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Breakfast links: Tracks in the sky


Photo by The Great Photographicon on Flickr.
No streetcar under H Street bridge: Plans to run the H Street streetcar under the H Street "hopscotch" bridge is now off the table, due to opposition from Amtrak. DDOT is looking at running the streetcar onto the bridge deck and into the parking garage, but that would be more expensive. (City Paper)

Dulles Metro now in the air: MWAA reversed itself and now supports building an aerial airport station instead of the costlier, but closer, underground version it endorsed in April. The board feared the cost of an underground station would jeopardize the entire extension. (Post)

Few takers for NIH bike benefit: NIH is offering a $20/month bike benefit to reduce car traffic, but few employees are taking NIH up on the offer. Reducing the number of parking spaces would be a cheaper and more effective solution. (Gazette)

Boston bikeshare won't go everywhere: Boston is wisely focusing its upcoming bike sharing system, Hubway, in fewer dense neighborhoods near the center, but many people are eager for it to include their neighborhoods as well. (Boston Globe)

WMATA board turnover not smart: Some officials are criticizing recent WMATA Board turnover, including both Kwame Brown ousting Tommy Wells and Bob McDonnell passing legislation to kick out a Northern Virginia member. They say the board needs stability. (Post)

Gray considers plant closure: The District may file a complaint seeking the closure of an Alexandria power plant notorious for its air pollution. Virginia officials wanted to close it years ago before the feds intervened. (Examiner)

Transit- and trash-oriented development: Montgomery County will allow some affordable housing near both Shady Grove Metro and a trash transfer station. The Planning Board had recommended against allowing the development. (Gazette)

Then and now in a single photo: A photographer holds up historic photographs in front of the exact same scenes today, to create amazing composite shots of Washington past and present. (Business Insider)

And...: Glover Park residents are looking to relieve parking pressures. (Georgetown Dish) ... Manassas National Battlefield added 54 acres in time for today's 150th anniversary of the confederate battle victory. (Examiner) ... Despite his guilty plea, Jack Johnson is entitled to collect a $50k annual pension. (Examiner)

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Eric Fidler has lived in DC and suburban Maryland his entire life. He likes long walks along the Potomac and considers the L'Enfant Plan an elegant work of art. He also blogs at Left for LeDroit, LeDroit Park's (only) blog of record. 

Comments

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I would, hate, hate, to think Scott Kubly is leaving DDOT because he muffed this signature issue -- and not become of some magic Gray generated malaise in the District government.

by charlie on Jul 21, 2011 8:22 am • linkreport

@charlie
Seems to me this has more to do with AMTRAK dragging its feet and hoping the issue would just go away - at least that's what the tone of the letter is like.

Too bad the Gray administration didn't actually respond to the letter from AMTRAK with their intentions - this could have been cleared up months ago.

by MLD on Jul 21, 2011 8:28 am • linkreport

Reading that article on the bike subsidy it sounds like the legislation for it was not written well (shocking!). It didn't allow for any flexibility for using other modes of transportation.

by Fitz157 on Jul 21, 2011 8:37 am • linkreport

Amtrak? Mess up a rail transit issue? Why, I never...!

At least they feel sufficiently ashamed about the real reason they don't want to give up the tunnel - they like being able to park there - that they felt the need to make up a BS excuse. That's progress, of a sort.

Buried key line in the Glover Park parking piece: According to Harvey, restricting parking to just residents “only works if you have a special traffic generator that is bringing outside parking patrons to the area.” If residents themselves are taking up most of the parking spaces, “resident-only could very well exacerbate the problem.”

*Ding ding ding*

by Dizzy on Jul 21, 2011 8:41 am • linkreport

@MLD; somehow, I suspect Amtrak's decision did not hinge on one unanswered letter...

DC, I woud imagine, could use eminent domain against Amtrak. Not a way to make friends, but might be the last arrow in the quiver to force a transaciton

by charlie on Jul 21, 2011 9:03 am • linkreport

From the CP article:

Part of the problem may have been uncertainty from Amtrak about just how much incoming mayor Vince Gray was committed to streetcars, after hisaborted attempt to cut funding for the program during the previous budget season. In February, during the transition, Amtrak's vice president for government affairs Joe McHugh wrote to Gray's chief of staff Gerri Mason Hall:

My larger question to you is whether or not this project is going to go forward. There are a number of issues that we need to resolve with the city and they are not huge issues but they will require time and careful consideration. They have to do with easement and the duration of time that the H Street tunnel needs to be utilized and review of design documents. I get the sense that DC DOT is basically forging ahead with this project and there was some sense that this would not be a priority for the new mayor. Obviously we want to be cooperative and helpful to the city because many aspects of this project are mutually beneficial to the station and the overall transportation synergies that are created. So this is really to ask you what your sense is on the future of the project and that will help me gauge the allocation of our resources.

He didn't receive a response. And Gray went on to include nearly $100 million in the capital budget for streetcars over the next six years.

