Update Regarding Buy America and Utility Relocations

As we have previously reported,  the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and Federal Transit Administration (FTA) recently adopted policies requiring Buy America compliance for utility relocations for federally funded transportation projects in cases where the utility performs relocation work.  On June 28, 2013, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), American Public Transportation Association (APTA), streetcar project sponsors, and associations representing electric, gas and broadband utilities sent a joint letter to the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) asking for certain accommodations in implementation of the new policy.  The letter, addressed to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Secretary-Designate Anthony Foxx, asks USDOT to clarify how the requirements will be applied, requests a transition period before Buy America requirements are applied to materials supplied by utility owners, and asks for USDOT to consider issuance of waivers for specialized utility products that may not be available from US manufacturers.  The letter also notes the importance of consistency in applying the Buy America requirements throughout the country, and cites a need for training and education of utility owners, suppliers and manufacturers.

The full letter can be found on APTA’s website.

On a related topic, FHWA has received a request for a waiver of Buy America requirements for various components related to the relocation of Pacific Gas and Electric's natural gas service facilities for a California project.  FHWA has requested comments regarding the waiver request.  View the request on FHWA's website.

Thanks to Frank Liu for his assistance with this entry.

"Near Public Transportation" - the New Real Estate Mantra?

More evidence of the beneficial impacts of transit-oriented development has arrived in the form of a new property values study by the American Public Transportation Association, the Center for Neighborhood Technology and the National Association of Realtors.  

(See also our blog post regarding the EPA report released last month promoting funding mechanisms and other strategies for communities to provide more transit-oriented development.)  

The study found that homes closer to public transit performed 42 percent better (in terms of resilience of property values)  than those further away.  This finding was based on an analysis of home values in San Francisco, Phoenix, Boston, Chicago, and Minneapolis-St Paul between 2006 and 2011.  

Price resilience was highest for properties near transit stations with the most connections and most frequent service.  Interestingly, housing type (apartment, single-family, townhouse etc) had no impact on the study, with the results holding true across all property types.  Residents in a “transit shed” (within a half a mile of selected transit) also had “better access to jobs and lower average transportation costs” than the study area as a whole.  

The full text of the report is available on the American Public Transportation Association website.

Rail Safety Changes Besides Postive Train Control

The roll-out of positive train control (“PTC”) is a daunting task for many railroads.  Even without PTC we would still call this a very busy time in the realm of railroad safety.  The Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (“RSIA”), which included the PTC mandate, was the most comprehensive rail safety legislation in several decades.  It would be easy in light of PTC to lose sight of all the other RSIA initiatives underway, but that would be a mistake.

In an effort to help our readers stay current, we will devote some space here to a series of posts on RSIA implementation issues other than PTC.  I will be speaking on this topic next week on a panel with an FRA representative and commuter rail CEO’s at the American Public Transportation Association’s Rail Conference in Boston.

To begin with, let’s review the status of passenger hours of service limits.  RSIA made major changes in the Hours of Service Act, but provided that the changes would not apply to Amtrak and commuter railroads if FRA finalized an alternative set of passenger rail requirements by October 16, 2011.  With that deadline in mind, FRA published a proposed rule in March.

For multiple tour limits, FRA proposes to treat all shifts in two categories.  A “type 1” shift would be any shift within the window from 4 a.m. to 8 p.m.  Generally, the rule would allow a maximum of 14 consecutive type 1 shifts before a two-day off duty period.

A shift that involves any time outside of the 4 a.m. to 8 p.m. window would be a “type 2” shift.  Here is where we get the big changes.  For type 2 shifts, generally the rule would allow a maximum of six consecutive shifts before a 24-hour off duty period.  All type 2 shifts would be analyzed against a defined fatigue threshold, the railroad would be required to mitigate fatigue above the threshold or show that mitigation is not possible.  Type 2 shifts that fall below the fatigue threshold could be treated as type 1 shifts.

Several commuter railroads, trade associations and unions filed comments on the proposed rule.  Passenger railroads and the American Public Transportation Association expressed concern with respect to implementation costs, including the significant costs for new hires, fatigue training costs and licensing fees for fatigue modeling software.   If the comments filed are indicative, rail labor is generally very satisfied with the proposed rule and considers the changes long overdue.

The final rule for passenger rail hours of service is scheduled for release in August 2011, in time to meet the statutory deadline for implementation of October 16, 2011.