Boston’s Big Dig project clears downtown highways, clogs suburbian arteries

The Central Artery project in downtown Boston – also known as the Big Dig – has been more than a decade in the making and cost the state and federal government upwards of $15 billion. Basically, the Big Dig took Boston’s primary downtown highway, Interstate 93, and moved it underground. This had the benefit of unclogging what some called the worst bottleneck in the national highway system, and freeing some valuable real estate on the surface of downtown Boston. On the other hand, the project was also the most expensive single highway project in history, and it has been plagued by cost overruns and a severe engineering disaster.

Evidence has been mounting lately that, while downtown Boston highways are now speedy and frequently not crowded at all, the traffic jams have instead moved a few miles away to the outskirts of the city. It’s faster to get through downtown, but getting into downtown is much, much slower. The interesting thing is that transportation officials that were in charge when the project was started have said that they fully expected this to happen, but they went ahead and did it anyway. I have to ask you, at $15 billion, was it really worth it? $15 billion could get you a brand-new highway from New York to Boston. A new airport would only be slightly more, at around $20 billion. Amtrak estimates that $10 billion would modernize the Northeast Corridor and slash train travel times enough to move a couple hundred thousand cars off the roads. Now, it’s just my opinion, but there are so many other ways to spend that money – was the Big Dig really worth it?

Want to leave a mark on the world? Name an Amtrak train

Yes, that’s right, in the near future you lucky Gadling readers can begin riding the “David Breisch Express.” What, not catchy enough for you? Oh, fine, I’ll think of something else. In the meantime, you too can have a chance at naming Amtrak’s Kansas City – St. Louis service. The line, consisting of two daily round-trips, currently is celebrating 30 years of continuous service. The two existing trains are named the Ann Rutledge (who?) and the Kansas City Mule. Now, I’m pretty familiar with Amtrak’s national rail system, and I’ve always thought that the Missouri services needed new names. Why on earth would you name a transportation method that’s supposed to evoke speed a Mule? Okay, actually, I take that back. I think the Mule is named after something, but since neither I nor Wikipedia can come up with the answer, my complaint stands.

Anyway, if you’re interested in entering the contest, check out the Missouri Department of Transportation website and submit your ideas by December 10. Judges will select the five finalists, and then the public will be able to vote on the best brand name between December 16 and January 16. The rebranding effort comes at a time of revitalization on the line, with a brand-new St. Louis terminal and renovations at a couple of other stations. So what are you waiting for? Get voting!

Live too far from a train station? Build a new one!

Jimmy Gierczyk is not your typical real estate developer. As a resident of Buffalo City, MI, Gierczyk has been hard at work helping build this little town into a getaway location for bored Chicagoans. It’s about an hour away and, interestingly enough, Buffalo City already has an Amtrak station – but only on one of the two lines that go through the town, and it’s on the outskirts. The other line passes right through downtown, but there’s no station to stop at.

Enter Mr. Gierczyk. Instead of waiting for Amtrak to try and find the money to build a new station, he decided to just do it himself – at a cost of over $1.5 million. His overall goal is attracting more Chicago tourists and real estate buyers to the area, and if it works, it’ll pay off for his business nicely.

Amtrak, of course, is perfectly agreeable to creating a new station stop now that a shiny new station exists there. As for Gierczyk, he now has a train station in the middle of downtown. It’ll create tourism, it’ll drive the economic growth of the downtown area, and it’s also right at the front door of his condominium complex. How convenient!

[Via Chicago Sun-Times]

France’s rail system plagued by attempted sabatoge incidents

The TGV, France’s high-speed rail network, was plagued over the weekend by a series of unexplained – and most likely related – attempts to derail several TGV trainsets loaded with passengers. The attackers apparently jammed iron bars into the overhead power cables at four different locations around the city of Paris, forcing SNCF (the national rail operator) to suspend or delay hundred of trains. French authorities believe that the attacks were related and performed by technically-savvy sabatoeurs. After all, I don’t know about you, but I don’t think that I know how to neutralize a 25,000 volt power line long enough to stick a metal bar up there. Nor would I want to try.

In a seperate incident on Sunday afternoon in a different region of France, a TGV train traveling at 90 mph slammed into a couple of concrete slabs that had been placed on the tracks. The train did not derail and suffered only minor damage, and police are investigating whether that incident was related.

[Via The Gulf Times]

Election brings new transit projects, transportation spending galore

It’s U.S. election season, and that can only mean one thing: multitudes of new things to spend taxpayer money on. Whether it be building a new school, closing budget gaps, or a new car for the mayor, everyone seems to want more public funding. Well, kids, transit and transportation projects are no different, and there were lots of them on ballots across the country. Funnily enough, with the sting of record-breaking gas prices still in the air, voters more often than not chose to bump up their taxes slightly to pay for more mass transit. Here’s a round-up of what our U.S. readers can expect in the coming months and years. Everyone who is not a U.S. reader… read my post anyway and leave an encouraging comment.

To start us off, I’ll go with the general prediction that an Obama administration may begin investing heavily in the federal transportation network in order to fight off a stagnant economy. Bloomberg reports that Obama has been pushing for an economic stimulus plan that plows money into roads, rail and airports. Earlier this year, he proposed a $60 billion “infrastructure bank” that would bring many needed jobs to areas around the country.

Meanwhile, the other big news is California’s approval of a $10 billion measure to issue bonds to start paying for a proposed high-speed rail line running at up to 220 mph linking San Francisco and Los Angeles. The measure passed by a close margin of 52-48 on what is ultimately expected to be a $45 billion project. The system would bring half a million jobs to the region, many of them permanent, and would provide an important and competitive alternative to air and road travel.

Trains magazine reports on other stories abound, as well. Seattle voters decided to increase their sales taxes by a half cent to pay for an extension of Sound Transit, boosting capacity and frequency of trains and buses. New Mexico voters approved a one-eighth-cent gross-receipts tax to fund more Rail Runner commuter rail service. Honolulu, meanwhile, finally approved a long-discussed measure (and half-percentage point increase in the general excise tax) to build a new light rail line. Construction of the $4.28 billion project will begin next year and will bring much-needed relief to overcrowded highways. Tax increases for public transit also passed in Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Francisco.

All in all, a pretty good day for mass transportation. Yes, it costs money, but it also brings many jobs, economic vitalization, and important transit alternatives to cities across the country.