Author: Peter Hirsch
A Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) regional planning grant is helping the Central Puget Sound region plan for future growth and leverage a significant transportation investment.
Sound Transit Light Rail; credit: LeeLeFever
Investing in Puget Sound
The Central Puget Sound region approved the Sound Transit 2 Plan (ST2) in 2008 to develop and construct more robust regional rapid transit. At an estimated $17.8 billion cost, the majority of which is devoted to 36 additional miles of light rail track, the project will more than double the current system, expanding service to three counties and connecting the larger Seattle metropolitan area. Upon completion, slated for 2023, the project’s planners expect half of all trips to Downtown Seattle will be on transit. ST2 will help support the projected growth of the Puget Sound region in the coming years, with an anticipated 1.5 million new residents by 2040.
The Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC), an organization focused on planning for regional transportation, growth management and economic development, realized the need to prepare the Puget Sound area for a projected population of 5 million. Working with residents and county, city, and local officials, PSRC developed VISION 2040, a regional strategy for accommodating the area’s projected growth. Complimenting ST2’s efforts, VISION 2040 is a set of regional policies that local jurisdictions must consider when planning their decisions addressing land use, economic, and environmental issues. While an effective framework for regional growth, the plan does not focus on the individual community level and local benefits, opportunities, and potential impacts of ST2. Says Ben Bakkenta of PSRC, “There wasn’t that bridge from the regional vision to the local jurisdiction.”
Growing Transit Communities
To address this gap, PSRC applied for a HUD Regional Planning Grant in 2010. The $5 million grant they received has helped develop strategies for communities receiving new light rail stations, as well as those with other high capacity transit, such as bus rapid transit. Growing Transit Communities seeks to ensure that ST2’s investments help to concentrate housing, jobs, and services near transit, promoting faster and safer travel. Led by a diverse consortium of 39 partners including local governments and regional transit agencies, business organizations and non-profits in the central Puget Sound region’s 3 counties, the project has a particular focus on housing affordability and equal access to opportunity and transit.
The House Appropriations Committee, in meeting today. Image via C-SPAN.
The appropriations committees in both chambers of Congress passed bills this morning that will decide funding for transportation, housing and urban development programs in fiscal year 2014.
In the Senate, the committee’s proposal includes funding for many of the country’s most important community development programs. The Department of Transportation (DOT)’s TIGER grant program would receive $550 million to suppors a wide variety of transportation projects including bridges, public transit and railroads. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)’s Integrated Planning and Investment grants, part of the federal Partnership for Sustainable Communities, would be allocated $75 million for the coming year.
“HUD’s programs solve local problem with local people,” said Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD). The Senate committee passed the bill quickly, just after 10 AM, with few remarks.
The way communities plan neighborhoods has profound effects on the natural environment and public health. A new study released by the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Sustainable Communities’ Smart Growth Program finds a link between environmental quality and land use and transportation strategies.
The second edition of Our Built and Natural Environments: A Technical Review of the Interactions Among Land Use, Transportation, and Environmental Quality, an update to a 2001 report of the same title, details how development can impact human and environmental health. “As the U.S. population has grown, we have developed land that serves important ecological functions at a significant cost to the environment,” the report states, going on to say, “Changing where and how we build our communities can help mitigate these impacts, improving how development affects the environment and human health.”
The report identifies hows our development patterns have negatively affected the natural environment, the report finds, “Transportation is responsible for 27 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions; residential and commercial buildings contribute 18 percent and 17 percent, respectively.”
As solutions to these mounting problems, the report demonstrates the benefits of specific development strategies. The report recommends preserving ecologically valuable sites and placing a stronger emphasis on infill develop and transit oriented development. Each of these strategies reduce the number of vehicle miles traveled and, in turn, greenhouse gas emissions. The report also emphasizes the need for community design that addresses development’s potential downsides, offering investing in mixed-use development and improving street connectivity as solutions.
Three areas across the country will receive assistance to implement smart growth strategies from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The State of Rhode Island; Mississippi County, Arkansas and Kelso, Washington hope to strengthen their local economies while protecting public health and the environment through intentional planning efforts.
Ranson and Charles Town, West Virginia were recently recognized for their joint brownfields redevelopment efforts at the National Brownfields Conference in Atlanta on May 16, 2013. The cities were awarded a Phoenix Award for Excellence in Brownfield Redevelopment in recognition of the ongoing redevelopment of the Ranson & Charles Town Commerce Corridor, a 1.5 mile former industrial stretch of land across both cities. Between the two cities, the corridor is marked by at least 15 significant brownfields sites.
