability.

“Interim General Manager Richard Sarles said that Maryland agreed to support Metro’s proposed $5 billion capital improvement program for 2011 to 2016 in return for the agency providing greater “transparency” on how it spends the funds.

The details are being negotiated, he said.

“They have assured me we will get the $28 million for this current fiscal year” and are “committed to” supporting the program, called Metro Matters, Sarles said during a meeting of The Washington Post’s editorial board. Maryland officials confirmed their position Thursday morning, he said.”

May 5, 2010

University of Maryland’s Summer Transit Experiment Makes No Sense

Filed under: transportation,University of Maryland — Matt Dernoga @ 11:48 pm
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Yesterday I attended a student forum with members of the University of Maryland’s administration regarding plans for a pilot test this summer where our main road “Campus Drive” will be closed to both passenger vehicles and transit minus emergency vehicles and a couple of campus connector Shuttle-UM buses.  If the pilot is successful, this transit idea could become a mainstay in a couple of years.

Closing Campus Drive to cars is a fine idea in my view, but only because that would allow the buses to get around quicker.  As someone who has missed a Shuttle-UM bus on its way to our metro station 1.5 miles away, and then beaten it on my legs to the station, our buses would greatly benefit from less traffic on Campus Drive.  I could see mobility for students around campus and around College Park significantly improving if we closed off Campus Drive to cars, but allowed buses.  It would also shorten travel times for the Metro buses that pass through the heart of campus.

I just don’t under stand how banning both buses and cars improves at all on the situation.  Before they were both clogging up campus drive, now they’re both going to clog some side roads on the outside of campus.  All we’ve done is abandoned transit at the center of campus, which not only sucks in the near-term, but probably jeopardizes the likelihood of the Purple Line using the Campus Drive alignment if the road ends up being permanently closed after this pilot.

The funny thing is, all that this forum convinced me is the administrators don’t understand what this does either, or why they’re doing it.  At least, they wouldn’t admit to us why they were actually doing it.  Most of students questions were answered in five words or less, involve some combination of the words “i don’t know” and “okay”.  It was like they weren’t even trying to manage this from a PR perspective, which is unusual for them.

Here is a Diamondback article about the event, and the Washington Post has an article out on the issue today.  This excerpt from the Diamondback piece says it all…

Jesse Yurow, a junior environmental science and policy major, said the program doesn’t fit in with two key passages in the plan: “maximize use of alternatives to driving to campus” and “improve the campus’s integration into the regional transit system network.

Brewer’s response?

“OK,” he said.

April 27, 2010

Op-Ed on Electric Cars

Filed under: energy,transportation — Matt Dernoga @ 11:41 am
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I got to test drive the Chevy Volt last week.  I thought I’d follow up by writing a column about electric cars and their arrival.  Enjoy!

Volt: Test-driving the comeback car

By Matt Dernoga

I found myself behind the steering wheel of General Motors’ highly anticipated Volt, driving around the campus last Wednesday. The Volt is a plug-in hybrid car with a battery that powers the car for up to 40 miles combined with a gas engine with a range of 300 miles if you need it. It was pretty sweet.

Just a few years ago, I wouldn’t have expected it. I remember the famously depressing 2006 documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? that took a look at what forces were responsible for the demise of the EV1, a fast, highly efficient electric car that was produced in the early 1990s. Since then, gas prices rose to painful levels, our oil dependence became a major environmental and national security issue, and automakers finally figured out you can go green and still make green.

After test-driving the Volt and reading about Nissan’s all-electric 100 mile-range “Leaf,” I’m more optimistic than I’ve ever been that electric cars are here to stay. Both these cars are mainstream and coming out near the end of this year. Throw all the electric car stereotypes out the window. After a $7,500 tax credit from the federal government for these advanced battery vehicles, the prices are in the range of ordinary, gas-powered sedans. The Volt accelerated with ease, so highway speed will be no problem. The average daily commute of 75 percent of Americans is 40 miles or less, meaning the ranges on both cars will cover the majority of our trips. Special outlets for charging aren’t necessary, just an outlet and an extension cord.

Part of the appeal is how cheap it is to buy the electricity to power the car versus buying gas. For example, fully charging the battery of the Volt will cost the average American less than a dollar a day. Last time I looked, a gallon of gas around here had come close to $3 and was climbing. Charging a battery could be even cheaper if you do it in off-peak hours with a utility company that offers variable pricing based on real-time electric demand. This is typically at night when few appliances are at use, and electricity is dirt cheap.

