New House Transpo Chair in D.C.

Amtrak Cascades at Rest in Seattle by mrbula on Flickr

Via Streetsblog, I see Politico reporting that John Mica, the Republican chair of the House Transportation Committee, is stepping down and being replaced by Bill Shuster.  I know nothing about Shuster, but fortunately Streetsblog did a couple of posts on him.  From what I can glean, he’s basically in the same ballpark as Mica – loves infrastructure spending as long as it’s on highways (which sadly puts him to the left of many in his caucus!), terrible on bicycles and pedestrian safety, and lukewarm on rail so long as Amtrak gets “privatized” and Obama’s HSR projects never see the light of day.

Unsurprisingly, both these guys light up when discussing HSR in their own districts. Mica was supportive of the Florida HSR project, and Shuster speaks glowingly of the Keystone Service in his native Pennsylvania:

In a hearing early last year on the Northeast Corridor, Shuster called himself a “poster child” for good Amtrak service, saying he used to be “somebody that 20 years ago said, `I’ll never get out of my car again to go on the rails, I want to use my car with flexibility.’” But he was proven wrong by reliable and convenient service on the Keystone Corridor, which persuaded him to quit driving to Philadelphia from his district. And he urged his fellow Congress members to keep up with Europe and Asia on high-speed rail. “Our competition in the world is doing it,” he said. “We need to keep up with the competition.”

It will surprise no one to learn that the Keystone improvements Shuster lauds – where trains now hit a respectable 110 mph! – happened without privatizing Amtrak.  Instead they happened through a “partnership between Amtrak, the Federal Transit Administration, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to bring high-speed rail to southeastern Pennsylvania.” (via the Wikipedia link above)

Perhaps the best way to bring high-speed rail to this country is to let a Republican representing each of the national HSR corridors have a turn chairing the transportation committee?

On a more sincere note, if one were looking for silver linings in this announcement, I’d zero in on this quote:

For the rest of the country, he says “frequency and reliability” are what matters for increasing ridership – not 150 mile speeds.

I can get down with that.  While we need our big ambitious plans to continue, we also need to focus on some low-hanging fruit. Here along the Amtrak Cascades corridor we’ve had a fair amount of success in getting federal funds by focusing on things like “frequency and reliability.”


  1. GuyOnBeaconHill says

    Bill is the son of Bud Shuster, one of DC’s legendary pork barrel spenders–mostly on transportation projects in his own district. With the spotlight off Mica, there may be some hope for movement from the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee republicans regarding rail funding. If Shuster wants to focus on frequenct and reliable train service and brings an end to Mica’s media sideshows, we’ll be much better off.

  2. Erik G. says

    Shuster is still a car salesman, and the next time you are in East Freedom, Penna., why not take time to visit the former site of Shuster Chrysler Dodge Jeep just off “old US 220”, not to be confused with the present day US 220 which was just upgraded to Interstate standards and assigned “I-99”, thanks to Papa Bud!–PA-H

    If you want to get there by air, you can fly into the nearby Altoona airport (informally known as “Bud Shuster International”) on the EAS-funded United Express service, which is paid for by a $4 million subsidy:

    As Bill Shuster confirmed recently in a speech I attended, there will not be any tolls put on any “Freeways” since those are defined as free (yes I know that’s incorrect, but Bill thinks this) and he is pretty adamant that gas taxes cannot be raised.

    For those interested in seeing alternatives to the automobile promoted, this will not be a pleasant next couple of years.

    • Lloyd says

      As bad as Mica, if not worse. These folks are seriously clueless on so many infrastructure and transport fronts. And the new Senate chair wants to build the CRC.

  3. John Bailo says

    Although you transitistas complain loudly, if you step back and look at the past 20 years, you’ve really gotten, and are getting, almost everything you want.

    1) A small compressed rail corridor, LINK, where TOD is present and growing.

    2) No new major highways built.

    3) HOV and HOT lanes added to highways and bridges.

    4) Major vertical development and apartment living in key ‘urban’ neighborhoods…Belltown, SLU, Capital Hill and Ballard.

    It seems like transit won the war, at least in Seattle, and continues to flourish in the densest, compressed modality that 99% of the people on this blog favor.

    • says

      You forgot… well… almost every decision being made at the state and federal level. Transit funding issues compared to those for road building. The DBT: its effect on downtown traffic and transit operations, the effect on the pedestrian environment near the portals, and questions of cost and funding. Many aspects of the CRC. Kemper Freeman initiatives.

      And there are no shortage of local disappointments. Blunders wasting time, energy and money surrounding major transit projects, from the Monorail to Sounder North to elements of Link to Rapid Ride. All the stuff that makes it take so damn long to get in and out of the DSTT (whether on a bus or on foot).

