Author Archives: Mike Carosi

TUNNEL CONSTRUCTION: Midtown Tunnel sections now floating toward Portsmouth

The Elizabeth River Tunnels (ERT) Project team has begun the process of towing down the first six of 11 tunnel sections for the new Midtown Tunnel. The tunnel elements will be towed from the SKW Constructors JV fabrication facility in Sparrows Point, Md., to the Portsmouth Marine Terminal in Portsmouth, Va., in preparation for placement in the Elizabeth River beginning this fall.

Under current weather conditions, the first element is scheduled to arrive in Hampton Roads as early as this Friday, June 13, 2014.

The first step of the process, flooding the dry dock at Sparrows Point, began early Monday, June 9. All six completed elements will be moved out of the dry dock and temporarily moored in the Baltimore harbor for final outfitting ahead of the journey. Fabrication of the five remaining tunnel elements begins immediately following the removal of the first six elements.

Each element will be towed down one at a time, with the first scheduled to have begun its trip already.

It will take each element approximately four to seven days to arrive. Barring any adverse weather conditions, it will take approximately five to seven weeks to tow the six completed elements, which will be moored at the Portsmouth Marine Terminal until installation.

Headquartered in Portsmouth, Va., Elizabeth River Crossings OpCo LLC is the private partner of the Virginia Department of Transportation for the design, construction, finance, operations and maintenance of the Elizabeth River Tunnels Project, with SKW Constructors JV as design-build contractor. Located in Norfolk and Portsmouth, Va., the project consists of a new two-lane tunnel under the Elizabeth River parallel to the existing Midtown Tunnel; fire, life and safety modifications and upgrades to the existing Midtown Tunnel and Downtown Tunnels; interchange modifications in Norfolk and Portsmouth; and extending the MLK Freeway in Portsmouth from London Boulevard to I-264. More information can be found at www.driveert.com.

Originally Published in Roads & Bridgesonline. Click on the link to read original article.

Media Relations: Get them Involved and Keep the Coverage Going

If you want to execute some control over how your project is portrayed in the media, you need to consider your approach to media relations and media training. A proactive media relations program can promote positive news coverage during the project. Media training will prepare key spokeperson(s) from your project to stand up on camera.

Know the Basics
Educate yourself and your team on major and outlying media sources and keep in mind social media. Embrace your media. They are your primary conduits to the public. Compile a list of subject matter experts and approved spokesperson(s), including who is trained for on-camera interviews.

 Know the Big Picture
Consider the scope of your transportation project, consider motorist and community impact and consider the best use of media coverage.  Providing consistent coverage creates confidence in motorists, pedestrians and local communities impacted by your project.

·       Why does the public care about this project?
·       Who will benefit?
·       What communities are affected by this project?
·       What changes and updates should commuters be made aware of?

Know the Reporters
Targeting individual reporters, who cover project related subjects, increases your chances for project coverage.  Researching individual journalists takes time and persistence in the beginning, but builds the relationships essential for good public relations. Keep communication open and if you do not have an immediate response, touch base and let them know you are working on their request.

Know Your Message
Protect yourself with knowledge. Write out key talking points for each project and share with all key participants. If a reporter requires a quick response and you are unavailable, put the talking points in the hands of other project members will provide immediate, vetted information.

The bottom line, communication is key.  Whether this information is good or bad, honesty and facts are the best approach.  The community and key stakeholders are the ones who are directly impacted by your project, they deserve to have the correct information communicated in a clear and concise way.

Crisis Communications Planning for Transportation

Establishing a Crisis Communications Plan for each transportation project will mitigate negative repercussions and shorten crisis response time. Identify the possible risks associated with your project through discussions with your public relations team, legal staff, executives and project managers. Create a series of talking points addressing each potential crisis. These preparations facilitate immediate media response, but allow for the luxury of forethought and focus. Anticipate the needs of victims and possible legal consequences, and identify pertinent background information. Secure agreements with executives and legal staff concerning social media usage in the event of a crisis.

