Authorization

I have an article this month in the Kentucky business magazine The Lane Report that looks at the role the state’s public riverports play in regional economic development for a number of Kentucky communities. Ports and the transport of cargo and freight have also been the subject of a number of recent reports and items in the news so it looks like it’s time for a roundup.

Next month in New York City, InfraAmericas will host its eighth annual infrastructure forum on public-private partnerships (P3s). CSG is a supporting organization for the forum, which brings together state, federal and local policymakers and transportation officials, private sector developers, investors and others for two days of panels focused on the latest trends and projects in the P3 universe and what the future may hold for P3 deals. InfraAmericas wants more state government officials to attend and from what I’ve heard, there remains a great interest in state capitals with regards to how P3s can be used to finance transportation projects. That’s why CSG became involved with InfraAmericas in supporting the conference. Before I head up to the Big Apple (and hopefully some of you do to), I thought it would be a good time to catch up on some recent news and resources in the world of P3s and tolling. Below are some updates on P3 projects in several states as well as a look at how the federal authorization debate could shape how states make use of P3s and tolling in the future. But first I have more information about the InfraAmericas conference agenda and how you can register to attend.

Federal transportation reauthorization legislation—typically a long-term, multi-year process—will cover only two years and provide a fraction of the money needed to maintain current transportation needs.

As states anxiously await the outcome of a House-Senate conference committee on federal surface transportation authorization legislation, the Miller Center, a nonpartisan institute based at the University of Virginia, is just out with a new report entitled “Are We There Yet? Selling America on Transportation.” It’s the distillation of a conference that I wrote about last fall (see my blog post here). The report outlines a communications strategy that conference participants said is needed this year to convince the American people and their elected representatives of the need for investment in transportation.

When Congress returns from a two-week break next week, members will still be faced with some crucial decisions about the future of transportation in the United States. That’s even though they passed a three-month extension of federal surface transportation programs before they left town. Despite continuing pessimism that lawmakers can reach agreement on a more long-term bill prior to the November election, state government officials and others are becoming more vocal about the challenges presented by the continuing uncertainty in Washington.

To the surprise of nearly no one, Congress on Thursday put a week of false starts, political brinksmanship and posturing behind them and approved a new 90-day extension of federal highway authority, the ninth such extension since the federal authorization legislation known as SAFETEA-LU officially “expired” in 2009. With the most recent six-month extension set to expire Saturday and facing a potential halt to highway spending and fuel tax collection as well as the loss of thousands of construction-related jobs, lawmakers reluctantly agreed to extend federal surface transportation programs through June 30th to give them more time to come to agreement on a longer-term measure. But while passage of the extension allows state transportation officials to exhale for the moment, there is plenty of evidence that another temporary extension simply serves to prolong the uncertainty for states and is already prompting many to rethink their transportation investments (and the associated jobs they bring) just as the all-important highway construction season gets underway.

The U.S. Senate Wednesday passed a long-awaited, 18-month, bipartisan, $109 billion bill to authorize federal surface transportation programs on a vote of 74 to 22. Attention now turns to the House, where leaders could decide to take up the Senate measure or seek to resurrect their own five-year, $260 billion plan that has so far failed to win the same level of support. Meanwhile the March 31st deadline when the latest SAFETEA-LU extension expires looms large and many believe another short-term extension will be needed to give time for the House to act and for lawmakers to work out details of a final bill. But, as U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told a Congressional committee today, that scenario is complicated by the start of the road construction season when states must have some certainty that the money will be there to pay road contractors over the next several months and beyond. Still, despite the challenges ahead and the Senate bill’s shortcomings, many are praising both its passage and its provisions, many of which could have a huge impact for state governments for years to come. Here are some notable elements of the legislation.

Even as programs that fund bike and pedestrian infrastructure such as Safe Routes to School, Complete Streets and Transportation Enhancements have been targeted for elimination at the federal level, states and localities are demonstrating a continued commitment to them, reflecting the public's desire to have transportation options, leisure opportunities and communities that are healthier and safer. But the infrastructure needs are great, the funding is insufficient and projects are being increasingly scrutinized. 

On the day President Obama’s 2013 budget proposal was released and as Congress prepares to debate two competing surface transportation authorization bills this week, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood used a conference call budget briefing to both highlight the President’s own authorization proposal and to restate the administration’s preference between House and Senate authorization proposals.

The stage is set for both the House and Senate to begin debate on competing federal surface transportation authorization bills next week and individuals and groups from across the political spectrum have been weighing in on both this week. Here’s a look at what’s being said, where things stand and what might happen.

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