      And you forgot that 20 years ago the status quo was a system of transit, cycling, and most importantly walking, that was so damaged by what was built in the previous 50 years that the need for serious improvement was undeniable.

      • CharlotteRoyal says

        Al Dimond You forgot… well… almost every decision being made at the state and federal level. Transit funding issues compared to those for road building…And there are no shortage of local disappointments. Blunders wasting time, energy and money surrounding major transit projects…

        Pray-do-tell, how is RTID a state/federal funded decision? From my understanding, it was voted on between Pierce, King and Snohomish County?

        To me, the disappointments started with the failure of a number of freeway projects that may have alleviated some of the I-5 pressure we have today by circulating it on a limited access facility and not on city streets. This project was the RH Thompson Freeway. The RH Thompson Freeway failure started the NIMBYist lawsuit biz in Seattle, after the successes in Portland (Hood Fwy) and San Francisco (I-480, In 1972, a referendum posed by the then-mayor was approved by the public. This in turn resulted in the stubs you see on 520 in the arboretum…and much of the congestion you see today. The freeway plan of the 1950s envisioned these freeways to manage traffic, yet the anti-Robert Moses environmentalists were able to stop the freeways they felt shouldn’t exist based on a variety of reasons from nixing poor neighborhoods to destroying the environment. Many of these lawsuits from this period have snowballed over time into zany public policies and regulations that seem to prolong large transit/highway/multi-modal projects today.

      • says

        When I changed paragraphs I changed topics, indicated by the first sentence of the paragraph. Learn to read.

        There were and are loads of reasons to oppose the idea of jamming more freeways through Seattle. A lot of NIMBYism is silly, but freeways really do destroy neighborhoods wholesale. And the environmental impact of the freeways was clear: more sprawl, more VMT, more pollution.

        And the idea that freeways would fix traffic congestion issues is ridiculous. Solve congestion one place, add more traffic to the road network, add congestion somewhere else. Build wider, faster roads there — and before too long you’ve destroyed walking, biking, and transit everywhere.

    • Erik G. says

      In the past 20 years…

      I-90 was largely upgraded (between 1988 and 1992).

      3 new Jumbo Ferries were built for WSF which ultimately dumped more cars onto Coleman Dock. Ironically, I-695 cut the 3 boat service on the Winslow run back down to two.

      The 4 Steel Electrics were replaced, and construction is underway to replace much of the rest of the remaining fleet built before 1970.

      SR520 was extended further east into Redmond as a limited-access dual carriageway

      The First Ave S. Bridge was rebuilt, wider

      The Tacoma Narrows Bridge was given a twin.

      I-5 was widened in many places between Everett and Olympia.

      All that I-90 access ramps stuff near the stadiums was built, torn down rebuilt and expanded.

      And now the SR99 viaduct is about to be placed in a tunnel.

      You were saying?

      • CharlotteRoyal says

        The First Ave S. Bridge was rebuilt, wider.

        Eric, a southbound span was constructed. Traffic was shifted to the new span when the southbound span was completed so the approach to the old northbound span could be replaced, as it rested on old timber piles which were prone to failure.

        Oddly enough, it was the southbound span that suffered a minor shift during the Nisqually quake. What’s more, the new bridge was completely funded with state dollars. Only the northbound approach was funded with federal cash.

        The I-90 access ramps were widened to provide Port of Seattle access. Maybe you should see how freight traffic moves through this area. It moves better through the area now that the at-grade train crossings have been eliminated vice the one west of 1st Ave.

        TNB II was provided a stronger twin because it is getting old (60 years old). TNB III has the capability of being double-decked should it be necessary. Plus, it was a horrific chokepoint on SR 16.

      • Nathanael says

        OK, here’s a question: what traffic from the Port of Seattle is going by *truck* rather than rail? To make sense, it would have to be small-scale or local, because if it were long-distance or large-scale it ought to be going by *train*.

      • says

        A lot of Port truck traffic goes to local industry in SODO and distribution centers in the Kent Valley. I think the rail yard is set up for cross country freight (to Chicago) rather than crosstown freight.

      • CharlotteRoyal says

        If we had that much train traffic, do you know what road traffic would look like in Marysville, Edmonds, Mukilteo, Sodo, Auburn, Kent, Sumner, and Puyallup? In the Green River Valley, train traffic can cause car traffic to queue onto SR 167. Traffic would be at a virtual standstill on the city grid as well. Ferry traffic would be ritualistically delayed…more so than currently. Having been stuck behind a 150-car slow moving train through Edmonds trying to get off the ferry recently, that was painful.

