Monday, June 1, 2009

Passenger Rail in the 2035 MTP

Today I would like to take a look at the recently adopted 2035 Metropolitan Transportation Plan for Lexington and the MPO. My particular focus will be on one or two of my pet peeves, anything concerning rail.

Beginning in Chapter 3 the plan details an assessment of the present state of the transportation system and I am unaware of the reasoning behind the order of their sequencing. Obviously, the surface road network is of first priority as it has been since the '40s or before. This is followed by, and I don't know why, school transportation and taxi/limousine services. Passenger rail, which is next, does come before a practically, insignificant water transportation element(the Valley View ferry). Aviation, freight(road and rail) and transit(Lextran) make up the last items in the assessment. This order does not seem to fit any currently perceived hierarchy of transportation thought.

The initial paragraph of the passenger rail section states the AMTRAK operates the Kentucky Cardinal service from Louisville to Chicago daily while the highlighted link shows that the service was discontinued over 6 years ago. There is then a detailed(?) breakdown of the three closest AMTRAK stations, Cincinnati, Maysville and Louisville. The information given is apparently from a six+ year old schedule as the times and frequency data does not agree with the AMTRAK website and nowhere is it clarified that there is only ONE train a day(in alternating directions). The Louisville information, besides being old, does not show that the connection is made by motor coach and all the departure times for all stations are for service to Chicago. I have taken this route to Washington and on to New York(and back) in the past two years and can personally testify that there are very few empty seats.

This assessment does not include any estimations of current usage or demand nor does it contain any AMTRAK projections or on-time statistics. I don't see how any proposals could be set forth in the form of recommendations using this inventory of data.

Chapter 6 of the document contains the plan recommendations for each plan element. Their listed order is: Highway (of course) both short and long range, Transit(Lextran), Mobility(primarily rideshare/carpool/vanpool and awareness of transit/bike/ped/telecommuting), Bicycling/pedestrian, and other transportation modes.

At this point transportation by air is placed before rail despite ongoing consolidations in the airline industry and the demonstrated willingness of the new administration to push passenger rail, especially high speed rail. This new commitment to HSR(High Speed Rail) is mentioned yet any and all leading of the effort is left to the state Transportation Cabinet. What with the mayors of Louisville, Cincinnati and Nashville each touting regional rail in their areas, Lexington's mayor and Council are very quiet about the subject in public.

The one type of urban mass transit that is being discussed is, as most of should know I am not in favor of, the Automated Guideway Transit or AGT. These highly automated, elevated transit pods do enable a higher level of flexibility than the traditional streetcar model, but may not be able to be used in the case of failure of the automation system. The elevated guideways would alter the streetscape and the look of the downtown and may not fit with the proposed Downtown Master Plan, which though not adopted yet, is still in the minds of many urban citizens. An AGT wold certainly make Lexington a bit more unique, but the more traditionally minded Lexingtonians and others in Central Kenucky may be a roadblock. The AGT, although it may be next to last in the priority if recommendations, does have an impressive amount of information for something with so little publicity.

What you may have noticed over the foregoing paragraphs is the the mostly Federally funded, local MPO agency has little or no control over the planning efforts of Lextran, the Airport, Amtrak or, as I may get into later, the freight hauling modes of rail and trucking. As the umbrella transportation planning agency through which the Federal dollars should flow, there is little that they can do to influence how, where and when the funds will be disbursed.

I have not scrutinized the rest of the plan, nor do I intend to, as I dont want to get into which of the highway projects should get priority over another when I feel that they both could obtain the same results with a different mode as the solution.

Feel free to let me know if you believe some other solution is better.

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