The presumption that most of us would charge our cars at night, when electricity demand is low and prices are cheap, is important. One criticism of electric cars is they’ll likely be powered by dirty energy, or add so much new demand to the grid that we’ll have to build more power plants. The reality is the electric power grid has a large amount of generated but unused electricity every night that goes to waste. Much of the added demand from electric cars to the grid would just take advantage of energy that would ordinarily go to waste anyway.

I think President Barack Obama’s goal of a million plug-in cars on our roads by 2015 is too low. This technology is here now, it’s affordable and if we’re going to move away from oil, the electric car is our best bet. We need to invest more in the technology so we dominate this emerging industry, and bring manufacturing jobs back to America.

It’s very fitting that a new documentary is in the works titled Revenge of the Electric Car. Success for these new vehicles would be sweet revenge.

Matt Dernoga is a senior government and politics major. He can be reached at dernoga at umdbk dot com.

April 9, 2010

Want to Save Metro? Contact Governor O’Malley

Filed under: MD Politics,transportation — Matt Dernoga @ 1:49 am
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Another action alert for Maryland residents.  We need Metro.  I know I need Metro!  Below is an e-mail from the Coalition for Smarter Growth on this issue.  Contact Governor O’Malley!

Ask Governor O’Malley To Save Metro Service

Dear Matt ,

Time is running out – Metro service cuts may soon be a reality.

Our leaders can stop these service cuts by committing more funding to Metro, but despite all of our emails, Maryland is balking at adding additional funding. Time is of the essence because Metro will soon make budget decisions. The proposed service cuts include:

  • Eliminating 8-car trains, even during rush hour
  • Closing the Morgan Boulevard and Cheverly Metro Stations on weekends
  • Slashing bus service throughout the system
  • Closing Metro earlier and opening later
  • Imposing half hour waits between trains during the evening
  • Closing some Metro station entrances on weekends and evenings
  • Ending Yellow line service to National Airport on evenings and weekends

We need your help to stop these drastic cuts. Send an email to Governor O’Malley urging him to prevent these devastating cuts. Metro is a basic and essential service for the region’s economy. Metro will make its budget decision soon. Emails will also automatically be sent to the Metro board.

Longer Waits, Fewer Trains?
Polls show a clear majority of residents support more funding for Metro. Email Governor O’Malley today and urge them to listen to us and help save Metro service before it’s too late.signon
Photo by Flickr user mlcastle

Maryland Remains Non-Committal

The State of Maryland is saying they can’t afford to provide its share of the additional funding necessary to prevent drastic cuts in service. It is the joint responsibility of Metro jurisdiction governments – Maryland, D.C., Fairfax, Arlington and Alexandria – to collaboratively fund Metro. Metro is the region’s transit service that takes hundreds of thousands of area residents to and from their jobs, stores, appointments and school every day. We ask that the State of Maryland and all the member jurisdictions fulfill their responsibility to the region’s residents.

More Traffic, Longer Commutes, Lost Jobs?

The cuts that Metro is facing – detailed here – would not just be inconvenient, they would be devastating. Cuts will damage the economy, hurt local businesses, cause job losses (how will people 100% dependent on transit get to work?), increase traffic and discourage transit-oriented development, which has been key to revitalizing D.C. and the inner suburbs.

Just Monday, the Washington Post released a poll showing that a clear majority of area residents support new funding sources for Metro. Eighty percent of Metrorail riders rate the system as good or excellent. Sixty-two percent said that efforts to reduce traffic congestion should focus on public transportation.

It’s Not Too Late – Tell Governor O’Malley To Listen To Maryland Residents

It’s time for Governor O’Malley and all area government leaders to step up to the plate and preserve the system they have already built and over a million riders depend on every day. We’ve already submitted more than 2,000 petition signatures and 1,200 emails to leaders in Maryland, D.C., and Virginia, but we need more to get their attention. Please email Governor O’Malley one more time.

We recognize that all governments are strapped for money, but letting Metro service fall to below minimal levels – on top of charging riders higher fares – makes no sense. We need true leadership from Maryland, D.C., and Virginia in these challenging times. Instead of abandoning the system that we spent billions of dollars to create, we need to maintain it. Email Governor O’Malley today and remind him that Metro is still the best and safest ride around. Tell him what Metro means to you and ask for his leadership in supporting the necessary funding for Metro.

Thank you for your passionate support of our Metro system!


Rebecca Perring

Coalition for Smarter Growth

March 31, 2010

Washington Post: Cuts to Metro Would be Economically Dangerous

Filed under: MD Politics,transportation — Matt Dernoga @ 1:33 pm
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Below is an editorial by the Washington Post on the need for Maryland, DC, and Virginia to adequately fund Metro, or risk severe economic ramifications in the region.  I wrote a column last summer about a way these states could raise funding and allocate more money to mass transit.

