Cost and Financing

Prospects for a new bridge being built between Detroit and Windsor greatly improved in January when Michigan Republican Gov. Rick Snyder strongly endorsed the idea in his first State of the State address.

Transportation figured prominently in President Obama’s 2012 budget proposal released this week. The proposal included the outlines of a $556 billion, six-year transportation plan. While some praised the plan for “bold vision,” others believe the lack of agreement on a revenue source to pay for it all and other factors will make it very difficult to achieve that vision.

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.

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.

Rural highways provide many benefits to the nation's transportation system. But rural areas face numerous transportation challenges including a looming highway capacity crisis. Their challenges are similar to those experienced by urban areas but different enough that they need to be carefully considered as officials in Washington debate a new long-term authorization of federal transportation programs. This brief examines some issues those officials should take into account regarding rural road capacity, congestion, road safety, connectivity and mobility and public transit. It also examines how policies addressing livability and transportation funding may impact rural communities.

Policymakers across the country are facing one of the most challenging sessions in decades, due in large part to the economic woes caused by the Great Recession. From health care reform to the end of funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, here are some of the top issues facing legislators this year according to the policy staff at The Council of State Governments.

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.

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.

There were lots of transportation-related headlines to take away from Tuesday’s election: The chairman of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee going down to defeat and what it might mean for authorization legislation… The future of high-speed rail put in doubt by the election of three new Republican governors opposed to rail projects… And a somewhat mixed message from voters on revenues for transportation. Although it will likely take a long time to sort it all out, here are some initial thoughts.

We have a new Capitol Facts & Figures policy brief out today that attempts to survey this year’s State Transportation Finance Legislation and Trends. As mentioned in the brief, Georgia was one state that managed to make a name for itself this year in transportation finance. It did so with a plan that at first glance seemed to both kick the can down the road and pass the buck. But the plan could be the path many cash-strapped and tax increase-averse states choose to follow in the years ahead. And, although their plan isn’t designed to come to fruition until after the 2012 election, Georgia may be able to learn some things from transportation-related ballot measures other states will consider this November.

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