"Vince Gray 2014: DC's Death By A Thousand Paper Cuts"

by oboe on Jul 21, 2011 9:10 am • linkreport

I say MWAA made the right decision, and not because it will save the project and reduce costs. It was the correct decision because the station they planed on building in the ground would have been esthetically and architectural inferior to what should have been built. You don't build a subway station in front of a building that is a historical land mark that look like a highway culvert.

by Sand Box John on Jul 21, 2011 9:15 am • linkreport

A copied comment from the city paper from someone who must be my doppleganger:

"I told you so"...

DDOT from the very beginning has completely botched the entire streetcar program. We are now 3 years behind the "revised" schedule with no clear end in sight.

This is what happens when you put tyros with zero functional experience, like Gable Klein and Scott Kubley in charge of something they don't understand. I am glad Kubley is leaving.

Tying down easements and ROW's for something like this is the FIRST thing you do, not the last. It's complicated, protracted, expensive and often combative, but I doubt folks like Kubley even knew what the difference between ROW and an easement was before he got the job of managing what was to be a multibillion dollar project.

Instead, DDOT's first step was buying some streetcars that spent 2 years in storage in Romania, and now have spent almost two years in storage here. Village idiots know that entities like rail companies rarely if ever give up their ROW because they never know when they will need it in the future, and new ROW is impossible to get.

Then, after they ordered the cars, they decided to figure out how they were going to run. WRONG.

Instead, Kubley and team have been assuring us now for almost 3 years that this wouldn't be a problem. What a joke.

by freely on Jul 21, 2011 9:15 am • linkreport

I'm pissed off about the Dulles decision. Long gone are the days when people made decisions about what was best for the people. Now we make decisions based on money, when it shouldn't be the determining factor.

by Matt Glazewski on Jul 21, 2011 9:16 am • linkreport

@Matt Glazewski ; gosh, if only people thought like that the Silver Line wouldn't be been built at all!

@Freely; yep. I wouldn't use streetcars as a cross to hang Fenty and Klein on. Plenty of other mismanaged government contracts over the years. But the argument that certain GGW types have made -- Kubly is leaving because of malaise -- certainly looks silly in light of this latest news. IF I was a tea leaf reader, I'd say he's leaving because he fucked up his signature issue and wants to get out before it really stinks.

by charlie on Jul 21, 2011 9:24 am • linkreport

@charlie

What I meant was AMTRAK dragged their feet during the Fenty admin, hoping the issue would go away. Then they send a letter to the Gray admin that basically reads like "you're not REALLY interested in this streetcar thing, RIGHT?"

So no, I don't think an unanswered letter was the difference between this happening and not happening. AMTRAK probably didn't want it to happen in the first place. They should have just been upfront about it.

by MLD on Jul 21, 2011 9:25 am • linkreport

I won't speak to the purchase of the cars, but the usual critique is that the rails should not have been laid on H Street until after everything else was lined up. That's fine, but I still maintain that laying rail was the right thing to do, at least if a streetcar ends up running on H Street anytime in the next decade. We still come out ahead.

by oboe on Jul 21, 2011 9:26 am • linkreport

After some of the federal regulations were changed to allow it, about a year or so ago my firm began offering $20/month towards biking. Problem is, if you take that benefit you can't take the metro or parking benefit (you can only use one of the three). So, let's see... $20/month towards riding a bike or upwards of $200/month for metro or parking.

Given where I live/work, I use the Metro benefit and never come close to the upper limit. Even riding my bike fairly regularly, I would be foolish to take the bike benefit since I still pay more (much more) than $20/month for Metro which is reimbursed.

But, it's a step in the right direction. Three years ago there was *no* bike benefit and parking/metro were (and still are) subsidized. Hopefully over time the bike benefit will be increased and/or the parking benefit reduced.

by WannaBeABiker on Jul 21, 2011 9:30 am • linkreport

Isn't it about time the Inspector General starting looking into DDOT's H Street streetcar to nowhere multi-year boondoggle?

by Fritz on Jul 21, 2011 9:33 am • linkreport

Sure the ROW issue under the Amtrak tracks should have been asked 6 or 7 years ago. But it was a great idea and it wasn't Klein's or Kubly's fault that the DDOT adminstration that launched the streetcar project 7 or 8 years ago wasn't thorough enough to initiate that due diligence.

by Paul S on Jul 21, 2011 9:37 am • linkreport

"Reducing the number of parking spaces would be a cheaper and more effective solution."

-- Yes. If the goal is to encourage your employees to look for work elsewhere.

by Greg on Jul 21, 2011 9:42 am • linkreport

"Vince Gray 2014: DC's Death By A Thousand Paper Cuts"

I am so stealing that Oboe. Much better than my "Marion Barry: The Next Generation" line.

by Dave J on Jul 21, 2011 9:43 am • linkreport

Seems like if there is going to be great expense involved, routing a drop off on the other side of the building could be a better option to avoid this mess.... the parking deck idea isnt all that bad either.

by Curt on Jul 21, 2011 9:46 am • linkreport

Re: Potomac Power Plant

The issue has been tossed around for quite some time.
According to the EPA data (most recent available is 2007)
the Potomac Plant (5 coal fired boilers, totaling 514MW) only ran at 30% capacity factor. (ie. it only produced 1.4m out of the potential 4.5m MWh that it could have generated)
Coal plants are typically run for baseload (all the time) - because they can take hours or days to get up and running - and because they're cheap to run.
Interestingly enough, coal plants make up the majority of marginal power generation in the region - usually its natural gas which can fire up quickly to meet demand.

