Transit Funding, Elections Loom Large Over the Industry

Posted on June 16, 2011 by Alex Roman, Managing Editor

Page 2 of 5

Courtesy NYCT
Courtesy NYCT
DeLibero Transportation Strategies LLC
Shirley DeLibero

How would private investment help public transit?

With a private investment, you'd have at least some idea of what kind of funding you're going to have, what kind of money is going to come in. Then, if you wanted to do some programs or capital improvements with some of your local money as well as having a private investor, that's doable. But, without having anything, no private investment and no federal dollars, there's nothing you can plan. A lot of agencies get a portion of the sales tax, and so, at least with that, if there were private investment as well as their sales tax dollars, they can have some predictability of what they can do. Right now, I think everybody is just hanging out there.

Is private investment the solution or should there simply be more federal investment?

I think with the people that are in Washington right now, transit authorities are going to have to do some public-private-partnerships much more than they ever had to do before. I don't see these folks being transit advocates, so I think more transit properties are going to have to look for different types of opportunities now more than ever.

Transit agencies should be looking at privatizing bus routes, paratransit and rail services as an option, when looking at how they can stretch their precious operating dollars. More federal dollars for operating would be ideal, but in this political climate, I don't see that happening.

Gannett Fleming
Bryan Mulqueen, PE,
VP/Director of transit and rail, Delmarva and Southeast Regions; and Anastasia Harrison, AIA, LEED-AP,
Director of Sustainability, Northeast Region

Will the public transportation industry continue its growth during these difficult financial times?

Mulqueen: Growth, in terms of ridership, will no doubt continue through the difficult financial times, simply because public transportation represents good value to the user. The high cost of gas and the scarcity of good jobs results in a greater need for affordable transit. The prospects for robust growth in capital spending are less clear. Local and state governments continue to struggle to balance their budgets and the lack of federal surface transportation legislation both conspire to make the advancement of major transit capital programs a questionable pursuit.

Discuss your company's newest sustainability initiatives.

Harrison: Establishing metrics to measure sustainability have become the 'transparency' that differentiates the truly sustainable from the 'greenwashing' in corporate sustainability programs. At Gannett Fleming, our internal structure has always operated with an interest in sustainability. But, it wasn't until 2010 that a newly formed Corporate Sustainability Team began the charge to formalize our approach to sustainability, record and measure our impacts to set a baseline, and set realistic reduction goals. At the end of 2010, our environmental and social programs were captured in a Corporate Sustainability Report. A fundamental goal of the team is to enhance our corporate philosophy and culture by promoting sustainability among employees, clients and colleagues, not only to leave less impact on the environment but to also provide sustainability services to our clients.

Steven Beard, Sr.
VP, transit market sector director

How important will 2012 elections be to the industry?

The elections will be critically important to our industry. All we have to do is look at the results of the 2010 elections, particularly in the U.S. House of Representatives. Cities and states are returning federal transportation dollars. Transportation appropriations decreased from 2010 to 2011, and it looks like there will be deeper cuts for 2012. Infrastructure improvements are desperately needed, the country needs jobs and continued economic stimulus, and Congress is turning its back with a myopic focus of only cutting spending and debt reduction. Congress is ignoring the proposed increase in transportation spending advocated by the President in his 2012 budget. Depending on which way the 2012 elections go, spending on transportation infrastructure might be slashed even further.

On the other hand, with an increase in the Congress of Democratic, or even moderate Republican representation, we could return to a period of growth in transportation funding from the federal government. State elections are equally important.

Does high-speed rail still have a place in the U.S.? Do you feel it will indeed become a reality?

High-speed rail does have a place in this country. It should be an important component of our regional and national transportation program. Currently, there is a big gap in our transportation system that only high-speed rail can fill. Others around the world have figured that out, while most of our politicians have not. It is an important option that we are failing to provide. It is not only about trains and transportation. High-speed rail should be a component of our energy policy, economic development policy, environmental policy and homeland security considerations.

The question, will it ever become a reality is a good one. I think without a significant change in the U.S. Congress and in several of our statehouses, high-speed rail is very much in doubt. The Obama Administration put forth a bold high-speed rail initiative and it has mostly lacked traction around the country. I think what will happen is that there will be some speed improvement in the Northeast Corridor and in a few of the selected locations around the country. California is the last big hope for true high-speed rail. It needs to happen in California, so that a successful system there can be a catalyst for more high-speed rail lines around the country.

Discuss some of your company's newest training initiatives.

One of our key training initiatives is in the area of client relations. To better serve our clients, we are designating and training client managers. All of our clients are being assigned an internal client manager. The job of our manager is to know everything they can about the client's organization, goals and needs. The client manager will be the focal point for matching the needs of the client with the services we provide within HDR Engineering and HDR Architecture. We consider ourselves a great client service organization, and through our training program, we will be even better at meeting the diverse needs of our clients.

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