Cargo and Freight

Transportation has been a mostly neglected issue on the presidential campaign trail this year. That has left media organizations and political and transportation analysts to try to fill the void in differentiating where President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney stand on transportation issues and what the election of one or the other might mean for state governments. With a week to go before the nation chooses a chief executive who may determine the future of transportation for decades to come, here’s a reading guide on the candidates.

We have several new transportation-related publications here in the Knowledge Center this month. Here are a few updates and additional resources on the topics they address.

James Bass is Chief Financial Officer of the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). He will speak to members of the CSG Transportation Policy Task Force at the CSG National Conference in Austin on December 1, 2012 (see the task force agenda here and register for the conference here). I interviewed Bass for an article in the October 25th issue of the Capitol Ideas E-Newsletter. Below is an extended transcript of our conversation. He discusses federal transportation funding, the use of public-private partnerships and tolling in Texas, and the Lone Star State’s future transportation revenue needs.

The ongoing Panama Canal expansion is perhaps the most transformative global transportation project currently in progress. Upon completion in 2014, the expanded Panama Canal will facilitate an even greater flow of trade between Asia and the Americas and substantially impact the volume of trade reaching Gulf and East Coast ports in the United States. The impetus for the expansion of the Canal, approved by the people of Panama in October 2006, sprang from that nation's desire to continue to be a pivotal player in global trade patterns and strategically leverage its greatest asset–the Panama Canal–for its own economic well-being.

For more than a decade, The Council of State Governments’ (CSG) Southern Office, the Southern Legislative Conference (SLC), has explored the critical role played by Southern ports in the  economic calculations of both the region’s economy and the national economy.  This exploration has taken the form of a range of policy documents on the role of ports, along with presentations/testimony and site visits and briefings at a number of Southern ports, including the ports of Gulfport, New Orleans, Mobile, Virginia and Charleston.

Four reports out this week highlight the potential consequences of not investing in the nation’s infrastructure and how states can make better use of existing resources to improve transportation. Our friends at the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) are out with the fourth installment in their “Failure to Act” series, which examines the economic cost of current infrastructure investment trends. The Bipartisan Policy Center and Eno Center for Transportation examine what a reduced federal investment could mean for transportation (and for state and local governments). A report from the Brookings Institution and Rockefeller Foundation outlines ways states can enhance the impact of state infrastructure banks and revolving funds for transportation. And best practices for state departments of transportation are the focus of a new report from Smart Growth America and the State Smart Transportation Initiative.

While MAP-21, the surface transportation authorization bill approved by Congress this summer, had numerous provisions (and a few notable omissions), observers say the legislation’s establishment of transportation performance measures is one of the key reforms with the potential to be truly transformative for the federal-aid highway program. National transportation goals will be emphasized and there will be important roles for state governments and metropolitan planning organizations in developing performance measures and targets. CSG has long been a supporter of state performance measurement initiatives through efforts like our States Perform website. That’s why we jumped at the chance to host an upcoming webinar for Cambridge Systematics that will help the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) design a performance reporting approach that policymakers at all levels will find useful.

A new report says Chicago could reduce congestion and increase mobility by building a $12 billion, 275-mile regional network of high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes among other infrastructure projects. The report comes just as several HOT lane projects prepare to come online in other parts of the country, as some toll road projects suffer growing pains, and as new data shows all-electronic tolling may now cost less to collect than fuel taxes. Here are some updates on recent developments.

Stateline Midwest ~ April 2012

The state of New York has halted plans to implement a ballast water discharge standard next year that would have been the toughest in the Great Lakes region and more stringent than any existing or proposed U.S. or Canadian rules.

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.