To bring it back to the Potomac plant... taking the plant offline shouldn't be so difficult. Its relatively small (compared to other plants in the region) and is probably only running as an intermediate/peaker plant.

by Bilsko on Jul 21, 2011 9:47 am • linkreport

@MLD; thanks for the clarification.

It's a bad decision -- regardless of who is to blame -- and Amtrak's excuses don't cut the mustard.

by charlie on Jul 21, 2011 9:49 am • linkreport

The concern trolls are concerned in full force today.

I'm mad at Gray and DDOT, but Oboe hits the nail square on the head. If the city wanted to build streetcars on H St, they picked a perfect opportunity to lay the tracks, even if cars aren't actually going to be running there for another few years. (Although it must be said that the same excuse cannot be made for the Anacostia line)

No use tearing up the street twice.

The fact that the "Streetcars were bought and stored in [Random Eastern European Country]" argument keeps getting brought out and shot down is evidence that the concern trolls have no intention of making an honest argument.

by andrew on Jul 21, 2011 9:58 am • linkreport

Regarding the parking/cycling/transit benefit discussion, I advocated eliminating all the subsidies and instead just giving workers the money, which they could spend on parking, transit, cycling, new shoes or whatever:

http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/5859/is-the-federal-transit-benefit-actually-bad/

by Michael Perkins on Jul 21, 2011 10:00 am • linkreport

Oh. And maybe it's time to start talking about reconfiguring the parking garage to actually function as a bus terminal.

Also, where does that leave the Metro tunnel? Streetcars or no, it'd be a fantastic idea to have an elevator/escalator that takes you from Metro straight to the Hopscotch Bridge.

My only concern about the parking garage is that it'd be an awfully circuitous route once the tracks get extended further west. (But, for now, a bit of a win-win that would give us a Union Station connection *and* turnaround spot.)

And, speaking of that bridge, when is it on schedule to be replaced? There have been murmurs of that for years... Maybe it just makes sense to hold off on the streetcars until that project is underway (sigh)

by andrew on Jul 21, 2011 10:02 am • linkreport

As for the streetcar mess and blame: certainly in this case some must be directed at Amtrak throughout the Fenty administration, as MLD writes above. And the fact that Gray wouldn't respond to Amtrak is troubling; I hadn't heard about that development.

But this is the situation Klein and Kubly were working in: The decision to put in tracks on H Street, at the same time as the complete rebuilding of H street was going to take place, in order to avoid ripping the street up twice, was made in the Williams/ Tangherlini era. Even a casual reading of the reports from "DC Alternatives Analysis" (DCAA)--particularly the 2004 Needs Assessment--make it clear that H Street would be a priority for streetcars, and that combining the track installation work with the street rebuilding made sense.

It was also clear to most people following the issue, except the consultants writing the DCAA, that there needed to be a plan to put the H street tracks into use else they remain idle for a decade or longer. Tangherlini left before the DCAA was finalized (and it finished with a whimper), and once Tangherlini left DDOT, any urgency on this point vanished. There was no movement at all on the issue with DDOT under Pourciau, Moneme, or Seales.

It was only when Klein came to DDOT that situation was given the attention it deserved. Klein, Kubly, and the others at DDOT worked their damndest to right the situation, and did an admirable job with what they had.

by thm on Jul 21, 2011 10:07 am • linkreport

I know Lydia DePillis at WCP is looking into who owns the tracks and right-of-way. There was some concern that the building and land may be federal and therefore exempt from the District eminent domain power.

However, looking into it, there may be some problems. Amtrak itself has the ability to exercise eminent domain, specifically at Union Station (FRA). There could be a situation in which DC and Amtrak have competing eminent domain rights. What a mess.

by Adam L on Jul 21, 2011 10:13 am • linkreport

Matt Glazewski wrote:

I'm pissed off about the Dulles decision. Long gone are the days when people made decisions about what was best for the people. Now we make decisions based on money, when it shouldn't be the determining factor.
------------------------------------

Nonsense. Every rational individual makes decisions based on the information that they're given, and that includes the price.

I'm pretty sure most people would've preferred an underground station for the Dulles rail stop. Projects as large and complex as this one, and being funded and overseen by multiple jurisdictions, still have limitations and that includes funding. Given the circumstances I think the best decision was made by MWAA.

If you disagree I guess my question to you would be: at what price would you say that the underground stop is costing too much? Why that price?

by Fitz157 on Jul 21, 2011 10:17 am • linkreport

Andrew,

What do you mean by :

"The fact that the "Streetcars were bought and stored in [Random Eastern European Country]" argument keeps getting brought out and shot down is evidence that the concern trolls have no intention of making an honest argument"

What do you mean, "shot down"? The cars were bought in the C Republic, paid to store there for two years (at 430K per yeear), shipped here and are being stored at additional cost.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/04/01/AR2009040103937.html

The inescapeable fact of the matter is DDOT put the cart waaay before the horse. These cars have been sitting in storage for 4 years, their original warranty expired and we've had to pay another ~1.2 million (so far) just to store them, which is a cost increase of 15% per street car.

