Advancing Smart Transportation

Choo-Choo-Choosing a New Home for Ann Arbor’s Amtrak Station

When the Haute-Picardie was built between Paris and Lille in France, no one could complain that it didn’t have plentiful enough parking. In the middle of a beetroot field, 40 kilometers from the community it was meant to serve, it was nothing if not accommodating to cars, and planners hoped economic activity would naturally sprout up around the station. It did not. It instead became a reason rail stations with poor linkages to public transit and economic activity are called “beet stations.” Not exactly an honor.

Access to parking is, of course, one of the many issues Ann Arbor’s current Amtrak station presents. Anyone who has lugged a suitcase from the current longterm parking area across the Broadway St. bridge to the station would likely agree. Linking to public transit from the tight constraints of Depot St. is no easy task either. But of the three locations now under review to become the site of a new Amtrak station, the original is still closest to the economic activity of downtown – and that’s no small consideration. According to Deputy Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Chicago, Kevin Brubaker, it’s probably the most important factor in determining where to locate a train station – and far more important than parking.

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Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Riding Amtrak to Chicago (But Banned to Madison)…

By James Rowen
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s The Political Environment

I sat in The Hiawatha’s “Quiet Car” earlier this week riding the rails to Chicago, plugged my phone into a wall socket and thought what a mistake Wrong-Way Walker made killing Amtrak expansion to Madison.

He did more than eliminate a  federally-funded, job-creating new line to Madison.

He also killed a comfortable, low-cost/no-TSA hassle-free Midwestern regional alternative to unpleasant plane or car travel, too.

On the Milwaukee-Chicago route, there are no tolls to pay, no road traffic congestion, no big parking fees when you get there.

Mr. Rowen’s blog is part of our Purple Wisconsin project. Rowen is a political writer and environmental consultant who has had careers in  journalism and public service.

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Milwaukee JS: ELPC Science Advisory Council Chair Donald Waller – What We Do To The Weather

By Donald M. Waller

“Everyone talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it.” The idea that anyone could affect the weather seemed ludicrous 20 years ago. It seems less comical now that we know that each of us does affect our weather, locally and globally, every day. We here in the Midwest produce some 5% of total global greenhouse gas emissions. So we should think twice about what we do to the weather and, increasingly, what the weather is doing to us.

Wisconsin weather shows conspicuous trends toward warmer nights, warmer winters and more variable weather overall. We’ve just felt the coldest of recorded winters on the heels of several of the warmest. Intense storms are spawning an uptick in tornadoes and flash floods. We expect winter ice to disappear from Lake Mendota within the next 15 to 20 years. Ticks bearing disease and crop pests are moving north and into our state. Farmers worry about which crops to plant and if they will survive to harvest.

All this is chronicled in the recent National Climate Assessment Report, reflecting the work of hundreds of scientists and approved by an advisory committee that included NASA and the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Agriculture and Health and Human Services. But we hardly need the weatherman or another government report to know which way the wind is blowing. Altered weather is in our news and faces every day.

So what can we do? Because most greenhouse gases come from producing electricity and transportation, we need to reduce these sources. Even conservative economists support a carbon tax as the most economically efficient way to reduce emissions and the high future costs of global warming. Yet we continue to ignore their advice.

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CrossRail Chicago Plans Unveiled

The Midwest High-Speed Rail Association has unveiled a proposal to link the core of the high-speed network it wants with something that Chicago and its suburbs want: construction of a proposed but long-stalled express train link between downtown Chicago and O’Hare International Airport, and reconstruction of portions of Metra’s aging network to 21st-century, fully electrified standards.


To learn more about CrossRail Chicago, read Greg Hinz’s column in Crain’s Chicago Business.

Crain’s Chicago Business: Federal transit watchdog dings Illiana Expressway



Federal transit watchdog dings Illiana Expressway

August 01, 2013

The proposed Illiana Expressway in the south suburbs has received an ice-cold initial reaction from the agency that acts as the gatekeeper for federal transportation funds here and likely would have to sign off on the roadway.

