High Speed Rail

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.

Before I depart for the holidays, I thought I would leave you transportation policy fans with a few things to read on those iPads and Kindle Fires you may find under the tree Sunday morning. In what has become an annual tradition, it’s time to clear out the CSG Transportation inbox so we can start fresh in the New Year. There are lots of items below on many of the issues we cover regularly here on the blog including: state...

I blogged last week about an appearance by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica at a Washington, D.C. forum hosted by the University of Virginia’s Miller Center during which the Florida Congressman discussed the timetable for introducing his committee’s transportation authorization bill. That forum was notable for a number of other reasons, including a roundtable that brought together five former U.S. secretaries of transportation. Among the issues they touched on: how to restore public confidence in transportation spending and how to define a compelling national purpose for the federal transportation program. Here is some of what they had to say.

This week, President Obama banks again on infrastructure investment to stimulate the nation’s economy. Also, a key Senate committee approves a four-month extension of surface transportation programs as a House Appropriations subcommittee passes a 2012 transportation budget that cuts overall spending and Administration-favored programs. There are also items this week on congestion reduction, sprawl and smart growth.

The chances that the federal gas tax, which is set to expire Sept. 30, could be extended improved a bit this week as Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, announced he won’t oppose an extension. Also this week, New York’s Governor gives a boost to bike and pedestrian infrastructure, Georgia prepares for next year’s regional referenda on transportation project funding, and Seattle gives a thumbs up to a tunnel to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Plus, items of note on transportation spending as stimulus, tolling and public-private partnerships, high-speed rail, public transportation, the 2012 presidential election and mileage-based user fees.

With the debt deal behind them and the Federal Aviation Administration at least temporarily reopened, members of Congress left on their annual month-long summer recess this week. When they return, only 24 days will remain until September 30, the end of the federal fiscal year when both the latest extension of SAFETEA-LU and most of the federal gas tax are due to expire. Some believe renewal of the gas tax could face opposition in Congress. Meanwhile, Senate leaders say the body could act on a successor to SAFETEA-LU after the break, as reports surfaced that Sen. Max Baucus has come up with a way to bridge the $12 billion funding gap between how much is in the Highway Trust Fund and how much the Senate’s two-year reauthorization measure proposes to spend. And state officials are pondering what the debt deal could mean for transportation. Plus, items of note on public-private partnerships, high-speed rail, tolling, motorcycle helmet laws and other issues.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provided $48 billion to states for transportation infrastructure projects. States achieved significant successes in 2010 in  meeting deadlines associated with the legislation, starting and completing projects on time and under budget, creating jobs and doing it all with little fraud or waste. Still, some questions have been raised about whether the stimulus could have had a greater impact, which types of projects were funded and which states received the most funding. Despite its political unpopularity in 2010, the Recovery Act proved its worth to state transportation officials around the country.

Policymakers in Washington are saying all the right things about a federal transportation reauthorization bill. They hope to finally tackle new legislation reauthorizing federal surface transportation programs in the next few months after a year and a half of delays and a series of temporary extensions to the previous bill, known as SAFETEA-LU. They are optimistic despite no agreement on a plan to fund those programs and widespread acknowledgment that any program based on existing revenues is unlikely to move the nation’s transportation system forward in a meaningful way.

CSG this week issues a new brief in our Capitol Research series entitled “Transit-Oriented Development.” Using the possibility of development around future high-speed rail stations as a jumping off point, it examines the policy options available to states to try to shape how that development occurs. While high-speed rail has suffered a number of political setbacks in recent months, it remains on track in some parts of the country. But regardless of whether high-speed rail is coming to your state any time soon, there is a great deal of useful information in the brief about the role states can play in shaping the kinds of communities Americans say they want and that best serve our citizens, the environment and the economy. I encourage you to read the brief, which examines the benefits of transit-oriented development, the role of state governments in encouraging it, and the experiences of California and many other states in adopting related policies. If the brief piques your interest, there is an abundance of other worthwhile reading I can point you toward as well.

While not a new concept in the public policy lexicon, transit-oriented development is receiving renewed attention as some states and communities ponder a future that may include high-speed rail. States have a vested interest in ensuring that huge investments in rail and transit systems pay off not only in improving transportation but also in creating economic development and helping to bring about healthier, more environmentally friendly and sustainable communities around transit stations. Fortunately, a number of states already have years of experience in using public policy to shape how this development takes place.

Pages