        I remember there were plans to construct an inter-modal truck to rail facility near Tumwater back in 2008/2009, but they were scrapped thanks to some public upheaval.

      • John Bailo says

        In the past 20 years the population increased by 60 percent, and yet no new major highway was built.


      • Jim Cusick says


        “Having been stuck behind a 150-car slow moving train through Edmonds trying to get off the ferry recently, that was painful.”

        What were you doing on the tracks?
        They had a 150 car train getting off the ferry?
        Oh, you mean you were stuck behind a line of cars waiting for a slow moving 150 car train to pass. Got it.

        How long did you wait? 3 minutes? 4 minutes?

      • Erik G. says

        20 years ago the off-peak one zone fare on Metro (wasn’t KCMetro yet) was 55 cents.

        The federal gasoline tax was 18.4 cents per gallon.

        Cars were taxed based on the value of the car. Cheaper and older cars cost less to register, so it was actually an easy tax to avoid or lessen.

        What is the off-peak one zone fare today?

        What is the federal gasoline tax today?

        What does it cost to register a car today?

      • says

        “In the past 20 years the population increased by 60 percent, and yet no new major highway was built.”

        Gee, it’s almost like the “necessity” to build highways to keep up with population growth was always illusory!

    • Nathanael says

      “It seems like transit won the war, [b]at least in Seattle,[/b]”

      Emphasis mine. There is an entire rest of the country too. Heck, transit hasn’t even won in unincorporated King County.

    • Mike Orr says

      You’ll know we’re finished when a majority of people say, “I’ll take transit, it’s more convenient than driving.”

      We have at least been able to stop the curve from getting significantly worse. There are essentially no new highways. The Deeply Boring Tunnel and 520 are maintenance replacements, not brand-new roads. The Cross-Base highway has a steep hill to climb, and the east Sammamish freeway is unlikelier still. The state and cities have gotten better with HOV lanes on highways but much with BAT lanes on arterials. Vertical development is happening at a compromise rate.

      If we had built all the freeways envisioned in the 1950s, large areas of central and north Seattle would be run down and undesirable to live in. In other words, Seattle would be more like Detroit. Detroit has the most freeways of any American city, and it hurt rather than helped it.

  4. Charles says

    Hardly John,

    Pierce County is growing via sprawl and greater dependence on the automobile. There is now demand for a freeway to cross JBLM to connect major population centers on each side of the base.

    TWO major road projects valued around 6 Billion each are underway here in Seattle. In each case those roadways serve less people than the structures they replace.

    I’d like to see massive shift mode funding towards rail and other alternatives. I’d like to change how this state collects revenue so that it is less regressive and more certain. I’d like to see commuter service all day to places like Kent. I’d like there to be direct (no transfers) service to Olympia.

    We have a small start but a long way to go.

    • CharlotteRoyal says

      How do you ensure national security of base infrastructure and weaponry with transit cutting through the base?

      The problem with this modal shift that you describe is the cost of living. Look at the cost of living near transit centers/transit hubs along successful transit systems such as DC-METRO, NYC-MTA, etc. Apartments, condos, etc are well out of reach for middle class America. Some of my friends in the DC Area commute 15 miles to a large P&R, slug or take METRO into town.

      The density is where the transit access is located and where the cost of living is inaccessible to people that could probably benefit from it. Many people here seem to think that P&R are an ill and promote sprawl. The problem is, larger P&Rs are an incentive that should be re-examined. Ridership is a trademark of transit success. If you build it, they will come, right? It pains me to see P&R’s where commuters are unable to find parking by 6:30am and are forced to drive to work. Provide these drivers options. Build these people a parking deck, provide security, and watch your ridership increase.

      • Mike Orr says

        The problem is that the demand far exceeds supply of in-city apartments/condos in walkable neighborhoods with excellent transit. The four or five cities with far better walkability and transit than Seattle are almost all the same cities that are more expensive than Seattle. If we spread out the walkability and transit infrastructure to a lot more cities and neighborhoods, the cost differential would go away. Then people could have an even choice of density/walkability/transit or sprawl/unwalkability/no transit for the same price.

    • says

      You’ll see one seat service from Seattle to Olympia long before you’ll see all-day express service from Kent to Downtown Seattle.

      The only barrier that prevents a one seat ride from Olympia to Seattle is fleet logistics. Having a 75 mile, 2 hour long non-stop bus route requires a few things for passenger comfort. 1. Restroom facilities. 2. On-board power. 3. Wi-Fi. All of these things can be retrofitted to an MCI, or even a Gillig Low Floor (yes, the Gillig Low Floor can accomodate a restroom module, but it takes up a significant amount of space). The new addition to Olympia TC is supposed to incorporate a “toilet dump” as well.

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