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Congressional Hearing Today in San Francisco On California High-Speed Rail Project

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The U.S. House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials, which is chaired by California’s Representative Jeff Denham, is holding a congressional field hearing in San Francisco today on the status of the California high-speed rail project. The public hearing is scheduled to begin at 9am in Room B040 of the San Francisco Federal Building, 90 7th Street, San Francisco, CA 94103.

The oversight hearing states that it “will examine the status and evolving scope of the project, and what levels of federal and state support could be necessary in order to see the project to completion.” Currently, the witness list is as follows:

  • The Honorable Sarah Feinberg, Administrator, Federal Railroad Administration
  • Mr. Dan Richard, Chairman of the Board, California High-Speed Rail Authority
  • Mr. Jim Hartnett, CEO, Caltrain
  • Mr. Stuart Flashman, Attorney, Law Offices of Stuart Flashman
  • Mr. Robbie Hunter, President, State Building & Construction Trades Council of California

Rep. Denham has been a longtime vocal skeptic of the project, and is expected to negatively critique the project’s budget and its most recent business plan. However, the administration has been clear that construction is well underway in the Central Valley, posting regular construction updates on work being completed in Madera County on bridge abutments at Cottonwood Creek, on Tuolumne Street Bridge in downtown Fresno, on the San Joaquin River viaduct, and the State Route 99 alignment.

In a press release in April of this year, High Speed Rail Board Chair stated: “With existing funding and more than 119 miles of active construction in the Central Valley already underway, our 2016 Business Plan sets forth a plan to complete the construction of a high-speed rail line between Silicon Valley and Central Valley by 2024, with passenger service operations beginning in 2025.”

The most recent business plan was characterized by the HSR Board as a “foundational document” that “reflects the transition from planning to construction to providing passenger service for the nation’s first high-speed rail”. The plan also included a reduction in overall capital costs from $67.6 billion to $64.2 billion.

ACEC California continues to strongly support the landmark, visionary transportation project, and its members will be instrumental in the continuing progress towards a full build out.

Ultimately, Californians will significantly benefit from this type of alternative transportation system because it will:

  • Provide long distance commuters with a safe, convenient, and affordable alternative to flying or driving.
  • Reduce increases in air traffic and the need to expand capacity at the state’s airports.
  • Reduce California’s dependence on oil.
  • Enhance economic opportunities statewide through improved connectivity.
  • Create new commercial and industrial hubs along the rail alignment.

Finally, the high-speed rail system will also utilize alternative procurement methods such as Design-Build and Public Private Partnerships, which will produce efficient and economical delivery of the project’s final completion.

Road Charge Pilot Program: It Works!

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By Kelly Garman, Director of Government Affairs

Azuga Your ready to rollIt’s official! As your friendly Road Charge Pilot Program participant blogger, I am finally connected and being tracked! It’s been a long road to this point, as you can read here, but Azuga took notice and went above and beyond to fix the problem for me. In fact, I was really impressed with the level of customer service, once it became apparent that the initial device I received wasn’t going to work. Good job, Azuga!

To be honest, the level of engagement with Azuga has peaked my curiosity – What is the history of this company? Did they work with Oregon (who recently launched their own Road Charge Program)? Are they based in California? Who developed the technology to monitor my miles?

kelly azuga

But I digress…

Azuga overnighted to me a new device and after reading the easy-to-understand instructions, I plugged it in. Within minutes, I got an email saying the device was active. Yeah!

The timing of this initial connection was perfect because I needed to fill up my gas tank. While the State of California tracks my mileage, I’ve decided to keep tabs on how much I really am paying at the pump. On July 17th, I filled up my tank with 22.6 gallons, paying $53.31.


Knowing I was being “tracked” by the state of California proved to be an interesting exercise for my mind. I found myself wanting to run extra errands, so I could then look at my personal Azuga online dashboard and see what exactly was being monitored. Turns out, they monitor more than miles. When I got online, I saw start and stop times of my trips, when I braked and accelerated, a number indicating “how good of a driver” I am….fascinating!

