Volpe Center Year in Review 2010« Previous | Table of Contents | Next »
Multimodal Systems Research and Analysis
The Multimodal Systems Research and Analysis Center of Innovation (COI) contributes to the realization of an integrated multimodal national transportation system. We support the planning, development, management, operations, and financing of multimodal infrastructure. Our work enables decision-makers in government to understand tradeoffs among competing goals in order to deliver a world-class transportation system that ensures that people and goods will reach their destinations safely, on time, and with minimal environmental impact.
Assisting Interagency Working Group on Affordable Housing and Transit
The average American family spends 60 percent of its income on housing and transportation. In some vehicle dependent-neighborhoods, households spend nearly as much on transportation as on housing. One solution to this challenge is to increase housing opportunities adjacent to transit. Although the concept of transit-oriented development is not new, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood's focus on livable communities has translated into support for a broad range of new livability initiatives. Besides the goal of improving access to affordable housing, the Partnership for Sustainable Communities was created by Secretary LaHood, Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan, and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson to support interagency collaboration on policies, plans, and projects.
Volpe Center staff, in support of the partnership and its subgroup, the Interagency Working Group on Affordable Housing and Transit, worked with Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and HUD staff to conduct a series of webinars. The national webinars facilitated information exchange and improved the coordination and delivery of joint projects and services. They brought together over 175 regional and headquarters staff from FTA, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), HUD, and EPA.
As part of ongoing support to FTA and the partnership, the Volpe Center is developing a series of urban and rural case studies of livable communities that combine transportation with local housing and environmental programs. The case studies offer insights into best practices for collaboration both among the Federal partners and with local transportation, housing, land-use and environmental agencies, and other critical partners, such as nongovernmental organizations and community development associations. Boston's Fairmount/Indigo urban rail line is showcased in one case study. The project involves innovative collaboration between FTA and HUD regional offices on transit-oriented development, the EPA regional office on brownfield reclamation, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), the City of Boston, and local development and advocacy organizations. (Sponsored by FTA)
Volpe Center Promotes Walking and Bicycling Options
Under the provisions of the last reauthorization of the Highway Trust Fund, $100 million was authorized for four communities in the United States to develop an infrastructure for expanding local pedestrian and bicycle travel in order to decrease highway congestion and energy use and to promote a healthier and cleaner environment. This initiative, the Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program (NTPP), is currently funding projects in Columbia, Missouri; Marin County, California; Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Sheboygan County, Wisconsin.
The Volpe Center is supporting FHWA's Office of Human Environment and these communities in developing and implementing the program to expand travel options, evaluate the program's results, and report them to Congress. Volpe Center staff members from the Multimodal Systems Research and Analysis COI attended last month's annual NTPP meeting in Minneapolis, where they led discussions of the project working group on program evaluation and the final report to Congress. They met with local officials and took part in an eight-mile tour of the NTPP-funded Twin Cities projects on bicycles provided through the new Nice Ride Bike Sharing project, also funded through NTPP. NTPP's goals are compatible with those of the Interagency Partnership for Sustainable Communities, recently announced by Transportation Secretary LaHood, HUD Secretary Donovan, and EPA Administrator Jackson. Goals include providing more transportation choices and enhancing the unique characteristics of each community. (Sponsored by FHWA)
New Report on Groundbreaking Pilot Program Points to Carbon Sequestration Potential
FHWA established the Carbon Sequestration Pilot Program in 2008 to assess how much carbon could be sequestered by native vegetation in National Highway System (NHS) rights-of-way (ROW). FHWA asked the Volpe Center's Multimodal Systems Research and Analysis COI to assist with this effort.
As a result of this collaboration, FHWA and the Volpe Center released a report, Estimated Land Available for Carbon Sequestration in the National Highway System. Using geographic information systems (GIS), the project team analyzed aerial images, detailed state DOT maps, and ROW plans. This information enabled the team to estimate that the NHS comprises approximately five million acres of land, representing the first known data-based approximation of highway ROW acreage for both individual states and the nation.
The project team also estimated that vegetation in the NHS ROW has already sequestered 91 million metric tons (MMT) of carbon and that it continues to sequester approximately 3.6 MMT per year nationwide, the equivalent of carbon dioxide emissions from about 2.6 million passenger cars. On the basis of a hypothetical price of $20 per metric ton of carbon, the total potential sequestration value of the nation's highway ROW is approximately $8.5 to $14 billion. As part of the overall project, the Volpe Center and FHWA developed a Highway Carbon Sequestration Estimator as a decision-support tool to help state DOTs assess return on investment for various carbon sequestration scenarios. The report is available online at www.fhwa.dot.gov/hep/climate/carbon_sequestration/index.htm, and the decision-support tool is available upon request. (Sponsored by FHWA)
Collaborating on the Social Cost of Carbon for Rulemaking Activities
This year, a Federal Interagency Working Group issued a final report, The Social Cost of Carbon for Regulatory Impact Analysis Under Executive Order 12866 (PDF, 854 KB). The Executive Order requires U.S. government agencies, to the extent permitted by law, “to assess both the costs and the benefits of the intended regulation and, recognizing that some costs and benefits are difficult to quantify, propose or adopt a regulation only upon a reasoned determination that the benefits of the intended regulation justify its costs.” As the report's Executive Summary states: “The purpose of the ‘social cost of carbon’ estimates presented here is to allow agencies to incorporate the social benefits of reducing carbon dioxide emissions into cost-benefit analyses of regulatory actions that have small, or ‘marginal,’ impacts on cumulative global emissions. The estimates are presented with an acknowledgement of the many uncertainties involved and with a clear understanding that they should be updated over time to reflect increasing knowledge of the science and economics of climate impacts.”