In a staff analysis quietly posted on its website earlier this week, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning suggests that the proposed roadway from Interstate 80 in Will County east to Interstate 65 in Indiana will cost significantly more than its backers admit, presents “a high level of (financial) risk” and is inconsistent with public forecasts for future economic and population growth in metropolitan Chicago.

Beyond that, the report says, the project, if completed, is likely to increase gross regional product by a fairly slim $425 million in 2040, barely a fifth of the $2 billion estimated by the Illinois Department of Transportation.

The report still needs to be approved by CMAP’s transportation committee before it’s put out for public comment, and it could later be amended or rejected by CMAP’s board and policy committee, on which IDOT is represented.

Gov. Pat Quinn’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

It’s highly unusual for groups like CMAP to publicly ding a proposed major transportation project. And the report certainly constitutes prime fodder for environmental groups that question the need to further decentralize the metropolitan area via expressway construction in exurban areas.

“CMAP’s analysis makes clear that IDOT has understated the costs and overstated the traffic forecasts and value of the proposed Illiana Expressway,” Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, told me. “IDOT’s proposed Illiana Expressway and financial scheme doesn’t come within 10 country miles of reality. The Illinois public shouldn’t be saddled with the costs of this supposedly privatized tollway that doesn’t make financial sense.”

Building the road has been a top priority for Mr. Quinn, who views it as a way to stimulate growth in the south suburbs and to lever development of a new airport at Peotone on the east end of Will County. But the staff analysis — if upheld — will not help him make that case.

For instance, the 20-page analysis says CMAP staff examined numerous other recently constructed highway projects here and around the country and “all have higher per-lane mile costs” than IDOT estimates for Illiana. In fact, “CMAP was unable to locate an example of a recently constructed highway in the U.S. with lower per-mile costs than IDOT’S cost estimate.”

As a result, the report suggests, the cost of the roughly 47-mile road could substantially surpass the official to $1.25 billion estimate ($950 million of which would come from Illinois, the report says) — and those figures do not include another $1.5 billion needed for work on connecting roads.


The report also questions whether partnering with a private firm that would put up all or most of the construction money will work out. “Construction of a new private toll facility also involves a high level of risk for both the public and private sectors,” it says. “There is no ‘free money’. . . . (P)rivate partners will require a reasonable rate of return.”

In an email, an IDOT rep says: “The Illinois Department of Transportation strongly believes in the importance of this project and we are committed to this creative way of financing it. The department determined an initial estimate and the final estimate will not be determined until after further analysis and negotiations in this public-private partnership occur. We will continue to work with our partners to get this project completed at the lowest possible cost.

Another finding of the report is that IDOT assumes much greater economic growth over coming decades than it does. And all of the official cost and revenue estimates to date assume the road would be untolled when, in fact, tolls may be imposed that would affect usage of both the Illiana and other roads.

CMAP’s spokesman declined further comment on the proposal, saying it is a work in progress. But it will be fascinating to see if the agency actually sticks to its guns and resists pressure to give the project a pass. That’s what usually happens in Illlinois.

Even if the project was 100 percent privately financed, it still would need CMAP approval because the project would be of regional significance, and because it would need federal environmental clearance.

Available online at:

ELPC hosts Briefing on High-Speed Rail at National Press Club

Howard Learner

ELPC convened a panel of experts at the National Press Club on February 4, 2010 to review the economic, environmental and regional ramifications of the Obama Administration’s high-speed rail stimulus awards.  “The $8 billion awarded by the Obama Administration is the first step,” said ELPC President Howard Learner, who moderated the Press Club event. “It’s the beginning of a restructuring of the transportation system for the 21st Century.”

The panelists included:

Anne Canby, President, OneRail Coalition

Arthur Guzzetti, Vice President for Policy, American Public Transportation Association

John Horsley, Executive Director, American Assoc. of State Highway and Transportation Officials

Joseph McHugh, VP Government Affairs/Communications, Amtrak

John Risch, Alternate National Legislative Director, United Transportation Union

Listen to the Briefing

Click here to listen to audio of the press briefing, or the question-and-answer session.

Click here to view photos from the event

ELPC Commends National Approach to High Speed Rail Project Selection

The Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) today commended the Obama Administration for the diverse selection of high speed-rail projects and national approach to awarding $8 billion in stimulus funding.

