Capitol Comments

CSG Director of Transportation and Infrastructure Policy Sean Slone outlines the top five issues in transportation and infrastructure policy for 2018, including the growing logistics economy, the federal role in transportation, states seeking transportation funding solutions, the precarious condition of U.S. infrastructure and the policy implications of emerging transportation technologies. Links included to CSG’s expanded coverage and further reading on each issue.

In Trump v. Hawaii the Ninth Circuit temporarily struck down President Trump’s third travel ban. The Supreme Court has agreed to review the Ninth Circuit decision.

An opinion in this case should be issued no later than the end of June 2018. Per a Supreme Court order issued in December 2017, the third travel ban is currently in effect regardless of the Ninth Circuit ruling.    

The Court has agreed to decide four issues. First, whether the case is justiciable, meaning whether the legal issues are “fit for review.” Second, whether the third travel ban exceeds the President’s authority under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Third, whether the Ninth Circuit nationwide injunction was overbroad. Fourth, whether the travel ban violates the Establishment Clause.

According to The Hill, the Senate measure approved earlier today, Jan. 22, included six years funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program, also know as CHIP.

Issue: In 2017, 12 states approved self-driving vehicle-related legislation including measures to allow truck platooning, identify an agency to oversee testing and preempt local regulation. As the year wound down, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released a streamlined version of policy guidance on automated driving systems and Congress was debating federal legislation that could preempt state authority in some areas. The growing use of drones in a variety of capacities also attracted the interest of states with 23 pieces of legislation enacted in 17 states. Federal drone legislation was also considered in conjunction with a reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration, but Congress ultimately approved just a six-month FAA extension that did not include drone language.

In ealry January a three-judge federal court struck down North Carolina’s 2016 Congressional redistricting plan concluding it was an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander designed to favor Republican candidates. Meanwhile the Supreme Court has agreed to decide two cases this term involving the question of whether and when partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional. Read more about the North Carolina case and the lower court ruling here.

The federal court ordered the state legislature to come up with a new plan by January 24. The Supreme Court put that order on hold allowing the Republican legislators defending the plan to appeal to the Supreme Court.

The Children’s Health Insurance Program – also known as CHIP – has figured prominently in the deliberations on keeping the federal government open. Reporting today by Governing magazine says that the details of the vote later today have not been made public, so the fate of the six-year funding appropriation for CHIP that was included in the House continuing resolution is unclear.

Issue: Factors like the decline of brick-and-mortar retail and rise of e-commerce in recent years have produced a transformation of the nation’s supply chain that is impacting multiple modes of transportation from trucking to rail to ports and airports. Those states that have been most successful in attracting elements of the new logistics economy have demonstrated the ability to tout key infrastructure assets, invest where necessary and enact programs to ensure they will have the workforce in place to serve this sector. As innovative companies like Amazon continue to expand their footprint in the years ahead, these efforts are likely to become even more important for those logistics leaders and the other states that hope to compete with them.  

Issue: Seven states (CA, IN, MT, OR, SC, TN and WV) raised gas taxes in 2017 while Utah modified its gas tax formula to allow for more robust revenue growth. Other states including Colorado, Idaho, New Hampshire, Utah and Wisconsin approved one-time transportation funding. Wyoming, which raised its gas tax in 2013, increased vehicle registration and other fees. Ten states approved new fees for electric and/or hybrid vehicles in 2017. Meanwhile states like California, Oregon and Washington continued their experiments with mileage-based user fees, which some believe could one day replace gas taxes. Will 2018, an election year in most places, continue to see state activity on the state funding front and how will a change in philosophy from Washington influence states?

Issue: In 2017, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the nation’s infrastructure an overall grade of D+ in their every-four-years Infrastructure Report Card. Key infrastructure categories, including aviation, dams, drinking water, inland waterways, levees, roads and transit, all received individual grades of D or lower. ASCE said the nation’s infrastructure can be improved and restored but only with “strategic, sustained investment, bold leadership, thoughtful planning, and careful preparation for the needs of the future.” The devastating hurricanes of 2017 brought into stark relief the importance of planning and preparation to ensuring a more resilient infrastructure for the future.

Issue: Infrastructure investment was expected to be a key policy goal of the Trump administration. While the administration did not produce a comprehensive plan to accomplish that in 2017—it’s now expected after the State of the Union in late January—details of the administration’s priorities that have emerged suggested an emphasis on more targeted federal investments, the use of federal dollars to encourage states that help themselves by seeking additional transportation revenues, and an effort to leverage private sector investment. In late September, the president appeared to sour on how big a role public-private partnerships, or P3s, could play in a federal investment package, but many continue to believe P3s could play a significant, if limited, role in facilitating some infrastructure projects.