Crisis Communications for transportation public relations must happen quickly, almost instantly in a digital society. There is no time to create thorough plans after the crisis occurs, and the risks, talking points, facts and spokespersons must be identified in advance. Public opinion, inaccurate information and project members speaking to the media without authorization can muddle the message.

Each member of a project should be aware of existing crisis communications plans and the roles they are expected to fill in case of emergency. Identified spokespersons should be armed with relevant information and provided with on-camera media training. Any members participating in a project who are not qualified to speak with the media should be properly trained in media relations. Journalists on the hunt for a story can be ruthless, and their exploitation of untrained personnel is a risk factor to be identified.

In the event of a crisis, communicate facts honestly and quickly; do not attempt to hide. The public talks 24/7 on social media, and immediate engagement will mitigate negative reactions and minimize rumors. Express compassion for those involved and avoid shifting blame. A lack of sincerity, is obvious and detrimental. Providing regular status reports demonstrates compliance. Seventh Points Transportation Public Relations excels in crisis communications planning and possesses a unique transportation expertise.

Lawmakers support new Hampton Roads transportation commission

RICHMOND – A key House committee advanced two bills Tuesday that could overhaul transportation spending in Hampton Roads and across the state.

House Bill 1253 would create a new commission with the power to borrow money and implement tolls in Hampton Roads.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s administration says the change would inject more local control into toll deals and avoid agreements like the one that led to the tolls on the Downtown and Midtown tunnels between Portsmouth and Norfolk.

That deal, negotiated by the state, drew heavy criticism, and McAuliffe announced a shift earlier this year to lower the new tolls at the tunnels. The tolls went into effect Feb. 1.

The 21-member body would be made up of the top elected officials from each of the 14 cities and counties in the region, plus two members of the House of Delegates, one senator and four designees from various state transportation entities, including the Commonwealth Transportation Board and the Virginia Port Authority.

It could hire staff, and decisions would generally require at least a two-thirds vote of the elected officials present at any given meeting.

“It creates a decision-making process run entirely by local and state elected officials,” said Dwight Farmer, director of the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization, which puts together local transportation priorities now.

The HRTPO would continue to have planning responsibilities, but the commission would have planning duties, too. It’s unclear from the bill where one’s duties end and the other’s begin, but the commission would be able to impose tolls and borrow money to speed projects up, which the HRTPO cannot do.

The other bill, House Bill 2, also has backing from the McAuliffe administration and top GOP leaders in the House. It proposes new selection criteria for transportation projects across the state.

The idea is to assign scores to projects on several factors: easing congestion, improving safety, promoting economic development and improving accessibility or environmental quality. Hampton Roads already does something similar, but this would be a new statewide requirement, according to Del. Chris Stolle, R-Virginia Beach, the bill sponsor.

Local leaders would have input on which factors were most important, but the bill would require easing congestion to take the top spot in Hampton Roads.

Overall, Stolle said he wants the state to do a better job of explaining how and why it chooses to fund some projects but not others. He envisions a website that would list projects and give their scores for the various weighting factors.

“I think there’s a concern that the money’s not being spent wisely and we want to make sure that there’s a reproducible process that we can show the citizen,” he said.

The process should give the state more bang for its buck, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation.

Farmer, the local transportation planning director, said he agrees with that assessment.

The fine print is complex, though, and transportation policy analysts are still sorting through some it.

“You still have to apply this criteria,” said Trip Pollard, an attorney who focuses on transportation for the Southern Environmental Law Center. “Someone has to decide how many points do you get for (U.S. Route) 460? How many do you deduct for destroying 400 acres of wetlands?”

The House Transportation Committee voted unanimously for the bill Tuesday without asking a single question, despite Chairman Thomas Rust, R-Herndon, noting the bill’s size, importance and complexity, then inviting members to debate the bill.

Peninsula committee members Mamye BaCote, D-Newport News, Jeion Ward, D-Hampton, and David Yancey, R-Newport News, voted for the bill.

