Authorization

Vice President Joe Biden announced today a proposal to spend $53 billion over the next six years to improve existing rail corridors and designate new tracks for high-speed trains. The Obama administration wants to start with an $8 billion down payment included in the President’s proposed 2012 budget, which is expected to be released Monday. But as the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee prepares to host a series of field hearings on federal transportation policy starting Monday in West Virginia, Republicans on the panel say the administration’s high-speed rail plans are out of step with what the country needs to be doing.

The future of federal transportation programs and what it could mean for state governments were clearly on the minds of speakers and attendees at the Transportation Research Board’s annual meeting last week in Washington, D.C.

I have a new Capitol Research brief out this week entitled “Rural Transportation Needs.” The concept for the brief evolved from a resolution our CSG Transportation Policy Task Force approved at the 2008 annual meeting in Omaha. One of the lines in that resolution reads “be it further resolved that the Council of State Governments supports a transportation authorization that considers the needs of both urban and rural areas.” That line, I believe, was an effort by our members to address what some at the time feared could become an urban bias in a fundamental reorganization of federal transportation programs under a new authorization regime. Three years later, that resolution is due to sunset later this year under CSG bylaws (we will likely endeavor to renew or revise it accordingly). There still is no agreement on a successor to SAFETEA-LU, which officially expired in 2009 and has been extended six times on a short-term basis. And a sea change has occurred in Congress not only politically but demographically. Republicans, who now control the House, made many of their gains in rural areas. That impacts what the expectations are for an authorization bill and what parts of the country are likely to benefit. But it is no less important to keep in mind the unique transportation needs of rural communities as the authorization debate resumes this year.

Next week, I’ll be in Washington, D.C. for the Transportation Research Board of the National Academies Annual Meeting, which brings together thousands of transportation professionals from some 70 countries to discuss all things transportation-related. With as many as 100 sessions going on simultaneously at any one time in three huge conference hotels, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the choices. As I’ve learned from attending the meeting in 2009 and 2010, it helps to map out a plan in advance. Here’s a look at my tentative schedule of sessions and events along with some suggested further reading for those who may be interested. You’ll be able to follow me on Twitter (@CSGTransport) and here on the blog starting Sunday.

The first half of January has already been full of news about federal transportation spending and how things may be different under new House leadership in the nation’s capital. The discussion continues about the potential impact of new House rules on the Highway Trust Fund and what a ban on earmarks may mean for transportation spending. Meanwhile, it appears there may be some movement afoot to tackle new legislation reauthorizing federal transportation programs this year.

As Congress and state legislatures convene this month, the debate over how to fund transportation in this country resumes. Stoking the fire this week is a U.S. House of Representatives rules change that could result in reduced federal transportation spending and a new report from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group that assesses the claim by highway advocates that roads “pay for themselves” with gas taxes and other charges to motorists.

With the holidays fast approaching, I thought it would be a good time to clear out the ol’ CSG Transportation inbox so that we can make a fresh start in the New Year. In doing so, I ran across a number of recent reports and news items that may be of interest and that may provide worthwhile reading should you have any downtime in between football bowl games in the weeks ahead. They address many of the themes we’ve examined here over the last year and look ahead to what might lay in store in 2011 on issues like federal transportation programs, the condition of America's infrastructure, gas taxes, highway finance alternatives, high-speed rail, freight transportation, transportation and the environment and intelligent transportation systems.

During the Council of State Governments' National Conference in Providence, Rhode Island, the CSG Transportation Policy Task Force hosted a roundtable discussion on December 5th looking at the impact of the 2010 election and what’s ahead for transportation in 2011. Here is a summary of what transpired.

With freight demand expected to double over the next 40 years, it's more important than ever to consider the impact of freight transportation on the environment. This policy brief examines the opportunities for state government to enact policies, get behind federal initiatives and support industry efforts to make freight transportation greener.

Last week I blogged about how the outcome of last Tuesday’s election is likely to impact plans for high-speed rail in some parts of the country and about the future of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in light of Rep. James Oberstar’s pending departure as chairman. Now a week later, we already know a bit more about how both issues could play out.

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