So please tell us what part of this is "shot down"?

by freely on Jul 21, 2011 10:25 am • linkreport

On the power plant, if I recall correctly the Feds intervened and kept it open the last time around to ensure there was sufficient generating capacity close to DC in order to keep the city (and, hence, the Federal government) powered in case of any emergency.

by Moose on Jul 21, 2011 10:31 am • linkreport

@The Power Plant

Today will be an interesting test of whether the area can do without the plant. PJM called a NERC Emergency Energy Alert 1 this morning, which means they are worried that they will not have necessary capacity to meet both demand and reserves.

While these instances are rare, even if transmission investment has been made to no longer require these units on a daily basis (running at min for reliability), they might need to be kept around until new capacity can replace them.

by rdhd on Jul 21, 2011 10:53 am • linkreport

DC DOT should have settled the issue on the H Street bridge route years ago. If the issue with Amtrak is that the proposed streetcar location was going to restrict future growth options for additional tracks, HSR or otherwise, leading to Union Station, the national infrastructure needs easily trump the DC streetcar plans. Why Amtrak would simply not say no, does not reflect well on Amtrak either. Amtrak, however, may have working out their own long range plans and needs for Union Station in light of HSR, the NEC Master Plan, and the development just north of the station.

But this should have been settled with a feasibility and planning study with all the interested parties asked for input long before they got to this point.

by AlanF on Jul 21, 2011 10:55 am • linkreport

Gray considers plant closure
Yay! Another impeding victory in the ongoing fight of us rich urban yuppies putting our externalities on poor rural hillbillies!

(and for reference the referenced report)

http://www.cleanskies.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/PRGSReportAnalysisGroup2011.pdf

by Kolohe on Jul 21, 2011 10:59 am • linkreport

@freely Those cars were meant for the Anacostia line. Separate boondoggle from H St.

by andrew on Jul 21, 2011 11:13 am • linkreport

Yay! Another impeding victory in the ongoing fight of us rich urban yuppies putting our externalities on poor rural hillbillies!

One could argue that this is a case of people getting what they vote for.

by oboe on Jul 21, 2011 11:48 am • linkreport

That was a good, balanced article in the Maryland Gazette about the $20 NIH bike subsidy. It made the important point that by taking the $20 a month subsidy for biking, you have to forego the choice of a free parking space or up to $230 / month in transit subsidy. Given that choice, I'm astonished that 29 people at the Bethesda campus have chosen to sign up for the $20 bike subsidy.

I'd be all for getting rid of subsidies, but everybody would just switch to driving then and it would be total chaos. You'd have to charge for parking on-campus to make it feasible, and that would likely cause an armed up-rising from drivers.

by renegade09 on Jul 21, 2011 12:02 pm • linkreport

freely,

The streetcars were purchased by the Williams admistration, long before Klein and Kubley showed up. They were bought for the Anacostia line.

Fitz157,

The bicycle commuter benefit has a weird history. Earl Blumenauer sponsored it, but it was inserted into Bush's Stimulus bill, which he disapproved of, so he voted against it. I'm not sure if it was written the way he wanted it to be. Anyway, it is a classic camel's nose and I think the idea is once it is law, it is easier to tweak it then to make it perfect from the start. This is how the sausage is made.

Michael Perkins +1 on getting rid of all the subsidies. It's a silly game to try and balance it all.

Re: The power plant. That land is so valuable, I can't believe it's still a plant. It's right along the river, and has rail access. It could be used for a VRE or Metro yard, with park space and condos... So many possibilities.

by David C on Jul 21, 2011 12:16 pm • linkreport

@charlie

The mass transit benefit exists to balance out the parking benefit and all the other subsidies cars receive. It's not like the parking benefit is the only subsidy given to autos.

Parking was treated as a tax-free fringe benefit all along so that businesses with parking lots don't have to pay tax on all of those spaces they provide for free to employees. The mass transit benefit was created to balance things out. I don't think getting rid of the tax-free fringe benefit status of either would be a positive thing for transit.

by MLD on Jul 21, 2011 12:35 pm • linkreport

Whoops, that should have been @David C

Also, why can you not get the bike benefit AND the mass transit benefit? You can get the transit benefit AND the parking benefit.

by MLD on Jul 21, 2011 12:36 pm • linkreport

I agree with Michael Perkins and David C.; we should just dump all these commuting subsidies. That could mean taxing the benefit as income.

by Eric Fidler on Jul 21, 2011 12:37 pm • linkreport

MLD,

There's an argument to be made that our tax system needs simplification, not more exceptions.

I think ideally we should be taxing all benefits as income. That means an employer-provided parking space at work should count as income to the employee and employer-provided health insurance should be counted as income, too.

Obviously this would be controversial.

by Eric Fidler on Jul 21, 2011 12:47 pm • linkreport

Re Glover Park parking:

When they propose to restrict to "residents" is that a narrower restriction than Ward 3? Right now RPPs go by Ward, not neighborhood, so who would "residents only" limit? People from Georgetown in Ward 2 who come up to GP and some others from other parts of the city who happen to come by?

