State and local leaders are not waiting for Congress to someday agree on an infrastructure bill

This Final Say column published as "For the good of all" in Summer 2019 issue of Traffic & Transit

Mary Scott Nabers / August 14, 2019
Mary Scott Nabers
As Congressional leaders in Washington debate an infrastructure bill, state and local officials are not waiting. Collaborative initiatives have been launched to repair aging infrastructure, install clean energy projects, initiate smart city technology, and build social infrastructure. 

One particular industry sector that is in the midst of significant transformation is public transit. Mobility is a critical issue for city leaders. Urban areas are faced with a myriad of transportation issues. Moving people on a daily basis is difficult at best, and almost every major city is seeking solutions to traffic congestion. The objective, of course, is to get motorists out of their individual automobiles, but that is a daunting task.

Elected officials are considering many options, from electric vehicles and transportation-on-demand, to ride-sharing programs and bicycles to create livable cities where residents can walk to work. To that end, this year VIA Metropolitan Transit in San Antonio approved a Mobility-on-Demand project that will be among the first of its kind in the U.S. In February, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced the allocation of $10.8 million for electric vehicle charging stations. DEP will also use $3.2 million to award grants through the Electric Vehicle Charging Grant Program.

Most public transit systems have worked hard to make transportation services convenient, efficient, and economical. Routes have been optimized, costs have been reduced, and every effort is being made to get riders to their final destinations. The Ohio State University recently released an RFP to rent bikes and scooters from vendors so that public transit riders could move quickly to destinations throughout the sizable campus.

Federal funding is now available for autonomous vehicles, and soon the U.S. DOT will announce $60 million in Automated Driving System Demonstration Grants. Selected projects will be related to the safe integration of automated driving systems. The grants are also designed to incentivize collaboration between state and local governments and private-sector partners. 

The University of Wisconsin is collaborating with the city of Madison and American Family Insurance on a project to bring an autonomous shuttle to downtown Madison. The route is designed to take passengers from the Spark building to the Capitol Building. A launch date of late 2019 has been announced. American will fund the purchase of a 15-passenger vehicle, and bidders will compete to deliver the vehicle.

The Minnesota DOT has an open and ongoing request for proposals for its Connected and Automated Vehicles (CAV) initiative. The project will allow industry and transportation partners to propose CAV projects as well as the testing of new and emerging CAV technologies. Multiple contract awards are planned.

The city of White Plains, New York, is preparing a solicitation to redevelop four parcels of city property as part of a larger transit district. The Metro-North Railroad Station was recently renovated, and the city wants to make the station the center of a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood with access to multiple modes of transportation. The request for proposals will include converting a garage, surface lot, parking lot, and firehouse into a mixed-use project. City officials have indicated interest in a P3.

The University of California announced the preliminary design for an innovation hub to be built on the university’s Sacramento campus that will feature electric bus service connecting the campus with downtown Sacramento, as well as bike-share and ride-share options. 

The Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority is developing a 41-mile bus rapid transit system. A study is underway for a potential system that would connect Wesley Chapel to St. Petersburg with stops in downtown Tampa and the University of South Florida. Costs for the project are estimated at $400 million. Funding will come from state grants and other sources.

And finally, CapMetro in Austin, Texas, plans to replace its fare collection system. A consultant has been hired to develop specifications for a solicitation that is anticipated sometime before the end of 2019. 

These are merely a sample of how the public transit marketplace is progressing. Local governments that direct their resources toward transit have their finger on the pulse of the future. 

About the Author

Nabers is president and CEO of Strategic Partnerships Inc.

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