Below is a piece I wrote for an urban planning class last year. I am having trouble uploading pictures that would go in the appendix section so just use your imagination.
The success or failure of transportation corridors since the late 1950’s has often hinged on the support or opposition of the Federal Government. Frequently, Government support or opposition for various modes of transportation infrastructure has had unintended consequences that has influenced transportation corridor creation, preservation, and abandonment.
The National Trail System Act (NTSA) is an example of Government initiative and unintended consequences. Before the creation of the NTSA in 1983, rail right-of-ways had to be transferred to the original property owner upon abandonment, effectively returning a transportation corridor to private use and severely limiting the opportunity for future corridor development.
The NTSA promoted transportation corridor preservation through railbanking. NTSA allows civically minded and qualified organizations, such as the Rails to Trails Conservancy, to hold and use corridors for the public benefit through railbanking. Civic organizations would hold these corridors until they could be put back into use for transportation purposes. The NTSA’s railbanking program has created 10,000 plus miles of preserved right of way. A weakness of the railbanking program is that it only maintains the rail-right-of-way, and not the physical rail infrastructure. The removal of rail infrastructure is big deterrent to bringing back rail to abandoned corridors.
The NTSA has promoted rail abandonment by giving rail operators tax incentives to hand over abandoned corridors to trail organizations. This has been especially true for marginally profitable lines. The economic incentive for abandonment that the NTSA has created is a harmful unintended consequence of Federal policy. The NTSA economic incentive for abandonment along with its exclusion of preserving rail infrastructure has cast doubts over its long term feasibly of returning rail corridors back to transportation uses.
The deregulation of the rail industry that came in 1980 with the Stagers Act led to an era of economic growth for the rail industry. However, it also ushered in an era of abandonment, consolidation and reduction of service. This is another striking example of Federal policy that has had unintended consequences.
The Super Highway Era:
Government planning efforts were not limited to rail related items. Highway traffic congestion, in part, created the motivation for the preservation and creation of rail corridors, mass transit and super highways. In the early 1950’s there was unprecedented cooperation between city, state, county and federal government planners. Within the Chicago region, cooperation between Mayor Richard J. Daley, the IL Toll Authority, and local community leaders coincided with profits from bond sales and increased federal funding to generate the era of superhighway creation. Within a matter of years formerly diffuse government agencies, politicians, and citizens came together with a common goal of transforming the region’s highway infrastructure. They largely succeeded.
In the 1950’s the importance of a successful highway system was largely understood. However, the decentralizing factor that the formation of super highways would create, and its impact on the economic viability of rails was less understood at the time. Within a mere ten years these factors would become more well known, and lead to the “Highway Revolt” that stymied the creation of new transportation infrastructure in the 1960’s.
The enormous amount of resident and property displacement needed to create new highways within an already densely populated city helped further the sense of highway revolt. Highway building was no longer the top priority amongst planners and Federal and State Agencies. The transportation industry enjoyed media attention during the 1950s, but as the political tensions of the 1960’s grew, the medias focus on transportation waned.
Federal and State partnerships for highway funding dried up. Smaller, incremental changes that could be made to the infrastructure that was already in place became the new focus of Federal and State transportation planning groups. A prime example of the shifting agenda of planners, Government Agencies and citizens was the controversy surrounding the creation of The Cross Town Expressway.
Transportation Corridor Development:
There is still potential for the reintroduction of rail usage amongst previously abandoned or displaced rail lines in this country. Three areas that have vast potential for a new or improved rail corridors are already well known, Los Angeles (Newport Beach north to LA), Monterey to San Francisco, and a super corridor connecting Newport Beach to Los Angeles, north to Monterey, to San Francisco. It is likely that all three of these corridors would be successful.
Judging from the data I have collected that uses multiple K factors and has incorporated the influence of tourism, major universities, and state capitals (see accompanying spread sheet) to gain a more accurate judgment of the potential for rail transportation within these corridors; a Los Angeles rail line strikes me as especially attractive. Los Angeles is surrounded by cities with 100,000 or more citizens. A rail line connection going form Newport Beach, north towards Los Angeles and onward to Monterey Bay and San Francisco would have the potential of linking up a traffic prone region and reestablishing major metropolitan corridors.
