Passenger Rail

With significant growth expected in freight transportation over the next several decades as a result of the expansion of the Panama Canal and other factors, a number of states have begun to adopt policies that seek to take trucks off the road and make the nation's supply chain more multi-modal. By improving infrastructure at seaports, incentivizing shippers, making greater use of inland waterways, creating partnerships to reduce freight rail bottlenecks and developing state and regional freight plans, these states stand to make significant improvements to freight efficiency and safety as well as to the environment. 

Transportation was the focus of about a dozen state or local ballot measures voted on in Tuesday’s elections around the country. Here’s a look at how some of them fared.

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.

State transportation officials this week called on Congress to take action by September 30th to extend the 18.4 cents-per-gallon gas tax that funds federal highway and transit programs and to pass a long-term reauthorization of those programs. I also have items this week on the future of infrastructure finance, tolling, public transit, Smart Growth, a model for regional freight plans, Seattle’s new Big Dig and possible restructuring for the South Carolina Department of Transportation following a recent fiscal crisis.

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 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 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.

There are 27 Amtrak routes that travel less than 750 miles from start to end. Sixteen of these are entirely state-supported, while five have some state support. States pay for these shorter-distance routes through a variety of means.
 

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.

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