This is going to be a cool experiment, and I remain thankful to have the opportunity to participate in something bigger than myself.

Road Charge Pilot Program Preparation

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By Kelly Garman, Director of Government Affairs

I’ve had a bit of a frustrating start to my participation in the Road Charge Pilot Program, but I remain hopeful that it will be resolved shortly so I can actually participate in the program. Below is a timeline of my first week, in preparation of the actual launch of the program on July 1st.

June 29 – I received in the mail the Azuga device that will plug into my vehicle and wirelessly report my mileage. I hadn’t requested a device that uses GPS (I had a choice when I enrolled), but I admit that there was a small twinge of anxiety as I opened the box and saw this little green electronic device, just waiting for me to plug it in.

I understand the privacy concerns raised by many regarding the government tracking my miles, but I have also had many conversations with Malcolm Dougherty, Director of Caltrans, and trust that the Road Charge Task Force will, in fact, do all they can to protect my private information, as the government does with other information collected, including addresses, social security numbers, drivers license information, etc… Furthermore, with my smartphone, I use Strava GPS to track my runs, WAZE to tell me how to beat the traffic to work and Uber when I am out of town but need to get around. I’m already being tracked (and, odds are, so are you if you use smartphone applications).

Still, I made the decision not to give Azuga and the state of California the ability to locate my vehicle during this pilot program.

*     *     *

The little green device came with simple instructions, and I was intent on following them accurately and perfectly….

My excitement for the Road Charge Pilot Program took a turn however, after I plugged the device in the OBDII port (step 1 was easy!). After multiple attempts, I couldn’t get the device to pair with whatever it was supposed to connect to. I called the Azuga team twice, in fact, to ensure I was installing it correctly.

I closely followed the Azuga representative’s instructions. I drove around my block, to give the device opportunity to find the cell phone tower. I waited for the Azuga representative to call me back, per his direction.

I probably spent two hours of my life trying to get everything situated for the pilot program but couldn’t get it done. The Azuga representative never called me back either.

June 30 – The pilot program begins tomorrow and I’m starting to get nervous. I want to make the most of this adventure, and I want to start tracking my mileage along with the other participants.

I tried multiple times to sync the device to the network and remain unsuccessful.

July 1 – The pilot program has begun and after two more phone calls to the Azuga representative, I am still not connected and able to participate. To be honest, I’m irritated. I’ve been told that Azuga can and will manually sync my device within 24-48 hours and that I will be kept informed.

July 2 – I am still not connected.

July 3 – I am still not connected.

July 4 – I am still not connected. And the Azuga representative never called me to keep me informed as he said he would.

July 5 – I chatted online with an Azuga representative and was told that my situation would be escalated to a higher level and that I would be contacted by phone by a different representative. A few minutes later, my phone rang, and I was told that there are a handful of participants throughout California unable to get their device paired. Lucky me.

*     *     *

It is important to note that Brad Diede, ACEC California’s Executive Director, is also participating in the Road Charge Pilot Program and his installation process was much simpler –

 “After I installed the unit per Azuga instructions, I had to make one call to ask why I could not get on the website to see if my connection worked. The problem was that I was in the country, out of good cell service for the Verizon network. I was told to remove and then re-insert the unit, then take a short drive. After that, I called again and the Azuga representative confirmed that I was connected and that they were tracking me. Now I can log onto the website and see my traffic.  Oddly, when I log into the site and look at the map illustrating where I drove on my commute, it looks like it was not completely accurate.”

*     *     *

July 6 – I am still not connected.

