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2004 Sprawl Report:
Table of Contents
Commuting's Toll on the Workforce
Transit Creates Jobs and Enhances Local Economies
The Bush Administration's Changes Take America Backward
What's at Stake

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Missing the Train: Sierra Club 2004 Sprawl Report

What's at Stake

New Orleans light railBelow is a list of important projects that could be hit particularly hard if the Bush administration's proposed changes go into effect. Some are on the FTA's New Starts list and some are not, however, this is only a sampling of the many important projects that could be stalled.


Tampa Bay Regional Rail System - This project would serve 21,980 daily riders. It includes transit in three corridors: 13.4 miles of a Northeast Corridor, 1.5 miles of a Southwest Corridor, and a 5.2 mile West Corridor. This light rail project would serve Downtown Tampa, the University of South Florida, and the Westshore/Airport area. It is in the Metropolitan Planning Commission's transportation plan.


Atlanta-Athens Commuter Rail - This proposed commuter rail line would run along existing freight rail lines. This 72-mile commuter rail could carry as many as 2 million passengers annually and could reduce commuter driving by 73 million miles per year. This would both relieve congestion and help to reduce air pollution in a region that is in severe non-attainment for federal ozone standards. More than 12,000 weekday rides are anticipated on this commuter line, which equals the capacity of 4 highway lanes.

This would serve downtown Atlanta and connect the state's major universities along the corridor, including the University of Georgia, Emory University, Georgia Tech, the Atlanta University Center, and Clayton State. The Centers for Disease Control is also along this corridor as well as redevelopment at Atlantic Station and other, future transit-oriented development opportunities. These are major employment centers and destinations, and the route would include stops between Athens and Atlanta, including Oconee, Barrow, Gwinnett and DeKalb counties.


Northeast Indianapolis Corridor rapid transit - The northeast corridor has increasingly become congested with traffic as well as commercial development. The entire Indianapolis area is undergoing a conceptual regional rapid transit system analysis in order to determine if transit investment - in the form of light rail or rapid bus - is needed. This study will also help provide information necessary to submit for federal transit New Starts funding.

The Hoosier Heritage Port Authority has purchased the Norfolk Southern rail line from 10th Street in Indianapolis to Tipton, Indiana, to provide the ability to develop transit along that right-of-way. One of the alternatives under consideration would connect downtown Indianapolis to the Indianapolis International Airport. In the year 2000, according to the Texas Transportation Institute, Indianapolis traffic was congested 7.5 hours per day and 29 million vehicle miles were traveled in the Indianapolis area.


Jefferson, Orleans, and St. Charles Parishes East-West Corridor light rail - This 13-mile project would connect the New Orleans central business district with Louis Armstrong International Airport. It is projected to carry approximately 19,000 daily riders and would follow an existing, abandoned heavy rail right-of-way. This would link and improve transportation to major employment and activity centers in the region and encourage sustainable development, jobs and housing in the urbanized areas of New Orleans and Jefferson Parish.

The light rail would make the trip from New Orleans' CBD to the airport in 27-29 minutes and would help to relieve congestion and address travel demand in the corridor. All jurisdictions along the corridor are revising their comprehensive plans to focus on sustainable, transit-oriented development.


Bethesda to New Carrollton Purple Line, or "Bi-County Transitway" - As originally envisioned, this would be a light rail line that would serve areas of the Washington, DC suburbs. Estimates place the Purple Line's ridership at 70,000 trips daily. Aligned through the inner-Beltway areas of Maryland, it would connect four of the region's existing Metrorail spokes, three commuter rail lines, and serve major employment centers like the University of Maryland and downtowns like Bethesda and Silver Spring.

This line would make it more efficient for commuters to reach Metrorail to downtown Washington, DC destinations as well as help to make inner-Beltway suburb-to-suburb trips quicker and easier. It would help many service sector workers who have few transportation alternatives reach their employment.


Downtown Detroit to Metro Airport Rail Project. This proposed project, still in the study stage, would connect Detroit Metro/Wayne County Airport with downtown Detroit as part of a larger regional transit plan. The Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) is currently considering transit options, including light rail and heavy rail along an existing Amtrak line. SEMCOG is also studying potential routes in this 20-mile corridor.

