Cost and Financing

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.  

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.

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.

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.

Issue: The 2016 election saw the passage of ballot measures to enable new transit investments in Atlanta, Indianapolis, Los Angeles and Seattle. But in Washington, D.C. and other cities, years of neglect of transit systems are burdening public officials with funding, safety and service challenges. Meanwhile, ride-hailing services are continuing to evolve to fill increasingly essential roles. As governments look to provide and enable all these mobility options, how do they ensure that successful communities are built around transit, that housing remains affordable and that those communities work for all their residents?

As Washington, D.C.’s Metro system marked its 40th anniversary last month, concerns about damage caused by a fire near the McPherson Square station prompted a 29-hour shutdown of the hugely important regional transit system and prompted much speculation about what could lie ahead for Metro. Meanwhile, Boston’s transit agency moved to cut back late night service on the T as officials said it was too expensive and impacted maintenance schedules on the nation’s oldest subway system, which opened in 1897. I also have items below on states and communities around the country that are moving to invest in transit expansion.

While 2015 may be an off-year for elections in most states, it has the potential to be an important one for transportation in a variety of places. Here’s a roundup of how transportation is factoring into this year’s key state contests and ballot measures.

The city of Denver and state of Colorado have seen their share of transportation successes in recent years thanks in large measure to regional cooperation, federal investment, a 2004 tax increase, partnerships with the private sector and some innovative thinking. But the city and state face numerous challenges in the years ahead that will severely test the transportation system, notably a burgeoning population, stagnant federal investment and limits to increasing taxes at the state level. Those were some of the messages state and local officials delivered to a group of state legislators from eight states at the CSG West Transportation Forum last month in Denver.

From key changes in Congress and state capitols to statewide and local ballot measures, Tuesday was a pivotal Election Day when it comes to transportation. I have some thoughts on the significance of this year’s batch of state and local ballot measures, a roundup of all the results, and links to information about the potential impact of the changes on Capitol Hill, in governor’s mansions and elsewhere. Plus, as always, news, links and new reports on MAP-21 reauthorization and the future of the Highway Trust Fund, state transportation funding activities, public-private partnerships and tolling, and state multi-modal strategies.

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