The local vote count was the same for House Bill 1253, which passed the committee easily.

Both bills head now to the House floor.

Correction: This article has been edited to note that Del. David Yancey, R-Newport News, voted for house bills 2 and 1253, as opposed to not voting. Yancey was out of the room during the votes, but logged his votes with the committee clerk, according to his office.

 Published February 4, 2014 in The Daily Press

Reckless Driving Bill to Protect Cops Introduced in VA

RICHMOND, Va. — The bill requested by the family of Virginia State Trooper Andrew Fox has been introduced in the Virginia State Senate and assigned to the Senate Transportation Committee, according to Virginia State Senator Phillip P. Puckett, D-Russell.

Legislative Services assigned the number SB 293 to the bill. The bill summary is titled: “Reckless driving causing death or injury of certain persons,” and the text follows.

“Punishes reckless driving that causes the death or serious physical injury of a law-enforcement officer, emergency medical services personnel, highway worker, or firefighter engaged in his duties as a Class 6 felony with a $2,500 mandatory minimum fine.The bill further requires the court to suspend the offender’s driver’s license for one year. In addition, the court may impose a civil penalty of up to $10,000 and the proceeds shall be deposited into the general fund.”

Trooper Fox, 27, a Tazewell, Va., native who was directing traffic at the Virginia State Fair on Oct. 5, 2012, when a driver leaving the fair ran over him. Fox died as a result of the injuries he received. The driver pleaded “no contest” to the reckless driving charge and was fined $1,000 and given a 12-month suspended sentence.

Lauren Fox, sister of the deceased trooper, corrected a quote attributed to her in a previous article about the family’s efforts to get the bill in the senate by stating: “Some emergency responders die as a result of accidents.” The family stated further: “With the passing of this bill and public education, we hope to show Virginia’s heroes we care about their safety as they put their lives in danger to make our lives safer. We also hope to send a message to drivers to slow down when they see emergency lights and pay closer attention while driving on Virginia’s roads.”

Puckett said last week that the bill hasn’t been introduced in the House, but he was hopeful that it would be introduced today. He said that “so far,” he’s the second senior member on the Senate Transportation committee, “but we’ll see how all that shakes out after the special elections.”

Two of the three successful candidates in Virginia’s statewide races were sitting Democrats. Only 22 votes separated the candidates he special election on Tuesday to elect a senator to complete the unexpired term of Democrat Ralph Northam, who was elected Lt. Governor. The Democrat, Lynwood Lewis Jr., was declared the winner, but the margin of victory over Republican candidate B. Wayne Coleman was within 1 percent, and will likely result in a re-count.

Another special election is scheduled on Jan. 21, to fill the unexpired term of Attorney General-elect Mark Herring. With both Herring and Northam in the Senate, the body was split 20-20, but with a challenging race ahead for Herring’s seat, as well as the tight vote on the Eastern Shore, nothing is certain.

“When people ask me what I think about the session, I tell them that I’m waiting until after the 21st to respond,” Puckett said.

Mountain Line Transit Prioritizes Veteran Needs Through T-OPS Program

Mountain Line Transit Authority (MLTA) in Morgantown, West Virginia honors the veteran community in many ways, but primarily through their many hiring initiatives and their T-OPS (Transportation Options) program.

In April of 2010 Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited Morgantown to challenge MLTA General Manager David Bruffy and other community leaders to provide a support mechanism for returning veterans and their families. This visit was the impetus for VetConnection.org, a non- profit organization for which MLTA was a founding partner. VetConnection is a one-stop portal that serves United States military veterans and their families by providing resources and information for jobs, healthcare, job training, education, housing assistance, financial guidance, legal advice and more.

Following their engagement with and launch of Vet Connection, Mountain Line Transit started their T-OPS Program. T-OPS was developed to help veterans and their families parse through the many transportation options available to find the ride they need for their particular purpose. In coordination with the newVetConnection.org program, T-OPS provides a one-stop center for all of the transportation options available in Monongalia County and surrounding areas.