Currently there seems to be a sense of highway revolt going on in LA and an effort to increase transportation connectivity through the use of rails may find advocates amongst the car driving masses in Southern California. Furthermore, the economic hardships that California is currently facing need to be addressed; increased connectivity through rails may be a tool to do so. This would also play off the green movement that seems to have such a grip in California. The climate of highway revolt, economic hardship and thinking green, may make a rail transit corridor within California more viable. As citizens and politicians search for a vehicle to turn around the California economy it is clear that the over reliance on the automobile will have to be tackled.
Future Transportation Demand:
After studying multiple corridors using regression analysis, population forecasting to 2030, and gravity modeling, three transportation corridors have became especially attractive and should be considered finalists for future funding. These corridors are notable for their growing population(wit the exception of Monterey City), proximity to densely populated areas and a shared history of rail usage. Furthermore, these areas are experiencing rapidly increasing traffic congestion, which has become a particular problem in their respective regions.
Newport Beach to Los Angeles:
Over the next twenty years Newport Beach will gain close to 17,000 citizens and Los Angles will add an additional 430,000. At Today’s population levels, there is an estimated 84,000 to 110,00 (depending on the K value) daily trips between the two cities. Furthermore, these figures are derived using the “core” population of Los Angeles (1.4m) and not the actual population of the city (3m+). These figures may be on the low end! As the population grows, these daily trips are expected to rise to 329,000 to 413,000. This future growth will no doubt bring increased traffic congestion. Long ago the model of creating more lanes and miles of expressways to counteract traffic has been proven not to work, and other alternatives are needed. As driving continues to become more of an irritant, alternatives will become more appealing. The Newport to Los Angeles corridor should be able to take advantage of the future conditions, but work has to start today.
Because of the proximity of Newport Beach to Los Angeles (44 miles) and the fact that Newport is a minor port town with more of a leisure / service industry; where as Los Angeles has more diverse industry, I am recommending a commuter rail with freight capabilities to meet the current and future needs of the region. Commuter rail would be the main priority, as many Newport residents would travel to Los Angeles for work. However, freight service could also help Newport Beach take advantage of its location along the Pacific, sending goods inland towards the greater Los Angeles market helping to fulfill the aspirations of Captain Dunnell and James Irvine. Additionally, Los Angelenos could more easily take advantage of the leisurely lifestyle that Newport is known for without having to battle severe traffic. The Newport to Los Angeles corridor should be the main priority of rail transportation planners within California. This is the corridor that has the most potential to benefit the most people.
Monterey to San Francisco:
The population of Monterey City is projected to shrink by 5,500 citizens by 2030. However, according to the US Census the County of Monterey has a population just over 400,000 and is growing at approximately 2% annually. Even though Monterey is shrinking, the county is growing. San Francisco, Monterey’s neighbor to the north, is expected to maintain robust growth over the next twenty years, to the tune of 94,000 new citizens.
The Monterey government has been able to maintain some of the original train right-of-way, even though portions of the track have been removed. Increased connectivity to San Francisco via a high-speed rail that could cover the 113 miles at a speed of 150 mph would make the commute an attractive 45 minutes. This would be well within the tolerable time range for commuters. Additionally, 113 miles is a tough distance for air travel to maintain competitiveness with cars. The region’s traffic and congestion problems would further bolster the opportunity for a high speed rail. Increased connectivity could also change the growth pattern that is projected for the City of Monterey, potentially giving it positive growth into the future by linking it up with a major job center.
This line has significant importance to the proposed “Super Corridor”. San Francisco would serve as the northern anchor to a massive mixed-use rail corridor that could provide increased connectivity, economic, social and tourism benefits to the whole state of California.
A Super Corridor, Newport Beach to Los Angeles to Monterey and San Francisco:
Over the next twenty years, the population growth of this corridor (500,000+) along with the ever-present congestion problems of Southern California should create a great opportunity for a super rail corridor. This corridor would demand high speed, freight and commuter rail. The 44 miles connecting Newport Beach to Los Angeles would consist of commuter and freight services (as described above). The 328 miles from Los Angeles to Monterey (with a stop in Santa Barbra) would be high speed rail with a speed of 150 mph making the trip in 2 hours and 10 minutes. A second track running freight up and down the coast would parallel the high-speed rail. Monterey to San Francisco would also be high-speed rail (as described above). The total amount of annual trips between these cities already ranges from 8,000,000 to 9,500,000. This does not include forecast for population growth that would increase those numbers substantially. A super corridor would have the ability to ease congestion and improve California’s economy by creating rail related jobs, as well as giving job centers a whole new prospect base for future employees. The efficiency and sustainability of rails would further bolster the green economy in California and make it a model for the nation.