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Every U.S. representative has a signature issue—-or should—-and Rep. Earl Blumenauer is the livability guy. Being from Portland, Oregon, he can hardly help it. Representing the city whose streetcar system is inspiring copycats around the country, he’s also acting as a kind of federal godfather and evangelist for urban light rail projects, which face similar challenges over and over again.
The District could certainly use a hand. We’re going to need tens of millions of dollars of federal funding to build out the rest of the system, which requires going through an onerous battery of studies and reviews equal to those required for heavy rail systems, resulting in long delays if you miss any steps and complicating coordination with other big infrastructure projects (like Union Station). Blumenauer thinks that process is a little excessive, and says he’s working with high-level officials at the Department of Transportation and Federal Transit Administration to “refine” them in order to “fast track” streetcar projects.
“Part of what’s frustrating is that we have federal environmental rules that really would seem—-how do I say this delicately—-we are seeking to replace streetcar tracks that were all over American cities a century ago,” Blumenauer told me today. “We’re using existing rights of way. We are clearly reducing the carbon footprint. And they are treated with the same rigor as some of the emost potentially disruptive infrastructure projects.”
If he could get that done in the next couple years, that would be great.
Image courtesy of www.socialenterprises.wordpress.com.