It’s no secret that Houston is going through a growth spurt. The city currently has four central business districts that, if separated, would each be among the country’s top 15 employment centers. In the next 30 years, 3.5 million people are projected to move to the 8-county region, with two million of those concentrated in Harris County. In a recent presentation to the Livable Houston Initiative, Kimley-Horn Associates engineer Sam Lott characterized the increased traffic that this population growth will entail as an impending crisis. “Our crisis is that we cannot build enough capacity,” said Lott. “TxDot is reaching the limit of what they can do. They’re now at a point where it’s going to be a challenge to maintain the capacity we’ve got. More traffic will move to city streets and the congestion on the freeways…is going to last all day long. The light rail and bus system, as important as it is and as we need to build it, is not in itself going to be able to provide the necessary capacity.” Lott put forth a three-fold solution to this congestion forecast. 1) Establish protected right of ways to increase the capacity of the freight rail system. 2) Create a regional commuter rail system as an alternative to the freeways with stops every five to 10 miles. 3) Build a grade-separated transit circulator system to work in concert with the light rail and regional commuter rail. Lott posited that a grade-separated circulator that connected the city’s four employment centers would be a boon for Houston. “I believe we would have the economic equivalent of Manhattan if this system were built,” he said.
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Massachusetts Department of Transportation Secretary Richard Davey announced plans for expanding and maintaining the state's transportation system on Monday. The improvements outlined in the proposal would require an estimated $1.02 billion a year reported Masslive.com, and include everything from adding new tracks at South Station and implementing a commuter rail to South Coast, to major road repairs in Western Massachusetts and a pedestrian and bike program. One critical component remains rather vague, however—how the state intends on funding this costly agenda. MassDOT suggests a number revenue sources in its proposal such as a green fee (a fee assessed by the amount of carbon emissions released), an increase in tolls and fares, and an income tax that would increase the tax rate from 5.25 percent to approximately 5.66 percent. Governor Deval Patrick is expected to address the transportation plan in his State of the Commonwealth speech tonight, and the Boston Globe reports that he will likely come out in support of a raise in income tax.
Two competing plans for an abandoned rail line in Queens, New York—a linear park and a commuter rail line—have neighborhood groups scratching their heads. Advocates for the proposed High Line-esque park called the QueensWay are slowly making some headway, but are still facing an uphill battle against a few community groups. The organization, Friends of the QueensWay, is pushing to transform the defunct LIRR Rockaway Beach Branch into 3.5 miles of new parkland that would stretch from Rego Park and Forest Hills down to Ozone Park. The Regional Rail Working Group, however, has another vision for those tracks, proposing a commuter train service to the Rockaways. [Above, a video traces the route of the proposed QueensWay park.] The Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association announced in October on their website that they would not support either plan. Their list of grievances included concerns about high costs potentially imposed on residents in addition to privacy and parking issues. Andrea Crawford, a member of Friends of the QueensWay, said that in spite of some opposition, several community groups have expressed their support of the park proposal. Community Board 9 officially endorsed the QueensWay, and Crawford said the response from Community Board 6 is positive, “What we are doing now is to keep explaining what the project is and try to raise money for a feasibility study.” The QueensWay has only just started to make a dent in their fundraising efforts for the feasibility study, which will be used to assess structural and environmental conditions, prepare a master plan, and find funding. So far, the group has raised about $6,000 out of their $50,000 goal on an online crowd-sourcing website.
It has been five decades since there has been a commuter rail station in Brighton, but this will soon change. MassDOT Secretary Richard A. Davey and New Balance Chairman James S. Davis announced this summer that they will build a new Worcester Line commuter station, and just a few days ago, the sports apparel company gave word that it is slated to open in 2014. The station, New Brighton Landing, will be part of New Balance’s $500 million development complex that will serve as the company’s headquarters and also include a hotel, a sports facility, retail space, and parking. Elkus Manfredi Architects and Howard/Stein Hudson Associates will design the 250,000-sq-ft headquarters. In June, MassDOT said that New Balance has agreed to "fund all permitting, design, and construction costs for the station and fund annual maintenance costs" for the $16 million New Brighton Landing station.