“HERE’S A QUESTION for Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty: Will you join Virginia in protecting Metro from crippling service cuts that could represent a downward tipping point for the economy of the entire Washington area?”

“That may sound like an overstatement, but it’s not. Metro is facing the threat of service cuts — shorter trains, much longer daytime and weekend waits, and other drastic curtailments, including to bus service — whose effect would be to further sap an anemic transit system already losing ridership and facing the prospect of a long-term death spiral. If Metro has any hope of pulling out of its nosedive, it will be badly undermined by the $44 million in service cuts proposed for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

Officials in Northern Virginia, which ponies up almost a quarter of the region’s $574 million contribution for Metro, seem to understand this. Although no formal commitments have been made, there are signs they’re prepared to find some extra cash that would avert some cuts. Those cuts, particularly to the Yellow Line, would turn quick and convenient trips to and from National Airport, Alexandria, Verizon Center and other popular destinations into slogs involving endless waits and multiple changes.

But officials in the District and Maryland, which together chip in the other three quarters of Metro’s regional subsidy, are balking at coming up with funds. This is dangerous, because there is no formal mechanism to coordinate higher contributions from all three localities. If one jurisdiction stiffs the system, the funding formula dictates that the other two follow suit. The result: Metro’s hole gets deeper, and the most vulnerable residents — the poor, the sick, the aged — get hurt most of all.

Metro’s ridership contributes about 55 percent of the system’s $1.4 billion operating budget, more than the ridership of virtually any other major transit system in the nation. That contribution is set to rise as a result of stiff fare increases. But fare hikes alone will not cover even half of the $190 million deficit that Metro faces in the coming fiscal year, which is largely the result of falling ridership and rising costs for health care, pensions, contract workers and service for people with disabilities. And if Metro’s riders are bearing the burden by paying higher fares, it’s unfair for the District and Maryland to freeze their contributions.

It’s also dangerous. State and local governments nationwide have been forced to make painful cuts to services in recent years, but Metro is a service of a different sort: It’s the region’s vital strategic linchpin. If people can’t get where they want to go with relative ease and affordability, the basic functioning of the region itself will falter, along with its prospects for prosperity. Metro is the priority on which other priorities depend. Given that basic truth, it shouldn’t be so hard for the District, Maryland and Virginia to find an extra $50 million or so among them, which is what it would take to maintain an essential regional resource.”

March 21, 2010

Google now has biking routes

Filed under: transportation — Matt Dernoga @ 12:07 pm
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Hopefully this will encourage bike usage and make commutes faster and more efficient for the bikers out there.

February 19, 2010

Eye of the TIGER

Filed under: environment,transportation — Matt Dernoga @ 1:29 am
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Yesterday, the hard fought for Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) stimulus grants were awarded to applicants around the country.  These were $1.5 billion worth of for innovative transportation ideas, and boy was there fierce competition.  Requests for funds were about 40 times the $1.5 billion available.  I’m pleased to say the local DC region benefited from one of these grants, including my college town of College Park.  We were awarded one of the largest grants for bus transit, which can be found on page 14 of the TIGER grant recipients list.

Here is the description for the project:

Name: Priority Bus Transit in the National Capital Region      Location: District of Columbia, Maryland & Virginia       Sponsor: Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments

TotalCost: $83,008,000  TIGER Funding: $58,838,000


Significantly improves the performance of the region’s transportation network, providing more choices to more travelers, including low-income and transit-dependent residents

Reflects extensive, multi-jurisdictional planning efforts

Many of the areas to be served by these projects are economically distressed areas

Project Description:  The project will provide more efficient bus service along 13 transit corridors in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., by investing in a bus transitway, bus-only lanes, transit signal priority, traffic signal management, real-time arrival technology and other enhancements. TIGER funds will be used to construct a new transit center at the intersection of University Boulevard and New Hampshire Avenue on the border of Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties in Maryland which will consolidate scattered bus stops at a heavily used bus transfer point into one facility. TIGER funds will also provide station improvements (bus bays, real time bus information and other improvements) supporting bus priority on the I-95/395 corridor.

