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Mar. 7, 2013

SPECIAL REPORT: Bill Linking TOD to Transit Operations Re-introduced in House (Part Two)

By Philip Shea, Associate Editor

This is the second article in a three-part series on high-speed rail development. For Part One, “Transit-Oriented Development in the Age of High-Speed Rail,” click here. Stay tuned for Part Three which will take a look at high-speed rail around the world.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

During the last Congress, Representatives Tom Petri (R-WI) and Dan Lipiniski (D-IL) introduced H.R. 4361—a bill designed “to create a national initiative on transit-oriented development.” Seeing the expansion of rail networks as essential to accommodating future transportation needs, the bill proposes a unique solution to funding such infrastructure in an era of deficits and austerity—financially binding it to the communities and businesses it supports.

According to a summary circulated by Forest City Enterprises and RBS & Associates LLC at the recent U.S. High Speed Rail Association (USHSR) summit in Washington, H.R. 4361 proposes a public-private partnership model that “will efficiently provide finance for the development of rail facilities while creating vibrant communities around station areas.”

The bill is currently being prepared for reintroduction in the 113th Congress. It is tentatively titled the High Performance Passenger Rail Transportation-Oriented Development Act of 2013.

As noted by Ray Chambers, transportation policy advisor at RBC & Associates, at the summit: “[H.R. 4361] is a national incentive strategy to encourage communities to engage in transit-oriented development that captures value in an organized fashion and puts it back into the rail operation.”

More specifically, the bill proposes a national development planning administrator (NDPA) and coordinating committee to steer planning in the direction of high density and ridership along a supporting corridor. According to the aforementioned summary, there would then be a “capture of cash flow from the increased value of the real estate” that would be used to fund rail operations and maintenance.

Additionally, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation would administer the bill through various agencies and involve states and local authorities that wish to participate. The bill’s proponents insist the initiative would be revenue-neutral, as it relies solely on the revenues of participating projects.

Speaking about the need for new high-speed rail development that could spur such self-sustaining TOD in the long term, Representative Louise Slaughter (D-NY) addressed the summit on her hopes for the coming years.

Photo by Philip Shea

“It is my firm belief that a brighter future and more prosperous future includes robust investments in infrastructure and high-speed rail,” said Slaughter. “We are building infrastructure in other people’s countries while we ignore the needs we have [at home].”

Slaughter added: “While progress has been slow, we’ve continued to move forward with projects in California to Illinois and New York. With each project, we are seeing rail travel in the United States come back to life.”

In terms of progress in her own state, Slaughter noted the development of a new intermodal train station in Rochester that will serve as a new hub for the region’s transportation infrastructure and also spur new transit-oriented development for that city.

“So much needs to be done to bring us back from years of neglect, but it is happening,” said Slaughter. “This year in New York State alone, more than $100 million of work will get underway. Ground will be broken on new stations, new track will be laid, and crossings and bridges will be made safer.”

Needless to say, initial reinvestment in key rail infrastructure was a common theme throughout the USHSR conference. Yet Chambers notes that many existing projects he and Forest City have surveyed across the country can already be financed “in large part based on TOD.” Indeed, the summary of H.R. 4361 notes the extensive Georgia MultiModal Passenger Terminal (MMPT) plan in Atlanta is one such project.

In terms of what kind of transit-oriented development would likely generate the most revenue, other speakers at the conference shared their thoughts on key designs and layouts that have been successful in the past. Mike Bello, senior planner and landscape architect at Gensler, spoke on what he believes are the key ingredients to successful and self-sustaining TOD.

“Being the right size and addressing their context, TODs can really increase value of not just the identity in the community, but also address a blending into the surrounding community,” says Bello. “Some quick design principles [include] community stakeholder collaboration, [a] mix of efficient land uses, affordable housing choices, distinct and attractive communities, direct development towards existing communities… and [a] variety of transportation choices.”