On behalf of the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT), Dr. Don Pickrell, chief economist at the Volpe Center, served with technical experts from numerous agencies to consider public comments, explore the technical literature in relevant fields, and discuss key model inputs and assumptions. Other participating agencies included the Council of Economic Advisers; the National Economic Council; the Council on Environmental Quality; the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Energy, and Treasury; the EPA; and the Offices of Energy and Climate Change, Management and Budget, and Science and Technology Policy. (Sponsored by U.S. DOT)
Developing Cost Allocation Methodology for Amtrak Routes
The profitability of passenger rail service in the United States has been a controversial subject since Congress created Amtrak in 1970. A major problem has been the perception that Amtrak's accounting systems are inaccurate and insufficiently able to track and allocate the costs of each of its more than 40 passenger rail routes. To help resolve this issue, Congress authorized the Secretary of Transportation to develop a methodology for determining the avoidable and fully allocated costs of each Amtrak route. Avoidable costs are defined as estimated cost savings that would occur if a single route were eliminated, while fully allocated costs are the portion of the total cost that best represents an equitable share for a single route. To undertake this effort, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) turned to the Volpe Center.
FRA and the Volpe Center issued a joint report entitled Methodology for Determining the Avoidable and Fully Allocated Costs of Amtrak Routes (PDF, 4.02 MB).
The Volpe Center's Multimodal Research and Analysis COI assembled a team to work closely with Amtrak staff to review Amtrak's cost accounting system and determine how to develop and implement a revised method for outlining both avoidable and fully allocated costs for each route.
As part of the methodology development process, several major issues needed to be resolved. For example, certain shared operational and corporate costs, such as maintenance-of-way, capital costs, and general and administrative costs, cannot be easily apportioned to individual trains or routes. Amtrak also has several major ancillary businesses, such as commuter rail services and real-estate ventures, the costs of which need to be properly allocated.
The methodology that the Volpe Center developed for FRA is being integrated into a new Amtrak performance-tracking cost accounting system, which will enable the costs of individual routes to be assessed more accurately than in the past. (Sponsored by FRA)
Designing a New Feature to Enhance the Highway Investment Model
One of U.S. DOT's strategic goals is to ensure that transportation assets are maintained in a state of good repair. FHWA uses a formal highway investment model, the Highway Economic Requirements System (HERS), to estimate the benefits and costs of alternative levels of investment in capacity, pavement rehabilitation, and other physical improvements. HERS is a primary contributor to the information and recommendations in the biennial U.S. DOT Conditions and Performance (C&P) Report to Congress on the nation's surface transportation system.
The Volpe Center has been a key partner in the creation and evolution of the HERS model since the 1980s, and today it hosts, maintains, and operates the system for FHWA. The Volpe Center works closely with FHWA to add new features and continually improve the effectiveness of HERS as a decision-support tool. In an effort to ensure the scientific integrity of the model, enhancements to HERS are regularly subjected to peer review by academic experts.
Recently, the Volpe Center designed a new feature that allows congestion pricing to be analyzed in relation to road usage and investment needs as a policy alternative. Instead of providing a single daily traffic volume for a road segment, this feature permits analysis of three diurnal traffic categories: peak, offpeak, and counterpeak (reverse commuting). (Sponsored by FHWA)
Promoting Best Practices in Emergency Management
This year, the Volpe Center supported a workshop and webinar learning opportunity, “Fort Hood, Texas Army Base Shooting Incident: A Multiagency Emergency,” offered by the Transportation Safety Advancement Group (TSAG) and the U.S. DOT Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA) Joint Program Office's (JPO) Talking Technology and Transportation (T3) program. In collaboration with webinar moderator and presenter Jim Reed, who is executive director of the Central Texas Council of Governments, and Linda Dodge of RITA's Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) JPO, the Volpe Center delivered a webinar describing how ITS is being used in real-world emergency and incident management. The Volpe Center also coordinated all webinar logistics, including outreach, registration, and onsite technical support, and provided an online webinar summary.
Through its Case Studies Workshops series, TSAG promotes public safety and conducts post-reviews of recent events and incidents and associated emergency-responder experiences. The workshops facilitate discussions among multidisciplinary and multiagency professionals, enabling them to identify technological, institutional, and policy-based successes, failures, and lessons learned. (Sponsored by RITA JPO)
Conducting Alternative Transportation Awareness Surveys in Our National Parks
Volpe Center teams from the Economic and Industry Analysis and the Transportation Policy, Planning, and Organizational Excellence Divisions have conducted surveys for the National Park Service (NPS) in Virginia's Colonial National Historical Park. The park offers visitors a look into the history of colonial America. The Historic Triangle Shuttle services run between Colonial Williamsburg and area highlights, such as the Yorktown Battlefield and the Jamestown Settlement. Lydia Rainville and Paul Minnice of the Economic and Industry Analysis Division and Gabriel López-Bernal of the Transportation Policy, Planning, and Organizational Excellence Division administered a survey to over 500 visitors who arrived by personal vehicle, asking about their awareness of the shuttle services. The survey was a continuation of a Volpe Center analysis of transportation at the park and also a follow-up to a survey of shuttle users conducted last year.
On the basis of the data collected, Volpe Center staff will draft a report on the public's awareness of alternative transportation options in the park and will provide recommendations to NPS on how the shuttle might be better utilized in the future. (Sponsored by NPS)