Virgin and Partners Want to Build Up Rail Travel in Florida

Cheap gasoline and the interstate road system are all very well, but they’ve caused congestion, pollution, urban sprawl and many road deaths. In contrast, Florida railway passengers can sip champagne or beer and make use of the free Wi-Fi. Ticket prices are reasonable. Once constructed, the Miami to Orlando journey should be slightly more than three hours. In good traffic, driving takes a bit longer than that.

…Building on existing rail corridors where possible, 1  and operating trains at slower speeds, has cut costs and overcome potential regulatory holdups in Florida.

Virgin Trains Billionaires Want to Restore Glory of U.S. Railroad – Bloomberg

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Whites Contribute More To Air Pollution — Minorities Bear The Burden

Scientists and policymakers have long known that black and Hispanic Americans tend to live in neighborhoods with more pollution of all kinds, than white Americans. …A driver of unequal health outcomes across the U.S.

…The researchers found that air pollution is disproportionately caused by white Americans’ consumption of goods and services, but disproportionately inhaled by black and Hispanic Americans.

…The most relevant air pollutant metric for human health is “particulate matter 2.5” or PM2.5. It represents the largest environmental health risk factor in the United States with higher levels linked to more cardiovascular problems, respiratory illness, diabetes and even birth defects. PM2.5 pollution is mostly caused by human activities, like burning fossil fuels or agriculture.

…The researchers generated maps of where different emitters, like agriculture or construction, caused PM2.5 pollution. Coal plants produced pockets of pollution in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, while agricultural emissions were concentrated in the Midwest and California’s central valley. “We then tied in census data to understand where different racial-ethnic groups live to understand exposure patterns,” says Hill.

…After accounting for population size differences, whites experience about 17 percent less air pollution than they produce, through consumption, while blacks and Hispanics bear 56 and 63 percent more air pollution, respectively, than they cause by their consumption, according to the study.

“These patterns didn’t seem to be driven by different kinds of consumption,” says Tessum, “but different overall levels.” In other words, whites were just consuming disproportionately more of the same kinds of goods and services resulting in air pollution than minority communities.

…PM2.5 exposure by all groups has fallen by about 50 percent from 2002 to 2015, driven in part by regulation and population movement away from polluted areas. But the inequity remains mostly unchanged.

Whites Contribute More To Air Pollution — Minorities Bear The Burden : Shots – Health News : NPR

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Why Can’t the United States Build a High-Speed Rail System?

What’s missing is a federal commitment to a well-funded national rail plan. Instead, we have a political system in which the federal government, having devolved virtually all decision-making power to states, cannot prioritize one project over another in the national interest. We have a funding system that encourages study after study of unfundable or unbuildable projects in places that refuse to commit their own resources. And we have a bureaucracy that, having never operated or constructed modern intercity rail, doesn’t understand what it takes. This helter-skelter approach to transportation improvements is fundamentally incapable of supporting large-expenditure, long-range projects like high-speed rail.

This wasn’t always the case. In 1956, Congress approved a significant increase in the federal gas tax, and with it a national plan for interstate highways. That plan, which included a steady stream of funding and a clear map of national priorities, was mostly completed over the next three decades. Though implemented by states, highway alignments were chosen at the national level, with the intention of connecting the largest cities, regardless of political boundaries. Funding came almost entirely (90 percent) from the national government and was guaranteed as long as a route was on the national map. Physical requirements for roadways were mandated at the national level and universally applied. And construction was completed by state departments of transportation that were technically knowledgeable, accustomed to building such public works, and able to make decisions about how to move forward.

…Intercity transportation systems require active federal engagement to guarantee the development of routes that reflect national needs and national priorities.

Why Can’t the United States Build a High-Speed Rail System? – CityLab

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How the Koch Brothers Are Killing Public Transit Projects Around the Country

The group, the local chapter for Americans for Prosperity, which is financed by the oil billionaires Charles G. and David H. Koch to advance conservative causes, fanned out and began strategically knocking on doors. Their targets: voters most likely to oppose a local plan to build light-rail trains, a traffic-easing tunnel and new bus routes.

…At the heart of their effort is a network of activists who use a sophisticated data service built by the Kochs, called i360, that helps them identify and rally voters who are inclined to their worldview. It is a particularly powerful version of the technologies used by major political parties.

…i360, the Kochs’ data operation, …profiles Americans based on their voter registration information, consumer data and social media activities. The canvassers divided the neighborhoods into “walkbooks,” or clusters of several dozen homes, and broke into teams of two.

There are rules: No more than two people at a door (to avoid appearing threatening). No stepping on lawns (homeowners don’t like it). And focus strictly on the registered voter. If anyone else answers, say a polite “thanks” and move on.

…Their data zeroed in on people thought to be anti-tax or anti-transit and likely to vote.

…Supporters of transit investments point to research that shows that they reduce traffic, spur economic development and fight global warming by reducing emissions. Americans for Prosperity counters that public transit plans waste taxpayer money on unpopular, outdated technology like trains and buses just as the world is moving toward cleaner, driverless vehicles.