July 7 – Despite my frustration, I now have a front row seat to exactly why the State of California needed a pilot program. If I am one of a few in a pilot program of 5,000 people whose information cannot be collected, imagine the scale of tracking and problem solving the accurate mileage collection of millions of drivers on California’s roads. Hopefully, we can figure this out soon and I can start participating. But it is worth remembering that California is a very large state and that new programs – despite the very best of intentions – always have kinks that need addressing and the state needs to be cognizant of the problems that could arise once a program is brought to scale.

…Stay Tuned….

Road Charge Pilot Program: I’m Enrolled!

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By: Kelly Garman, Director of Government Affairs, ACEC California

The gas tax.

As the Director of Government Affairs for ACEC California, it’s something I’ve learned quite a bit about the last three years. Every transportation seminar and conference, every transportation-related bill moving through the legislature, and every time I’ve ever heard Malcolm Dougherty, Will Kempton, Senator Beall or Assembly Member Frazier speak in a public setting, the decline of the gas tax has been front and center.

And understandably so – there are more fuel-efficient cars on the roads these days, contributing to a decline in the gas tax, which is the revenue stream used to fix California’s roads. It’s a big deal. On behalf of ACEC California and as a longtime California resident, I believe this decline translates into a dire need to search for a long-term solution.

The good news? There’s a solution being tested by the California government at this very moment.

Back in 2014, ACEC California strongly supported Senate Bill 1077, a bill that created the California Road Charge Pilot Program to study the feasibility of a new funding stream that will ultimately replace the gas tax.

And, as of July 2016, the California Road Charge Pilot Program is underway! You can read more about the details at www.CaliforniaRoadChargePilot.com, but – in short – 5,000 volunteers throughout the state will test various road charging methods in an effort to assess whether or not this is a viable alternative to charging drivers a tax on their gas to pay for roads.

The best news yet? I’m one of the 5,000 volunteers to be accepted into the pilot program! Here is a screen shot from my welcome email –

Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 3.39.53 PM

I’m unclear how many volunteered but not every one who signed up to participate was accepted into the program. I know there was an effort to get a good mix of rural, and suburban commuters, soccer moms and dads, business men and women, etc.

I quickly enrolled per the instructions in the email and was able to choose from various options of how my mileage would be calculated. The last thing I wanted was another task to remember throughout the week, so I chose a plug-in device for my car.

First, I needed to check if I had an OBD II port (which I “Googled” in order to figure out what it looks like and where the port is located on my vehicle).


I’m excited to be a part of this pilot program, and I care a lot about California so I thought I’d share my experiences as a pilot program participant. I’m excited to see how this will work, and whether a road charge is the long term funding solution we are looking for.

Local Infrastructure Investment Benefits All Californians

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Governor Brown recently signed Assembly Bill 194, which authorized regional transportation agencies and the California Department of Transportation to develop high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes and other toll facilities. Before the passage of AB 194, toll lane projects had a limit of four; however, now regional agencies and Caltrans are not limited in the number of high-occupancy toll lanes they can build and operate as long as they have approval by the California Transportation Commission (CTC), a public hearing, and a demonstration of the proposed facility’s benefits to the area.

HOT lanes allow for carpools to travel free of charge or at a reduced charge and allow the use of by other vehicles at a higher charge, depending on congestion. HOT lanes reduce traffic, collect revenue to help fund transportation needs and do not undermine intended benefits of carpooling.

Benefits surrounding the passage of AB 194 go beyond HOT lanes. For years, transportation agencies have struggled with deadlines of transportation projects and the challenges associated with traffic congestion by the increase of vehicles on the roads. The administrative process implemented by AB 194 allows regional transportation agencies and Caltrans to work together with the CTC to develop and operate HOT lane facilities, decreasing headaches and challenges for all. The new administrative process through CTC eliminates the need for a legislative decision and allows for funds generated from the toll roads to benefit more than those who use the lanes. For example, tolls from HOT lanes in Los Angeles have accounted for tens of millions of dollars for the Los Angeles Metro and because decisions on how to use the funds is left to the regional agencies, the Los Angeles Metro was able to increase funding for their public transit service.