Research Roundup: ARRA Meets Passenger Rail, Overlooked Density & The Use Of Advance Construction

In January, 2010, President Obama announced that 31 states and the District of Columbia would receive $8 billion in funds from the American Recovery And Reinvestment Act to plan, develop, and construct high-speed and intercity passenger rail projects in corridors around the country.

What has been accomplished in the past year?

The American Association Of State Highway And Transportation Officials (AASHTO) has released a new document titled States Ramping Up Action On Passenger Rail: A Report On The First Year Of The Recovery Act’s High-Speed And Intercity Passenger Rail Program.

The 8-page report draws attention to several advancements in passenger rail service, including new service, station renovations, rail corridor modernization and agreements with freight railroads.

This document also explains the Passenger Rail Investment And Improvement Act (PRIIA), which requires that states and private railroads negotiate stakeholder agreements before federal funding could be released.

Just the potential for better passenger rail has spurred economic development. Amtrak ridership has grown 6% in one year, and 150,000 jobs are projected to be created by high-speed rail in four U.S. cities over the next 25 years.

AASHTO makes specific recommendations for passenger rail:

  • Enact a National Rail Policy that underscores the importance of a national passenger rail network to the country’s travelers, industries, and economy
  • Create an Intercity Passenger Rail Account, funded from a diversified portfolio of new revenue, to provide dedicated, guaranteed funding, with contract authority and guaranteed year-over-year funding included
  • Invest $50 billion over the next six years for capital improvements
  • Provide $13 billion to Amtrak for capital infrastructure improvements in the Northeast Corridor
  • Authorize $55 million a year for a program to eliminate rail at-grade crossings and improve rail safety

Suburban multi-family housing is ubiquitous throughout the U.S. and currently comproses nearly one in four units of suburban housing.

Overlooked Density: Re-Thinking Transportation Options In Suburbia (40p. PDF) explains how this housing is often developed without connection to its surroundings and fails to reach its potential for promoting active travel and supporting smart growth goals.

This report from the Oregon Transportation Research And Education Consortium (OTREC) uses interviews with architects, planners, developers and property managers in case studies of multi-family developments in Oregon, Arizona, Florida and Massachusetts.

It focuses on ways in which regulation, typical development practice and design culture hav epropagated the typical disconnected and enclaved forms of suburban development.

The report then proposes ways in which current planning, development and design practices might shift in order to take advantage of this growing housing trend and create more livable, less congested, and multi-modal suburban communities.

Advance Construction is one of several Federal-aid fund management tools designed to provide states with greater flexibility in managing Federal-aid highway funds.

The primary benefit of AC is that it allows states to accelerate transportation projects using non-Federal funds while maintaining eligibility to be reimbursed with Federal-aid funds at a later date.

Through this briefing paper, Use Of Advance Construction In Financing Transportation Projects (56p. PDF), the AASHTO Center For Excellence In Project Finance seeks to provide transportation industry professionals with a synthesis of practices across the country relating to the use of the Advance Construction (AC) technique.

The use of AC across states varies widely — from consistent and aggressive use that is an integral part of a state’s financial management to more selective or current practices, benefits, and challenges, and provides observations regarding future use and admininstration of the AC technique.