The 13 projects chosen represent critical first steps toward building a modern, national, passenger rail infrastructure and are the first significant passenger rail investments in nearly a century. These projects encompass 31 states. They enhance connectivity through a variety of technologies in the most environmentally responsible mode of regional transportation, noted Howard Learner, ELPC president.

“This is the beginning of transformative improvement to our nation’s transportation system, giving people a modern, fast, comfortable and convenient travel option,” stated Learner. This funding will put people to work while it improves our environment, strengthens key regions of our nation and enhances our ability to compete in the global economy.“

ELPC will host a National Press Club press briefing Monday, February 1, in Washington, D.C. to review the expected impact of the high speed rail investments. Panelists include Arthur Guzzetti, American Public Transportation Association, John Risch, United Transportation Union, and Thomas Simpson, Railway Supply Institute. The panel will be moderated by Howard Learner.

Currently, the Obama Administration’s total commitment to high-speed rail stands at $10.5 billion, with an additional $1 billion per year pledged to be included in the budget for the next five years. The House transportation committee has also recommended including $50 billion for high-speed rail development in the upcoming transportation reauthorization.

“Today’s awards are only the first step in a long-term process. Significant additional federal funding will be required if we are to truly realize the benefits of modern rail and compete in the global market,” Learner concluded.

To learn more about the Environmental Law & Policy Center’s high-speed rail advocacy, visit

Kevin Brubaker on High-Speed Rail: The Strength of Our Transportation System Lies in Networks

In a blog post for Progressive Railroading  ELPC Deputy Director Kevin Brubaker explains that our transportation system brings together networks of different options that that work together to keep us mobile.

As America embarks on its first investment in passenger rail in decades, it is important to remember that the strength of our transportation system lies not in single corridors, but in networks. The less reliant we are on a single corridor or mode, the stronger our transportation system.

Thus, when critics of high-speed rail point to the small portion of Americans who will use a particular train, they are missing the point.

Many components of America’s transportation infrastructure with local and regional, if not national, significance carry only a small percentage of regional travelers or trips:

• America’s busiest airport (Atlanta) handles only six percent of domestic boardings. Dallas, Denver, and Los Angeles each handle less than three percent.

• Interstate 494 in Minnesota serves popular destinations such as the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, the Mall of America, and growing suburbs. Yet only seven percent of all trips made in the Twin Cities metro region utilize I-494.

• The Capital Beltway, the busy circumferential highway dividing Washington, D.C., from reality, carries less than 11 percent of area commuters. Replacing a single bridge along this road cost $2.5 billion.

• On a typical business day, only 2 percent of people entering Manhattan’s Central Business District drive over the Brooklyn Bridge.

• And on the West Coast, trans-San Francisco Bay trips through the Bay Bridge Corridor, across the San Mateo Howard Bridge and over the Dumbarton Bridge comprise only 4 percent of all regional trips.

Nobody would seriously suggest that any of these pieces of transportation infrastructure is “wasteful” because it serves such a small portion of its potential users. Let’s not let critics go unchallenged in saying the same about rail investments.

Howard Learner in Des Moines Register: Help High-Speed Rail Gain Momentum

In an op-ed in the Des Moines Register, ELPC Executive Director Howard Learner writes about the historic developments and growing support that are making high-speed in the U.S. a reality.

He writes that we need cooperation and continued commitment across the region to bring the benefits of high-speed rail  to the Midwest. 

” Working together, we can create a win-win-win for our region: good for jobs and our economy, good for the environment, and good for people and our communities. Let’s get on board together and advance smart Midwest high-speed rail development on a fast track.”

Read the full Op-Ed

ELPC’s Kevin Brubaker on Benefits of High-Speed Rail to Wisconsin

Appearing on WISN TV’s Upfront With Mike Gousha, ELPC’s Deputy Director Kevin Brubaker explains some of the benefits high-speed rail will bring to the Wisconsin and the Midwest, including new jobs, economic development and more convenient travel. ELPC has worked for 15 years to bring high speed rail the to Midwest. Our work took a great step forward when the Economic Stimulus Act invested $8 billion in for high speed rail. 

Watch the video here

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