[IMAGE]Millar-light-rail2-full.jpg[/IMAGE]With “Growth and Renewal” serving as the theme, the 2009 Joint Light Rail Conference, co-sponsored by the Transportation Research Board (TRB) and the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), glided into Los Angeles April 19 to 21.
Much of the focus of this year’s installment was on the reinvigorated interest in public transportation, in general, as well as the increased number of rail and other projects being funded, specifically, that have come with President Barack Obama’s $8.4 billion pledge through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and his recent call for sizable investment in high-speed rail programs.
“We have never been more excited or more energized,” said Leslie T. Rogers, region IX administrator for the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), when discussing the President’s and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s dedication to public transportation and its impact on the FTA during the Opening Session.
Also during the opening session, APTA President William W. Millar touted public transportation for its record ridership and pointed out that it continues to increase despite fuel prices continuing to decrease. Similar to many who spoke during the opening session, Millar also spoke about the impact that President Obama has had on the industry in his first 100 days, including funding 2,000 projects under ARRA within two months of its inception.
Another focus of day one was on being green, with several speakers discussing the benefits of rail transit on the environment, either through the conservation of energy or its inherently lower emissions, when compared to travel by vehicle or bus, during the “Energy, Environment & Transit: Greener/Efficient” session.
Other day one topics included controlling capital costs through design and delivery and the importance of Transit-Oriented Development (TOD), attractive stop and station design, and art along rail lines to attract riders. The latter session – “Stations, Stops, and Arts in Transit” – featured Rick Simonetta, CEO of the Phoenix, Ariz.-based Valley Metro Rail, discussing the logistics of the agency’s rail system and its focus on TOD along its line, which was started before the system was officially opened.
APTA and TRB also feted California Senator James R. Mills for his lifelong commitment to transit. During his 16 years as Senator, Mills introduced bills that imposed a sales tax on gasoline to fund transportation development, allowed a portion of state highway funds to be used to build guideway systems and set up funds for multimodal projects. He also authored the Mills Act, which lets owners of historically designated buildings reduce their property taxes in exchange for restoring and maintaining those buildings.