In addition to these great support programs, MLTA is committed to hiring veterans. 18.33% of Mountain Line Transit’s current employees are veterans. MLTA participated in several job fairs in 2013, including the David McKinley Veterans Jobs Fair in Clarksburg, WV and the Hiring Our Heroes Job Fair in Morgantown, WV sponsored by the US Chamber of Commerce. Additionally, MLTA uses several online portals, such as VetSuccess.gov, Work Force West Virginia, and the National Guard Employment Program for posting career opportunities and recruiting qualified veterans candidates.

transportation funds

HRTPO Ex Dir: region to see $25 billion in transportation funds

In the next 26 years, 2014 to 2040, Hampton Roads likely will have more than $25 billion to address its transportation issues, from maintenance and replacement to new construction.

Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization Executive Director Dwight Farmer delivered that news to organization’s board at its monthly meeting on Thursday.

Farmer said at least $6 billion would be new funding generated regionally because the new transportation law that became effective in July 2013. Another $2.5 billion in state money will flow into the Hampton Roads Transportation Fund, as well, he said.

“This region will have unprecedented amounts of revenue about which it will have to make decisions,” Farmer said to the board.

Farmer said the total was a forecast and his staff would fine tune the numbers with the Virginia Department of Transportation over the next two years, but he does not expect much variation. “They’ve been fairly accurate” in the past, he said. “This is our best guestimate.”

The elected and appointed city and county officials were surprised and asked how staff arrived at the total.

Farmer said the total includes $4 billion in state and federal funds for construction, $12 billion for maintenance, and additional revenue from bonds, local matches and the state.

After the meeting, Farmer said he shared the information with the board because HRTPO staff was working on the region’s long-range transportation plans. Bridges, interstates and tunnels can take up to 30 years to plan and build.

Board Chairman and Newport News Mayor McKinley L. Price said Farmer’s revenue forecast was surprising, but good news. He said the region can tackle a range of needed projects with it.

In addition to the revenue forecast, the Board received an update on legislation from Secretary of Transportation Aubrey L. Layne. Two bills now under consideration, House Bill 1253 and Senate Bill 513, would create a Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission, which would manage regional transportation revenue.

The commission would have about 22 members, most of whom will be the chief executives (mayors and board chairs) of the 14 local governments in the region. For a project to go forward with regional funding, at least two-thirds of the members representing two-thirds of the regional population would have to approve it.

According to the proposed legislation, the commission would have authority to issue bonds and to set tolls. “It would not have the ability to tax,” Layne said. The commission also could negotiate public-private partnerships for regional projects. Many such projects likely would not be high priorities statewide, but of importance to Hampton Roads localities.

The legislation uses the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority as a model for the proposed Hampton Roads commission, Layne said. “The whole idea is to be a financial planning organization,” he said.

The secretary said if the accountability commission legislation is approved and the commission formed, “I believe every major project in Hampton Roads can be going in the next 25 to 30 years.”

The Daily Press

Workforce Development

Workforce development – attracting, developing and retaining a diverse workforce – is critical to the continuing success of the public transportation industry.

The industry faces a severe shortage of skilled and seasoned employees as thousands of workers from the baby-boom generation approach retirement over the next five to ten years. Other significant workforce challenges facing the public transportation industry include a generally tight labor market, an increase in technological requirements across job functions, and the growing diversity of the workforce.

During the past several years, APTA has helped members address workforce development issues by conducting surveys and other research to identify key challenges and opportunities in this area, as well as by convening a Blue Ribbon Panel on Workforce Development, which presented its recommendations to APTA in 2010. These and other resources are available below.

APTA’s business plans have several goals related to implementing the recommendations of the blue ribbon panel, including conducting APTA’s second Youth Summit, broadening the promotion of the “National Public Transportation Career Day,” and developing and launching new professional development programs, products, and resources.

Do you know what programs and resources are available to improve your knowledge and skills as a transit professional?