Most American cities do not have the population density to support mass transit, the group says. It also asserts that transit brings unwanted gentrification to some areas, while failing to reach others altogether.

Public transit, Americans for Prosperity says, goes against the liberties that Americans hold dear.

…Another weapon in the Koch arsenal is Randal O’Toole, a transit expertat the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington that Charles Koch helped found in the 1970s. Declaring transit “dead” and streetcars “a scam,” he has become a go-to expert for anti-transit groups.

…One of the mainstay companies of Koch Industries, the Kochs’ conglomerate, is a major producer of gasoline and asphalt, and also makes seatbelts, tires and other automotive parts. Even as Americans for Prosperity opposes public investment in transit, it supports spending tax money on highways and roads.

“Stopping higher taxes is their rallying cry,” said Ashley Robbins, a researcher at Virginia Tech who follows transportation funding. “But at the end of the day, fuel consumption helps them.”

…Americans for Prosperity and other Koch-backed groups have also opposed more than two dozen other transit-related measures — including many states’ bids to raise gas taxes to fund transit or transportation infrastructure — by organizing phone banks, running advertising campaigns, staging public forums, issuing reports and writing opinion pieces in local publications.

…The paucity of federal funding for transit projects means that local ballots are critical in shaping how Americans travel, with decades-long repercussions for the economy and the environment.

…The scale of the Kochs’ anti-transit spending is difficult to gauge at the local level, because campaign finance disclosure standards vary among municipalities. But at the state and national level, the picture gets clearer.

Last year Americans for Prosperity spent $711,000 on lobbying for various issues, a near 1,000-fold increase since 2011, when it spent $856. Overall, the group has spent almost $4 million on state-level lobbying the past seven years, according to disclosures compiled by the National Institute on Money in State Politics, a nonpartisannonprofit that tracks political spending.

…In Indiana, it marshaled opposition to a 2017 Republican gas-tax plan meant to raise roughly a billion dollars to invest in local buses and other projects. In New Jersey, the group ran an ad against a proposed gas-tax increase in 2016 that showed a father giving away his baby’s milk bottle, and also Sparky the family dog, to pay for transit improvements among other things. “Save Sparky,” the ad implores.

In Nashville, Americans for Prosperity played a major role: organizing door-to-door canvassing teams using iPads running the i360 software. Those in-kind contributions can be difficult to measure. According to A.F.P.’s campaign finance disclosure, the group made only one contribution, of $4,744, to the campaign for “canvassing expenses.”

How the Koch Brothers Are Killing Public Transit Projects Around the Country – The New York Times

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Trump administration to cancel $929 million in California high-speed rail funding

The two federal grants represent about one-fourth of all the funding for the project to date — money critical to completing the Central Valley portion and finishing environmental reviews for other segments between San Francisco and Los Angeles. If the funds are lost or tied up in a long legal battle, the state would probably have to either make up the money elsewhere or further curtail the project.

…“It’s no coincidence that the Administration’s threat comes 24 hours after California led 16 states in challenging the President’s farcical ‘national emergency,’” Newsom said in a statement, referring to Trump’s emergency declaration to secure funding for his wall on the Mexican border. “The President even tied the two issues together in a tweet this morning. This is clear political retribution by President Trump, and we won’t sit idly by. This is California’s money, and we are going to fight for it.”

…“But let’s be real,” Newsom said in the speech to lawmakers. “The current project, as planned, would cost too much and respectfully take too long. There’s been too little oversight and not enough transparency.… Right now, there simply isn’t a path to get from Sacramento to San Diego, let alone from San Francisco to L.A. I wish there were. However, we do have the capacity to complete a high-speed rail link between Merced and Bakersfield.”

In the hours that followed Newsom’s speech, Trump demanded that California return $3.5 billion in federal funds, and headlines proclaimed the Democratic governor was abandoning the ambitious project championed by his predecessors — a story line that Newsom denied and one that his team has scrambled to correct.

…Whether the Trump administration can actually cancel the $929-million grant, which in legal terms is called “de-obligating” the funds, remains unclear. The possibility of ordering a refund of the $2.5-billion grant that is already being spent is even a bigger legal uncertainty.

…The federal action to terminate the grant wades into uncharted legal territory.

Trump administration to cancel $929 million in California high-speed rail funding – Los Angeles Times

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New California Gov. Gavin Newsom slams brakes on San Francisco-to-Los Angeles bullet train

When state voters approved the massive bullet-train plan in 2008, the project was envisioned to open in 2029 at a cost of $32 billion. But the California High-Speed Rail Authority last year pushed the completion date back by four years and said it would cost at least double.

Newsom on Tuesday blamed oversight failures and a lack of transparency, saying he wasn’t “interested in repeating the same old mistakes.”

He said he would name Lenny Mendonca, his economic development director, as the authority’s next chairman, with a mandate to “hold contractors and consultants accountable to explain how taxpayer dollars are spent” and to put all expenses online “for everybody to see.”

New California Gov. Gavin Newsom slams brakes on San Francisco-to-Los Angeles bullet train

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