Our weekly “New Starts” roundup of new and newsworthy transportation projects worldwide.
Portland Ferry Advocates Hope to Float Their Boats in 2023
Ferries, which bridges and tunnels had largely supplanted as means of moving people across bodies of water by the middle of the 20th century, have made a comeback as those bridges and tunnels strain under the crush of traffic. In several cities, most notably New York, they have become not just river or bay crossings but also waterborne transit lines, picking up and dropping off passengers at multiple stops along a set route.
A Portland group called the Friends of Frog Ferry envisions one of these lines operating along the Wilamette River between Portland and suburban Vancouver, Wash. And according to a news story in The Oregonian, the Friends of Frog Ferry say they expect to see ferryboats plying the river in 2023.
Key to this effort: Getting public funding for the ferry into the Oregon Metro regional government’s $7 billion transportation funding package set to go before area voters this November. According to Metro spokesperson Nick Christensen, projects like this one that would go into the second funding tier must have local sponsors, and so far, Friends of Frog Ferry had not submitted an application or statement of support. Frog Ferry founder Susan Bladholm says that a $240,000 comprehensive study of the proposed ferry service, paid for by the State of Oregon and the Portland transportation bureau, should answer any questions about its viability and advance the case for local support and funding. If the study shows that the ferry service could sustain itself, Blandholm says she will then seek the local support needed to include it in the November transportation ballot question.
Blandholm is also quoted in the story as saying that Metro Council President Lynn Peterson “has been very supportive of this, but time will tell.”
The ferry proposal calls for 100- to 149-passenger ferries – low-slung to eliminate the need to raise bridges over the Wilammette – making the trip from Vancouver to downtown Portland and eventually points south, with up to nine intermediate stops along the way. The trip south, or upriver, would take 38 minutes to complete, and the northbound trip would be a little faster because the boats are traveling with the river’s current. Like Portland’s downtown streetcar, it would be run by a nonprofit — in all likelihood, an outgrowth of the Friends group — using boats owned by the city of Portland.
One reason Blandholm says the ferry would be viable is because the Federal Transit Administration will cover 80 percent of the cost of facilities and equipment, a more generous share than the 50 percent funding it provides to other forms of intraregional transport. She acknowledges that the service will likely require subsidies to operate, but believes they will be no greater than those needed to run bus and light rail service.
Austin Bets Big on Rail Transit as the Way Forward on Regional Mobility
The Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Capital Metro) in Austin has released its recommendations for bringing high-capacity rapid transit to the Texas capital, where one overburdened Interstate and a parallel state highway serve as the main commuter routes into and out of the city center.
As reported in the Austin Business Journal, those recommendations call for two light-rail lines to serve as the backbone of the metropolitan transit system outlined in its “Project Connect” long-range transit plan, released in January. The north-south Orange Line would connect the University of Texas flagship campus with downtown, and the Blue Line would follow the Orange Line’s route from its northern terminus into the city center, then proceed east in a subway tunnel through the city center before surfacing and running to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Both lines would share two stations in the three-station, 1.6-mile subway.
A third line — the Gold Line — would be a bus rapid transit line running parallel I-35 from Highland in the north past the east side of the UT campus into downtown, then turn west to end at Republic Square, one of the two central transfer stations. The plan also calls for a new regional rail line running northeast from downtown and seven new Metro Rapid bus routes.
The price tag for all this, the Business Journal reports, should be at the high end of the $3.2 to $10.2-billion range Capital Metro stated the plan would cost in January. To pay for it all, Railway Track and Structures reports, Austin property owners would face a tax increase of 22.5 percent, or about $300 on average. Texas state law requires any tax hikes greater than 3.5 percent to be approved by the voting public, and the article speculates that Capital Metro will choose to put the entire increase before voters in a single gulp this coming November.
The last time Austinites got to vote on a Capital Metro tax hike proposal, they turned down a $600 million request in 2014.
Québec Government Ups Funding for Electrified Rail Transit in Latest Spending Plan; Critics Say It’s Still Not Enough
The center-right, autonomist Coalition Avenir Québec party, formed in 2011, surprised Canada when it upended the long-established Liberals and Parti Québecois to take power in Québec City in 2018. Elected on a pledge to keep the Francophone province in Canada, win greater autonomy over its own affairs, limit immigration and get the stagnant provincial economy moving again, it has not hesitated to pour large sums into transportation infrastructure, helped by strong revenues that have produced budget surpluses approaching C$2 billion (US$1.45 billion).
But, critics noted, those large sums have gone largely to roads and highways; last year’s budget called for C$24.6 billion (US$17.82 billion) in new highway spending over the next 10 years but only C$40 million (US$28.97 million) in new spending on transit infrastructure. This spending imbalance, they charged, put the lie to government promises to make the environment a top priority.
The CAQ’s 2020-21 10-year spending plan seeks to correct that imbalance. The Montreal Gazette reports that the plan commits C$28 billion (US$20.28 billion) to new electric rail transit projects in Montréal, Laval, the South Shore, Québec City and Gatineau; C$3 billion (US$2.7 billion) towards maintenance of the Montréal Metro, and C$10.4 billion (US$7.53 billion) to maintenance and expansion of the Québec City tramway, bus rapid transit routes in greater Montréal and an extension of the Metro Blue LIne.
However, the Gazette notes, critics are sniping at this proposal too, saying that just about all of the promised C$28 billion will go to projects under study and far from certain to get built. According to CBC and CTV news reports, the actual amount the CAQ commits to new spending on transit in the next ten years is only C$15.8 billion (US$11.44 billion), a figure still well below the C$24.6 billion committed to roads over the same time period. The plan also ignores two Metro extensions advocated by Montréal Mayor Valérie Plante and additions to the REM light metro system already under construction in Montréal.
Much of this proposed spending also depends on the CAQ winning re-election three years from now.
Urbanist and environmental advocates quoted in the Gazette article say that the government should focus less on roads and more on getting more Montrealers to use public transportation. At present, public transport carries only 25 percent of the region’s commuter traffic, and cars and trucks account for 44 percent of Québec’s greenhouse-gas emissions.
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Next City contributor Sandy Smith is the home and real estate editor at Philadelphia magazine. Over the years, his work has appeared in Hidden City Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Inquirer and other local and regional publications. His interest in cities stretches back to his youth in Kansas City, and his career in journalism and media relations extends back that far as well.