Project Benefits: The priority bus transit corridors will significantly improve the performance of existing infrastructure and will provide more efficient and timely access to economically distressed populations, connecting them to job centers throughout the region.The project increases transportation choices and makes riding transit more appealing. Consolidating bus stops at the new Takoma/Langley Transit Center will eliminate the need for dangerous and time-consuming transfers. TIGER funds will provide new bus bays, pedestrian walkways, a full canopy, restrooms, lighting and bus information. The transit center will be a safe, attractive, comfortable and efficient facility for passengers and bus transfer activities in a largely low-income, transit-dependent area.

The blog Rethink College Park has a good description of how these dollars will be spent:

“Construction is planned to begin ASAP and take about two years. Part of the federal money will go towards consolidating bus stops at a new Takoma/Langley Transit Center at University Boulevard and New Hampshire Avenue ($12.3 million – photos HERE). That project will not only improve buses, but will pave the way for the Purple Line. According to BeyondDC, almost $1 million will go towards improvements to Route 1 between Rhode Island Avenue Metro Station and Laurel. It is unclear whether bus improvements will be like the “super-stops” (pictured above) envisioned in the 2008 City-contracted transportation study of Route 1 in College Park (RTCP discussion/analysis HERE). Another $1 million will support similar investments on University Boulevard in conjunction with the transit center:

  • Takoma/Langley Transit Center
    This bustling intersection is one of the busiest transit locations in the DC area, however bus stops are currently scattered far from each other at different locations around the intersection. The new transit center will consolidate all the bus stops at the intersection into one facility. This will eliminate the need for transferring passengers to cross wide and busy roads where there is an unfortunate history of vehicles colliding with pedestrians. This will also provide a permanent and visible transit amenity. Through new bus bays, pedestrian walkways, a full canopy, restrooms, lighting, and bus information, the transit center will ultimately provide a safe, attractive, comfortable and efficient facility for passengers and for bus transfer activities, and will also improve pedestrian safety, accessibility, and connections to bus services in an area that is largely low income and transit dependent.
  • U.S. Route 1 Bus Priority Improvements: Capital improvements proposed include queue jump lanes and transit signal priority at several intersections.
  • University Boulevard Bus Priority Improvements: Improvements include four queue jump lanes, transit signal priority at around 20 intersections, and a number of bus stop enhancements, such as the deployment of NextBus technology. This project will support planned light rail transit, such as the Purple Line, and will utilize the Takoma Langley Transit Center also included in this proposal.

Unfortunately, I was also rooting for the $10 million dollar grant request for a massive regional bike sharing program for the DC region that College Park would’ve benefited from.  This program would’ve included 1600 bikes and 160 stations.  Apparently, there’s a second round of $600 million dollars in grants on the way in the coming months, so hopefully this souped up bike sharing system will be a winner there.

It’s a shame there’s so little money available for so many great projects that have been proposed.  The criteria used to judge TIGER grants are what should be used to judge all transportation projects in the stimulus.  Here are the five basic goals which the projects were evaluated on….

• A state of good repair for our existing transportation facilities

• Enhanced economic competitiveness

• Safer streets and communities

• Environmental sustainability

• Enhanced community livability

For more info on the TIGER grants, a good resource would be the Rethink CP blog I linked to above,The DC Streets Blog, and The League of American Bicyclists

Another interesting TIGER success story is by the East Coast Greenway blog, whose route received the largest bike grant.

January 6, 2010

Further cuts to Metro on the Horizon

Filed under: MD Politics,transportation — Matt Dernoga @ 10:01 pm

Need funding much?

Back in April, I wrote about Metro cuts that would affect access to and from the University of Maryland, and right now further cuts are being considered for the new round of budget reductions.  Here is an e-mail I got from the Coalition for Smarter Growth, asking citizens to sign their petition for Metro funding, and to send an e-mail to the Metro board to get public input before they make a decision.

What Metro is Proposing

Metro faces a $40 million deficit in this year’s operating budget (ending June 2010), and to address the shortfall, Metro is proposing serious service cuts. We are concerned about and opposed to:

  • Increasing wait times from 20 to 30 minutes after 9:30pm on Orange, Blue, Yellow & Green lines; and from 15 to 20 minutes on Red line.
  • Reducing 8-car trains to 6-car trains during rush hour.
  • Bus service cuts that will leave many riders waiting long periods in the cold and rain.

Instead we believe Metro should examine other rail and bus service approaches that allow Metro to maintain service while closing the budget gap. For bus service in particular, by giving buses priority on key routes, we can speed bus service and save money. The state transportation agencies need to commit to doing this.

In addition, state, local and federal government should provide funding to help bridge the budget shortfall. The states of Maryland and Virginia should be reprogramming transportation funds to support critical transit operating needs.

You can read more about the proposed cuts and alternative ideas for meeting the budget shortfall on the Greater Greater Washington blog.