Or, if the proposal is to change the RPP system to go by neighborhoods, that's a debate worth having, but should be implemented throughout DC. (And I would use neighborhoods as defined by the tax assessor, say, not by ANC SMD boundaries, which often split neighborhoods).

by ah on Jul 21, 2011 12:48 pm • linkreport

@Oboe 'That's fine, but I still maintain that laying rail was the right thing to do, at least if a streetcar ends up running on H Street anytime in the next decade.'

Oboe, you're going on the faulty assumption that track is track. It is ... but it isn't. For example, in regards to H Street, there's already a problem there with regards to being able to comply with the wires exemption which is conditional on reviews every few years to see if a wireless system can be substituted. In brief, the way the tracks were laid, it would not be possible to substitute at least one of the known hybrid-type streetcars out there (i.e., the one that DDOT has been considering). The tracks would have to be pulled, relaid, and the road re-done. Yeah, there really are reasons why you don't put the cart before the horse.

And I hate to say 'I told you so' but I did tell everyone on here that the chances of DDOT getting permission to go under the Humpback Bridge were minimal ... at least a year ago. And note that it's not just Amtrack that is opposed to this move. As was discussed on here at least 9 months ago there is a private landowner (or leaseholder?) involved here who got so pissed off with the way Klein's DDOT handled the whole matter that they stated early on that they'd fight this with all they had.

The problem here in the end is that for a project of this magnitude you need buy in from everyone affected. You need to be nice to people and find out what they're concerns are about a project and how to satisfy their concerns AND your natural constituency's concerns. You can't just play to the choir. That is not only totally unfair ... but, as we're seeing, totally unwise.

by Lance on Jul 21, 2011 2:41 pm • linkreport

I forgot to explain that the reason the hybrid won't work on H Street with the current track configuration is that there isn't enough clearance with the curb for the hybrid-type streetcars.

by Lance on Jul 21, 2011 2:44 pm • linkreport

@Lance:

Source?

by oboe on Jul 21, 2011 2:47 pm • linkreport

@MLD If someone get's parking and a transit beneift at a federal agency they are breaking the law. It's absolutely not allowed. A friend of mine had to write a check back to the agency to get temporary parking for a week because she normally takes transit but wasn't supposed to for a week after surgery.

If parking were taxed as fringe benefit, I wouldn't have any trouble doing away with transit benefits. If you work at an federal agency that follows all the laws as written it's almost impossible to be in complete compliance with them.

For instance, instead of taking the bus to my office in the morning, say I take the metro out to Suitland for a meeting. In theory, I'm supposed to substract the bus fare from the metro fare, and fill out a local travel voucher for the metro fare. The travel voucher costs $8 to process so I'm supposed to save those up for 30 days or until I have $30. Technically, I should be out of pocket the bus fare because I can't use my transit benefits for local travel and there is a law that requires me to deduct my normal comuting costs from any local travel if I don't go to the office first. I'm absolutely not supposed to use my transit benefits.

There are all sorts of rules that don't always work together and result in lots of paperwork that are designed to prevent fraud that are mostly a pain for honest people and probably stop very little fraud among people who really are trying to commit fraud.

by Kate W on Jul 21, 2011 2:50 pm • linkreport

@Kate W
If someone get's parking and a transit beneift at a federal agency they are breaking the law. It's absolutely not allowed.

Untrue. For example if you drive to the metro station or any transit station and pay to park, and then take transit, you can receive the full transit benefit for your transit AND the parking benefit to cover your parking.
http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p15b.pdf

The transit benefit covers the transit pass. The parking benefit covers (see bolded):
Qualified parking
Qualified parking is parking you provide to your employees on or near your business premises. It includes parking on or near the location from which your employees commute to work using mass transit, commuter highway vehicles, or carpools. It does not include parking at or near your employee’s home.

I believe parking was always a tax-free fringe benefit so that every business in America, especially in podunk places, doesn't have to figure out what the value of the parking lot at their business is and factor that into the taxes they pay on employee wages. Then at one point someone figured out that this was incentivizing free parking in places with already great mass transit and they created the transit benefit.

by MLD on Jul 21, 2011 3:07 pm • linkreport

Also I think that scenario you outlined probably falls under "de minimis" transportation benefits which are outlined in the document I linked above.

by MLD on Jul 21, 2011 3:09 pm • linkreport

Re: The power plant. That land is so valuable, I can't believe it's still a plant. It's right along the river, and has rail access. It could be used for a VRE or Metro yard, with park space and condos... So many possibilities.

It's (per the signage) a Norfolk Southern freight rail spur off (I think) the main CSX line. Both this CSX line and the Metro right of way are nearly a half mile away from the plant, with the GW parkway, Potomac Greens and Slaters Lane businesses in the way.

by Kolohe on Jul 21, 2011 3:09 pm • linkreport

@MLD -- The question isn't about tax law it's about the law that covers federal transit benefits for federal workers. You can't get federal transit benefits and parking at at federal agency. You can't use transit benefits to pay for parking at the metro. You can't get transit benefits if you get parking in the building. You are required to deduct commuting costs from "local travel."

The woman in the article who bikes all but 4 days a month shouldn't be collecting $80 a month in transit benefits. At most she should be collecting transit benefits for the days she uses transit.

