Authorization

With Washington still embroiled in the debt ceiling debate and no momentum for a new transportation reauthorization bill, we get a glimpse this week at the potential cost of doing nothing to improve America’s infrastructure. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) issues a new report today entitled “Failure to Act: The Economic Impact of Current Investment Trends in Surface Transportation Infrastructure.” The report indicates that not only are American households and businesses absorbing enormous costs today as a result of deteriorating infrastructure, over the next 30 years these costs could further reduce America’s productivity and competitiveness in the world, cause millions of Americans to forgo discretionary purchases in order to pay transportation costs that could have been avoided, cause the U.S. to lose out on creating jobs in high paying services and manufacturing industries, produce a significant drain on wages and productivity and result in the United States losing billions of dollars in foreign exports.

The U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee released a three-page outline of a bipartisan bill to authorize federal transportation programs Tuesday and held the first hearing on the plan Thursday. There is also news this week about state efforts to find new sources of revenue to fund transportation, including public-private partnerships.

The Carnegie Endowment’s Leadership Initiative on Transportation Solvency has a new report out this month that suggests a five percent ad valorem tax on oil up-stream and gas downstream could help cover the cost of transportation in the United States. Meanwhile, reaction to the transportation authorization proposal offered last week by House Republicans continued to pour in this week from transportation stakeholders and other interested observers. Plus there is news this week on Georgia’s regional transportation referendum and an anti-toll initiative in Washington state. And the first post-moratorium public-private partnership transportation project in Texas has attracted a lengthy list of potential suitors.

With different parties controlling the House of Representatives and Senate, gridlock has been a prominent theme in the 112th Congress. The federal government nearly shut down earlier this year, the annual appropriations bills are barely creeping along and the debate over the debt ceiling has consumed most of the legislative agenda. Unfortunately, this means many important federal items due for reauthorization, like a multi-year transportation bill, face a very uncertain fate.

U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica and other Republican members of the panel held a news conference today in Washington to introduce a proposal to authorize federal transportation programs for the next six years that would rely on the amount of revenue deposited into the Highway Trust Fund during that time. Here’s a quick rundown on what’s in the Mica proposal and a few resources where you can read reaction and get additional information.

More than 30 states and Puerto Rico have created a state infrastructure bank, a type of revolving infrastructure investment fund that can offer loans and credit assistance to public and private sponsors of certain highway construction, transit or rail projects. Five states--Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Ohio and Virginia--have established banks or accounts within their banks that are capitalized solely with state funds. These banks were designed with the unique needs of each state in mind and their experiences have varied. The future of state infrastructure banks may depend on the next federal surface transportation authorization and what kinds of federal funding and financing resources may be available to states in the future.

Today marks the 55th anniversary of President Eisenhower’s signing of the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, which created the Interstates and the Highway Trust Fund. The anniversary has many transportation experts weighing in on where the nation’s highway system stands today and what might lie in store for its future, including as it relates to the next federal surface transportation authorization bill. Here’s a sampling of opinion.

NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that The Council of State Governments expresses support for these same guiding principles and believes Congress should take them into consideration as they debate legislation to reauthorize federal transportation programs.

I’ve written before about how many suggest that future funding for transportation could and should be based on performance measures (see here and here). Now the Bipartisan Policy Center’s National Transportation Policy Project is just out with a new report that offers their recommendations on how to incorporate them into the decision-making process.

It appeared to be a promising development last week when Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer and Max Baucus and Republican Sens. James Inhofe and David Vitter released a joint statement citing “great progress” and “common ground” on a new transportation authorization bill. But there is already significant skepticism that Boxer and her colleagues can deliver a promised six-year bill that would allow state and local leaders around the country to fund long-term transportation projects going forward. And as usual, there is no shortage of opinions on how changes in federal and state policy might help the nation better address its infrastructure needs.

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