Transit Options in Virginia Beach

January 18, 2014

This week, Virginia Beach learned it’s likely to cost $1.3 billion to extend light rail through the Hilltop commercial district to the Oceanfront in 2018. By comparison, bus rapid transit would cost $885 million.

But those numbers depend on who’s chosen to build the system and what technology is used. The effect on Virginia Beach taxpayers depends on whether federal and state money are part of the financing, how many people use the system and how much development occurs around the stops.

So far, the city knows this: One consortium says it can extend light rail 5.2 miles to Rosemont Road for $235 million. It’s an attractive and relatively inexpensive proposal, but it doesn’t account for the costs of right-of-way acquisition or an expanded feeder bus system. Another company wants to build the system to the Oceanfront but won’t divulge how much it would cost.

A third company says that for $344 million it will construct a solar-powered system using a new, cheaper, greener technology that will take people to the Oceanfront. But that company has two strikes against it: a failed effort to build a magnetic-levitation monorail at Old Dominion University a decade ago and no completed transit systems in the country.

If no federal money is available – and that’s likely to be the case because the Federal Transit Administration hasn’t funded any new projects this fiscal year – how will Virginia Beach pay for it? What, if anything, can the city afford?

So many moving parts must be analyzed and weighed against the city’s other needs.

In its annual retreat this month, the Virginia Beach City Council acknowledged that its direction in the coming year determines what kind of city it will be in 20 years. Building a transit system is critical to growing Virginia Beach strategically, providing opportunities to live in urban, pedestrian-friendly districts as well as in suburban neighborhoods and among farmland.

If the city builds transit in phases, putting off the Oceanfront extension for a decade, does that impede growth in tourism, one of the economic drivers of the region? If Virginia Beach delays any construction, how would that affect efforts to recruit jobs and young people?

Some city leaders are intrigued by the claims of American Mag-lev Technology that it can build a system faster and for less than 30 percent of the cost of the conventional train Norfolk built, doing less damage to the environment in the bargain. The company points to its half-mile test track in Powder Springs, Ga., as proof. Call us skeptical.

City staff plan to present recommendations next month on how the council should proceed. The bottom line: Public transit is critical to the future of Virginia Beach, but the council has much more work to do before it decides what form it should take.

Transportation PR Staff

Millenials and Mobility: Understanding the Millenial Mindset

The Millennial Generation, those born between 1982 and 2003, is the largest and most diverse generation in American history. According to Millennial Makeover, a seminal volume on generational change, 40% of Millennials are African American, Latino, Asian or racially-mixed compared to only 25% of the next two older generations.

Millennials are also living through times of economic dislocation and technological change. History shows that the combination of technological change, such as the advent of smartphone technology, television, or radio; combined with macro forces that shape behaviors, such as the Great Recession, the Great Depression, or World War II can lead to societal change that can last generations.

It is in this context that Millennials, with their relative propensity for urban lifestyle components (whether they live in cities or in suburbs), dexterity with technology, while starting careers during economically constrained times can leave a lasting impact on society. In fact, they are already driving trends.

Public transportation options are considered the best for digital socializing and among the most likely to connect the user with their communities. Transit also allows Millennials to work as they travel, a trend noted by 40% of those polled. These benefits of public transit need to be fully leveraged by the industry, as they provide a clear competitive advantage.

Reasons and motivations for transportation choices are pragmatic, with 46% stating that a need to save money drives their choices; 46% also note convenience, 44% want exercise, and 35% say they live in a community where it just makes more sense to use transit.
Millennials would like to see in the next ten years: 1) 61% more reliable systems, 2) 55% real-time updates, 3) 55% Wi-Fi or 3G/4G wherever they go, 4) 44% a more user-friendly and intuitive travel experience. Fully leveraging technology, through real-time transit applications that connect users with community amenities, through smartphone fare payment, and the provision of WiFi and 3G/4G, will allow transit users to be more spontaneous, thus addressing the key competitive advantage of the car.

Original Article here