This is the subject of an annual briefing. It's possible agency lawyers are wrong, but this what they tell us.

by Kate W on Jul 21, 2011 3:30 pm • linkreport

@MLD--

[Posting anyways even though Kate W has replied while I was composing this]

I think you are confusing the IRS rules, which apply to any employer anywhere in the country, with the specific rules that government employees must follow to get transit benefits paid for by the government (i.e. their employers). Kate W is specifically talking about "at a federal agency." It is true that the IRS lets employers provide both parking and transit benefits to an employee tax-free. But, as an employer, the federal government doesn't work this way. The specifics of the federal employee transit benefit vary from agency to agency, but all of them require the employee to give up parking permits. Likewise, even though the IRS would permit an employer to provide de minimis transportation tax-free, the rules of the federal employee transit benefits do say things to the effect that the transit benefit is not to be used for official local travel. And then the agency rules that govern reimbursement for official local travel kick in and one gets the sort of absurd scenario that Kate describes.

by thm on Jul 21, 2011 3:55 pm • linkreport

@MLD

Parking was treated as a tax-free fringe benefit all along so that businesses with parking lots don't have to pay tax on all of those spaces they provide for free to employees.

That's not quite right. The benefit is to employees who would have to pay taxes on the free parking as a fringe benefit. But parking was set up as a tax-free fringe benefit.

The mass transit benefit was created to balance things out.

But, of course it didn't. Not for the millions of Americans who walk, bike, telecommute etc...

I don't think getting rid of the tax-free fringe benefit status of either would be a positive thing for transit.

It would create a new incentive to bike, walk, telecommute etc...and so in that sense it might move some transit users to those modes. But, since the majority of employers who offer free parking don't offere any sort of transit or bike commuting benefit, removing this subsidy would probably incentivize more drivers to take transit than it moves off of transit. I think it would be a very good thing for transit.

In short what we have now is

1. Big subsidy for most employees who drive
2. Big subsidy for some employees who take transit
3. Small subsidy for some employees who bike (but only if they forego 1 and 2)
4. No subsidy for anyone else.

Chaning this by getting rid of all the subsidies would mostly be bad for driving.

by David C on Jul 21, 2011 4:28 pm • linkreport

"Re: The power plant. That land is so valuable, I can't believe it's still a plant. It's right along the river, and has rail access. It could be used for a VRE or Metro yard, with park space and condos... So many possibilities."

The power plant location certainly has value and possibilities. But this has been a coal fired power plant with generators and transformers for many decades. The site likely has contaminated soil issues - PCBs, mercury, all types of heavy metals, and so on. If it was to be converted to residential or light industrial use, there may be significant costs and years of effort to clean it up. If the Alexandria local officials have not been pushing to convert the power plant site for other uses, that could be a big reason why.

However, looking at the power plant site and rail line access to the CSX tracks in Google Earth leads to some ideas about whether the rail spur to the plant could be used as a foundation for a streetcar / light rail line that connects to the proposed Potomac yard Metro stop, goes south along the trail to the north end of the Alexandria grid, south down a street there to Old Town and then loops west ward to King Street Metro Station. Or even use the rail ROW as a new spur off of the Blue Line that goes underground with several station stops in Old Town Alexandria and then under the Potomac to National Harbor and eventually connects up to the Green Line. Ok, so the last idea has next to zero chance of ever getting built.

by AlanF on Jul 21, 2011 4:31 pm • linkreport

Lance,

So, DDOT installs track on the assumption that overhead wires will be allowed - and that assumption proves to be true. The C100 demands that a wireless review requirement be added to the waiver - a requirement that will induce a great deal of expense and possibly the removal of the tracks. And somehow that is DDOT's fault? Why don't we just get rid of that requirement? Problem solved for free. You'd support such a simple solution right?

And I hate to say 'I told you so' but I did tell everyone on here that the chances of DDOT getting permission to go under the Humpback Bridge were minimal

Do you Lance? Do you hate to say it? And so what? Running it under the Humpback was the optimal solution. DDOT was correct to pursue it. Should they not have?

As was discussed on here at least 9 months ago there is a private landowner (or leaseholder?) involved here who got so pissed off with the way Klein's DDOT handled the whole matter that they stated early on that they'd fight this with all they had.

That's incorrect. As was reported in the Hill Rag, they were pissed at DC for the way they were treated in another land deal related to the baseball stadium. So that would not be Klein or DDOT or even Fenty. [Just another hidden cost of the baseball stadium by the way]

The problem here in the end is that for a project of this magnitude you need buy in from everyone affected.

So if they had done things your way, how would it be different? We still wouldn't have access to the area under Humpback. We wouldn't have tracks on H either. We would have a little extra money, but not enough to put tracks on H. How is that progress?

by David C on Jul 21, 2011 4:39 pm • linkreport

@Kate W, I think your understanding is out of date. I feel like that was the way it used to be, but that it changed - maybe as recently as 2009.

by David C on Jul 21, 2011 4:40 pm • linkreport

It's (per the signage) a Norfolk Southern freight rail spur off (I think) the main CSX line. Both this CSX line and the Metro right of way are nearly a half mile away from the plant, with the GW parkway, Potomac Greens and Slaters Lane businesses in the way.