“The fact that we were recognized for the Phoenix Award puts Ranson and Charles Town on the map,” said Ranson City Manager David Mills. Charles Town City Manager Joe Cosentini added, “It emphasizes that all we tried to do in the last 10 years contributing to revitalization was worth it.” The corridor was recognized as the preeminent brownfields effort in a region that includes Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington, D.C.
Ranson and Charles Town began revitalization efforts for the Commerce Corridor in 2001, partnering with a local environmental consulting firm. Since the project’s inception, major brownfields sites in both cities have been redeveloped into valuable community assets. An exemplary redevelopment of Ranson’s former Maytag Spray Painting/Dixie Narco plant transformed the distressed, vacant property into the Ranson Civic Center. The new facility houses the Ranson Parks and Recreation Commission, and functions as a venue for athletic events, social functions, trade shows and job fairs.
Applications for The Department of Transportation’s (DOT) FY 2013 TIGER grants have once again far exceeded the program’s available funding. More than $9 billion has been requested by applicants, surpassing the program’s $474 million budget. 568 applications were submitted from all 50 states, Washington DC, Puerto Rico, Guam and American Samoa.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood spoke of the value of the TIGER program,
“President Obama challenged us to improve our nation’s infrastructure to provide the transportation choices people and businesses want and the efficiency and safety they need. TIGER projects do exactly that – across the country, they are helping relieve congestion, create jobs and generate lasting economic growth.”
Now in its fifth round of grants, the TIGER program helps communities fund capital investments in surface transportation infrastructure. The grants will be rewarded on a competitive basis. Over the program’s 5 years, the Department of Transportation has received 4,618 applications requesting more than $114.2 billion. The initial four rounds of grants have funded 218 infrastructure projects across the country, and awarded more than $3.1 billion.
Tampa, Florida has begun construction on the final phase of its Riverwalk, with help from a TIGER grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The 2.6 mile pedestrian walkway has been a 40 year effort for the city, spanning 6 mayors. The TIGER grant is partially funding the Riverwalk’s final segment, projected to open November 2014.
The Riverwalk is part of Tampa’s efforts to revitalize its downtown. “This downtown you will not recognize in 10 years, said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, “and it will not end on the west bank of the river. This river will be the centerpiece of our urban experience.”
Tampa is trying to encourage a mix of uses in its downtown, developing work, retail, residential and recreational spaces. The City’s shift in urban land use has facilitated development of the downtown’s first office tower in 20 years. The energy efficient SouthGate Tower will feature office and parking space as well as a 350-room upscale hotel. Bob Abberger, managing director of the Tower’s developer, hopes the project will take advantage of Tampa’s growing business and nightlife amenities.
Sun Valley neighborhood listening sessions. Photo via the Decatur-Federal Station Area Plan.
Denver, CO’s Sun Valley has a new chance to overcome many hurdles towards economic vibrancy thanks to a new light rail line and a Community Challenge grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Sun Valley near downtown Denver is a remarkably diverse neighborhood home to a large immigrant and refugee population. The area is also one of Denver’s poorest, with an average annual income of $8,000 per household. More than 9 out of 10 of the area’s residents live in public housing. In addition to these demographic challenges Sun Valley is alo isolated geographically, cut off from Denver’s urban core by the South Platte River to the east, Sports Authority Field at Mile High to the north, and major roads to the west and south.
A new initiative will help Sun Valley overcome these chalenges and become a better place to live for current residents and future ones. At the heart of this work is the Decatur-Federal Station Area Plan, a transit-oriented development strategy for the larger Sun Valley region. Created by the Denver Department of Community Planning and Development and the Denver Housing Authority, the plan centers around a newly-completed RTD FasTracks light rail line. The line extends west from the heart of downtown Denver to Golden, CO, and connects Sun Valley to Denver’s economic opportunities and employment centers.
Portland, Maine has begun to develop a regional bikeshare program thanks to initial technical assistance provided through the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities program.
Portland’s Planning and Urban Development Department applied for EPA’s 2013 grants under the leadership of Jeff Levine. Portland residents, Mr. Levine noticed, already had a strong interest in alternative transportation.
“There’s a big commitment in Portland toward the environment and sustainability,” said Levine. “The challenge is providing an infrastructure that can help people to meet that goal.”
Residents were interested in a bikeshare program, but Portland needed a catalytic event to kick-start the project.
EPA’s workshops and forums, conducted earlier this month, jumpstarted the city’s efforts to implement a bikeshare program. Mr. Levine believes EPA’s time in Maine brought a necessary and “strong focus on the issue”. Residents and local officials participated in the sessions strategizing how Portland can make a bikeshare program a reality. With the project underway, Portland and the project’s supporters now must develop a business plan for a bikeshare program.