Depending on the route selected, possible stations could include Dearborn locations such as Ford Motor Company, the University of Michigan-Dearborn, Henry Ford Community College and Greenfield Village. Downtown destinations may be Corktown, near the old Tiger stadium, the New Center, and General Motors World Headquarters in the Renaissance Center on the Detroit River. The route chosen should maximize rider access to work, housing and recreation.

New Hampshire

Lowell-Nashua Commuter Rail Extension - At the beginning of service, this project is estimated to make 900 weekday boardings in a major corridor where the roads are congested up to 150 percent their practical capacity in areas. It will give New Hampshire commuters to the greater Boston area a transportation option along the Route 3 corridor. This project would be a 12-mile extension of an existing rail line in Lowell, Massachusetts.


Cincinnati Interstate 75 Corridor Light Rail - The Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments voted overwhelmingly in October 2003 to add this light rail system into the region's long-range transportation plan. This proposed light rail would help to provide long-term road congestion relief by running frequent trains, and a study funded by Ohio's Department of Transportation and the Regional Council of Governments found that passenger rail in this area is the "only sustainable solution to the congestion problem."

Cincinnati's air quality is poor as the region is out of compliance with federal smog standards. The light rail's alignment would likely serve downtown Cincinnati's central business district and run north to West Chester Township. One of the proposals would have the rail system link with Xavier University, the University of Cincinnati, and the Medical Center.

Analysis of light rail service projected more than $900 million in net benefits over the next 30 years, with an 8.5 percent rate of return on the investment. The economic benefits of train service include time savings, affordable mobility, and a decrease in air pollution, among other benefits. The light rail's projected weekday ridership is estimated at 20,000 per day.


Portland South Corridor - This proposed extension of Portland's light rail system would increase transit ridership by 60,600 on an average weekday. It would provide a fourth spoke in the regional rail system and would connect the central city of Portland with several regional and town centers. This light rail would connect Portland State University, Clackamas Town Center, and the Gateway area to downtown Portland, Union Station and Amtrak.

Currently, light rail does not connect to Union Station and Amtrak, but this additional light rail line would tie all of the rail lines together - light rail, the downtown streetcar (in two places), and heavy rail. This line would run north-south, whereas existing light rail runs east-west, making for better service that crosses the light rail lines and connects sections of the Portland area. This line would provide more opportunities for transit-oriented development, including housing, and help to economically revitalize existing, underutilized areas of the Portland region.


Houston Light Rail Extension - In January 2004, Houston opened its first segment of METRORail, a 7.5-mile line from downtown to Reliant Park. The initial segment was funded entirely through non-federal funds. They are looking to construct more segments, eventually totaling a 73-mile system over the course of the next 25 years. One of the corridors being looked at is the "Southeast-Universities-Hobby" corridor. This section would serve the Central Business District, two universities (Texas Southern and University of Houston), Texas Medical Center, and Hobby Airport. The "activity centers" in this corridor contain nearly half the current and projected employment in Harris County.

Despite raising local funding through bond measures, Houston would find it difficult to construct the rest of the light rail system without help from the federal government, and METRO officials are concerned about the prospect of dwindling available federal dollars. According to the Houston Chronicle, "Shirley DeLibero, Metro's outgoing president and chief executive officer, said the [federal] money needs to start flowing right away. Metro lost out on $162 million in matching funds by paying for the Main Street line on its own, she noted."27


Williamsburg-Newport News-Hampton Light Rail - This proposed 32-mile light rail corridor would run between Williamsburg and downtown Newport News, serving the downtowns and commercial centers of Hampton and Newport News, including the Airport/Oyster Point area. The Hampton Roads Metropolitan Planning Organization has included the light rail project in the region's long-range transportation plan. This is a region that had been out of compliance for federal ozone standards for much of the 1990s, although it is now classified as in "marginal attainment."


Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee Metra Extension - This proposed 33-mile project would extend the Metra commuter rail along the I-94 corridor. It would connect the central business districts of Kenosha, Racine and Milwaukee. There is strong support for the project among businesses, the public, and local officials. What's more, 147,500 jobs exist within walking distance from the proposed rail station and this commuter rail would link with Amtrak in Milwaukee. Conservative estimates place ridership at 4,100 to 5,100 per day, or 1.1 to 1.5 million annually.

Top right: Photo courtesy; used with permission.
Top left: Photo courtesy Sierra Club Collection/Brian Vanneman; all rights reserved.

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