That's correct.

It is also correct that freight rail has never been sold or repurposed. It is true that we can not realign the NS rail ROW to connect to the Metro rail that it currently passes over. And I believe VRE trains do not run on that CSX track so there is no way to connect them to the railspur. It is surely true that with the power plant closed, and thus the main customer for that spur gone, that NS would never want to sell it to VRE or Metro. Oh wait, none of that is true.

by David C on Jul 21, 2011 4:45 pm • linkreport

@David C 'So, DDOT installs track on the assumption that overhead wires will be allowed - and that assumption proves to be true.

False. That assumption didn't prove to be true. Because of the goodwill of many affected parties, a temporary exemption for overhead wires was allowed. The key here is 'temporary'. Long run it has to be wireless. The cheaper course of action over the long run would have been (as everyone is pointing out) just getting all your ducks in order and then building it AFTER all the hard work is done ... And not just throwing the tracks on there hoping you'll be able to build like that and that all the stakeholders will agree.

Please don't take this badly, but sometimes I think you have a comprehension problem. You seem to really not read what people say ... but instead run on your own misconceptions and answer as if those misconceptions were fact. Take the time to read and understand what others have said. It'll make for a far more interesting debate. And you might find that your initial position/opinion wasn't the best after all. Isn't that what this blog is all about? Really no offense meant. It's just it's not interesting having to counter strawmen. And strawmen are what happens when people don't try to understand what others are saying.

by Lance on Jul 21, 2011 4:49 pm • linkreport

If overhead wires for streetcars are (still) legally a problem, then so are the wireless systems such as the one in Bordeaux. The center rail in Bordeaux, which is switched on to provide power when a train is overhead, sticks up by about 1/4 inch from the road level.

However, the 1889 law which the DC Council repealed--setting aside the question of whether they had the authority to do so--also demanded, in addition to motive power that wasn't overhead wires, that each street railroad would need to "cause such part of its road-beds to be laid with a flat grooved rail, and made level with the service of the streets upon each side of said tracks or road-beds, so that no obstruction shall be presented to vehicles passing over said tracks"

The immediate reason for this was that the original horse-car tracks were regular train tracks just laid right on top of the street. Not a huge problem for pedestrians or horses, but a bother for wheeled vehicles. When horse-car lines began in the 1860s, there were no other options, but by the 1880s the grooved tracks were available.

But the fact that the Bordeaux-style third track sticks up puts those tracks in as much violation of the 1889 law as overhead wires would.

by thm on Jul 21, 2011 5:33 pm • linkreport

@Lance, I just came across some excellent and well written advice for you (and all of us, really):

Please don't take this badly, but sometimes I think you have a comprehension problem. You seem to really not read what people say ... but instead run on your own misconceptions and answer as if those misconceptions were fact. Take the time to read and understand what others have said. It'll make for a far more interesting debate. And you might find that your initial position/opinion wasn't the best after all. Isn't that what this blog is all about? Really no offense meant. It's just it's not interesting having to counter strawmen. And strawmen are what happens when people don't try to understand what others are saying.

by Tim Krepp on Jul 21, 2011 5:42 pm • linkreport

@David C/Kolohe:

It's true VRE trains don't currently use that easternmost track. But it would be fairly easy to add crossover tracks so that they could access the rail spur. But even without those crossovers, it's not too far away to the crossovers down near Telegraph Rd.

by Froggie on Jul 21, 2011 5:51 pm • linkreport

@David C. -- if things have changed no one at my federal agency has gotten the message. Which is not outside the realm of possibility.

by Kate W. on Jul 21, 2011 9:22 pm • linkreport

Dave C. & Froggie-

'spur' means 'dead end'. Which it is (dead ends at Pendleton - the whole thing is a last of a bunch of spur lines that went from Potomac yards to the (northern) docks and (what is now) North Old town. (btw, the last street spur on Fayette will probably get ripped up pretty soon when they knock down the warehouse for the Madison development))

Anyway, where was I. Oh, right, spur. Dead End. The E in VRE stands for 'express'. But you knew that. Or at least Froggie did. I have no idea what you know Dave.

Whatever, why would an 'express' want to go down a spur and then have to turn around to get back on the main line? Or would they continue to run the track right down the waterfront. Heck the rich poobahs are moaning about the waterfront plan now, they'd plotz with an active passenger rail line. Or would they run the trains through the almost formerly working class (and not quite yet formely public housing class) neighborhood between Oronco and 1st? That neighborhood gets leveled every half century or so in the name of progress, so it's about due by now.

I mean I'm fairly lukewarm about a Potomac Yards VRE stop because I think it would be somewhat redundant and missing the point, but at least better than the either Slaters Ln proposal I postulated in the previous paragraph.

Also, Dave, everything AlanF said about brownfields.

@AlanF. I think one of the BRT proposals that went from Crystal City through Potomac Yards to North Old Town/Parker Gray had that alignment (or maybe that was just one neighborhood groups wishes), but the alignment they are considering now stays west of there http://www.ccpytransit.com/maps.htm

by Kolohe on Jul 21, 2011 9:25 pm • linkreport

I love this comment on the city paper:
"*Beats head against desk*

Are you freaking kidding me? Is Amtrak also insisting on retaining air rights over Union Station and the accompanying B&O right of way for the eventuality that it gets flying jet trains like in Back to the Future III? Because the likelihood of that happening is about the same as that of Amtrak's HSR wish list coming to fruition.

