Public Transportation

Nashville transit advocates are left pondering the future and examining what went wrong after a transit ballot referendum was defeated in the May 1 Tennessee primary. The referendum, which was made possible by state legislation approved last year, would have increased four taxes to fund a multi-billion dollar transit plan that included five light rail lines, a tunnel under downtown, new electric buses, bus rapid transit lines and two-dozen new neighborhood transit centers. Sixty-four percent of voters rejected the measure and the defeat appears likely to have potential long-term implications for the city’s transportation system, politics and economic interests and could provide lessons to other communities around the country that may be looking to upgrade transit offerings in the years ahead.  

Voters in Nashville will head to the polls May 1 to consider a ballot measure that would increase four taxes to pay for a multibillion-dollar mass transit proposal. The referendum was made possible by Tennessee’s 2017 transportation funding legislation, known as the IMPROVE Act, which in addition to increasing gas and diesel taxes and registration fees also allowed voters in the state’s largest counties and four largest cities to consider local tax increases that would be dedicated to transit projects. The Nashville referendum is perhaps the most significant transportation-related initiative on the ballot in the 2018 primaries and is being touted as Music City’s best opportunity to keep mounting traffic woes at bay in the years ahead.

The death of a pedestrian in an Arizona incident involving an Uber self-driving vehicle this week is prompting a renewed examination of autonomous vehicle research and regulation. But it’s far from the only story that finds ride-hailing companies at the center these days. The impacts of services like Uber and Lyft on urban congestion, public transit, the taxi and parking industries, data sharing, access to health care services and trucking are also receiving scrutiny. All of these could have significant implications for policymakers in the years ahead.

It’s been just over a year since the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave the nation’s infrastructure an overall grade of D+ in its once-every-four-years Infrastructure Report Card. Recent months have brought plenty of new evidence of the challenges states face in bringing that grade up but also some positive signs that progress can be and is being made.

With two months of 2018 in the books, there is plenty of evidence of state and local policymakers around the country seeking ways to invest in public transit, shore up existing assets and change how transit is governed and planned. From property tax revenue diversion to ride-hailing fees and from value capture to sales tax ballot measures, a variety of strategies are being deployed or contemplated as transit communities seek to deal with longstanding maintenance issues that may be contributing to recent declines in transit ridership, seek to increase density around transit hubs and seek to improve their odds of attracting the next major employer. Here’s a roundup of what’s going on.

Issue: In 2017, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the nation’s infrastructure an overall grade of D+ in their every-four-years Infrastructure Report Card. Key infrastructure categories, including aviation, dams, drinking water, inland waterways, levees, roads and transit, all received individual grades of D or lower. ASCE said the nation’s infrastructure can be improved and restored but only with “strategic, sustained investment, bold leadership, thoughtful planning, and careful preparation for the needs of the future.” The devastating hurricanes of 2017 brought into stark relief the importance of planning and preparation to ensuring a more resilient infrastructure for the future.

While 2017 is considered an off-year in most state election cycles, Election Day this year still will find transportation on the ballot in a variety of ways. From two key gubernatorial contests to state and local ballot measures, here’s a preview of what to look for on November 7 as well as updates on a few transportation-related matters already decided by voters.

Thursday, October 19 marked the deadline for cities to apply to become the home of Amazon’s second corporate headquarters, a $5 billion project that is expected to eventually employ 50,000 people with average salaries of more than $100,000. The competition, which the company announced last month, sparked a bidding war that demonstrated the growing importance of ecommerce and logistics to the nation’s economy and that allowed many parts of the country to tout their infrastructure assets and, in some cases, to recognize the infrastructure challenges they may need to face in the future.

With growing mass transit needs and uncertainty about the future of federal funding, states like Georgia and Colorado look for new solutions to expand and maintain their transit systems. It has been suggested that the federal infrastructure investment President Donald Trump campaigned on could attract $1 trillion from the private sector. But his budget proposal shows federal cuts to transit, placing much of the responsibility for funding transit projects on localities...

If the recent pattern holds, 2017 could end up being a big year for state transportation funding efforts. In 2013, six states approved major transportation packages. In 2015, eight states followed suit. The intervening even-numbered years saw less activity, perhaps owing to shorter legislative sessions in some states and re-election concerns. But transportation policy analysts are confident this year won’t buck the odd-number year trend for a simple reason: It’s time.

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