Metro Needs Sustained Investment

In the longer term, Metro needs the support of all levels of government to secure the needed funding to:

  • Replace track, switches, electrical power systems, and station platforms; and,
  • Purchase new buses and rail cars to keep up with growing transit ridership.

Total replacement and capacity needs between 2011 and 2020 is $11.4 billion. In December, Congress approved and President Obama signed an appropriation of a first, one year installment of $150 million for capital investments to address some of this need. This is the first part of a 10-year proposal to match $1.5 billion in federal funds to $1.5 billion in state and local funds. But we will need additional commitments each year from local, state, and federal governments for not just the $3 billion, but the full $11.4 billion in needs.

For comparison, the region has spent about $4.6 billion on the Beltway (Wilson Bridge, Springfield Interchange and HOT Lanes) and $3 billion on the Intercounty Connector in recent years, and Maryland DOT is now proposing $4 billion to widen I-270 to Frederick. Clearly, we have to make choices — we believe that investing in Metro should be a top priority, because of the many benefits it offers.

December 3, 2009

Good News on the Mattawoman

I’ve written multiple columns and blog posts about saving Mattawoman Creek by preventing the construction of the Cross County Connector, a highway which would cut across the Creek.  You can find out more information on this issue from this post and this column.  I’ve just gotten an e-mail from the Sierra Club saying the state’s decision on whether or not to issue the permit for this road has been postponed to April for a third time, insisting on greater details the impact of the highway would have on two endangered species.  Below is the e-mail.

Dear Sierrans and Friends of the Mattawoman,

I just wanted to get to you quickly to let you know the good news.

The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) has just postponed its Dec. 1st

decision on the Charles County Connector. (This is the unnecessary highway that

would cut across the upper Mattawoman, bringing with it sprawl development which

would effectively kill the river’s sensitive species.)

MDE is hearing our environmental objections. In its letter to Charles county,

MDE insists that the county complete studies of the impact of the highway on two

endangered species in the wetlands it would destroy. It postpones the decision

until an undetermined date in the spring of 2010. It’s the third time that MDE

has had to push the decision back.

This is just a postponement, but it gives us time to involve more citizens and

to let the state government know that protecting the Mattawoman is essential to

protecting the Bay. We’ll be in touch about next steps…

Thanks for doing your part.

Alana Wase

Maryland Chapter Conservation Program Coordinator

P.S. Here’s a blog where you read about the postponement and comment

November 17, 2009

ICC Debt Burdens Maryland Transit Authority

Filed under: MD Politics,transportation — Matt Dernoga @ 2:07 am

Well, I guess now we don’t need any projections about how building the Intercounty Connector was going to screw the Maryland state budget, never mind the environment .  This article in the Baltimore Sun is probably one of the most damaging stories I’ve ever seen.

“As the Maryland Transportation Authority’s revenues have declined this year, its costs for construction of the Intercounty Connector have risen to the point where the project now accounts for 53 percent of the agency’s budget – forcing delays in other road maintenance projects and making a substantial increase in tolls at some facilities a near certainty after the 2010 gubernatorial election.

According to the state Department of Legislative Services, the independent toll authority is facing the same type of recession-related squeeze that has forced the Maryland Department of Transportation to defer about $2.2 billion in projects.”

“Some increase in tolls is likely because the authority’s heavy borrowing to finance the ICC and a widening of Interstate 95 might put it close to its statutory debt limit in about five years.

“State projections show the authority’s outstanding debt – under $500 million as recently as the 2007 budget year – stands at $1.1 billion now and will approach its legal limit of $3 billion by the middle of the next decade. The authority would need authorization from the General Assembly to exceed that amount”

Much of the agency’s debt has been piled up to pay for the ICC, a $2.6 billion project that will cost $736.8 million in authority funds in the current budget year alone. That is more than all other capital, operating and debt service spending in the agency’s budget.

Freeland said the authority long anticipated that the ICC would take up a large percentage of its budget this year and the next two, tailing off after 2012.

According to legislative analysts, the authority will have to impose “substantial” toll increases in the 2012 and 2014 budget years to maintain its minimum ratios of revenue to debt. The formula is important in keeping the authority’s AA bond rating that guarantees it can borrow at favorable rates.

The authority is forecasting a 2012 toll increase that would bring in $161.4 million. According to analysts, that would amount to an increase of $1.35 in the average toll of about $3.”

“Asked to sum up the condition of his agency, Freeland chose his words carefully.

“The financial future of the transportation authority will be constrained but manageable,” he said.”

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