What ridiculous shortsightedness. It's like the entire project is taking place in the land of the blind, but the one-eyed man got kneecapped on the way there and has now taken up residence in Chicago. Good God."

by Brian White on Jul 21, 2011 11:50 pm • linkreport

@charlie

But the argument that certain GGW types have made -- Kubly is leaving because of malaise -- certainly looks silly in light of this latest news. IF I was a tea leaf reader, I'd say he's leaving because he fucked up his signature issue and wants to get out before it really stinks.

Frankly, that is a load of horses@!t. It wasn't GGW's argument. It is what Kubly said. Now you can call him a liar if you want, but you really have no evidence for such a claim. We have four pieces of evidence.

1. The Gray administration ignored a letter from Amtrak about the streetcar
2. Kubly left
2. Kubly claimed it was because of Malaise within DDOT since Gray came onboard
3. Amtrak denied the request to pass the streetcar under Hopscotch bridge

1 sure seems to be evidence of 3. In fact Kubly's story seems to make perfect sense. Where you get that he's a liar I don't know.

I also don't see where you think he fucked up. What should he have done to convince Amtrak to make a different decision? If you have some evidence that Amtrak said no because of a Kubly failure I'd love to hear what it is.

But for now, your narrative is not based on fact, and contradicts the facts we have. You're denigrating this guy for something you totally made up. Don't be that guy who makes hurtful stuff up, charlie. That guy sucks.

by David C on Jul 22, 2011 9:56 am • linkreport

1) Gabe Klein's DDOT is the font of all evil on Earth.
2) Evil loves Deception and hates Truth.
3) Kubly is a creature of Gabe Klein's DDOT.
4) Therefore, Kubly is a deceiver.

QED.

by oboe on Jul 22, 2011 10:02 am • linkreport

@DavidC; as usual, you're mixing up arguments.

1. What Ken Archer said. Going back to his article, it is very unclear where he got his quotes. Yes, I'll give you:

Kubly says he's been thinking of leaving DDOT for some time. He considered leaving after Adrian Fenty lost the primary, but stayed partly because of his admiration for Bellamy and amid encouragement from many quarters to finish the streetcar job he started.

However, he cited a general malaise at DDOT that has grown in recent months. Working for the DC government is not seen as positively today as it was a year or two ago. He said that people now say something like, "I'm sorry," when they hear he works for DC, following the many scandals that have recently plagued the government.

But we don't know where those quotes are from.

Re-reading Ken's article, it is more positive and forward looking. My comments about "GGW types" is more about persistent gray bashers.

2. Did Kubly fuck up?

Yes. And it's an indictment of Klein's entire method. Go read the linked Chicago article and it is telling. When asked about bike lanes, he said, we'll do them as we do repaving and save money. That is the same approach to steetcars here. Do it cheap, not where it is going to be the most needed. Unfortunately, for a major program like streetcars you need to have stuff lined up beforehand, which wasn't done here. Not nailing down Amtrak is major major fuck up. And it is telling that Kubly announced he is leaving a few days before this blowup.

by charlie on Jul 22, 2011 10:15 am • linkreport

So what decision exactly was Kubly's fuck up?

Putting the tracks on H street? Not his decision - and still the right call.

Not convincing Amtrak to decide differently?

Should he have just skipped the Amtrak option even though it was better?

Should he have not told the public what they wanted to do until they had buy in from Amtrak? Isn't that kind of "work in secret" exactly what Fenty was criticized for?

What exactly did he do wrong? Things didn't go his way, but that's not the same as a fuck-up. He doesn't control Amtrak. He can't make them move faster, and he can't control their decisions.

by David C on Jul 22, 2011 10:31 am • linkreport

Is anyone here interested in working to form a coalition with other transit groups nationally (e.g. people who have congressional representation) to pressure Amtrak (via email campaigns to congresspersons nationally) to allow the streetcar to utilize the tunnel? It makes no sense to increase the cost of the streetcar project by going over the Hopscotch when Amtrak hasn't laid out how it would be harmed at all from the streetcar's usage of the tunnel. Isn't the issue that it may somehow impact Amtrak employee parking? Surely the city can set aside Amtrak employee only parking on a section of First Street to compensate them? Wouldn't the cost savings of not having to build over the Hopscotch balance out the loss of on-street parking revenue for some time into the future?

Thoughts?

ps: @alanf I have never heard anyone say that utilizing the tunnel would impact HSR plans. Did I miss something? Please provide me a link. Thanks!

by Alan Page on Jul 22, 2011 10:32 am • linkreport

Welcome to Washington, DC, home of half-assed heavy rail projects.

by Anonymous on Jul 22, 2011 11:43 am • linkreport

The bridge on H Street is the Hopscotch Bridge. The Humpback Bridge is on the GW Parkway. Please make a note of it.

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Jul 24, 2011 2:58 pm • linkreport

Right. I got thrown off by Lance.

by David C on Jul 24, 2011 5:30 pm • linkreport

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